Make government more accessible to Long Islanders

Nicole Reaber is a legislative aide for the Town of Brookhaven

Long Island is facing a major problem — the exodus of our youth and the replacement of community institutions with those available via technology. I serve as a legislative aide to a Town of Brookhaven councilmember and have realized the disconnect between local governments and our next generation here on Long Island. In my opinion, not only is there a responsibility to encourage young people to be involved with local governments, but to also find ways for governments to be more accessible to this population.

Being a young professional living and working on Long Island today is quite the challenge. Many of my peers fear that they will have to relocate because of high property taxes and rental rates or a lack of access to career opportunities with long-term growth potential and strong compensatory incentives. I find this to be the greatest challenge faced by the upcoming generation of working-age Long Islanders of our time.

Retaining the population should be paramount in creating and implementing public policy in the Long Island region. Local leaders must strive to connect directly with the next generation and encourage their participation in planning for the future.

Community institutions such as civic associations, local charities and schools bear the responsibility to encourage the next generation to be involved and, eventually, take leadership roles. These groups connect local government leaders directly to the individual members of the community on a regular basis. Strong community institutions are of great value because they encourage residents to participate in civic efforts aimed at improving the overall quality of life on Long Island.

Educators should provide students with an understanding of the structure of their local government, the roles, responsibilities and restrictions of the various agencies, and those who serve as representatives in each level of government. When local government is presented as more than an abstract entity, the population will know who to seek out and can take advantage of resources available to them. Encouraging the next generation to become actively involved in their communities preserves the institutions over time, creates strong community ties, and offers a way to build relationships and stimulate communication with governing entities.

Local government decisions influence the daily life of residents and should be transparent and accessible. The tools of communication available to us today far surpass the utility of those available at any other time. For local governments, there is no challenge preventing the next generation from becoming well-versed in local affairs. Social media, websites and email enable contact with the youngest constituencies. Creating greater awareness of local government’s role with this population is necessary to encourage involvement.

Young Long Islanders already involved, as I am, must also be stewards of our local governments by communicating to our peers the role of local government and encouraging them to take advantage of opportunities to become involved. By understanding and identifying the forces driving populations elsewhere or impeding community involvement, local governments can work alongside the next generation to overcome challenges and enhance the quality of life for all on Long Island.

This task will not be easily accomplished. However, local governments can work to increase engagement with their constituents by developing a strong sense of community among residents. Once this culture has been established, the next generation of Long Islanders can focus on taking a more active role in civic life.