Saturday, December 31, 2011

Same Tax, Next Year?

Are Your Property Taxes Lower Today Than They Were One Year Ago?

Dollars to doughnuts -- or to school districts, sanitary districts, towns, counties, and taxing districts by the dozen -- your property tax bill was higher this year than it was last. And higher still than that tax bill for the very same services was 2 years, 5 years, 10 years ago.

Talk of cuts, consolidations, transparency, efficiency, and, yes, even caps aside, your property taxes are no lower than they were a year ago, and the prospects of that bottom line coming down -- or even staying the same (a cap not being a reduction, or, truth be told, even a cap on the tax you will pay), zero to nil.

Bully for the Tax Revolt. Hooray for the Two-Percenters. A great big YeeHaa for the folks who promised smaller, leaner, more efficient government.

It truly is the property tax, stupid. The tax that drives seniors out of their homes, our workforce to other states, our children to find livelihoods, buy homes and raise families eleswhere.

The question is no longer whether we have had enough. That train left the station years ago. What must be asked -- though we've asked it before -- is when are we finally going to do something -- something tangible, something real, something that actually translates into a true reduction on the bottom line -- to lower the property taxes on Long Island?

Comments? Suggestions? Ideas? Solutions? Write us at

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In 2012 The Community Alliance Blog becomes an open forum, where you can post your own thoughts on building that better, sustainable, Long Island. Hey, it's where you live. Be a part of it!

The Community Alliance
Reimagining Long Island

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Yelling "Fire" On A Crowded Island

Special District Elections (Fire, Water) Set For Tuesday, December 13

What if they held an election and nobody came?

Well, here on Long Island, it happens all the time. Every year, twice a year, when elections for Commissioners (the folks who set the budgets for which We, The People, are taxed) of the Special Taxing Districts -- Sanitary, Water and Fire) are held.

Forget all the talk about disolving or consolidating special districts -- the very hobgoblin of local government fiefdoms that take from our wallets and keep on taking. If we can't even muster the will to get out the vote for general elections in November, and School Budget votes in May, what are the chances of a decent turnout for little publicized and hardly noticed special district elections that take place in August (Sanitary Districts -- Ooops. Missed those) and December (Fire Districts and Water Districts)?

Typically, it's the pocketbook issues that bring voters to the polls. The bread and butter. The property taxes. The stuff that Tax Revolt parties would be made of if they weren't the machinations of the very folks who laid those taxes upon us in the first place!

Not so on our Long Island, where special district elections are barely a blip on the radar screen.

Odd, as special district taxes account for more than 30% of the General Tax Levy, and nearly 11% of the total property tax bill, including school taxes.

In fact, as per the Statement of Taxes for the 2011 General Levy, which details County, Town and Special District taxes, the total tax paid per household for Special Districts is actually greater than the total tax paid per household for Town services.

One would think residents would be up in arms, waiting in line one hundred deep, if not to eliminate the special districts, then at least to elect Commissioners who would be held accountable for every last tax dollar they bill us for, down to the penny.

Truth is, most of us don't know who the Commissioners are, and many of those Commissioners (often cronies of the local political club) go unchallenged, both in elections and when drafting a budget, where the only "oversight" (in the literal meaning of the word) is a rubber stamp review by the Town Board.

Hmmm. Wonder how many of our special district Commissioners -- the vanguards of that last bastion of "local control" (or so the folks at Town Hall would have us believe) -- will feel compelled to adhere to the 2% cap on property tax increases?

Yes, the special district Commissioners hold so-called public meetings -- and even make their proposed budgets available for public review, if begrudingly, but who goes and who looks?

This blogger attended recent board meetings at the local Sanitary, Water and Fire Districts, respectively. On all three occasions, there was not another member of the public in attendance. And to say that I was not made to feel welcome would be an understatement.

Sure. Notices of Special District elections, budget hearings, and, sometimes, the budgets themselves, are posted (as they must be, by law) on the Town's website. You'll find Fire, Water and Sanitary, should you be so inclined. [Why, there's even Sewer Districts, if you're feeling particularly inquisitive.]

Frankly, you won't learn all that much from what's posted. Mostly, because the powers that be -- the one's with both hands in your pockets -- really don't want you to know. Still, you have every right to attend the hearings and public meetings, as posted, and, for what these special taxing districts are draining out of your bank accounts, you darn well should.

You can -- and, by all reason, should -- visit the websites of your local Fire Distict, Water District and Sanitary District, where notices of meetings, hearings and, sometimes, proposed budgets are posted for public consumption. [You may have to dig a bit, as "conspicuous" is not a word readily known to district Commissioners.]

