The editorial board asked Jack Martins, the Republican candidate for Nassau County executive, to respond to the following questions about the key issues.
What are your specific solutions for immediately increasing revenue and decreasing expenses to balance the county budget?
The 2018 budget will be decided by the current county executive and legislature before the end of the year, and I will be prepared to manage it. Having reviewed the budget, there are certainly a few areas we can focus on immediately which will require fiscal discipline and leadership. First, we’ll do a comprehensive review of the budget, understanding that there are savings to be had by recalibrating the county workforce to significantly cut back on overtime while ensuring appropriate full time employees to provide county services.
Reviewing Nassau County’s reliance on overtime is a fairly straightforward process. Overtime is a roughly $125 million expense. By making a commitment to cutting that expense in half, saving $60 million, we could make up the budget shortfall. Other municipalities are significantly less reliant on overtime. A county that is overly reliant on overtime is committing to paying at the highest rate instead of hiring a few more workers to do the work needed, which would keep the services where taxpayers deserve them to be and cost the county — and taxpayers — less.
I have also proposed changing the way we handle property tax assessments, which would save $80 million to $100 million annually.
Nassau’s police contracts expire six weeks after your election. What changes will you seek to those contracts?
Safety of its citizens is the first responsibility of government, and I am honored to have the support of all law enforcement groups in Nassau County. They have endorsed me because they trust in my experience and ability to administer and balance our $3 billion budget and to move Nassau County forward. These brave men and women put their lives on the line each and every day for our safety, and are a critical part of what makes Nassau a place where people want to live, work and raise a family.
Regarding changes to contracts, the issue of overtime is important. Besides cutting overtime, we must review the county’s work rules, which were developed decades ago, have not been reworked, and have added significantly to the cost of policing. It is not simply the number of officers but also the work rules which inhibit flexibility and prohibit the kind of deployment that allows the police commissioner and precinct inspectors to more properly allocate and distribute personnel. It is a rigid system that doesn’t reflect the county’s needs today.
How would you fix the county assessment system?
A fair assessment system is critical to restoring public trust in government. Early in the campaign I suggested we need to fix the broken property tax assessment system as one element of balancing our budget in an effort to get out from under the Nassau Interim Finance Authority and taking back control of our finances and economic development prerogatives.
There are more challenges to the Nassau County assessment system than anywhere else in the state, which highlights the fact that we are doing it poorly. Of the 57 counties in New York State outside New York City, only two have countywide assessments: Tompkins County (population, only 101,000) and us.
I would go with best practice, which is transferring the property tax assessments to the towns. We would work with the towns so there is a seamless transfer of institutional knowledge and personnel so they can properly maintain a smaller and more manageable assessment system. I did this in Mineola when I was mayor, and I am confident this can be accomplished without a significant increase in expenses. And done well, we can save $80 million to $100 million each year, which is a substantial savings to the budget and taxpayers.
Housing costs are skyrocketing in Nassau County and many young people can’t find affordable housing. Do you support more rental units or increased density to fix this? If not, what is your alternative proposal to meet this increased demand?
We need to do everything we can to encourage our children to stay here, and also to encourage others to move here, keeping Nassau County the wonderful place that it is to live, work and raise a family. One important component of this is bringing in more business to ensure we have good paying jobs that pay enough to keep them here.
Housing is another important piece of this. As mayor of Mineola, I led the way on affordable housing with a model of increased density, including rental apartments, in our downtown. This meant building consensus within the community for the need, including showing the economic benefit to the village and the school district.
We need to look at our downtowns as an opportunity to provide not only housing for millennials and young professionals but also for people of all ages who are interested in living in our cool downtowns.
What policies would you enact to fight corruption and ensure the integrity of county government?
We must restore the public trust in government, which is why early in the campaign I released a detailed proposal that addresses this issue in detail. The bottom line is that we must have zero tolerance for corruption or the perception of public corruption, period. While I was a state senator I voted to enact tough new laws to put corrupt elected officials in jail and to ensure they don’t receive their taxpayer-funded pension.
We must also include giving resources to the ethics board and our commissioner of investigations so that they can monitor and enforce our county’s ethic’s code. Some details of my proposed new code of ethics include enhanced vetting to prevent nepotism and improper instances of simultaneous employment with multiple governmental entities or county contractors, rigorous review of all county contracts and vendors to prevent conflicts of interest, more expansive financial disclosure requirements for elected officials and policymakers, creation of a new electronic filing system to facilitate the enforcement of these requirements, and subjecting elected officials and county employees to enhanced disclosure requirements. The ethics board must have the staff, independence and accountability to do its job.
Is the red-light camera system working? What, if anything, would you change? Please be specific.
I would make the red-light camera system less revenue-centric and more safety-centric. I would look for ways to deploy the system in different intersections to be able to properly encourage safety. If there isn’t a safety component to the deployment, then it shouldn’t be done. As people become more aware of the locations of red-light camera deployment, they respond to the risk by stopping, and that has resulted in fewer accidents. Safety must be the motivator for continued use.
These responses were edited for spelling and punctuation.