The following are answers to The Foggiest Five, a set of questions asked to influential Long Islanders on the future of the region. This round features Patrick Halpin, who served on the Suffolk County Legislature, in the New York Assembly, and as Suffolk County Executive from 1988 to 1992. The views presented are the author’s alone, and do not represent the editorial views of Richard Murdocco or The Foggiest Idea:
1. What is your favorite part of living on Long Island?
I love Long Island’s natural beauty especially our shore line and beautiful beaches! Since I’m a sailor on the south shore, the Great South Bay and Fire Island is right outside my door step and there is nothing better. I often say to folks, “ if you don’t enjoy Long Island summers, why do you live here?” Most agree with me. We are very fortunate that New York State, Suffolk and Nassau counties and our towns and villages have developed wonderful parks, preserving our natural resources making them very accessible to the public.
2. What is our greatest regional challenge?
Long Island’s greatest challenge is the high cost of living. School property taxes are the primary driver. While the tax cap has limited the increases in property taxes it’s not enough. The loss of the full deductibility of local property taxes and state taxes makes the situation much worse for homeowners.
3. What is an easy first step to solving this challenge?
They say one has to acknowledge a problem to begin to solve it. The first step is to understand that the Long Island’s high school property taxes are unsustainable. The second step is to recognize that Long Island’s 125 school districts are top heavy with administration, enormous duplication, and costly inefficiency. Long Island’s 125 school districts will spend $12.8 billion in the 2018-19 school year. All of the past efforts to control costs and share services have failed, they have been nothing more than window dressing.
Long Island needs a big fix, noodling around the edges won’t do it. All of the administrative services should be consolidated into one Long Island school administrative district, with a handful regional district superintendents, empower the building principals, teachers and parents to manage their buildings. A great education comes down to is what goes on in each of Long Islands 656 schools and it requires a terrific principal, who is the education leader in the building and great teachers in every classroom. Everything else should support that goal.
For those that say it can’t be done on Long Island I say we can’t afford to not do it. And for those that say it will not save that much. I say really? Tell that to Amazon where I can make a purchase on line and its delivered in 24 hours. Tell that to Apple. Tell that my credit card company or bank where transactions happen in real time. Thanks to technology administrative costs in every sector of our economy are going down, accountability is going up and we are getting better results. Bottom line is that by managing our schools more efficiently more funds would be available for the classroom and our property taxes reduced
4. What has been the biggest change that you’ve seen on Long Island during the course of your career?
Over my career we have done a good job in Suffolk to protect our Long Island’s natural resources such as the pine barrens. Development for the most part is limited. The biggest change is also our biggest challenge.
It is redevelopment of downtowns and old industrial areas in Nassau and western Suffolk. The old development practices are just that old, out dated and not appealing to our young people and empty nesters. Many want to stay on Long Island but can’t afford to or just don’t like what’s available. We have Long Island examples of what the future could be; Westbury, Farmingdale, Patchogue, Bay Shore, Rockville Centre , Babylon Village are thriving.
But what about the rest of Long Island? Communities such as Hicksville, Lindenhurst, The old Cerro Wire site in Syosset, the Nassau County hub, the Heartland development at Pilgrim, Kings Park, Ronkonkoma all have enormous potential to be the kind of communities that are attractive and affordable to those empty nesters and young people Long Island in losing in droves. Fact is that the most important change has been too slow and too incremental. Too many local officials are too concerned about giving our proclamations than driving the change necessary to keep Long Island strong and vibrant.
5. What do you think Long Island will be like in 20 years?
I’m optimistic about Long Island’s next 20 years. We will reap big dividends from the Long Island Rail Road’s investment in the third track to Hicksville, the double track to Ronkonkoma, and East Side Access to Grand Central station. Improving the LIRR commute is vital to our future.
While folks are leaving Long Island, others are moving in from Queens, Brooklyn and other parts of New York City. All one has to do is to visit Costco in Westbury and Melville to see what I’m talking about.
As long as Long Island is in the shadow of New York City, Long Island will always be the place where immigrant families and/or their children will want to live and raise a family. But it will be contingent upon Long Island being a welcoming community, getting our school taxes in line and local governments the right decisions about redevelopment.
Pat Halpin currently is the managing director at Mercury, a public strategy firm, and serves on the board of the Suffolk County Water Authority. In 1979, Halpin was elected to Suffolk County Legislature, and in April 1982 was elected to the New York State Assembly. Halpin was re-elected three times and remained in the Assembly until 1987. He chaired the Committee on Ethics, and the Subcommittee on the Long Island Marine Resources.
Halpin was elected Suffolk County Executive, at age 34 the youngest in the county’s history. His achievements include instituting the drug education program DARE, an anti-domestic violence program; a homeless housing initiative; and a nationally-recognized open space and environmental program. He served one term from 1988 to 1992.
Interested in supporting The Foggiest Idea’s award-winning reporting and analysis? Click here.