Written by Victoria Caruso-Davis Friday, 09 April 2010 00:00
A member of the village’s board for a decade, Peter Cavallaro began his mayoral term in April 2009. As Cavallaro approaches the anniversary of his first year in office, The Westbury Times sat down with him as he reflected on his transition from board trustee to mayor, his first year at the helm and what’s in store for 2010.
Cavallaro, a private practice attorney for over 20 years with experience in corporate and municipal law, land use and zoning, was first elected to the village board in 1999. Prior, he served as a member of the village’s planning board for almost 12 years. As trustee, he served as commissioner of both public works and personnel and was an audit and claims commissioner and building department liaison.
While he may have served on the board for 10 years, Cavallaro admits that serving as mayor is a bit different, and that following in the wake of Ernest Strada, who served as mayor for some 28 years, left him some “big shoes to fill.” He said, “I may have only moved over one chair [on the dais] but I have a different focus ... a different sense, a different orientation in terms of my responsibilities. I am no longer one of five; I am the mayor. Now, I have to have a handle on all aspects of what’s going on in the village, so the focus is much more in depth and intense.” He added, “Fortunately, I have a very capable and professional staff that I can rely on, led by our Clerk Ted Blach.”
Cavallaro prides himself on maintaining the continuity that existed on the board and in the community prior to being elected while at the same time being able to “blend that continuity with some new direction.” As mayor, he has had the “chance to put a direct stamp” on things he believes need to be done, including spending the last 11-plus months to ensure that the issues that he ran his campaign on are being addressed.
As he heads into the second year of his four-year term, Cavallaro said he plans to continue his focus on code enforcement. Over the past year, Cavallaro said Westbury Village has “turned the notch up on” this issue by hiring more officers and dedicating more time to seeing that the codes are being properly met, executing search warrants and implementing a hotline residents can call to file complaints.
Cavallaro cites the village-wide re-evaluation project as perhaps the most significant achievement of his first year. He says that the village undertook the project to ensure that the tax burden on residential and commercial properties is equitably distributed and to eliminate the costly property tax challenges that have burdened the village budget for years. “Because of the revaluation, there will be [village] real property tax relief to our residential community in the coming year and beyond,” said Cavallaro, adding, “This will have an immediate impact on village residents and was something we felt was important to do.”
Taxes and the village’s spending plan are factors Cavallaro and the board of trustees are focusing a great deal of attention on these days.
For fiscal year 2009-2010, which runs from June to May, Westbury was able to reduce its spending plan by nearly $380,000 “by being more efficient in specific areas ... in the midst of a very difficult economy,” Cavallaro said. While some people may be getting a sense that the economy is getting better, for local governments, planning for the next year may be more difficult, but Cavallaro said his experience as a board trustee for 10 years, combined with his business experience and legal training, have prepared him for the challenge.
“[My background and experience] were invaluable when it came to what had to be done this year, and I suspect they will be just as important as we move forward through the next budget cycle,” he said.
For 2010-2011, Cavallaro said the village could see cuts in state and county aid that, despite the hard economic times, was still available last year. “There was definitely a one-year lag in terms of how the economy impacted us, locally. If you look at the information coming out of Albany and from Mineola, there was a lot of stimulus money last year that covered up a lot of the problems. It’s not going to be available this year [and] that is going to be difficult for us,” said the mayor.
In terms of quality of life, the village plans to continue aesthetically improving its downtown by moving forward with its traffic-calming project on Post Avenue, with assistance from Nassau County. He also hopes to see Lowe Properties’ proposal to revitalize the Post Avenue movie theater become reality.
“Mayor Strada did as much as he could to bring the movie theater project to the point where we were able, hopefully, to push it over the finish line,” he said.
In regard to the Islamic Center of Long Island and its application to expand, Cavallaro said he is optimistic that the concerns of the community and the needs of the Islamic Center can be met. “The residents have legitimate concerns and the members of the respective boards - the zoning board, planning board and the board of trustees - have the same concerns, but I am optimistic that, at the end of the day, the center will revise their plans to come up with something that works for everyone,” he said.
For Cavallaro, the past year has been both challenging and rewarding. “There are important decisions that need to be made and I have a sense of where I think we need to go to keep the village on the right course. I would rather be the one making these decisions on behalf of our residents, as opposed to relying on someone else to make them for us.”
He added, “[Being mayor] can be challenging but it is also rewarding when, in this kind of environment, you can have a positive impact ... It is a truly unique experience, and tremendous responsibility, to be the mayor in the place where you grew up. I have a direct link and connection to the people who I serve, and there is no way that I want to let them down. I feel that, overall, we had a very successful first year!”