The Eastern Property Owners' Association's (EPOA) first ever town hall meeting encouraged debate amongst village trustee candidates Dennis Donnelly, selected by the East Nominating Committee to serve a new, two-year term, and challenger Francine Ryan, a 27-year resident who threw her hat in the political ring for the first time.
Candidates covered numerous issues currently facing the village, including what
to do with St. Paul's, revenue generation, keeping the business district vibrant, village communication with residents, particularly during
Superstorm Sandy, downtown development and Garden City Fire Department
changes, the last of which took
When asked during her EPOA Nominating Committee interview how she'd increase pedestrian traffic downtown and generate revenue for the village, Francine Ryan suggested the formation of a marketing committee similar to the existing
Citizens Budget Review Advisory Committee (CBRAC).
"If you have a problem there are talented people in this town willing to help," she said, adding that closing Seventh Street to vehicular traffic could boost revenue.
She also suggested the implementation of renting St. Paul's and paid parking. "It doesn't have to be a lot. It could be 25 cents," she said. Referring to St. Paul's Ryan added, "If there's an opportunity we could rent it could you imagine the potential?"
Ryan also said ambulance services could be provided under the auspices of the Garden City police and fire departments so the village could receive insurance monies.
Donnelly, who has served as board liaison to the business district for years, said merchants are not in favor of closing streets. "Businesses in the business district don't want to do that. We've asked them to do that on multiple occasions," he said, adding there are half the stores that do make money and half the stores that say it'll drive traffic away because there's no parking available for its customers.
He also voiced his opposition to parking meters in Garden City and the creation of a volunteer ambulance corps, stating,"We have the county ambulance available to us at no cost."
Ryan, who founded the advocacy group
Eastern Property Owners for Saving St. Paul's in 2010, said it's no secret she'd like to see the building saved. "St. Paul's, the 800 pound gorilla in the room," she said, adding that she's frustrated by 17 years of "back and forth" and $1 million spent on consultants. "I believe there's a solution that won't cripple taxpayers," she said, though not specific as to what plan would accomplish such.
She suggested the creation of a conservancy, similar to the Central Park Conservancy, to mobilize people to raise money. She likened her idea to the Garden City Pool, a former "land dump" that has now become a community asset and part of what makes "Garden City Garden City."
If elected, Ryan said she'd form an independent committee to come up with a solution for St. Paul's.
Donnelly, who publicly stated he would like to see the building saved, said the village would have to float the bonds for a conservancy and floating bonds in the "$10, $20, $30 $40 million range" would no doubt lower the village's AAA bond rating significantly.
Donnelly, after receiving the
Erwin & Bielinski report, believes the Committee to Save St. Paul's (CSSP)
proposal is dead. When repeatedly asked if she still supports the group's proposal even after reading the E&B report, Ryan repeatedly responded, "I believe a solution exists without crippling taxpayers."
Communication, or Lack Thereof
Francine Ryan was disappointed by the lack of communication on the part of the village to its residents during Superstorm Sandy. "No information was communicated during the storm," she said, adding that county executive Ed Mangano, the school district and even the local churches all managed to keep in touch with people but the village didn't.
Donnelly agreed, stating the village "could have done a better job." He noted that Garden City's Board of Education was praised, as it should have been, for its frequent contact with parents. "That wasn't the case in the village," he said.
A major part of the problem is the fact that many residents provided their home phone numbers to the village's emergency Swiftreach system. "Most of those numbers were landlines," Donnelly said. The numbers became useless with during prolonged island-wide power outages.
The village is in the process of collecting additional phone numbers via its Swiftreach system. According to a village press release the system can send alerts to phone numbers and also deliver text messages and emails. To achieve the best results, it is vital that residents provide contact information via the village
website (at the bottom, right hand side of the home page) including home phone number, cell phone number, work phone number and email addresses.