The editorial board asked Laura Curran, the Democratic candidate for Nassau County executive, to respond to the following questions about key issues.
What are your specific solutions for immediately increasing revenue and decreasing expenses to balance the county budget?
I will be appointing strong leaders who can manage their departments, and will engage them in analyzing every expense line in their budgets — examining every program, evaluating its need, effectiveness, and cost, and putting forth realistic proposals for effective change. The goal: “Re-Building the Budget” in line with economic reality. In part, that means recognizing that today’s world allows us to do things in smarter, more efficient ways.
What does that mean immediately? Is the size and makeup of our Civil Service Department still viable, given that hiring is a fraction of what it was years ago? Do we still need messengers in the age of email? Why are we still issuing paper checks when direct-deposit alone can save us close to $1.3 million? Is every outside contract necessary, particularly in the area of legal services? At the same time, we’ll also begin working on longer-term solutions.
Increasing revenue is a longer-term process. The answer is robust economic development and smart growth, which will broaden our tax base and increase jobs. For immediate impact, we’ll focus on increasing things such as grants, tourism, and film production, which can have an immediate impact on the county’s bottom line.
Nassau’s police contracts expire six weeks after your election. What changes will you seek to those contracts?
Everything is on the table when we sit down to negotiate the next contracts with our municipal unions, including the police unions.
I have the utmost appreciation and respect for the men and women who serve in the police department and keep us safe, but I’ve made no promises.
I believe we need to talk about all of the provisions that affect their ability to perform at the highest level, and that includes considering how modern tools impact their ability to do the job and ways we can build trust between police and the communities they serve. We also need to end up with complete contracts, open and transparent, so that the terms are clear to all.
Beyond that, I don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss my specific goals before talking with the unions directly. I look forward to productive discussions leading to agreements that are fair to our officers and the taxpaying public.
How would you fix the county assessment system?
Accurate and fair assessing is a fundamental obligation of government and we need to get it right. That means appointing a qualified and credentialed assessor, as the law requires; ensuring that the assessment department has the appropriate employees to do the job, and using the most up-to-date software to assist them. We also need to review assessments at least every three years to keep pace with natural changes in value.
Inaccurate assessments result in unfair tax burdens, and the inequities are increased by the current grievance system, which shifts a higher tax burden onto those who don’t challenge their assessments. Improved initial assessments should result in fewer grievances, and those that are filed need to be resolved more quickly and accurately, in part through a working partnership between the Assessment Review Commission and the assessment department.
I do not believe we should try to transfer the assessment obligation to the towns. The towns already refused to accept that burden when that was tried in 2013 by the Mangano administration and, in any event, such a change would spread the current problems among multiple jurisdictions without resulting in savings for 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?
Increased housing options are necessary not only to keep our young people here, but for empty-nesters as well. This is also important in bringing new businesses to Nassau, and is key to real economic development.
I am passionate about promoting transit-oriented development and walkable downtowns throughout Nassau. This type of development provides much-needed affordable housing in areas that are easily accessible by the Long Island Rail Road and the NICE Bus system. It also creates an economic environment that attracts new businesses, growing the tax base and ultimately lessening the burden placed on our current homeowners. We also can facilitate affordable housing growth through our Industrial Development Agency, which should require that a percentage of new residential development be affordable in any project that receives taxpayer-funded incentives.
Because this type of smart growth is dependent on the zoning decisions of the towns and villages, over which the county has no direct control, I am committed to working across municipal lines to ensure it is accomplished. There must be a cooperative effort to build and grow in a manner that attracts new business, benefits all of Nassau County’s residents, and keeps our young people and seniors.
What policies would you enact to fight corruption and ensure the integrity of county government?
We need to end the culture that allows corruption to take root, by making county operations transparent and enacting safeguards to stop corruption before it occurs, not simply punish offenders after the fact.
To eliminate potential for corruption, I will pursue term limits for elected county positions, require county officials to disclose relatives who do business with the county, modernize the list of employees who file financial disclosures and require them from parties to county contracts, and create an independent inspector general.
To take politics out of hiring, my appointments will be based on merit, not political connections or relationships, and my appointees will be barred from holding leadership positions in any political party or club.
To ensure contracts are awarded based only on merit, and to eliminate even the perception of favoritism, we will limit the ability of county vendors and bidders to contribute to county officials, make all procurement information available online, publicize all unsolicited proposals, identify county employees involved in procurement, and mandate full disclosure of vendor connections to county officials.
To ensure the public can monitor county spending, we will post a user-friendly county budget and an online “checkbook” that shows every vendor payment the county issues.
Is the red-light camera system working? What, if anything, would you change? Please be specific.
While reports indicate that traffic accidents have been reduced at intersections where red-light cameras operate, I favor ongoing analysis to determine whether and where placement changes should be made. When such changes take place, the public always should be given notice. I oppose increasing fees for the tickets associated with red-light cameras.
These responses were edited for spelling and punctuation.