There is no consistency, of course. Were you expecting any? Search for Franklin Square Water District, for instance, and you get a single page listing little more than a telephone number, some district trivia, and the fact that the district was the winner of the Best Tasting Tap Water Contest in Nassau County in 1991 and 1994. Many of the special districts do not even have a presence on the web, and where they do, don't expect to find pertinent information -- like dates, times and places for Commissioner elections -- popping up at you from the home page!

We'd say that Long Island residents are being kept in the dark about the goings on at the special districts. Then again, that would be an affront to the dignity of your local Lighting District, which also takes a chunk of cash out of your account twice a year.

Ignorance may be bliss, or so the old adage goes. In the case of the special taxing districts, with their clandestine operations, closely held bonds to the Town under which they conduct business, and private club-like mentality that has the public damned, ignorance -- not to mention apathy and indifference -- has become a burden that We, The People, can no longer afford.

So, mark your calendars. Tuesday, December 13. Water District and Fire District Elections. Find out the what, when, where and how. After all, they're playing with the tax dollars you're paying!
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For more on Long Island's Special Taxing Districts:
Residents for Efficient Special Districts
Long Island Progressive Coalition
Nassau County Government Efficiency Project

The Community Alliance
Common Sense Solutions To Common Community Concerns

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The School Property Tax Paradox

Where Is Albert Einstein When You Need Him?

“The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.” — Albert Einstein, physicist

Apparently, Professor Einstein never had to deal with school taxes on Long Island. Unfortunately, we do!

This blogger attended a meeting of the local school board Tuesday evening, during which a discussion ensued (as it often does) on school budgets, past, present and future.

While the school board, and its attorney, did their best, we suppose, to explain the impact of assessments, valuations and tax rates upon the actual school property tax, confusion, and much frustration, was clearly evident.

Compound what is, on its very face, a system of taxation that would turn the heads of NASA engineers, with costs (such as transportation, insurance, utilities, salaries and pensions, to list a few) that are constantly rising and rarely contained, and you've got trouble, with a capital "T" -- which stands for "TAX."

A letter circulated at this meeting, from an attorney who handles tax grievances, attempted to explain the school tax dilemma as follows:

"It is important for property owners to understand the Level of Assessment (LOA), which is the fraction by which an assessment is converted to an equalized market value. Even though your assessment may remain the same, or even be lowered during the assessment freeze, the LOA may change. As a result, the equalized market value of your home may increase. While the assessment may currently seem accurate, a change in the LOA may mean you have a meritorious case for a reduction.

"New York State Law allows a taxpayer to challenge the LOA along with the market value, as part of the same process. The taxpayer is entitled to present evidence regarding the correct LOA at a Small Claims Assessment Review (SCAR) hearing. Statistical studies can determine whether the LOA selected by the Assessor accurately reflects the true LOA. These statistical studies rely on appraisals, actual sales data, or econometric models. Example: If a house is valued by the County at $350,000, which translates to an original assessment of 875 (350,000 x .0025 = 875), and it is proven in a SCAR hearing that the correct market value is $310,000, the owner is entitled to a reduction in assessment. If the LOA is .25%, the new assessment would be 775 (310,000 x .0025 = 775). However, if the homeowner also successfully challenges the LOA, and shows the correct LOA to be .22%, the new assessment would be even lower still at 682 (310,000 x .0022 = 682). The school tax rate is then applied. Assuming by way of example a school tax rate of 400%, thereby lowering the owner’s school taxes from $3,500 (875 x 4 = $3,500) to $3,100 (775 x 4 = $3,100), for a savings of $400 ($3,500 – $3,100 = $400) in school taxes. After successfully challenging the LOA, however the new school taxes will be $2,728 (682 x 4 = $2,728) for a total annual savings of $772 ($3,500 - $2,728 = $772). The additional savings in school taxes as a result of successfully challenging the LOA will be $372 ($3,100 - $2,728 = $372). General taxes are similarly affected."

Ah. So that's what it all means! How's that for clarity, folks? About as muddy as the Mississippi during the height of crawfish season. All of this would be quite amusing, if the implications -- and the impact upon our wallets -- weren't so serious.

Anyway, many of us -- dare I say, most of us -- left this conclave more confused (some even dazed) than before, wondering just when, and how, a system of taxation that can neither be understood nor explained, and which is, in so many instances, forcing Long Islanders out of house and home, will be reformed.

