Reverend clergy, County Executive Laura Curran, fellow members of this Legislature, honorable elected officials and friends and family, thank you for joining us today for this Induction Ceremony.
Thank you to my wife Susan, of whom I am very proud. I could not have served for more than two decades without her support. She has raised our two beautiful children while pursuing her own career as a special education teacher. She is a compassionate, courageous and dedicated teacher who has a profound impact on the children in her classroom. You are an inspiration to all of us.
I am just as proud of my daughter Kathleen and my son Patrick. They are great kids who are smart enough not to follow their father’s career path.
Thank you to Chairman Mondello for swearing me in as presiding officer of the Legislature. You have had an extraordinary and historic career as an elected official and local state and national political leader. It is an honor to have you join with us today.
Thank you also to Sen. Elaine Phillips for swearing in my colleagues. Sen. Phillips has become in a very short time a strong leader for our communities and state. She is a rising star in New York State.
Congratulations to County Executive Laura Curran. I speak for all of the Majority Legislators when I say we look forward to working with you on behalf of Nassau’s residents. We may not always agree, but my door will always be open to you so we can explore new ideas and approaches to benefit the residents of Nassau County.
I congratulate Minority Leader Abrahams on your continued service. I have enjoyed serving with you for many years, including the occasional debates, and look forward to working with you in the next term for the betterment of our county.
Welcome to our new colleagues Tom McKevitt, John Ferretti, Debra Mule and Josh Lafazan. I am sure you will serve the people of Nassau County well.
Tom, the son of a New York City police detective, served as a New York State Assemblyman for 12 years, earning the respect by both sides of the aisle. John is a young, energetic voice, who has served with distinction as a Deputy County Clerk.
Josh and Debra also join us with experience of serving as elected officials - Debra at the Village of Freeport and Josh on the Syosset School Board.
To our outgoing presiding officer, Norma Gonsalves, thank you for your service. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Norma since she took office in 1998, and the honor to be Deputy Presiding Officer during her tenure in leadership. Norma navigated the county through a tumultuous financial and political climate, and she served with dignity and grace. As she moves on to new challenges, I’d like to thank Norma for her years of service to both the residents of District 13 and to Nassau County.
It is always exciting to witness the peaceful transition of government. In my new role as presiding officer, I share with our new County Executive the desire that we restore trust in our local government. We must ensure that our government remains open and transparent, and makes the best use of the residents’ tax dollars.
Our Republican Majority has a number of priorities in the next term. First and foremost, we must continue to hold the line on property taxes. If anyone doubts the profound impact of property taxes on our residents, one just has to look at citizens lining up in the bitter cold to prepay their property taxes due to the cap on state and local taxes in the federal tax bill.
We are proud of the fact that we froze taxes in 6 of the last 8 years, while adopting fiscally sound budgets that resulted in surpluses every time. During these years, the proportion of average tax bill that goes to pay taxes for county services has been reduced from 19% to 16%. We must continue to use our best efforts to hold the line on property taxes while providing the services our residents need and deserve.
We must also continue to keep our communities safe. The men and women in law enforcement in Nassau have done an incredible job in protecting our residents.
The Nassau County Police Department is a model for police forces nationwide. Through their professionalism, use of state of the art technology, new strategies and equipment, and community policing, the crime rate in 2016 was the lowest it has been since they started keeping statistics over 50 years ago.
The battle against crime is, of course, never over. Newsday reported Sunday that it is believed that 8 of the 15 homicides in Nassau in 2017 were victims of MS-13 violence. Moreover, criminal activity continues to flood our streets with increasingly deadly opioids. There were nearly 500 deaths from opioid overdose on Long Island in 2016. Nationwide, there were more than 64,000 deaths from drug overdoses in 2016.
To put this epidemic in perspective, the number of deaths nationwide from overdoses in 2016 was more than the number of Americans killed in the entire Vietnam War. Gang violence and the opioid epidemic are scourges that must be defeated.
We must continue to provide the resources our law enforcement needs to do the job they do so well. In particular, our NCPD must continue to work cooperatively with federal authorities to combat gangs and those that peddle drugs, which prey on those that are the most vulnerable.
With respect to the opioid epidemic, my friend Sen. Jack Martins had some great ideas in the recent campaign. Let’s convert the unused space at NUMC into a treatment center for opioid addiction. Let’s also provide for a mandatory 72-hour-confinement period for those who have suffered an overdose from drug use. We must do more to get overdose patients from emergency rooms into treatment. If we can achieve this at the county level, we shall do it. If not, I will call upon our colleagues in the New York State legislature to enact this mandatory confinement period as soon as possible.
There are of course many other issues on which our county must take action, including, to name a few:
• Fixing a broken, unfair assessment system that has created a massive shift in the tax burden;• Creating more high paying jobs through economic development to stem the loss of young people to urban areas and other parts of the country; • Fighting a proposal by New York City to draw water from long-closed wells in eastern Queens, which threatens the aquifers that are the sole source of our drinking water.
There is one last thing that I would like to mention. It is time for NIFA to go. We must not only end the control period but must end NIFA completely. NIFA has provided benefits to Nassau County particularly in the early years. However, those benefits have diminished and it has become, in many respects, a self-perpetuating bureaucracy. NIFA has served its purpose and now it is time for Nassau County to move on.
In conclusion, I thank Nassau’s residents for the trust they have placed in us. In the coming years, we must continue on the path of fiscal responsibility while keeping the interests of taxpayers foremost in mind. We must continue to keep our communities safe and must find ways to keep our talented young people from leaving our great county. I look forward to working in a bipartisan fashion with our new County Executive to meet these goals.
God Bless this wonderful county, God Bless America.