For non-natives, New York’s peculiar system of townships, villages, hamlets — incorporated or unincorporated — can seem utterly baffling. To Valley Stream’s Mayor Edwin Fare, nothing about his village or its place in the world is mysterious or unexamined.
Fare can recite every detail of his village’s history. When was it incorporated? Who were its first six mayors? Who were the first trustees? He knows the history of the building he’s in, too, and the one across the way and old village hall that is currently being renovated and will become the “new” village hall. But he knows more than the minutiae of his village and its past. He knows Valley Stream in a way only a native who deeply loves his place can do.
Fare is nearing the end of his second term. “Yes, absolutely,” he said when asked if he would run for a third. Mayor of Valley Stream is a part-time job. During the “rest of his life,” he is a dedicated technology teacher at South High School. But serving his village is so deeply in his bones that he frequently describes himself as “inbred.”
The Village has full-time employees to handle much of the day-to-day, but Fare is never out of touch. From pot-hole patrol to tax issues to the problems in the multiple school districts that draw from his community, he’s a very busy man.
Ironically, the Green Acres Mall and Green Acres Commons complex for which Valley Stream is best known outside the village is also literally outside village borders. “I spend so much time on the phone dealing with calls about Green Acres, and we don’t get a dime in tax revenue.” The question of what is and what is not in the village is a perennial one, as the border between village, county, and the Town of Hempstead weave around the 3.5 square miles of the village.
“I’ll get a call about an issue, or even about our famous potholes, and I’ll have to tell them they’re on county or town land,” he said. “If they’d been across the street, they’d have been on village land, and I could’ve helped them.” Of course, he added, he’d gladly make the call to the relevant authority to help with the problem, whatever it might be.
Currently, among of the Fare’s biggest concerns are the construction of a new waste transfer facility and the upgrade of the city’s aging fleet of vehicles, as well as the repair of park facilities. Taken together, these are all too much to finance as part of the regular village budget, so the village will have to break with its own unwritten rule and go to bond. This is a common way for many municipal governments to keep their budgets in balance, but “we don’t like to do it,” Fare said. “I know it’s been a strategy other villages have used in the past, but we’ve only gone this route because the village needs these upgrades now.” The current transfer facility was built in the 1960s. “We’ve only used a little more than 10 percent of our borrowing power,” he said, “and this adds maybe another 2 percent.” The bonds have varying maturities of from seven to 26 years, according to their intended uses, said village treasurer Michael Fox, who joined the interview at this point.
Valley Stream has changed significantly in Fare’s 50-something years. The village still has more parkland and open spaces than any other village on Long Island, he boasts. When his family arrived in 1910, the village, like most of Long Island, was farmland. Now, Valley Stream a bustling community of roughly 39,000, and one of the most diverse locales outside New York City, where it’s possible to find virtually any kind of cuisine, clothing or entertainment.
“We have more than 60 nationalities,” Fare said. He spoke with feeling of the new Creole restaurant due to open soon. And more than 12 percent of residents have yet to become citizens, so many of the immigration questions facing other communities have to be considered in Valley Stream as well.
Perhaps the mayor’s proudest boast is Valley Stream’s recent designation by Money Magazine as “the best place to live in New York State.” Asked why he believes his village received the accolade, he says simply, “the people. These are hard-working people from many backgrounds, and it’s a real community. Our parks make it a great place to spend the day with your family, and we’re close to almost anything anyone would want to do. The quality of life here really is second-to-none.”