BY EMILY SAUCHELLI
Over the past five months, Nassau County has gone through some majors shifts. Whether it be the COVID-19 pandemic changing how our world operates, the economy taking a hit or education being restructured. Things have changed. The county executive brings a detailed discussion regarding the state of the county.
Q: How have you responded to the needs of Nassau County residents since the storm hit?
A: We still have around 7,000 residents in the dark and I think that we all understand that we are going to have some level of power outage with a storm like Isaias. We have an island that we live on. Most of the wires that we have are above ground, we have big, tall trees, high winds. We know that there is going to be some sort of level of outage. The outage turns to outrage when people can’t communicate with PSEG Long Island, whether it’s through texting or calling or through the website. I’ve called upon PSEG demanding that they reimburse people who’ve been out for more than 24 hours for any food that’s been spoiled, any medication that had to be thrown out and any perishable items because of it. A lot of people have to work from home and if they’re down power they can’t charge their devices, they can’t connect and the situation is already challenged. Having to work from home has become very frustrating.
Q: What are the top three obstacles that you and your team have identified and how are they being handled?
A: Number one there is the health crisis and we’ve been through the horrible surge of the spring. I don’t think any of us will ever forget that. We’ve seen since we started reopening back in the beginning of phase one, our hospitalizations decrease and our infections rate decrease while businesses continue to open up. I think our residents, our businesses and our health department have all handled it really, really well. Now of course, you have the economic crisis with businesses shut down. While so many of our businesses have opened, many still cannot. For instance, catering halls, bowling alleys, gyms. All of these businesses that employ people that generate revenue, can’t open. They don’t know when they can open and that economic uncertainty is very troubling for so many people. That brings me to our third challenge, the budget here in Nassau County. Forty percent of our revenue for our budget comes from sales tax, so we are facing hundreds of millions of dollars in deficit, specifically 750 million dollars for the last 18 months, for the last half of 2020 and all of 2021. I’m making a full court press for revenue recovery from the federal government. We just have to really fight to get the revenue recovery that we really need having been at the epicenter of this crisis.
Q: Are you satisfied with the plans that Nassau County school districts have in place for reopening this fall?
A: I just did a call with our superintendents of our schools and I am assured that our 56 school districts have worked really hard to come up with the best plan for their community. As a public school parent myself, I know that our parents, our teachers, our children are all looking forward to getting back to some kind of normal again and getting back to the routine of school. They’re working with our health department and are obviously working with the state to do everything they can to ensure a safe reopening.
Q: How do we make sure reopening schools is the best decision for our county?
A: The number one priority of local government and my number one priority is the health and safety of our residents. You’re going to find with parents, and I have spoken to tons of parents, the full spectrum. From kids need to go back full time five days of the week, to keep the schools closed, to let them continue remote learning. Then you’re going to find people somewhere in the middle who are looking for a hybrid model. They [the school districts] have to take a lot into account when it comes to transportation, lunch, little kids, recess and scheduling, and then with the older kids having to deal with sports and band and AP classes. There’s so much that goes into this. A lot of time, a lot of strategizing. So, they are putting together detailed plans. Each is going to be a little bit different.
Q: How has it been for you navigating the county through a pandemic?
A: Well, you never know what you sign up for when you take a job and you just deal with it. You handle it. I made sure I was in constant communication with our hospital executives to make sure they got what they need. My team was singularly focused on flattening the curve. We have a wonderful health department. Dr. Larry Eisenstein, who’s the health commissioner [Nassau County DOH] happens to be an infectious disease specialist. So, that certainly came in handy. He and his team have been fantastic. So, you just handle the problems as they come. You try to help people as you possibly can, and you know this year with sharks and storms and COVID and everything else we had to deal with, I feel like we’re just about ready for anything.”