Laura Curran

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Marijuana Legalization: A Challenging Opportunity

As county executive, my top priority is ensuring the safety and health of our residents — especially our children. That means anticipating challenges, such as snowstorms or critical funding for law enforcement that could dry up, before they arrive at our doorstep.. Today, it’s the potential legalization of the sale and possession of marijuana in New York State.

It is widely expected that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature will move to legalize recreational marijuana in the near future. We don’t know exactly what it will look like, but we know that it’s coming. This change will be consequential, and there will be challenges we need to address.

Legalization of recreational marijuana will have real implications for our law enforcement processes, health codes, commercial development, government tax revenue, licensing and regulation — the list goes on.

However you feel about the issue and what it means, there is something all of us can agree on: Our law enforcement, business community, schools, health officials, and residents need to be equipped with the tools and information to be prepared on day one.

That is why I have formed the Nassau County Task Force on Marijuana Legalization & Regulation.

This Task Force will bring together leaders from across the county who will focus on key local needs in advance of potential legalization, including the identification of equipment and training requirements for our officers, new public health protocols, new regulatory and licensing procedures, and tax revenue and business development implications.

The Task Force will be cochaired by Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and Nassau Legis. Josh Lafazan (D-Syosset) and will include a varied group of stakeholders, ensuring that all voices and perspectives are heard.

This will be a challenge, but it will also be an opportunity. It will be an opportunity for Nassau to lead the way in New York from day one — to promote new business opportunities and utilize new tax revenue for our residents.

Turning this into an opportunity will require hard work and preparation from leaders across the county to understand what is needed.

Given the breadth of potential impact for all county residents, the initial goal of this Task Force will be to develop a working understanding of the facts around marijuana legalization, and to accordingly pursue policy recommendations that will keep us safe while maximizing the benefits for our residents.

If and when legalization happens, Nassau will set an example for all of New York, seamlessly incorporating harm-reduction strategies and implementing a marijuana program that will absorb the regulations needed to ensure public safety, protect public health, and provide consumer protection.

I look forward to hearing from our Task Force so that we can get to work on turning this challenge into an opportunity.

Coming Soon: Nassau Hub Development

Here's a rendering of what Forest City Ratner’s redeveloped--and scaled down-- Nassau Coliseum would look like.

In case you haven’t heard, we are bringing transformative development to Uniondale’s Nassau Hub.

The Nassau County Legislature advanced our plan, signifying Nassau’s readiness for the land around Nassau Coliseum to become a destination. We have a strong development team in BSE Global the arena’s operator and RXR Realty. Also in place are a labor commitment, community benefit plan process, and required zoning.

The plan establishes a time frame for groundbreaking. It includes a Northwell Health Innovation Center, a much-needed parking structure, housing, and retail development.

For decades, we’ve talked about site development  but no one has delivered. This framework will bring exciting activities, jobs, and housing to The Hub.

Some skeptics may remind us of the failed Lighthouse project, the rejected referendum to fund a new Coliseum and the Islanders leaving for Brooklyn.

But my administration has brought us closer than ever to Hub development.

How did we get here so quickly? Immediately after taking office, I formed a Hub Advisory Committee comprised of experts, elected officials, and community stakeholders. It provided key insight to help us envision the Hub’s future.

The group suggested that my administration issue a Request for Expressions of Interest, which allowed developers and others to submit their visions for the Hub. BSE explored opportunities with dozens of potential partners, choosing RXR Development, headed by Scott Rechler, a well-known developer with Nassau roots.

Last month RXR and BSE announced that Northwell Health, LI’s largest employer, will take some 250,000 square feet to develop an Innovation Center on the property. The addition of Northwell so early in the process proves the viability of the site and will deliver on the promise of high-paying jobs at the Hub.  

What’s next? The developers have committed to an open dialogue with the community and elected officials, including the Hempstead Town Board. We have new channels of communication that will remain open throughout the process.

Meanwhile, the Coliseum provides world-class entertainment like Billy Joel and Elton John. And the Islanders will play 20 games there for the next two seasons, as they wait for their new Belmont park home to be built.

I attended the Islander’s first game back home, and the Barn was rocking from the moment the puck dropped until the last player skated off the ice. The spine-tingling energy was infectious and made me excited for the future.

Successful Hub development will show the the world that Nassau is not the land of no. We are growing the tax base, creating a real live-work-play destination and we are ready for the future. 

