N. Hempstead Town Board acts on Building Dept. reform, school bus safety

N. Hempstead Town Board acts on Building Dept. reform, school bus safety
The next Town of North Hempstead Town Board meeting will be on Thursday, July 7. (Photo courtesy of the office of the supervisor)

The North Hempstead Town Board passed numerous bipartisan pieces of legislation last week that take aim at the Building Department and authorize a school bus safety program while appointing a new acting comptroller and establishing the position of deputy highway superintendent. 

Supervisor Jennifer DeSena also announced that the Town Board tabled two separate hearings that she and Councilwoman Veronica Lurvey brought and plan to combine them by the July meeting.

The Town Board said its work on the two hearings is not completely done yet but will most likely be by the next meeting in July.

“We’re going to call these public hearings together and continue them at the next meeting,” DeSena said last Thursday, “as they represent a similar effort to accomplish the same goal of initiating reforms in our Building Department.” 

One hearing was on a local law amending town code that would require the town Building Department commissioner to make a decision on expedited permits within seven days and remove the Town Board’s ability to override the department’s decisions. The second hearing was on a local law that would “make modifications to the procedure on requests for expedited permit application review,” according to the June agenda.

Another bipartisan piece of legislation that was passed now requires reports given to the Town Board from commissioners and department heads at the Building Department to be delivered on a monthly basis rather than annually. 

“The purpose of this local law is to provide statistics so that everybody on the Town Board has the statistics about the functioning of the Building Department so that we can best make use of them and determine what needs to change and what is already working,” Lurvey said. 

Additional requirements in the now-monthly reports are distinguishing information between commercial and residential applications and permits and providing them to the Town Board no later than five business days following the end of the previous month. 

The Town Board also authorized the creation of a school bus safety program that could potentially equip every school bus in town with recording equipment that would automatically issue violations to drivers who pass a stopped school bus. 

“The number of injuries and fatalities that have occurred due to this extremely avoidable situation is staggering,” DeSena said. “And I believe that the town is in a unique position to be able to drastically decrease these numbers over time.

There were some questions from the public about the effectiveness of the actual equipment and how the program will be paid for, which DeSena said will be answered and vetted during the bidding process. 

Councilman Robert Troiano said in May, when the date for the hearing was scheduled, he wasn’t aware of how pervasive this problem is.  

“Every year there are 17 million stopped school buses that are passed by a vehicle,” Troiano, who is also president of the Westbury Union Free School District, said in quoting nationwide statistics. “In the last 10 years, 136,000 injuries have occurred to schoolchildren by virtue of going around a bus and being hit by a vehicle that should have stopped. Over the last 10 years, there have been 1,000 fatalities that could have been avoided. I am hopeful that this program will bring that number down to zero in the Town of North Hempstead.”

Paul Wood, director of finance for the supervisor, was appointed acting comptroller for the town. Wood is a CPA and accounting executive who previously worked as chief tax compliance officer and vice president of Lexington Realty Trust, the same firm he served as chief accounting officer during his 30-year tenure. 

Wood will not receive a raise in his current salary and is expected to be removed from the acting comptroller position when a permanent comptroller is hired. 

The town’s previous comptroller and deputy comptroller resigned prior to DeSena taking office and the Town Board has been in the interview process after they previously posted the position.

The position of highway superintendent has been left vacant since the May 19 meeting when Town Board Democrats voted to table the appointment of former Highway Superintendent Thomas Tiernan and to remove acting Highway Superintendent Harry Weed. 

The highway superintendent position was posted publicly on May 23.

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