State of the Town good. And rocky: DeSena

State of the Town good. And rocky: DeSena
Republican North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena applauds during her 2023 State of the Town address at Harbor Links Golf Course in Port Washington. (Photo courtesy Russell Lippai)

North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena laid out a 2023 agenda that included infrastructure improvements and updates on previously made promises, including a 311 call center team devoted to specific town Building Department requests and bringing in a professional planner to update the town’s master plan.

“My goals for my administration have not changed since my inauguration,” DeSena, a Republican, said Friday afternoon from Harbor Links Golf Course in Port Washington, during a luncheon held in conjunction with the League of Women Voters of Port Washington-Manhasset. “I believe that we should streamline town government wherever possible, work through the governmental logjam and increase accountability to our taxpayers, operate in a fiscally responsible manner, and lead our town in an open, honest, and transparent way.”

Many state, town and village officials and school district superintendents were present for DeSena’s second State of the Town address, the 37th of its kind. 

In 2021, DeSena was the first Republican nominee to win the town supervisor election in more than 30 years, succeeding Judi Bosworth, a Democrat who did not seek re-election. The term is for two years.

The town’s 311 call center, created in 2005 and used to answer resident inquiries, will feature a dedicated team solely responsible for taking calls on the town’s Building Department, DeSena said. 

Democrat Councilmember Veronica Lurvey announced last week that the Building Department has seen expedited response times thanks to the installation of Citizenserve, an online system implemented in 2020 that provides Building Department services online, although DeSena credited improvements to the current audit being performed by Nassau County Comptroller Elaine Philips’ office. Citizenserve was implemented under Bosworth.

DeSena announced town board meetings started broadcasting on North Hempstead TV and that the town will soon be sending out a request to update the town’s master plan.

“Updating the town’s master plan is an especially important process as our state continues to look for ways to impose its will on our local control of zoning,” DeSena said. “Just a few weeks ago, Gov. Hochul outlined her newest housing plan, which would effectively allow the state to override the town’s ability to control local zoning decisions.”

During her State of the State address Jan. 10, Hochul unveiled her plan to build 800,000 new homes over the next decade to address the state’s housing shortage. Included in the New York Housing Compact are local participation requirements and incentives to achieve housing growth along with requiring municipalities with MTA stations to rezone for higher-density residential development.

DeSena said she agrees affordable housing is a necessary priority for all forms of government but called the proposal “one-size-fits-all” and that it would jeopardize the quality of life in existing neighborhoods. The supervisor added that the town sent a letter to Hochul saying the proposal would be a poor way of accomplishing the intended goals.

For infrastructure, DeSena said work will begin this year on Michael J. Tully Park on New Hyde Park’s tennis courts and track and turf field, sidewalk replacements along Westbury Avenue in Carle Place and renovating the playground at Fuschillo Park in Carle Place. 

DeSena reiterated similar sentiments she made last year regarding working across the aisle with her colleagues on the town board while alluding to ongoing issues.

“Last year, I stood here and delivered a simple message to the Town Board: ‘together, we can accomplish many great things.’” DeSena said early in her address. “I believe that we have done just that as we have continued to collaborate and work hard for our residents over the past year.”

Later in her address, DeSena said she was “disappointed” by a recent town board vote that postponed a $3.1 million allocation from the town’s general fund to the capital fund for the Manhasset Sewer Conversion Project while they await more information to critical questions from the Great Neck Water Pollution Control District. 

“I am confident that their lingering questions and concerns will be resolved by our March meeting because a project that promotes economic development, improves quality of life, and protects Manhasset Bay for generations to come should result in a unanimous vote in favor,” DeSena said. 

DeSena said the proposed hiring of Steven Leventhal as Ethics Board counsel being blocked was “unfortunate” while saying she is committed to implementing ethics training for town employees and elected officials.

Democrats said at the time during the September town board meeting that outside counsel can be requested by the board when needed, which they have not done as of now.

Before being elected to her first political office in 2021, DeSena was executive director of the Manhasset Coalition Against Substance Abuse. As supervisor, she established the town’s Substance Misuse Advisory Council and on Friday announced the appointment of Drew Scott, a former News12 anchor and current Newsday TV reporter who lost his granddaughter, Hallie, in 2017 to a fentanyl-laced heroin overdose.

After DeSena’s address, Lurvey recorded a response applauding the supervisor’s “ambitious” agenda while updating residents on priorities laid out in last year’s response, which include infrastructure improvements, protecting the environment, enhancing programming and maintaining the town’s fiscal health. 

Lurvey listed accomplishments from the Democrats, who hold a 4-3 majority on the seven-member town board, while saying DeSena’s 2022 agenda was one she could not fulfill alone. 

“The reality is that the constituents of the Town of North Hempstead have elected a Town Board that is split along party lines, and for the sake of our residents we must work across the aisle to get things done,” Lurvey said. “I call on the supervisor to work together to do the work of the people of the Town of North Hempstead.”

The Democrat said as part of amendments she submitted during budget season, the 2023 town budget includes additional funding for street paving, sidewalk repairs and tree services, including a 5% tax cut. 

This year’s budget was put together without a town comptroller or chief deputy comptroller, positions that have remained vacant since DeSena took office.

“It’s shocking to realize that a town with a nearly $170 million budget has been operating without a formally appointed comptroller for more than a year,” DeSena said. “To be frank, these positions have gone unfilled for far too long.”

In December, a resolution to appoint John Morris, a former Smithtown comptroller with over 15 years of municipal accounting experience, was rejected.

Council member Mariann Dalimonte, a Democrat, cited a Newsday article that reported Morris was not re-hired as the Smithtown comptroller and that council member Robert Creighton said his term “didn’t work out to our satisfaction” before she voted no.

Brian Devine, spokesman for the supervisor, said Morris was the only candidate left after a year-long bipartisan search process.

Lurvey said the Democrats are concerned that the audit of the Building Department will not be able to provide insight on productively reforming operations since the comptroller’s office is financial in nature while adding that previous calls to form an independent task force to review operations were ignored.

Lurvey agreed with DeSena that an ethics training program should be implemented for town employees and elected officials but was critical of the supervisor’s constant attempts to make appointments to the town’s Board of Ethics. 

When DeSena took office, the seven-member board at the time was completely made up of members who were in holdover status and could be removed at any time. Since then, four members have been appointed to defined terms. 

Lurvey also said that Friday was the first time DeSena had mentioned updates to the master plan since last year. 

“She stated in last year’s speech that she ‘will be submitting a more detailed proposal at a later date to make this a reality,’ but to our knowledge, today is the first day this initiative has been mentioned since she first spoke about it last year,” Lurvey said. 

DeSena’s address and Lurvey’s response will be broadcast on North Hempstead TV and made available on the town’s YouTube channel.

A previous version of this story was published. It has since been updated. 

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