Laura Curran is the Nassau County Executive 

Fixing The Tax Assessment System: Nassau’s New Guarantee

Whether combating the opioid epidemic, tracking hurricanes, or fixing Nassau County’s corrupted property assessment system, when it comes to responsible government, data matters.

New County Assessor David Moog and I found troubling data after we delved deep into the latest residential property values. An assessment-data expert further analyzed our discovery. The data — developed by the Department of Assessment and a reliable county contractor — came from Nassau’s first reassessment of every property since 2010.

The data showed a gulf between new and old residential property values. Why? The old valuations were grossly inaccurate.

Property values in the real world were rising. But the county’s assessment roll was frozen. Annual rounds of successful property tax challenges resulting in assessment reductions compounded the problem.

Hundreds of thousands of homeowners grieve their assessments annually, which is their right. Most win a reduction. But property owners shouldn’t have to grieve to get their correct assessment. It’s our job to get it right.

Nassau could not defend against this annual avalanche of up to 200,000 grievances, and was forced into mass annual settlements. Why did the county lose so many grievances? Because the county was unable to defend the uniform level of assessment of .25 percent using the inaccurate market values under the old system.

I’d planned to use that same number, after the reassessment — until I saw the troubling data. That data, when combined with the impact of the prior administration’s stipulation with taxpayer representatives, showed that the county would basically have the same assessment roll as the corrupted, frozen roll if we kept the level of assessment at .25 percent.

That means we’d have done all the hard work on the new assessments to end up where we started — with an indefensible assessment roll and the need for hundreds of thousands of mass annual settlements. Again.

I take very seriously my pledge to clean up the assessment mess, and I am going to do just that — starting with a new, defensible level of home value assessment of .10 percent.

What does this new level of assessment mean for homeowners? They will retain the right to challenge their assessment. And they can learn how the new level of assessment will impact individual property rates with a comprehensive outreach effort effort starting November 1 that includes in-person appointments and an online campaign.  

I will protect taxpayers from the shift in rates with proposed New York State legislation providing transitional caps on any relative assessment increases over five years. And with new property values recaptured on the assessment roll, many taxpayers will see a reduction in taxes.

We will get an assessment roll that is both defensible and accurate for all county homeowners. And as more data becomes available in the coming weeks, I will share it. That is my guarantee to every property taxpayer – full transparency as we fix the mess left by the prior administration.

Nassau Parks: The Public Jewels

I had a wake-up call last week.

The previous seven months had been a blur of tackling inherited challenges – massive debt, a broken assessment system, crumbling infrastructure. But in the whirlwind, I stopped for a second and realized how easy it is to forget about the great things about living in Nassau County. Like our parks.

It happened on a glorious morning visit to the county’s Summer Recreation Program in Eisenhower Park. Kids were painting with watercolors at picnic tables in the shade of big oak trees.

“Wow,” I thought, “look at the good things we’re providing.”

Nassau’s summer program, which also operates in Wantagh Park, Cantiague Park, and Nickerson Beach, fills up immediately, and it’s no wonder. Kids get to swim in Olympic-sized pools and play in splash parks, play basketball and tennis, and kick off their sneakers to run on turf fields. The counselors are engaged and caring. Parents love our summer program because it not only provides a fun, safe and active summer for their kids, it doubles as affordable childcare.

Our parks offer so much to so many. The county’s nationally renowned public golf courses are affordable, manicured, and challenging. I got the chance to chat with golfers at Eisenhower who praised the condition of our fairways, roughs and greens, and families playing mini-golf in Eisenhower and Wantagh Park. The exercise trails were busy with walkers and joggers of all ages.

At a noontime concert in Eisenhower, I met residents who sat in a beautiful shaded area as they took in the free entertainment. Afterward, I met with Nassau staff technicians who  take great pride in their work behind the scenes, putting on the dozens of free concerts and movies at Eisenhower, Nickerson Beach, Cedar Creek, North Woodmere, Christopher Morley and Grant Parks and Chelsea Mansion.

Take a look around your county parks to appreciate all the beautiful plantings. Our horticulturalists take such care to create the most beautiful and varied surroundings – from the sea grass at Nickerson, to the mint growing at Cantiague, to the beds of colorful flowers in all our parks.

