Development was the key focus at last week’s debate between the four candidates running for the Village of Mineola board of trustees.
The Mineola American sponsored debate allowed incumbents Paul Cusato and Paul Pereira and challengers John Colbert and Larry Werther the chance to appeal to local residents and educate them on why they were running for the board. Public safety, the third track, taxes and parking were discussed, but throughout the night, Mineola’s recent development boom was a recurring theme.
“The development of a community has to be looked at with great effort, you have to look at how it’ll [affect] parking, water, sewer, travel throughout the village,” Colbert said. “We need a moratorium on all new high rise development in our village.”
Werther agreed, saying he is not in favor of redevelopment if it doesn’t come with residential tax breaks.
“I sat on the board when the initial proposal was being made for the Winston and 250 Old Country Road. One of the most alluring things was when they said there would be a tremendous influx of taxes,” said Werther, who noted that those buildings were away from homes. “One of the biggest misconceptions is that we need any more development in the village at all. We’re starting to bring Queens to our village.”
Cusato and Pereira said that the village board had enacted a moratorium on entertaining developer proposals. Both incumbents stated their support for development and the impact it’s had on the village.
“I don’t want Queens here either. We’re putting apartments where none of you from your house can see it, but you’ll reap the benefits,” Pereira said. “I prefer this type of development, where we get residents who stay and eat and shop here, rather than three story office buildings where people come every day and then spend money wherever they live.”
“You have to be blind not to see what’s happening to our village. This whole concept of building is benefiting our programs, our village, our downtown,” Cusato said. “I’m in favor of what’s going on and we’re going to continue to make it happen.”
When asked if he thought the downtown redevelopment was happening too quickly, Cusato said no.
“Go back a few years ago when you saw all those vacant buildings,” Cusato said. “I don’t think it’s going too fast, I think we’re on a great stride.”
Colbert said one of his main points of contention with the developments were the tax breaks the developers were getting.
“We need to stop giving away massive tax breaks to developers,” Colbert said. “Developers should not be making money by not having to pay the full tax bill, when Mineola residents don’t get development tax breaks on their taxes.
The village residents are not getting the benefit of the tax dollars from these premises that are being put up.”
Pereira noted that without the 20-year tax breaks, developers might have taken their projects elsewhere.
“We would all love it if they would pay full price and full taxes,” Pereira said. “That was not the project that was in front of us. This comes from state law and the county IDA, they negotiate that. In terms of the Lalezarian’s building (250 Old Country Rd.) whether or not they got the IDA, I don’t think they would have put in the investment and would have put in an office building.”
Werther said that the village and school district was missing out on massive tax breaks by agreeing to a 20-year tax abatement.
“Granted the village gets some modicum of money, but we negotiated for those things before the IDA came into the picture. The benefits we should have gotten were massive breaks on our school taxes,” Werther said. “It sounds like we have an obligation to people who live outside of the village. The people who sit on the board have one obligation, that’s to the people who live in the village. We need to take care of our own.”
When asked about what changes they would implement to make Mineola more attractive, Werther said he would introduce a Business Improvement District that would work with the local Chamber of Commerce.
“The BID would be able to raise modest, small taxes for the businesses, but those taxes would have to be used by the BID for the promotion of businesses within our village,” Werther said.
Pereira countered by saying that the village already has a similar program in place.
“We’re doing that without having the businesses bear the burden of having to pay more taxes for a BID,” Pereira said. “We hired an outside expert who’s getting HUD money to improve the facades of our downtown. It’s not your money, it’s federal money.”
The candidates did find common ground on topics such as their disapproval of the third track, need for more police enforcement and using zone funds for village park improvements and capital equipment purchases.
In his closing statement, Colbert, who has gotten flack for his spending during his tenure as mayor from 1994-2003, said that all the money he spent was directed towards improving the village. He also read a statement from Richard
Dwyer, former village treasurer, saying that the village was not bankrupt from 2002-04.
“We had a library that had to be closed because of mold, a pool that was using too much water, we did the water tower twice. This was all for suburban quality of life. I didn’t spend money recklessly, I spent it all for you,” Colbert said. “I love this village. I will be a team player of the board. If you elect me, I’m not looking to be mayor. I want to be trustee. Everyone on this board can get along and I know I can.”
Cusato asked residents to not let others influence their decisions or views of the village board and for them to remember his past record.
“I’ve had a great opportunity to be involved in so many organizations, but it’s the people that make our community,” said Cusato. “Our village and organizations wouldn’t be here without the people who reside here. Parents and volunteers who took the time, untold hours to help our community. We all had common goals to make Mineola the best place it could be, a place our children could grow. You know who I am, and what I’ve done. I’ve always been honest and trustworthy.”
Pereira said he wanted to continue serving the community and keeping it going in what he believes is the right direction.
“I am dedicated to maintaining the quality of life and level of services any of us have come to enjoy and expect. I am committed to smart growth and transit oriented development in our downtown,” Pereira said. “It is this growth which will enable us to save our suburbs, maintain our quality of life and improve our services and facilities. Development that has taken place is far more beneficial than what was there. And at the end of the day, I’m here to serve my community.”
Werther said he will make it his mission to listen to residents and keep their needs at the forefront.
“I promise if elected I will listen to everything you have to say, because I did that as part of my career for the past 40 years where I heard people on Long Island telling me how difficult it was to live here,” said Werther. “Mineola is a great place to live. If elected back to the board of trustees, I will do my best to fulfill the reason you put me there—to make this a better place to live.”
Election Day is March 15 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Village Hall.