We can hardly wait until January, 2012, when the next round of Tentative Assessed Valuations come out, or for shortly thereafter, when local school boards begin to formulate -- and attempt to justify with straight faces and fingers crossed -- their proposed budgets for 2012-13.

The income tax, by comparison -- with sincere apologies to Professor Einstein -- is mere child's play!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Extreme Makeover, Hempstead Turnpike Edition

A Call To Take Back The Turnpike

Forget Occupy Wall Street. Smack dab in the middle of the road, bisecting hamlets from Elmont to Wantagh (actually, Farmingdale), is that once venerable (really? when?) biway that, quite literally, carves its way through the very heart of America's largest, if not most blighted township -- Hempstead Turnpike.

Good old NY 24. Once described by The New York Times (as later adopted by this blog) as Twenty Miles of Ugly, and oft times, with its hodge-podge of ill-placed brownfields and dilapidated storefronts, as an open sewer, Hempstead Turnpike cries out for renewal, revitalization and a rebirth.

If the Champs-Élysées, with its cafes, cinemas, luxury specialty shops, and stately horse chestnut trees is the pride of Paris, and one of the most beautiful boulevards in the world, then Hempstead Turnpike, with its dilapidated streetscapes, leaning utility poles, gangle of overhead wires, and structures that are one side or the other of condemnation-worthy, is the bane of Hempstead Town.

Don't get us wrong. While the Champs-Élysées has its cinemas, luxury shops and sidewalk cafes (from which, it is said, one can watch the entire world go by), Hempstead Turnpike has the ruins of the Old Argo theater and the wasteland that is the parking lot of the Nassau Coliseum, and more after hours clubs, storefront iglesias, and purveyors of shlack than Paris could have laid claim to during Napolean's Reign of Terror. The Turnpike is where the masses run from, not throng to.

Decades of what can only be characterized as "turn-the-other-cheek" (not to mention checkbook) zoning, lackluster (if not entirely absent) planning, and sheer neglect by municipalities and commercial property owners alike, have given us today's excuse for a major bisecting roadway that transverses the township, leaving in its industrial waste-filled wake a scene straight out of The Great Gatsby. [They may, to a great extent, have reclaimed the Flushing Meadows of F. Scott Fitzgerald's day. Not so Hempstead Turnpike!]

Ugly, dirty, outmoded, the very mauling of Main Street. And let's not forget dangerous, too!

Designated as THE most dangerous road in the region -- a dubious distinction that both motorists and pedestrians are reminded of daily -- it is almost as if the Turnpike was made deadly as well as unsightly by design.

The roadbed of Hempstead Turnpike may be under control of the Department of Transportation of the State of New York, and the utility poles and appurtenances the stuff that keep the likes of LIPA in the money, but what lines the Turnpike -- the zoned, the exceptions, and the downright illegal -- all comes under the province (though certainly not the watchful eye) of the Town of Hempstead.

What could have been the pride of every community through which the Turnpike so ignobly passes has instead become the great detractor of suburbia. Rather than a mecca for shoppers, or an oasis for the meandering walker, Hempstead Turnpike has become the antithesis of sustainability. A means to get from here to there (unless it can be avoided). A distinct failure of aesthetics and mobility, the Turnpike is a declaration of defeat rather than a destination of choice.

Vison? None. Viability? Little. Promise? Only the broken.

From drawing board to drafting table, plans to bring new life to an old roadway perenially fall by the wayside. Each year, we hail "the Hub," "the new Elmont," the era of "Streetscape enhancement." And with the passing of the months, we witness only decline, dismay, and the ocassional Victorian-style streetlamp, shedding dim light upon a dreary boulevard of shuttered stores and broken dreams.

And so, having only recently survived earthquake and hurricane (not to mention the return to office of the very folks at Hempstead Town Hall who pride themselves -- at taxpayers' expense -- at giving us the very best suburbia has to offer (cue the white picket fence), we call upon residents to rise up, take to the streets (just don't try to cross Hempstead Turnpike), and join the crusade (call it a "movement," should it stoke the embers of revolutionary zeal) to TAKE BACK THE TURNPIKE!

Call Kate Murray's Helpline at 516-489-6000, and let them know you want a boulevard befitting America's largest (even bigger, when you include illegal renters) township. TAKE BACK THE TURNPIKE from the neglect, the missing Code enforcement, the hands of a Zoning Board/Planning Board which has demonstrated that it is not very good at either.

And as for you, our elected, if not highly exalted officials... No more talk of urban renewal plans, Lighthouse lite, distinctive planters and brick pavers. The time to TAKE BACK THE TURNPIKE has come!