And there’s always something new to learn. Did you know that Eisenhower Park is bigger than Central Park? Here’s something else: I noticed a larger-than-normal crowd of 30 something guys between Eisenhower’s stunning Veterans’ and Firefighters’ Memorials. I struck up a conversation with these guys and learned the spot is a popular “PokeStop.” I hope Pokemon got a Leisure Pass.

What I love the most is the sense of community that flourishes in a public park. People dancing at the Disco Night concert at the Harry Chapin Lakeside Theater, seniors listening to big-band music at the noontime concerts, families picnicking together. These parks belong to you.

That is why I did not want my name on any county park signs and that decision has resonated more than I ever could have imagined. During the hours I spend at your parks, people tell me how much they appreciate my making good on that promise.

For the complete Nassau County 2018 Free Summer Entertainment Schedule please visit: nassaucountyny.gov/DocumentCenter/View/21964

Fighting Litter: It’s In The Bag

One does not have to look far to see the environmental damage caused by single-use plastic bags. They clog storm drains, get caught in vegetation, float in our waters , and endanger wildlife. It is almost impossible to sum up the immense cost — financial or environmental.

Most all the bags are made with low-density polyethylene, a material that takes hundreds of years to break down into microscopic particles. When multiplied against the estimated 23 billion plastic bags used in New York State every year, it is staggering to think most are only used once before being thrown away. The environmental impact broadens when we consider that the bags are made using non-renewable oil.

The wide-scale effects on our local wildlife are extremely disheartening. Animals, birds and marine life frequently ingest the bags thinking they are a natural food source, such as jellyfish. Even animals as large as cows eat the bags that end up on their grazing grounds. This often results in fatal consequences, as the bags are laden with chemicals, indigestible and cause bodily obstructions.

Protecting Nassau County’s environment from this problematic plastic saves oil, electricity and landfill space while reducing pollution and saving wildlife. We have to protect our environment and to do that we all must play a part.

While the bags are cheap to make, they still cost retailers and food establishments about 2 cents each. This expense is added into the goods and prepared food you are purchasing, thus raising prices.

Clean-up efforts around our neighborhoods, parks and beaches is costly. Long Island recycling stations are brought to a halt three times a day as bags get caught in sorting machinery.

These bags are easily replaced with biodegradable, reusable bags — a small step that will have a lasting positive impact on our county’s environment while saving our government much-needed funds.

That is why I am supporting a bill filed by Legis. Debra Mule (D-Freeport). With the help of the Nassau County Majority Caucus, we could reduce consumers’ reliance on these single-use bags. Minimizing the use of plastic bags is a logical and important step in keeping our environment free of the perils of plastic bags and the dangers they pose to wildlife.

I have great optimism that arising issues will be addressed and the legislation will be implemented as soon as possible.

It is time for change.

Laura Curran is the Nassau County executive.

Every Second Counts: Improving Active-Shooter Response Times

The Parkland Florida tragedy was a grim reminder that no community is immune from the threat of an active shooter. As Nassau County Executive, it’s my duty to address this reality, and to ensure we do all we possibly can to prepare for an incident we hope to never face.

The typical campus shooter is a student known to others in the school community. A little more than half of the 270 school shootings since Columbine, in 1999, happened on college campuses – with high school incidents a close second. Sixty-eight percent of school shooters got their guns from relatives or at home.

But here is perhaps the most crucial statistic to consider if the goal is to save as many lives as possible: Since Columbine, 70 percent of school shootings ended in less than five minutes.

“Every second counts,” Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said. “We’ve got to cut down response time to save lives.”

Our active-shooter response plan shaves off precious seconds by honing tactical measures, launching educational initiatives, and closely collaborating with our 56 school districts.

We’ve instituted Rave, a smartphone app that allows a teacher or administrator to  covertly alert a dedicated terminal in our 911 call center. That alert will immediately send out patrol cars to a scene. The Rave app is in more than 130 of the 450 public school buildings in Nassau County, with more slated to come online each week.

All sworn police officers, including village and city officers, receive uniform active shooter-response training at the Nassau County Police Academy. And Nassau County Police Medics, who are being equipped with ballistic vests and helmets, have been trained in mass casualty response.

Designated police-officer liaisons work with each school district to coordinate active- shooter response plans, and every Nassau police officer on patrol will visit a school at least once each school day. Officers are learning the layout of every school, coordinating active shooter plans with school leadership, and serving as the designated representative to assist if school officials have concerns about a particular student.

