Valley Stream will hold its village election on March 19, and two slates of candidates are vying for village mayor, two trustee seats and the position of village court justice. The trustee race is at large, meaning the top two vote getters will win seats on the village board.
On the Achieve Party line, mayoral candidate Anthony Bonelli will run with trustee candidates Cristobal Stewart and Jed Kaplowitz, along with justice candidate Dave Sparrow. They will face off against incumbent Mayor Ed Fare, Deputy Mayor Vincent Grasso, Trustee Dermond Thomas and Village Justice Virginia Clavin-Higgins, all running on the United Community Party line.
The high-stakes election has the potential to determine the direction Village Hall will take over the next four years, and each party has staked out its positions, touted achievements and laid out a vision for Valley Stream.
The mayoral candidates
He said he has big plans in the coming years for the village. Among them is the development of a cultural arts center and performance space at Village Hall in its now-vacant courthouse space.
“What we’re looking at is a to develop stadium seating, a stage and a backstage,” Fare said, adding that performances held in the old courthouse have already proved popular, which he said is what initially gave his administration the idea to redevelop the space.
Additionally, continued maintenance of the Valley Stream pool, including the replacement of its diving pool, will be a focus of future village efforts. “We’re going to keep that pool going as long as we can,” Fare said. He would also like to hold public forums for the Sports, Park, Arts and Recreation Committee to solicit suggestions to expand village recreation services.
He also addressed efforts to create higher-density housing, while balancing the concerns of residents worried about overdevelopment. “We’re trying to be conscientious and balance it all out,” he said.
“We need to do a better job of developing transit-oriented housing,” he added.
Fare defended his administration’s handling of village finances, which has come under fire in recent years from monitoring agencies.
In 2018, the state comptroller’s office, under Tom DiNapoli, upgraded the village’s fiscal stress rating to moderate after two years of being rated as susceptible, citing short-term borrowing and operating deficits. Additionally, Moody’s, an investor-rating agency, downgraded the village’s bond rating to Baa3, one level above junk, also citing operating deficits as well as declines in reserves. The change could lead to increases in borrowing costs.
Fare said his administration “had already turned a corner” on improving village finances, and that his first responsibility was to village taxpayers, not ratings agencies such as Moody’s. “I don’t want $11 million sitting in a bank to make Moody’s happy,” he said, adding that his predecessor, Ed Cahill, had made cuts to street maintenance to keep money in reserves.
“The bond rating is making investors happy,” Fare said. “I want to make the residents happy.”
He said that administrative costs in sanitation should decrease as new infrastructure such as the village’s under-construction waste-transfer station comes online.
Bonelli said that his chief goal, if elected, would be to reduce village residential taxes by 5 percent his first year in office, and if that proved successful, to reduce taxes again by 3 percent for the next two consecutive years.
“I believe that there is at least 25 percent wasteful spending in the village,” he said. “I want to reduce that chiefly by cutting part-time and overtime expenses.”
He said that both overtime costs and expenditures on part-time work have nearly doubled over the past eight years, costing the village millions of dollars that he said may be unnecessary to spend.
Additionally, he said he would like to cut down on what he described as patronage and nepotism jobs in the village, noting that, according to payroll figures, there are two or more members from more than 20 families working in Village Hall in various capacities.
“I want all residents of Valley Stream to be assured that my office, and fellow members of my team, do not owe our offices to any political party,” he said, “only to the residents of Valley Stream.”
Bonelli said that street repaving would be a priority for his administration, and that he believes that the village has been overspending on items such as concrete curbs, aprons and gutters, taking resources away from resurfacing the asphalt portions of roads.
“We want to repave roads,” he said, “and we should be spending the bulk of our road budget primarily repaving, and then returning to repairing curbs and aprons.”
He also said he would like to sell the new village courthouse, which according to village officials was purchased in 2011 for $880,000 and then remodeled for roughly $3 million, and reactivate Valley Stream’s original courthouse, which still stands at Village Hall.
Additionally, Bonelli said he would like to resolve lack of commuter parking around the Valley Stream Long Island Rail Road station, possibly by demolishing the roller hockey rink, south of the station, which he said is underused.
He would also like to reduce pool-pass fees and offer free access to veterans and volunteer firefighters.
“I love Valley Stream. I grew up in Valley Stream,” Bonelli said, “and it disheartens me that I see all around me this markedly deteriorating environment for both business and residential areas.”
He said that worries about overdevelopment have been largely overblown, and that the revitalization experiences of other villages have confirmed that.
Regarding finances, Grasso said that agencies such as Moody’s are more concerned with making investors happy than looking out for taxpayers. “We could fix the bond rating tomorrow by raising taxes 10 percent,” he said, but noted the village has room to borrow, which Moody’s acknowledged in its downgrade report.
Grasso discounted the increases in borrowing expenses that the village’s bond rating might have. “Bond ratings don’t have much of an effect on people’s lives,” he said.
He said that he and his fellow candidates have a proven track record.
“What we’re running on is what we’ve run on in years passed,” he said. “… We have a demonstrated history of success.”
He said he thought Valley Streamers were getting a poor return on their investment in tax dollars, particularly when it came to infrastructure, and said he was surprised to learn of the state of village finances.
“One thing I can says is Ed Fare, between his trustee and mayoral positions, might be a little too comfortable there,” Kaplowitz said. “Our taxes go up every year, but we get less and less.”
He said he would like to see more roads repaved, as well as the breaking up of patronage and nepotism jobs. Additionally, Kaplowitz floated the idea of increasing commuter parking for residents, as well as allowing overnight parking on village streets.
He said all of it might make life in Valley Stream run a little more smoothly, saying, “I’d like to make things easier for people here.”
“I really believe I’ve been a good public servant,” he said noting certain quality-of-life improvements he had advocated for, such as the addition of new bathrooms at the pool. All of it, Thomas said, was in service of his goal to make Valley Stream more family friendly.
He took issue with the state comptroller’s assessment, and said that the village had been unfairly penalized for dipping into its reserve funds, which he said was necessary to stay within New York state’s 2 percent tax-levy cap.
“You should find the right balance,” he said of managing village reserves. “You don’t want to deplete all of them.”
“We just have to do a better job,” he added.
Regarding Moody’s, he said the agency had issued stellar ratings to the same mortgage-backed securities that precipitated the 2008 financial crisis, arguing, “Sometimes Moody’s gets it wrong.”
Thomas acknowledged that the village could do better in the future.
“We do recognize that our bond rating has gone down, and we’re looking to fix that,” he said. “We know what to do going forward.”
“I’m used to working on a board,” he said. “I’m very familiar with the expectations of a trustee, and our responsibility to the voters, and our fiduciary responsibility to a district. In this case, it’s very much the same in the village.”
He said his chief concern was that of what he believed was a scattershot policy development for higher-density residential properties. “It seems like the mayor can literally plant a large-scale, multi-family building just about anywhere he pleases,” Stewart said. “Just on the face of that, that seems wrong and requires us to step up and try to establish some rules and plan around this kind of development.”
Stewart said that while he does not oppose higher-density housing, he believes the village needs to develop a comprehensive plan of where new developments would best serve the area.