The following is the complete 2013 State of the Village address from Mineola Mayor Scott Strauss made on Sept. 17, 2013:
Good evening to all. I would like to welcome you to Mineola’s State of the Village Address.
I would like to take a moment to recognize my fellow Village Board members: Deputy Mayor Paul Pereira, Trustee Paul Cusato, Trustee George Durham and Trustee Dennis Walsh. This dedicated team has been able to accomplish many good things for our residents, taxpayers and business owners.
I would also like to thank the department heads and supervisors of the village for being here this evening. They make the machinery of village government run smoothly and efficiently.
We certainly have had a challenging year. Super Storm Sandy and the snow storm which immediately followed hit Mineola with a tremendous punch. But, while we may have bent as a community, we would not be broken. All of us – both the public sector and the private sector – came together in order to deal with the discomfort and damage of the storm and to speed our community towards recovery.
The dual storms took a toll on all of us. Many residents and businesses were without electrical power for up to two weeks. The first hit took out approximately 325 trees; the second hit took out another 100. These trees were uprooted, landed on buildings, tore up sidewalks and curbs, ripped apart power lines and blocked roads. Homes were damaged; businesses were crippled; cars and trucks were crushed.
We had the slight luxury of knowing ahead of time that Sandy was headed our way. That gave us opportunity to sit down and map out our emergency response plan, to identify our resources and to line up outside help. Our department of public works organized its response team; our Village Hall staff prepared contingency plans; our fire department and ambulance corps. and auxiliary police department were put on alert. We entered into emergency contracts with companies which could provide heavy equipment (such as excavators, tractor trailers and front end loaders) and personnel to assist our own crews should we need it. And we did.
We were ready for Sandy.
I am proud to say that our dedicated village personnel dug down deep and rose to the occasion. We would not allow these storms to shut down our community. We worked around the clock to climb back to normal. Our DPW crews, clerical staff, our ambulance corps personnel, auxiliary police officers and our firefighters went to work. They all left their families to weather the storm alone.
They either stood by in their headquarters for days and days on end handling an unprecedented amount of emergency calls or they worked answering phones or clearing streets and removing debris so LIPA could get in and begin restoring power.
Our village hall and community center were without power for five days. We set up a generator and opened it as a “charging station” so residents could charge their electronic devices and maintain some contact with the rest of the world. Our library was without power for only a brief time. Once they were open the staff there welcomed many residents who sought heat, electricity and conversations with their fellow neighbors.
Seven days after the storm, the Governor had to sign an executive order ordering villages, towns and counties to begin picking up garbage. We had already been doing that just two days after the storm. No one had to order us to do it, it was already part of our plan.
After the cleanup was completed, we assembled our team, evaluated our response efforts and set about to develop an even better emergency management plan.
During the storm we sent some of our firefighters and equipment to communities of the south shore as virtually entire neighborhoods burned. Our firefighters helped to protect those communities and after returning home, went back on several occasions and served meals donated by local restaurants to the many families who were left with nothing.
Within a few weeks of Superstorm Sandy, a few of our firefighters decided they needed to bring them assistance. They held a pancake breakfast fundraiser collecting thousands of dollars.
They then bought toys and games for families of all ages, wrapped them and brought these gifts to the areas hit the hardest. Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray was with us and was visibly moved by the outpouring of support and assistance Mineola provided. She said to me that I must be proud of my firefighters. I replied saying I am proud of them and I am also extremely proud of the entire Village of Mineola. For it was the caring hearts and willingness to help others that all of our residents and businesses have is what made this possible. Our residents and businesses continually give of themselves for others. The entire Village of Mineola made a tremendous impact on the lives of others that day.
That was Sandy. But that was not the only challenge we faced.
The national, state and regional economies were not doing well. Unemployment was up. Home prices had plummeted. Consumer spending was down.
All of these factors had an effect on our village. Our residents were forced to cut back; businesses felt the pinch; our own village government had to take a hard look at expenditures and revenues.
I am happy to report that Mineola also weathered the storm of economic recession. Careful planning and building upon the foundation laid by the prior administration of Jack Martins have placed us in a good position.
