Republican North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena and Democrat Town Council Member Veronica Lurvey are in agreement that response times and the approval processes of the North Hempstead Building Department have improved in recent months.
But the two disagree over who deserves the credit.
Lurvey attributed the improvement in a press release to the installation of Citizenserve, an online system implemented under ex-Supervisor Judi Bosworth before she stepped down in January 20212
The system allows building department applications to be submitted electronically.
“The Town of North Hempstead is proud to report a substantial improvement in response times and approval processes by the Building Department, ” Lurvey said. “Statistics show that investments made in the Building Department by the Town Board under the leadership of former Supervisor Judi Bosworth are resulting in a dramatic reduction in the time needed to review building plans and issue permits.”
North Hempstead was the first municipality in the state to use Citizenserve, which provides online Building Department services for residents and can be accessed at www.mytonh.com.
The platform’s first phase was launched in November 2020 under Bosworth before being completed the same month the following year.
The average time in 2019 to receive a building permit was 133 days, which has since been cut in half to 60 days, Lurvey said.
“Our residents bank online, shop online, and now they can submit and review their building permits online, too. As we look back on the last three years, we are seeing the results of years of investment into efficiency and accountability initiatives at the Building Department,” Lurvey said. “Sometimes it takes time to harvest the fruits of our investment, and I’m so pleased by what the statistics are showing. We continue to look for ways to improve.”
Lurvey was supported by Building Commissioner John Niewender.
“Citizenserve has really enabled us to review and process applications faster than ever before,” said Niewender in a statement. “We are truly seeing the results of years of reforms and hard work. While there is still work to be done, the numbers don’t lie – we’ve come a long way.”
Most of the 5,298 applications filed in 2022 were processed in just over a month, Lurvey said.
DeSena did not comment on Lurvey’s claims about Citizenserve’s impact on the building department’s performance but credited building department improvements on an audit she asked Nassau Comptroller Elaine Philips’ office to conduct.
The audit, which is still underway, includes an examination of its operations and procedures, internal control environment, performance monitoring and regulator compliance.
“Due to the scrutiny I added to our Building Department after initiating a Nassau County Comptroller audit, employees in the Building Department are seemingly working harder than ever before to clear their months-long backlog. But there is still a lot of work to be done,” DeSena said in a statement to Blank Slate Media in response to Lurvey’s release. “I’m hopeful that the results of the independent audit will further identify the department’s deficiencies, so I can continue to hold our workforce accountable and deliver for the people of North Hempstead.”
Brian Devine, the spokesman for the supervisor, was critical of Lurvey’s release and Niewender’s comments.
“This release is nothing more than political grandstanding by a rogue Councilmember looking to play the role of Supervisor and claim to speak for the Town,” Devine said in a statement. “The sad fact is the Building Department Commissioner failed to answer a recent request from the Supervisor’s Office for information from 2022 to potentially be incorporated in the State of the Town address, and instead it was seemingly provided to a member of the majority to be used for political gain. This is another example of the Town Board clearly meddling in the affairs of the Building Department, even while it’s currently under a financial and operational independent field audit by the Nassau County Comptroller.”
In 2022, the North Hempstead Town Board passed numerous pieces of legislation that focused on the Building Department’s operations
In June, the Town Board passed legislation submitted by Lurvey to require reports given to the Town Board from commissioners and department heads at the Building Department to be delivered on a monthly basis rather than yearly.
A month later a local law was passed to make modifications to the procedure for requests for expedited permits.
The new process now allows the town’s building department and planning department commissioners to make decisions on expedited permit requests within five business days.
There is also added criteria to review requests before determining whether or not they should be granted an expedited permit.
Previously, applicants had to meet at least one of four criteria, which included accommodating emergency situations, furthering public interests like job creation or economic development, providing an essential service or avoiding extreme financial hardship to the applicant.
Additional criteria on top of the previous four now include the urgency of the situation, potential danger to property and requests relating to improved access for people with mobility impairments or disabilities, among others.
A previous version of this story was published. It has since been updated.