CLARKSTOWN, NY – Justin Sweet, a lifelong resident of Clarkstown with deep familial ties to Rockland County, is setting his sights on the role of Town Supervisor after thirteen years of service as Town Clerk. Sweet, who has a diverse educational background including a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology, a Bachelor of Science in Earth Science, and a Jurist Doctor from Pace Law School, believes his unique experience in both the private and public sectors equips him well for the position. “I’m really connected personally to the community,” Sweet said, reflecting on his strong local roots and commitment to the area where his children attend Clarkstown schools.
In his tenure as Town Clerk, Sweet has been responsible for a significant overhaul of the tax collection process. “This is ten years of collecting almost half a billion dollars a year and getting it done for people,” he stated, emphasizing his role in the management and reconciliation of $470 million annually for the town and four school districts. His initiative to consolidate the receiver of taxes into the town clerk’s office in 2014 has been a point of pride, resulting in savings of over half a million dollars a year for the town.
Sweet’s decision to run for town supervisor is driven by his desire to address what he sees as serious issues within Clarkstown, notably the cost of living. “Property taxes were the highest municipalities in the country for real property taxes,” Sweet commented, drawing from his extensive dialogue with residents over the years. Expressing a heartfelt concern for the well-being of his constituents, he shared, “I really care about people. I want to help people. That’s really why I got involved in government.” Sweet is critical of the current administration’s fiscal management, citing a 15% increase in the town’s budget and a similar hike in property taxes for the average homeowner over the past seven years, despite promises to the contrary.
Continuing to build on his platform, Justin Sweet shared his vision for enhancing government efficiency across the entire Town of Clarkstown. With his extensive study of town government operations since becoming Town Clerk, Sweet believes he can leverage his experience to implement widespread efficiency. “I’ve been looking over the budget recently for obvious reasons. I can state confidently that we are the most efficient department in Town Hall,” Sweet confidently asserted, citing his success in merging the receiver of taxes into the Town Clerk’s office without retaining any positions from the former, a move that saved the town approximately half a million dollars annually.
Sweet highlighted the need for a comprehensive audit of the town government’s operations to scrutinize spending and staffing. Emphasizing the high cost of personnel, Sweet remarked, “The biggest savings was the people cost savings. That’s the biggest cost of government, the people cost.” He pointed out the importance of considering long-term financial obligations, referring to the legacy costs associated with retirement benefits. Sweet sees a future where the town can maintain services without increasing staff, thus controlling the ever-rising costs associated with government employment.
As for his plans to tackle the high taxes in Clarkstown, Sweet proposes a meticulous review of each department’s spending, aiming to streamline operations. “You have to take a HARD look at staffing,” Sweet emphasized, suggesting that efficiency could be achieved through strategic staffing and the redistribution of responsibilities, particularly as employees retire. This approach, Sweet argues, is not about reducing the workforce through terminations but about smart allocation of duties and careful consideration of each new vacancy.
Sweet plans to apply principles from the private sector to trim town expenses and reduce staffing costs. He remains cautious about identifying specific budgetary bloat but acknowledges areas where the town has experienced significant financial loss, notably in legal settlements and increased insurance premiums due to past political disputes. Sweet criticized the recent targeting of law enforcement officials for political reasons, which led to costly legal repercussions and an avoidable $5 million expense for the town.
Addressing the past actions of the Hoehmann administration, Sweet lamented the partisanship within Town Hall, particularly the redistricting efforts and attempts to overturn term limits, which he perceives as maneuvers to target political opponents. Such tactics, according to Sweet, make bipartisan cooperation difficult. He highlighted his bipartisan support, with endorsements from both Republican Town Councilman Frank Borelli and Democratic Town Councilman Patrick Carroll.
Sweet further discussed the destructive nature of the current political climate, where legal systems are weaponized against opponents, a trend he finds counterproductive to serving the community’s needs. “It’s very destructive and it doesn’t produce results for average folks like you and me looking to government to help us and these times are hard times,” Sweet stated. He advocates for a government of integrity, focused on responsible and ethical leadership, and prioritizing the community’s well-being over personal agendas.
Sweet further criticized the current administration for what he perceives as hypocrisy regarding term limits, arguing that the incumbent’s attempt to overturn a term limits law contradicts the principle of avoiding entrenched political power and losing sight of public service. He promised to reinstate term limits through a public referendum, asserting his belief in the benefits of new leadership and fresh ideas in government.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the incumbent’s position due to the legal challenge against term limits, Sweet is prepared to confront the challenge. He sees his role as bringing facts to light and correcting the narrative controlled by the current supervisor. Sweet’s approach to his campaign and potential tenure as Town Supervisor is rooted in a service-oriented philosophy, aiming to put people first and implement efficient government practices for the benefit of Clarkstown residents.