We had passed a budget with minimal tax increases and we were able to bring our fiscal year to a close under budget. We continue to maintain a healthy unreserved fund balance – our “rainy day” fund – in order to protect our residents, taxpayers and business owners against unforeseen events. We were able to utilize these funds, for example, in covering the recovery expenditures associated with Sandy. While we will be reimbursed by FEMA for most costs, that agency operates by reimbursing municipalities well after they have expended monies. Our reserve allowed us to lay out the recovery funds without any borrowing and to absorb what might not be covered.
Ten years ago, Mineola had approximately $33 million in bonded indebtedness. We have adhered religiously to our debt management plan. I am pleased to inform you that our outstanding bonding is now less than $14 million. That’s a reduction of more than $19 million in just 10 years. The end-payment of additional bonds will come soon. Accordingly, our total indebtedness will be reduced even more.
Another area of fiscal policy success involves our reduction program for tax certiorari refunds. We continue to follow our “pay as you go” policy concerning the settlement of tax protest cases. Ten years ago, the village was paying on average approximately $1.3 million annually to settle these cases. In fact, the village had actually been bonding to pay refunds. As a result of our village-wide reassessment program, we have been able to cut that refund number by 80 percent.
The amount budgeted this fiscal year for tax certiorari settlements was $450,000. The total amount demanded by the certiorari plaintiffs was $464,950. As a result of the efforts of our attorneys and the work of our assessors, our village clerk, village treasurer and tax department, the total settlement amount is $262,700, well below the number budgeted. The village also prepaid a carry-over obligation from the prior year of $37,500 which was not due until the 2014-2015 fiscal year. We will thus begin the 2014-2015 fiscal year with no carry-over obligations – a clean slate. We have not only seen the light at the end of the tunnel; we have reached it.
Although there are financial challenges that lie ahead, I will tell you now that I and my fellow board members will take those challenges head-on and make the tough yet right decisions you expect of us.
As a village board, we continually try to implement our master plan, the vision which our community has for itself. I am pleased to announce that we are making great progress in that area.
Last week, we participated in the “topping-off ceremony” for the new, $80 million research and academic building constructed by Winthrop University Hospital. A “topping-off ceremony” is the formal signing and placing of the final steel girder in a structure. Winthrop’s investment in our downtown with a research center of national significance will help drive the economic engine of our businesses there, will add new and exciting aesthetic elements to the neighborhood and will further encourage the upgrading of our community.
The building permit for The Winston, a 270-unit residential building at Old Country Road and Willis Avenue, has been issued. Demolition of the old buildings at the site is taking place as we speak and soon the excavation work will begin.
The companion building, The Churchill, is under construction on Front Street just west of Roslyn Road. That building will be an affordable rental building for senior citizens. Construction is moving forward at a swift pace.
At 250 Old Country Road, the former LIPA/Keyspan Building will soon come down to make way for a new 315-unit residential building. Final review of the plans is being conducted by our building department and the building permit will be issued soon. This building will provide 32 units for affordable next generation-workforce-first responder housing.
All of these projects have been approved by the board of trustees pursuant to our development incentive bonus law, according to which an applicant may receive a relaxation of our land use regulations in exchange for providing public amenities to the community. More than $10 million of value in amenities or cash contribution in lieu of amenities will be received by the Village from these projects. More importantly, however, these developments will bring new vitality to our downtown, increase our village tax base and provide additional customers for our businesses.
For our younger residents, we have been able to construct a new playground on Emory Road just north of Jericho Turnpike. We have upgraded the sprinkler pools in Memorial and Wilson Parks and we are developing plans for the upgrading of our other recreational facilities and parks and hope to roll out exciting designs in the near future.
We have been able to replace old equipment, upgrade current equipment all with little to no impact to our residents.
With respect to our infrastructure, we have a few things to report. We all have experienced the repaving of Jericho Turnpike. The project was an important one for our village and we thank both businesses and residents for your patience as we worked with the state to upgrade this important road.
We have undertaken an upgrade to our water production, monitoring and distribution systems. We value this most precious resource, protect it with great diligence and join with you in enjoying it.
Storm water drainage has been a problem in the southeast portion of our village, particularly on Bruce Terrace but also encompassing the area of East Second Street. We were able, through the assistance of Sen. Jack Martins, to participate in a three-party inter-municipal project with Nassau County and the Town of North Hempstead to correct this problem. Although the project has hit a few obstacles, especially in the area of Sheridan Boulevard, we look forward to its completion. We thank the residents of those neighborhoods for their cooperation and certainly their patience.