Our cops are also planning training for school officials, students, and parents on how to spot a potential threat. This is how we protect our kids – by working together to ensure lightning-fast responses, properly equipping our first responders with training and tools,  and maximizing our intelligence.

Drugs Don’t Fight Fair, We Can Fight Smart

When people think of the suburbs they don’t necessarily imagine a drug epidemic. But Nassau County police, first responders, nurses, doctors, social workers, educators, and, above all, children and families, are battling it out with a drug that turns neighbor into user, user into addict, and addict into criminal.

Nothing about this epidemic is normal, nothing about it is fair. Drugs don’t fight fair. So we have to fight smart.

Our multifaceted response – incorporating enforcement, awareness, education, diversion, and treatment – is equal parts grit and compassion.

Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and his team are using real-time reporting to identify clusters of major felonies associated with drug addicts (such as breaking into cars to scrounge for money or stuff to sell), and overlaying that information with clusters of overdoses. When these clusters overlap, we know we have a problem, and law enforcement zeroes in.

This data-driven approach is producing results. Drug overdoses are down in Nassau, when we compare year-to-date statistics with last year.

As this goes to print, we have already targeted two communities. I joined Commissioner Ryder and District Attorney Madeline Singas to announce 78 drug-related arrests in East Meadow. Earlier, we announced 59 heroin and opioid-related arrests in Massapequa, including the arrest of four alleged dealers. By systematically identifying and concentrating on hotspots, we are better able to remove dealers from the streets and divert users to the help they desperately need.

We plan to roll out more operations in more communities in the coming weeks.

But we cannot arrest ourselves out of this crisis. Dealers should, and will, face serious penalties. Users and addicts, however, can get an opportunity to enter into treatment. This effort is being led by our DA and police commissioner, and I stand ready to support them in any way I can, including directing the new head of the county’s behavioral health department to pursue state and federal funding to increase treatment options.

Government cannot fight this alone. We are working closely with our nonprofits and drug-treatment providers. And we are actively seeking the public’s help. Along with expanding the police department’s social media presence to target a younger audience (checkout #MugShotMonday), we are holding town hall meetings in communities that have a higher incidence of overdoses. We bring in law enforcement, first responders, and treatment providers to talk about what the danger is, what to look out for, and how our communities can be part of the solution.

When we arm ourselves with the right information, hold dealers accountable, and help those suffering with addiction, we can win this fight.

An Historic First Act: Removing Politics From Government

Laura Curran gave her first speech as Nassau County Executive to a crowd braving sub-freezing tempera- tures on New Year’s Day. (Photo by Irwin Mendlinger)

I know I’m not breaking news when I tell you we’ve inherited a mess in Nassau County government. My team and I have been hard at work these first two months.

We’ve been tackling an unfair and inaccurate assessment system, sorting out disastrous finances, combatting opioids, and charting a path for true economic development. But we will not be successful in these crucial tasks if we neglect one thing – restoring trust in government.

It’s no secret that “trust-worthy government” is too often dismissed as a chortle-worthy oxymoron. So concurrent to our other work, my administration has taken concrete steps to restore that trust.

One of my first acts as Nassau County Executive was to issue an executive order barring any member of my staff, including department heads, commissioners and deputies, from holding a position of authority in a political party or committee. I’ve also prohibited all appointees from contributing to my political campaigns because I want to there be no question as to why I’ve appointed them – because they are the right people with the right qualifications.

Another executive order, which I signed late last month, prohibits vendors who do business with the county from giving gifts or favors – of any value – to county appointees involved in the vendor procurement process. The days of pay-to-play are over.

Issuing these orders – to take the politics out of government – were among my first government-reform actions, but they certainly won’t be my last.

That’s why I have appointed former New York State Assistant Attorney General, and member of the U.S. Army Reserves, John Chiara as Deputy County Executive for Compliance. John fills a position that had been vacant for many years. Most recently, he served as special counsel to the New York State Attorney General’s Public Integrity Bureau. At my direction, John has a clear mandate to enforce our new ethics and procurement policies.

Along with fixing Nassau’s finances and creating a business-friendly government, my administration will continue working to end a culture of corruption that has squandered millions in taxpayer dollars and eroded the trust any government needs to be truly effective.

Laura Curran is the Nassau County Executive