We've tired of the artists' renderings and engineers' sketches. The mock-ups and wink-and-nods won't do it for us anymore. We want -- no, we DEMAND -- a Hempstead Turnpike that is attractive, inviting, open for business, and, yes, safe for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists alike.

Come Chambers of Commerce and civic associations. Rotary and Kiwanis. Lions and Pythians. John and Jane Q. Public. Stand up. Speak out. TAKE BACK THE TURNPIKE. This generation, and the hope of the next for a thriving, vibrant "Main Street," implores you to act today!
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For more on TAKE BACK THE TURNPIKE, email The Community Alliance at, and follow us on Twitter at

The Community Alliance
New Visions for America's First Suburb

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Community Alliance Endorses. . .

Election Day: Tuesday, November 8

Okay. You twisted our virtual arm. So, without further ado, here are our endorsements for the upcoming election.

Take them for what you will -- or won't. Frankly, if you don't know who has been a friend of community and which of the elected or wannabes is in it for themselves, there's little hope that you'll catch on now.

For President of the United States (so what if that's not until 2012 :-): Herman Cain (R)
Yup, Herman Cain. We like his 9-9-9 Plan. That's 9 pizzas with 9 toppings for 9 dollars. You just can't beat that, now can you?

For Town of Hempstead Supervisor: Kate Murray (R)
Do we hear a collective, "Whaaaaaaaaaaaaat?"
Is it the tax freeze? The fiscal conservatism? The experience in office? The smile? The photo ops? The fact that, in each preceding election, we endorsed the challenger, and look what happened? [Read into that what you will!] No. It's the TV ads and radio spots. Anyone who can be that creative in straining credulity, and actually gets the electorate to buy in, lock, stock and barrel, has truly earned our vote!

For Hempstead Town Clerk: Mark Bonilla (R)
He's done a fantastic job in bringing Town Hall to the people, and not just the mobile Passport office.

For Town of Hempstead Receiver of Taxes: Don Clavin (R)
We all need someone to Boooo-Hisssss when it comes to our property tax bills. Who better than Don? :-)

For Hempstead Town Board:
Ed Ambrosino (R) (a true friend of community, even if he no longer returns our telephone calls)
James Darcy (R)
Angie Cullen (R)

For Nassau County Legislature:
Kevan Abrahams (D)
Robert Troiano (D)
Carrie Solages (D) (if for no other reason than we all know what John Ciotti knew and when he knew it)
Denise Ford (R)
Joseph Scanneli (D)
Francis Becker (R)
Adam Moser (D)
Vincent Muscarella (R)
Norma Gonsalves (R)
David Denenberg(D)

Well, there you have it. Remember, it's all about transparency, accountability, and the uncanny ability to avoid either while convincing the public that you're doing both!

And now, like the rest of you, we'll lock the doors, close all the lights, pull down the shades and hide under the covers, hoping against hope that tomorrow never finds us.

Good night and good luck!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Happy Daze Are Here Again!

Election Time In America's Largest Township. Oh Boy!

In case you hadn't noticed -- and how could you not, what with all the lawn signs planted and election placards plastered (many illegally) on boarded up commercial buildings and upon fences that surround nearly every abandoned property and festering brownfield -- there's an election coming up in Hempstead Town.

Yes, it's the seemingly perennial (as the same folks keep popping up year after year) races (if you can call them that) for Town Supervisor, Town Clerk, Receiver of Taxes (boooooo hissssss :-), and so on down the line.

This year's yawn of an election -- one, for all intents and purposes, surrendered by the Democrats at inception -- pits the always polished, ever effervescent Team Murray (Kate Murray, Supervisor) against the listing badly, we hardly knew ye Team Port (Gary Port, standard bearer for the walking wounded and permanently disengaged).

Inspiring music on the Team Murray site. And nice to see Supervisor Murray switch out the iconic red blazer for a crisp white one. Other than that, the story is much the same as it was in the last election, and the one preceding that. Ersatz tax freezes. Value for your vanishing tax dollar. Trusted on Main Street, Reviled on Brownfield Turnpike. Yada. Yada.

As for Team Port, or more aptly, the Nassau County Democrats, there's no music, perhaps indicative of the silence of the Party on many of the great issues of our time, and only a listing of candidates for office, with highlights from last May's Nominating Convention.

Yes, there are the typical and customary GOP videos and the Dem YouTube moments (we won't bore you), but, for the most part, you've not only heard it all before, you've lived it! [If you could call this living...] There's even mention, by Gary Port, of "Murraygrams," a word we, at The Community Alliance, coined, and duly expect to be paid royalties on. Thank you, Gary!