All in all, I believe that we have a good handle on village finances, the implementation of our master plan, the protection and expansion of our tax base, the stewardship of our physical infrastructure, the protection of our community and the preservation of our suburban quality of life. We owe a sincere debt of thanks to all those who have helped us get to this point.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mineola is an extremely busy and large place. We are larger than 20 cities in the State of New York.
The Village of Mineola isn’t run solely by those who sit with me on the board of trustees. You, we, are fortunate to have an incredibly dedicated team of professionals who continually strive to meet the demands of this village.
All of our employees continually rise to the everyday challenge of government and this Administration which is to help reduce the burden on our taxpayers and maintain services.
We have people such as Joseph Scalero, our village clerk; Thomas Rini our superintendent of public works; Daniel Whalen, our superintendent of buildings; Giacomo Ciccone, our village treasurer; Elizabeth Bernardes, or villages clerk of the court; and Charles Sleefe, our library director.
On a daily basis, these men and women keep our village running in a positive direction. They are on the forefront of not only our large projects but the everyday things we have come to appreciate and expect living in Mineola. Things such as maintaining our parks, our library, the community pool, our ball fields, garbage collection, street cleaning and snow plowing. They adjust the decorations of our thoroughfares for the different seasons, from flowers in spring, to flags for Memorial Day, to holiday decorations in winter. Many of these go unnoticed but are appreciated by all. Thanks to all of you and your staffs for all you do.
Our justice court led by village justice John O’Shea and associate justice Richard O’Callaghan are determined to help us maintain our quality of life.
Former mayor Bob Hinck is our community development coordinator. Through his hard work and sense of community he has helped secure funding for many community projects and help our neighbors who are less fortunate, find financing to repair and maintain the homes they cherish.
Mineola is exceptionally lucky to have a strong and vibrant chamber of commerce. The chamber is made up of the business owners of Mineola. Many of them don’t live here but have invested everything they have in our village. They realize that in order to have a thriving and energetic community, there needs to be a strong relationship between residents and businesses alike. It is a hand in hand partnership.
Mineola’s Chamber of Commerce continues to work hard for us. They run a hugely successful street fair in our downtown, they bring us “Movie Night in the Park” where we can watch a movie with our families and neighbors under the stars and they bring us the “Taste & Style of Mineola” which allows us to sample food from the many fine restaurants in and around Mineola while raising money for charities.
The chamber also holds fund raisers constantly comes up with new ideas on how to help us make Mineola a better place to live and do business in. They are doing their share, we need to do ours. Please shop locally and help them help us.
Finally, I would like to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of the many, many volunteers who make up the various boards, committees, programs and departments that add a rich flavor and provide vital services to our village.
We have organizations who help our veterans and our seniors and organizations who help our business community succeed, who raise funds and give them back to those in need.
Our volunteers allow us to enjoy parades, fun nights at the pool, BBQ’s and picnics with our numerous ethnic and fraternal organizations and clubs. We have fireworks displays, Halloween parties, Christmas Tree lighting ceremonies, pasta dinners and opening day parades for our little leaguers and high school football team. All with the help of volunteers.
We have our volunteer fire department and volunteer ambulance corps. who watch over us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, ready and willing to help us in all types of weather. Our auxiliary police department patrols our village and helps keep us safe at our picnics, block parties and parades.
There are many of you who volunteer to help keep our youth engaged and in programs that help build character, sportsmanship and great core values. Groups like the Boy Scouts & Girl Scouts, the Mineola Athletic Association, and the Police Athletic League. You all spend countless, countless hours trying to guide our children and help prepare them for their futures as they are our future leaders.
Mineola is made up of numerous volunteer organizations and thousands of individuals who continually rise to the occasion and do whatever is necessary to make our community the envy of others.
If I failed to recognize an organization or program of our community, please accept my apologies. As mayor, the problem of having so many amazing and dedicated groups in our village that I can’t remember them all is a great problem to have.
In closing, as I have said many times before, it’s my desire to raise the bar and set the standard from finances to the everyday workings of our village and I believe we have done so and will maintain our efforts and continue to raise that bar and set that standard.
On behalf of my fellow trustees, I wish to thank you, our residents, friends and neighbors and businesses for all you have done to help make Mineola the rich, vibrant and hometown community it is.
Mineola’s future is bright. Mineola’s future is strong and we will do everything we can to ensure it stays that way. Thank you.