Sweet reiterated his goal of improving the efficiency of town hall operations, emphasizing the need for an audit of town government operations and a careful review of staffing and expenses. He cited his frustration with the current management as a driving force behind his candidacy, not personal grievances but a strong desire to correct the course for the benefit of the residents and taxpayers.
Sweet also detailed his plans to address the town’s land use and development concerns, which he believes have been mishandled, leading to projects that do not align with community desires. He proposed overhauling the appointment process for land use boards to ensure highly qualified, non-partisan members. Additionally, Sweet plans to hire a land use expert within the Town Attorney’s office to strengthen Clarkstown’s stance against inappropriate development.
Public safety, a top priority for Sweet, involves a strong partnership with law enforcement. He pledged to work with the police to maintain Clarkstown’s safety standards, emphasizing that while fiscal efficiency is important, public safety is not an area for budget cuts. He acknowledged the recent police contract renewal and the necessity to ensure the department is adequately funded.
The narrative of Sweet’s campaign is framed around a commitment to fiscal responsibility, efficient government operation, and public safety, all while fostering a collaborative, bipartisan approach to governance. He envisions a town hall that is responsive to the residents’ needs, where political games are set aside in favor of tangible improvements for the community.
Justin Sweet’s discourse on the topics of police staffing, school safety, infrastructure, and the evolution of retail, further unfolds his vision for Clarkstown’s future should he be elected as Town Supervisor.
On the matter of police staffing, Sweet indicates that while the number of officers has been consistent, he’s open to reassessment based on the community’s needs. He acknowledges the excellence of Clarkstown’s police department and emphasizes the necessity of fiscal scrutiny across the board, including the police budget, to ensure cost-efficiency without compromising safety.
Regarding school safety, Sweet recognizes the limited direct influence the Town Supervisor has over school district decisions, as they operate as separate entities with their own governance. He suggests that while the town could offer support and advice, ultimately, improvements in school security and education are the responsibility of the school districts. Sweet underscores the importance of community engagement with school board activities, encouraging citizens to attend meetings and vote to ensure their voices shape educational and safety policies.
Sweet further proposes the establishment of a Youth Advisory Council to address the issue of children’s sedentary lifestyles dominated by technology and video games. This council would serve as a platform for young people to voice their interests and help develop engaging after-school programs that promote physical activity and in-person social interaction.
In terms of infrastructure, Sweet cites the town’s 41 miles of roads and the challenges of maintaining them in the harsh Northeast climate. He calls for the use of modern, less damaging technologies for road maintenance and stresses the importance of competent, apolitical contracting processes for infrastructure projects. Sweet identifies the HVAC system in Town Hall as a significant concern, noting its inefficiency and the need for a cost-benefit analysis to determine the value of a potentially expensive upgrade.
Lastly, Sweet discusses the changing landscape of retail and its impact on local strip malls, acknowledging the trend towards online shopping and the resulting vacancies. He describes this as a challenge that requires innovative thinking to adapt to the shift in consumer behavior.
Justin Sweet, in discussing the economic challenges faced by retail spaces, emphasized the urgency of finding new uses or types of retail that draw consumers out of their homes to maintain the viability of these spaces. He underscored the importance of this to ensure that property taxes, a significant revenue source for the local government, continue to be paid. He pointed out that the struggle of the Palisades Center Mall exemplifies the broader trend of transformation in the retail sector and the necessity of keeping such properties economically viable to avoid homeowners bearing the fiscal burden.
Sweet addressed accusations regarding his stance on bail reform, clearly stating his opposition to the 2019 bail reform laws and accusing his opponent of misrepresenting his position for political gain. He committed to improving the land use approval process and reducing patronage in government, promoting a public referendum on term limits, and focusing on the safety and well-being of Clarkstown residents.
Sweet further delineated his political philosophy, drawing a contrast between himself and current Supervisor Hoehmann. He focused on the need for serious efficiency and expense management within town governance, leveraging his own experience in both the public sector and private business to propose a different direction for Clarkstown. He expressed concerns over the land use approval process and vowed to adhere to the promises made to the community, particularly regarding the use of open spaces like the Rockland Country Day School property.