The Democrats, in a nod to the 21st Century perhaps, have their blogs. The blog of the Democratic Committee, posted sometime last century, being as vacuous as the achievements of the Party the last time it held favor in the State Senate and the Nassau County Legislature. Gary Port's blog, entitled Future Vision (to be distinguished from the Tunnel Vision that too often defines politics, on both sides of the aisle, here on our Long Island), is more a biopic (myopic?) jaunt down memory lane, peppered with the failings of the Murray administration -- from the Coliseum to the Courtesy, the Animal Shelter to personal animus -- than it is a view toward a better, brighter tomorrow.

The GOP offers no blog, per se. At least not one this blogger could discern. Heck. Who needs a blog when you have a fine-tuned machine to rally the troops and get out the vote? We did find a Team Murray blog in our search. It, thankfully, had absolutely nothing to do with either the upcoming election, or, for that matter, politics. There is a God!

To say that this campaign season has been lackluster, if not a complete ho hum bore, would be an understatement. But for the lawn signs and eye-polluting placards -- with ongoing forays into the enemy camp for sign-snatching, unlawful postings, and the hurling of racial epitaphs (as if we needed even more reason to dissolve the Town's Special Taxing Districts, including Sanitary District 6) -- there hasn't been all that much one could call election excitement.

No shows -- mostly the Democratic challengers, whose capitualtion from the get go is overshadowed only by their absence from community forums, News12 Debates, and interviews in the local papers.

No ideas -- well, not any new ideas. On the economy. On Taxes. On the Coliseum. Nothing. Nunca. Nada. Let's just rehash the old ideas one more time, and call them new. Yeah. That's the ticket!

No vision -- other than those backward glances over the shoulder, to make sure yesterday isn't catching up with them before November 8th.

No cooperation between the parties or players. No cessation to the finger-pointing and opposition-bashing. No independence of thought or action. No deviation, by anyone at anytime, from the party line.

Thank the heavens above for the likes of Sanitary District 6's Vinny Prisco, posting signs -- on the taxpayers' dime -- for GOP Legislator John Ciotti outside the Dem opponent's office, while muttering racial slurs -- on camera, no less. At least we have something to break the monotony, and to remind us that not only are we alive, but we still live in a very dark age where the antics of henchmen, hoods and goons are not only tolerated, but, at least until caught on video, condoned and encouraged.

In reading this tirade, one would think that this blogger was disenchanted with the state of politics in Hempstead Town, if not on Long Island, and well beyond these pristine shores.

I am. Or do I say, he is. This blogger should be saying, "We are," as in we've all had more than we can stand and, thank you, Popeye, we "can't stands no more!"

Looking back, more than 100 years of single party rule in a township that is noted more for blighted biways and bloated patronage than for innovative planning and the cultivation of anything more than Victorian-style street lamps and decorative planters. Nothing changes. Nothing.

Looking forward, toward that tomorrow, with the promise of the rebirth of a vibrant, vital suburbia, we see little offered, by either party, to reflect upon, let alone as harbinger of the ideals upon which a suburban way of life fluorishes and thrives. No, beyond the rhetoric of that poorly paved-over yellow brick road lined with lawn signs lies only the perception of Oz, behind which curtain we are forced to admit, with disheartening tomes, "there's no place like home." No place, indeed.

Over the years, our credo has been echoed from the Turnpike to the Boulevard, Elmont to Wantagh. "The status quo is never good enough!"

But change for the sake of change alone, out of the proverbial frying pan into the all-consuming fire, doesn't quite do it for us.

The party now in power in Hempstead Town offers us more of the same. They tell us that, after a century, their work is not yet done. Two more years. Three more years. One hundred more years. Whatever it takes.

And the party that would be king? Well,  just put us in and.... Wait. We saw that in Albany, where the State Senate devolved into nothing short of a three-ring circus, and in Mineola, where the magical mystery bus tour of revitalization left us all stranded.

What were those lyrics again? "The buyers and the sellers are no different fellas than what I professed to be..."

Maybe so.

If you are looking for an endorsement here, as has been our practice and policy over the years, move on. Not now. Perhaps not at all. Well, maybe later, because sitting on the sidelines, cursing at the darkness to our right, and raising a clenched fist to the faint light of an oncoming freight train, far in the distance, to our left, is simply not our style.

