Rebuttal to March 1, 2023, State of the County Address
Presented by Nassau County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton
My name is Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, and I am the Legislator for Nassau County’s 11th District. Tonight, I have the privilege of delivering the Minority Caucus response to the State of the County address.
While we got off to a very rocky start when the County Executive first took office,
there has been some progress.
I am glad to report that Minority-led proposals have been adopted, including: a gas tax holiday; tax relief for eligible seniors and disabled homeowners; and just this Monday, property tax exemptions for volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers.
We overcame initial resistance to pass a capital plan that supports our police and delivers major countywide infrastructure investments focused on traffic safety, public parks, and so much more.
However, many issues remain unresolved.
Although assessment has been a problem for more than a decade, County Executive Blakeman campaigned promising to fix this issue.
Yet, here we are, 15 months later, and nothing has improved:
History shows that freezing the roll and basically ignoring the problem will only make the issue worse. Since January 2020, the Nassau County Legislature has had an Assessment committee. You might not have known that because the Legislative Majority has never called a meeting. While I truly understand the complexity of this issue, promises must be backed with action. Holding a public hearing of the Assessment Committee would be an important first step.
When the County experienced some of its darkest days of corruption, the Minority Caucus fought for reforms. A major part of our efforts was the successful fight to create an Inspector General’s office to oversee County contracts and prevent waste, fraud, and abuse. However, due to inaction by the Majority, the Inspector General is currently working without Legislative approval as a “holdover” - leaving the office in limbo and less effective.
We urge the County Executive and the Majority to immediately remove any obstacles that are delaying the reappointment of Nassau County’s Inspector General so that this office can return to a secure state and vigorously fulfill its mission as an independent fiscal and accountability watchdog.
The County’s slow pace in allocating hundreds of millions of dollars in federal pandemic relief aid and proceeds from various opioid lawsuit settlements is also highly concerning. Although we are encouraged by the recent disbursement of some of these funds, Nassau families and business owners need a more aggressive and comprehensive approach.
At a time when the opioid addiction crisis was already at an all-time high, the emergence of fentanyl added a new and terrifying element to this public health emergency. It has already caused a devastating increase in the number of overdose deaths, oftentimes in victims who unknowingly consumed this powerful synthetic drug.
Nassau County has been active in the fight to hold drug companies accountable for their role in fueling the opioid addiction crisis. To date, we have received nearly $78 million in settlements from drug manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacies for their reckless actions – but no amount of money will bring back the friends and loved ones we have lost.
So many families in our County and our region are grappling with addiction in their homes, and they are desperate for help and hope. Although some of the settlement funds that we have received have already been allocated, we urge the County Executive to listen to the wishes of the families who are most directly impacted by this battle.
Two recommendations are: one, more long-term care options beyond standard 28-day programs traditionally offered by treatment centers; and two, better access to mental health care counseling.
It is also essential to equip our residents with the tools they need to protect themselves and others. Each year, Nassau County distributes thousands of Narcan kits through training events. With fentanyl overdoses posing such a major threat, the Minority Caucus has introduced a law which would require low-cost fentanyl detecting strips to be included in every Narcan kit distributed by a county agency.
Even though we have seen the potential of this approach in towns, cities, and states across the United States, there has been no action by the Majority on our proposal to date. This is perhaps the most frustrating example of a common-sense Minority proposal that has been stalled by the Majority and the County Executive.
While the Minority Caucus has proposed dozens of pieces of legislation during the past 15 months, very few have received a public hearing or a response.
I urge the Presiding Officer to calendar these important proposals, some of which would:
- Establish an in-house team of experts, led by a Deputy County Executive, to protect our cybersecurity;
- Form a public committee to guide the spending of more than $300 million in remaining American Rescue Plan pandemic relief aid; and
- Protect our children and pets by banning the littering of cannabis.
The Minority Caucus will never stop working to make Nassau County an even better place to live, work, and raise your family.
Nassau County is represented by 19 legislators – each elected by their communities. I encourage the administration to treat each district fairly, regardless of their political affiliation.
May God bless you all, and may God bless and protect the men and women of our armed forces, our first responders, and our veterans.
Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, of Glen Cove, a Nassau County legislator representing the 11th District, is the ranking member of the Legislature’s Committee on Health & Social Services.