Incumbent County Legislator Howard Kopel, a Republican from Lawrence, is running for his sixth two-year term. Challenger Debra Siegel, a lawyer, is a Democrat from Rockville Centre.
The 7th Legislative District encompasses Cedarhurst, East Rockaway, Oceanside, Rockville Centre and Woodmere, and parts of Hewlett, Lawrence, Baldwin, Valley Stream and Lynbrook. The Herald asked the candidates questions focused on vital issues and what makes them qualified for the position.
Herald: What is your perspective on the current county assessment system
Howard Kopel: I believe that the recent countywide reassessment is flawed, as evidenced by the record 265,000 contested valuations filed this year. This number far exceeds any previous year’s filings, and represent the people who think that they are unfairly assessed at too high a value. I am also aware of many cases where properties have been under assessed.
The county administration has stated that it believes the tax roll is correct, and that it intends to defend it, rather than settle cases as has been done in the recent past. This portends catastrophic future liability for refunds, not provided for in budgetary projections. I think that we ought to take a step back and make sure that we get this critical work right.
Debra Siegel: The current county assessment plan that has been long overdue is an excellent plan that needs to be put into effect immediately without any further delay by the legislative majority. The re-assessment has been deemed fair and accurate by independent experts and it should proceed as planned by the county executive. The legislative majority should cease in delaying the roll out at the expense of the taxpayers, so that, finally homeowner values can be accurately reflected and each can pay their fair share.
Herald: The county executive unveiled her proposed budget. What is your view on eliminating 66 vacant positions and no increases of taxes and fees?
Kopel: While I am still studying the new budget, eliminating positions from an already significantly pared down staffing level may result in a dangerous reduction of services to residents.
Like all of us, I want no increases on our residents, and I hope to find areas of reasonable and safe savings in the proposed budget that can ensure the maintenance of our prized suburban quality of life.
Siegel: No tax increases and no fee hikes is exactly where the budget should be! This is a transparent budget, with no cushion budget gimmickry. As for eliminating vacant positions, the number is not as important as where the positions are located. My understanding is that we are increasing the number of police, correction and probation officers, which is important for both public safety and limiting the cost of overtime.
In areas that were neglected for years, such as the Assessment Department, increased staffing is needed to meet the needs of the public. On the other hand, where efficiencies allow the county to improve services with fewer staff, such as centralizing accounts receivable operations and modernizing purchasing and payment operations, I believe we should do so.
Herald: An extensive road resurfacing and sidewalk repair project for West Broadway has languished for four years. What would you do to jump start this capital project?
Kopel: I am upset at the absurd delays in getting this project going. I have now heard that the Legislature will be getting contracts for review and approval in late October. I don’t yet know dates for actual construction, although I have heard late 2020. I will continue to press the administration to expedite work on this vital artery.
Siegel: It is unacceptable that this project that has been promised since 2016 has languished. My understanding is that the selected contractor is awaiting final approval and that the actual planning process has started. Although the county capital plan projects $6.25 million in bonding for this project to be allocated in 2020, residents have been waiting far too long for this project to start. As a legislator I will hold a Town Hall meeting with county and consultant representatives to ensure that residents are informed the most current information regarding the status of the project.
Herald: What qualified you to run for this office?
Kopel: I now have 10 years of experience in the Legislature. I believe that I am well regarded by my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, as well as by my constituents, for my knowledge of county government and finances, as well as my ability to work across the aisle with both Republicans and Democrats, on issues of concern to our residents.
I am Deputy Presiding Officer, and intend to continue to use the influence that this position affords for the benefit of my constituents and for residents of the county at large.
Siegel: As a Nassau County resident for over 20 years, I have been fortunate to have been able to balance both a career as an attorney and raise my children in the public school system where I have been an active member of the PTA for over 15 years.
My background as a litigator and negotiator for over 30 years, where day in and day out I have serve the underserved, coupled with my desire to protect my community from apathy is what best qualities me to run for office.
I intend to use these skills that I have honed throughout my career to get things done: promote transparency, be an active legislator in service of the needs of all of my constituents, and assist in doing away with the culture of corruption.