For while we respect all who hold or run for public office, there being no higher calling (well, maybe blogger :-) in service to the community, and, in more than political circles, we call many in or seeking office "friends," we must profess, with profound sadness, that, as benefactors of the portended public good, collectively, systematically, and, perhaps, unwittingly, they have let us down.

The status quo may not be good enough. Not now. Not ever. It  is, nevertheless, what it is, what it was, and, what might yet be. The Devil we know versus who the heck knows what. Mediocrity, like water, seeks its own level.

We'd like to think, and even believe, with all of our hearts, that we can do better; we must do better. That happy days will, indeed, be here again. If not by way of this election, with an electorate duly motivated, or should we say, incensed, and candidates with the gumption to fight for the causes of community, or to at least talk about them, then maybe in the next!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Facelift for Sagging Coliseum?

Latest Plan for Nassau Hub Scrubs New Arena

In the most recent twist along the aging Turnpike of dreams turned nightmares, developers -- under the guise of the Association for a Better Long Island ("better" for whom?) -- have proposed not a new arena as home to the NY Islanders, but rather, a facelift for the NHL's oldest building. In addition, the proposal calls for a minor league ballpark as well as retail and recreational space.

Call it Lighthouse Lighter Than Lite!

A facelift for the Coliseum? Not to disparage, but wouldn't that be akin to putting Phyllis Diller under the knife -- yet again?

Raise the roof. Add more seats (as if the view from the current nose-bleed sections wasn't bad enough). Give the place a paint job.

The $346.5 million plan as proferred has yet to be reviewed or commented upon by either the County or the Town of Hempstead, which has jurisdiction over zoning, or by the owner of the Islanders, developer Charles Wang.

Included, in addition to updating the Coliseum and a minor league ballpark, is restaurant space, a 6800 car parking garage, and an indoor ice skating rink. No mention of residential housing, of any kind. [Not that we need housing on Long Island, particularly of the affordable kind!]

What the plan lacks in scope and vision, it makes up for in, um, er, nothing. But for the fact that this so-called sports and entertainment complex (a combination Hooters and Adventureland, minus the rides and the pretty girls) is to be financed privately (rather than by bilking the taxpayers), the latest attempt to reinvent the Hub brings little to the table, and yawns from the masses.

Watch for the "Task Force's" proposal to go nowhere, as the light grows even dimmer in Uniondale.
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From Newsday:

Task force unveils $346.5M Coliseum plan


Architects, engineers, government officials and labor leaders Wednesday unveiled a $346.5 million proposal to renovate the Nassau Coliseum and turn the surrounding 77 acres into a sports-entertainment complex.

But the development, for which the builder would have to secure financing, drew noncommittal responses from key players, including County Executive Edward Mangano, the Town of Hempstead and Islanders owner Charles Wang, who all would have a say in the project's future.

Under the plan, developed by a task force of the Association for a Better Long Island, a private developer would spend $100 million to renovate and expand the existing Coliseum. The height of the arena would increase by as much as 25 feet, and there would be between 17,000 and 20,000 seats -- compared with just over 16,000 now.

The site would include a minor league ballpark, a parking garage with room for 6,800 cars that would join the Coliseum and the Long Island Marriott, a new indoor ice rink for practice and public use, and 70,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space. West Hempstead architect Angelo Francis Corva, who designed the plan, left about 25 acres on two parcels undeveloped for a future phase.

"It would be an economic boost for Long Island," Corva said. "This is vitality being brought to a site which has none at the present time, which is something we will need."

"The goal is to keep the Islanders" in Nassau, said North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman, a Democrat and a task force member.

The proposal, which did not mention any specific developers, follows the rejection by Nassau voters on Aug. 1 of a referendum to spend $400 million of taxpayer funds on a new arena and ballpark.

The ABLI, a real estate group, campaigned against the referendum.

Mangano, a Republican, said in a statement: "Everything is on the table. . . . No one has the market cornered on good ideas when it comes to a project of this magnitude."

Mangano added that moving ahead, "I am firmly committed to a process that ensures that whatever path we ultimately take provides the greatest benefit to our citizens, not the greatest profit to a chosen few."

Wang, who has said the Islanders will not play in the current arena after the team's lease expires in 2015, said, "If somebody comes up with anything definitive, we will obviously look at it. I can tell you one thing very definitively. Oct. 8 the puck drops. And we will have a hell of a season."

Hempstead Town spokesman Mike Deery said: "If and when a proposal comes before the town board, we'll review it, consider it and act accordingly."

Town attorney David Levy, a task force member, did not attend the announcement.

