In the country’s largest town, property taxes take up the largest share in the cost of living and it is the top issue for Hempstead Town Supervisor Donald Clavin, who is running for reelection this year. Having won his seat in 2019 after serving for 18 years as the town’s Tax Receiver, he takes pride in keeping down the cost of governing the sprawling unit of more than 793,000 residents to the east of Queens.
For our readers in the Five Towns, West Hempstead, and other South Shore communities, Clavin’s name is visible on many lawns and storefronts. For recent residents, we’re using this election as an opportunity for an introduction to their local government. Clavin was given a questionnaire on matters of importance to the town.
Can you give us a brief primer on how the Town’s government is different from that of New York City? What unique roles does the Town have in providing services, in comparison to Nassau County?
The Town of Hempstead is the largest town in America, with nearly 850,000 residents. Our town provides the lion’s share of programs and services utilized by our constituents – including sanitation and recycling pickup, senior citizen services, maintenance of dozens of parks, pools, and beaches, building permits and code enforcement, marriage licenses and passport applications, snow removal and road resurfacing, and so much more – yet town taxes amount to just about eight cents for every property tax dollar. The remainder of taxpayer dollars is comprised of Nassau County and school taxes.
You’ve slashed the Town’s payroll by $1 million, and the Town’s rating has significantly improved. At the same time, you’ve noted the recent improvements to the Town’s parks and roads. How do you manage to provide the necessary upgrades while keeping taxes and staffing low? Are there any plans to expand or acquire new parks or playgrounds within the Town?
Two years ago, when I was running for this seat, I vowed to put taxpayers first – that starts with leading by example. The $1-million cut you referenced was slashed directly from the Supervisor’s budget – a decision I made on my first day as Town Supervisor. I followed that up by declining the use of a town car and eliminating take-home cars for town commissioners and department heads. We extended a retirement incentive to town employees, many of whom took advantage of the program.
These are just a few examples of the small steps that my administration took to ensure that we could streamline town departments and ensure that taxpayer funds were being allocated properly.
These savings allowed us to make a commitment to investing $75 million in roadways and infrastructure, with an additional $10 million dedicated to community park improvements. In West Hempstead, we will be installing new turf fields at Cherry Valley Ballfields, playground upgrades at Cornwell Avenue Park, and a new entry gate and fencing at Echo Park.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, our community parks became more popular than ever, offering a safe and viable outlet for residents who were otherwise homebound. I vow to continue to invest in our neighborhood parks, while continuing to hold the line on taxes.
Your opponent argues that you’ve misspent the federal CARES funds mostly on “town facilities’’ rather than small businesses. Do you have examples of the Town’s role in fostering economic recovery among local businesses and nonprofits? The County also has the highest vaccination rates in the state, and I’m sure that the Town’s role in outreach to the public contributed to it. Can you speak in detail on how you’ve tackled the pandemic as Town Supervisor?
No municipality has done more for residents and small businesses during this pandemic than the Town of Hempstead. Utilizing the $133 million in CARES funding, we have provided more than one million meals to neighbors in need, as well as millions of dollars in aid to hospitals, schools, colleges, food banks, libraries, fire departments, villages, community organizations, and thousands of boxes of personal protective equipment [PPEs] to local businesses. We partnered with local hospitals to set up free COVID-19 antibody testing. We also purchased and deployed New York State’s first mobile vaccination unit, which has provided more than 7,000 vaccines to the local community.
The town was the first municipality in the state to implement an Outdoor Dining Initiative, cutting government red tape to help restaurant owners stay open in a safe and business-friendly manner. We also led the way on hosting drive-in movies and concerts, as well as outdoor award ceremonies and graduations.
We could not have been more transparent about how we have allocated CARES funding. Town Board resolutions were approved for every expenditure, press releases were issued to all local media, and hundreds of residents and business owners have expressed their gratitude for the town helping them. I believe that the work we have done speaks for itself. The COVID-19 recovery effort is no place for petty politics – in fact, two of the Town of Hempstead’s biggest supporters during this pandemic have been Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, a Democrat, and Senator Charles Schumer, one of the nation’s leading Democrats.
Historically, the Town’s leadership has been very supportive of Israel and standing up with the community against expressions of hate. Can you share some recent examples of support during your term as Supervisor?
The Town of Hempstead is home to one of the largest Jewish populations outside of the State of Israel, and I have always felt a responsibility to represent them with honor and dignity. Unfortunately, in recent years, we have seen a disturbing rise in antisemitic speech and violence.
The decision to halt business with Ben and Jerry’s and Unilever was to reaffirm our township’s anti-BDS stance, a position we have maintained for many years. In addition, the town has joined together with local rabbis and religious organizations on numerous occasions to denounce antisemitic graffiti and hate speech. Just recently, I attended the massive rally against antisemitism in Cedarhurst that was held after the horrific attack of Lawrence resident Joseph Borgen. What’s more, earlier this year, the town adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Anti-Semitism.
I will always stand with our Jewish neighbors against all acts of hate and violence.
The general election for Hempstead Town Supervisor, and other local offices across the state will be on Tuesday, November 2. Clavin is running on the Republican, Conservative, and Tax Revolt lines. His Democratic opponent is Jason Abelove, an attorney based in Garden City. He was also sent a questionnaire via email, and we await his reply.
By Sergey Kadinsky