Nassau County has faced unprecedented issues over the past year, with the loss of more than 3,000 residents to the novel coronavirus and renewed calls for police reform. But through it all, County Executive Laura Curran said, residents have proven their resiliency, coming up with new and creative ways to help their neighbors, which, she said, makes her believe that Nassau County will emerge from the pandemic better than it was before.
“Standing here now, I see a future brighter than ever,” she said in her State of the County address, which she gave from the stage of Elmont Memorial High School on March 24. “And tonight, I’ll tell you exactly how Nassau County is seizing this once-in-a-century opportunity to come back stronger than we ever imagined.”
The county has already been able to rebuild its economy in the year since Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that all schools and businesses would have to shut down to stop the spread of the coronavirus, she said, by providing more than 200 restaurants with grants of up to $10,000 and providing more than 35,000 families with food at a time when many New Yorkers weren’t working.
She is now helping school districts access Federal Emergency Management Agency funds for investment in information technology and improved ventilation, and will continue the county’s inoculation efforts, which had already provided more than 30 percent of Nassau County residents with at least one dose of the Covid vaccine, the highest percentage of any major county in New York State.
“Even when it hasn’t been easy politically,” Curran said, “I’ve advocated for businesses that have followed the rules and are just trying to get by, and I’ll continue to advocate for common-sense reopening.”
Curran also used the speech as an opportunity to tout her accomplishments, before she faces Repulican Town of Hempstead Councilman Bruce Blakeman, of Atlantic Beach, in her quest for re-election.
“I believe government can work for the people, but only when it’s honest, transparent and responsive,” Curran said, “and for too long, that was the opposite of what we had here in Nassau.”
Before she took office, she said, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas issued a report outlining ways the county could address its history of waste, fraud and abuse, all of which Curran said her administration has addressed. “We’ve taken the politics out of governing and struck blow after blow at the culture of corruption using oversight, transparency and audit trails as our weapons,” Curran announced, “and we’re just getting started.”
The county has managed to reduce the timeframes for project approvals from the Department of Public Works, and increased the annual average lane miles of roads repaved between 2019 and 2021 by more than 70 percent when compared to the average lane miles of roads repaved in the three years before Curran took office.
Additionally, Curran said, she did not increase property taxes during the coronavirus pandemic, and instead used money left over from the 2019 budget to fund the unanticipated expenses of the Covid pandemic in 2020. As a result, she said, Moody’s upgraded Nassau County’s bond rating to positive for the first time in 15 years, citing “a third consecutive year of improved financial results” and “ongoing budget and management discipline.”
“My administration will continue policies of fiscal restraint,” Curran vowed, “so that the county can finally, after almost a decade, end the state’s control over county finances.”
The county is now enjoying record-low crime rates, she said, and is seeking to improve the community’s relationship with the Nassau County Police Department by expanding community policing initiatives, creating more Police Activity Leagues and passing new legislation to reform the police department. It requires all police officers to wear body cameras and will include “unprecedented steps to increase police data transparency, provide additional de-escalation and anti-bias training and ensure our force reflects the diversity of our communities.”
“We should never be afraid to talk about ways to improve policing,” Curran said, “but there will be no defunding the police in Nassau County. Our law enforcement will always have my respect and I will always have their backs.”
But, Curran said, more can be done to further improve Nassau County, as real estate prices in the area increase. She has identified 12 projects that will provide Nassau County with nearly $400 million and over 3,000 construction jobs, she said, including the creation of the HUB at Nassau Coliseum, the new UBS Arena at Belmont Park and the new train station in Elmont.
Work on one of the larger infrastructure projects, the Western Bays Initiative, will begin later this month, Curran said, to remove “harmful discharges,” restore marshland, improve storm resilience, boost shell-fishing and “create a better ecosystem.” It will create 2,400 new jobs for the South Shore of Long Island.
Finally, Curran said she has secured land at Mitchell Field for veteran housing and has teamed up with Suffolk County officials to “identify and address disparities” in access to business ownership, in addition to working with Unified Long Island to “confront all forms of bigotry.”
“As tough as this year has been, I know that Nassau residents are tougher,” Curran said, adding “that’s how I know that the State of our County is strong — because you are strong, stronger than you ever imagined.”