Oyster Bay Planning Commissioner Frederick Ippolito, a task force member, took the lead on the plan, bringing in Corva and engineering firm Sidney B. Bowne & Son.

With Robert Brodsky

Friday, September 09, 2011

On A Clear, Crisp, Sunny Day. . .

. . .It Feels Like 9/11

Ten years. A decade. And it seems like only this morning.

The shock. The horror. The fear. The pain and sorrow. It all comes streaming back, though the void that penetrated both psyche and soul on that otherwise remarkably brilliant fall day has never really left us.

An open wound that scars over but never fully heals. An emptiness deep within that time cannot fill. A longing for the perceived safety of seemingly more innocent times. A return to 9/10.

On the 10th Anniversary of one of America's darkest days, we remember.

We remember the lives of friends, neighbors and loved ones tragically lost to senseless acts of terror, and the lives of countless others forever changed on that fateful day.

We remember the brave, the selfless, the tried and true. Those who gave all, gave some, or gave what they could.

We remember those who have taken up the causes near and dear to those who perished, of country, of community, of service beyond self.

We remember that freedom is never truly free, and that freedom's flame must be constantly stoked to keep its light burning brightly.

And we remember, at least it is our hope and prayer that we do, that, even in the depth of despair, in these times of social, political and economic turmoil, as in other such times throughout our nation's great history,when uncertainty abounds and the "new normal" is anything but, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself!"

At this time of remembrance, take a moment, at the very least, to pay tribute both to the fallen and to those who continue to stand tall, at home and abroad, in the face of enormous adversity. Take a moment to reflect upon the meaning of those lives too soon taken, and the lives we, the living, must strive to lead in their memory. Take a moment to resolve to do more, try harder, go just one step further in making our community, our country and this world a better, safer, happier place.

And then, take a moment -- or as many as you may spare -- to hug your kids, your spouse, your significant other, your mom and dad, uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbors, friends and acquaintances, and to say "I love you."

9/11 will forever be etched on our minds and embedded in our hearts, as it should be -- as it must be. We remember. And we move forward, with hope, with strength, with determination, to 9/12 and beyond.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Earthquakes And Hurricanes And High Taxes, OH MY!

Weathering The Imperfect Storm On Long Island

First it was the property tax bill, exploding out of our mailboxes and burrowing into our wallets like some kind of Tasmanian Devil.

Then came the earthquake. The Stuff that ad nauseum reports by the likes of Wolf Blitzer, who must have interviewed every last rock in Mineral Springs, VA, are made of.

And now, batten down the hatches and secure your lawn chairs, as Long Island tracks a strong and virulent Hurricane Irene.

What next? Locust? [Wait. We've seen the skeletal remains of the Cicada clinging to the tree trunks. The locust have arrived!]

We survived the earthquake, and have the tee shirts to prove it. We are enduring the tax bills -- barely, and with ever deepening dismay. We tolerate the Cicada. But a full blown Hurricane with torrential rains and winds nearing 100 mph?

If you thought the flooding and downpours of the other night were of Biblical proportions, just wait!

Forecasters are not exactly sure where the storm will track (are they ever?) -- east, west, or out to sea (although the computer models don't indicate this at the moment). So, where to, Irene? Who knows?

Long Island has a long history of Hurricane hits, some impressive and deadly, others little more than a passing shower. From Doria to Gloria, Belle to Bob, we've weathered them all.

What will Ms. Irene bring our fair Island?

The best adivce we can give you -- short of becoming stranded on one of Long Island's faux Coastal Evacuation Routes, heading for higher ground atop the Covanta Incinerator tower or the H. Lee Denison Building, or hastily ordering your personal (autographed?) copy of Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray's Guide to Hurricane Safety -- comes in the form of two words: BE PREPARED!
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Nassau County Office of Emergency Management

Hurricane Irene is currently forecast with a 50% chance of hitting the Greater New York City region - passing Long Island at or just east of Montauk - at around 4 PM Sunday, possibly as a category 1 hurricane
with maximum sustained winds of 74-95 mile per hour.

Hurricane Irene, at that level of strength, can produce storm surges, high tides, strong winds, driving rain, and severe thunder storms. These, in turn, can cause flooding, toppling of trees or other structures, dangerous driving and walking conditions, and downed power lines, presenting dangerous street conditions and leading to extended power outages.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency reminds everyone to Be Prepared.

Please visit the NOAA website for information on disaster preparedness and pay particular attention to the disaster supply list at

The information below was supplied by Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy's Office to help in accessing help during emergencies.

