Written by Steven Nicastro
Kate Murray, 51, has served the position of Town of Hempstead Supervisor since January 2003.
The Levittown resident defends her position this Nov. 5 against Democratic candidate Felix Procacci, a community activist and computer programmer from Franklin Square.
See what Murray and Procacci think are the biggest issues facing Hempstead as they answer our questionnaire below.
Why are you running?
Murray: I am running for re-election to continue my work of providing the best local government services at the lowest possible cost. In fact, I am proud to have produced a 2014 town budget that reduces town taxes, my third successive tax-cut budget.
At the same time, I am committed to maintaining all town services and programs in full force. From great parks, beaches and marinas to 16 senior centers, free flu shot programs and a host of other benefits, Hempstead Town has activities, services and programs that are enhancing the local quality-of-life.
Procacci: I am running for Hempstead Town Supervisor to reign in unnecessary growth of government spending by making government transparent. If elected, I will provide residents accurate, timely, and comprehensive information about their government. I am running on the principle that government works best when residents are well-informed and when elected officials and employees act openly.
I am running because Supervisor Kate Murray has consistently refused to implement even the most basic initiatives to make town government transparent. For example, broadcasting town board meetings and putting ratified contracts online (the town has the equipment and personnel to easily perform these tasks, at practically no cost, but Supervisor Murray refuses to implement them).
I am also running to ensure that all residents are treated fairly when they come to speak at town hall. Currently, if you criticize Town government, you are given less speaking time.
What qualifies you to serve in the position?
Murray: My decade long service as town supervisor has been marked by impressive accomplishments, providing residents with a municipality that is fiscally stable, while other governments at all levels face serious fiscal challenges.
Indeed, our township has earned the highest Wall Street credit ratings available, two grades superior to New York City and New York State. What's more, my administration distinguished itself in the wake of Hurricane Sandy by waiving building permit fees for those rebuilding their storm-damaged homes.
My government is also working to expand the economy, placing 8,800 people in jobs during a one-year period. Moreover, my experience in running America's largest township in a responsible and progressive manner comprises my qualifications to continue in the position.
Procacci: I am dedicated to making town government transparent so government officials are held accountable, and government works efficiently. I am also dedicated to making government responsive to the needs of our residents.
My investigation into the Hempstead Animal Shelter discovered the same financial mismanagement subsequently reported by the state comptroller.
I will use my experience in the computer field to ensure town government uses technology efficiently (Hempstead Town government is currently very wasteful of taxpayer money).
I have attended and spoke at every Hempstead Town Board meeting for the last three years, numerous school board meetings, and seminars on reforming local government and have an understanding of what is needed to reform government so it works for the people and works economically.
What TOH services are most important to the district?
Murray: Many neighbors hit by Sandy recall how our Sanitation Department waived all restrictions after the Superstorm, picking up anything and everything for months on end. The town's Conservation and Waterways Department, which owns one of the only municipal hydraulic dredges, pumped sand out of clogged waterways after the storm, and rebuilt damaged sand dunes that constituted the last line of defense between the ocean and local homes and businesses.
Our Highway Department cleared over 2,500 trees felled by the storm, and unclogged hundreds of debris-filled storm drains. Hempstead Town's Senior Enrichment Department provided 16 warming centers in the wake of Sandy, offering transportation, nutritious food and socialization.
In short, it's difficult to pick a single town service that is "most important."
What is your opinion of the most recent budget? Would you have done something differently with it?
Procacci: This budget, like all previous budgets under the Murray administration, has a lot of unnecessary spending, and spending that cannot be accounted for. For example, the budget specifies $30 million of reserves to be used, but the Town Comptroller (at the budget hearing) refused to say which reserve funds were being used.
There are also a lot of expenditures they refuse to account for. For example, the Town is budgeting $292,000 for three graphic artists, but the town will not provide the names and salaries of those people (in 2011 there was 1 graphic artist at $62,938 and the town will not explain why they now need three graphic artists, and why the cost has gone up 370%). By state law, such information is supposed to be a matter of public record.
The town's budget needs to be thoroughly examined, and residents need to be made aware of how town government is spending their money, so they (not the politicians) can decide on budget priorities.
What do you think is the biggest issue facing the Town of Hempstead?
Murray: The biggest issue facing the town is continuing our commitment to providing the best services at the lowest possible cost. A constant dedication to cost control makes this possible. In fact, our government has reduced the town's debt service costs in each of the last five years.
Procacci: Lack of transparency. For example, the Murray administration spends millions of dollars of taxpayer money to boast about how fiscally responsible she is, but the fact is the Murray administration (with all its years of government experience) increased taxes 44.9% over nine years (even though the workforce declined by 6%).
Between 2006 and 2009, the Murray administration approved wage increases that brought the compensation of two Sanitary District 7 employees to over $1 million dollars. Supervisor Murray denied responsibility, but the fact of the matter is the town board can vote down line items in special district budgets. In this case, as in many other cases, Supervisor Murray and the entire town board rubber stamped the budgets and did not even notify residents. Lack of transparency allows wasteful spending to continue unabated.
If you are elected, what is the one thing you’d like to see accomplished during your term?
Murray: If I am re-elected, I am eager to see the Long Beach Island Storm Damage Reduction Project commence. Hempstead Town has been the first municipality to "sign on" this project as a key step in hardening our coastline to protect homes from storm devastation.
I will continue to work with Senator Charles Schumer and Congressman Peter King to help neighbors secure the federal aid and insurance money they need to rebuild their homes and their lives.
Procacci: I would like to see many more residents knowledgeable about how their town government operates, and more participation in the political process.
I believe that by providing residents with the information they need to make an informed choice, more people will participate in the political process, reducing the effects of special interests, thereby making the political process more fair.