For more information and storm safety and preparedness tips:

If all else fails, and you still have power, check out the Long Island Hurricanes.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Day The Earth Shook Long Island

Shake, Rattle & Roll Along The Turnpike

The aftershocks of yesterday's 5.9 on the Richter (neither Mike nor Barry) Scale quake are still being felt today on Long Island.

Hardest hit was the Town of Hempstead in Nassau County. America's largest, and heretofore most blighted township, suffered devastating damage, with only two structures that remained standing after the tremors subsided -- the Nassau Coliseum and the Covanta Incinerator tower.

Main Street was eerily empty on Wednesday morning, with storefronts shuttered, infrastructure crumbling, and debris strewn along the sidewalks and in parking fields. [In other words, it was business as usual in "downtown!"]

Nassau County Executive, Ed Mangano, manned the Emergency Response Desk at the County Seat in Mineola, reassuring residents and attempting to allay fears.

Surveying the damage to the now scaffolded Executive Building in Mineola, Mangano told reporters that calm would prevail.

"We've already called for a September 1 vote on a $400 Billion Rebuild Nassau Bond Referendum," said the County Exec. "The proceeds will be used, primarily, to raise taxes by way of artists' renderings of what Nassau would look like assuming we ever got off our butts and actually did something."

Meanwhile, at what was left at Hempstead Town Hall [a bust of Joe Mondello embracing Al D'Amato, a stack of Murraygrams, and a half-eaten ham sandwhich from the Coliseum Deli], Supervisor Kate Murray issued a statement -- full color copies of which will be mailed to all 200,000 homes in the Town -- on Earthquake Preparedness.

"Remember to wear clean underwear," Murray began. "And avoid standing under falling buildings..."

Sage advice, from those who know.

Murray, speaking on behalf of the entire Town Board, declared Hempstead Town a disaster area, and ordered the creation of a taxpayer-funded Special Earthquake Relief District (Joe Ra, Commissioner). Details on the nature and scope of the District were sketchy at press time.

Also heard from, by way of the now famous Campfire Express, was NYS and Nassau County Democratic Committee Chairman, Jay Jacobs. Jacobs, speaking on condition of anonymity, denied that there had been an earthquake. "Just a GOP ruse," asserted the Party Chair, "to divert our attention from the real problems of Nassau County. I urge all residents to vote 'no' on the September 1 Bond issue."

At the MTA and Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, spokespersons said there had been no damage to the bridges, tunnels and rails, and that there were no quake-related delays. "Nothing out of the ordinary. Expect the usual 20-30 minute delays, random cancelations, and daily disruptions."

In anticipation of future disasters -- such as cloudy days and a 5 MPH breeze out of the west -- the MTA and Port Authority have both requested 200% fare increases, retroactive to 1997.

Chaos and destruction notwithstanding, County and Town residents appeared to take yesterday's earthquake in stride.

Wandering along Nassau's Hurricane Evacuation Route (no doubt getting a jump on Irene, likely to be headed our way this weekend), some of Long Island's most notable took pause to comment.

Adrienne Esposito of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment said that the quake resulted from hydrofracking in the shale of Virginia. "Was it a coincidence that the quake happened on the very day hydrofracking hearings were being held in Albany? Of course it was. But we needed a good tie-in."

Elmont civic activist Patrick Nicolosi looked at the bright side of the quake. "Before the earthquake, the roads were cracked and pitted. Look at them now. Like new!"

Congressman Peter King blamed the earthquake on the rage of terrorist-hugging Muslims. "There's nothing natural about this," muttered King. "The mosque is the epicenter of all evil!"

And former NYC Mayor Rudy Guiliani added his now familiar tagline, "9/11!"

End-of-the-World believers were also having their best day ever, predicting floods, mudslides, typhoons and round-the-clock Mister Softee music playing all over town. The End Is Nearer Than It Was On Tuesday tee shirts were already being promoted on the Internet and hawked in the streets.

As they do most everything, LIers shrugged off the earthquake as simply another day on the island of misplaced dreams.

"Just add it to out property tax bills," said a passerby, not even stopping to pay homage at the makeshift memorial set up in front of the Receiver of Taxes' office. "Absolutely nothing surprises us anymore!"

Nassau Coliseum BEFORE Earthquake Hit Long Island

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Dude, Where's My Tax Freeze?

So Much For "Holding The Line" On Property Taxes

Well, those pesky property tax statements for Town of Hempstead and County of Nassau taxes are in the mail once again, leaving most homeowners to wonder, "Which part of 'tax freeze' am I missing?"

All of it, apparently, judging from the increased tax levies, virtually across the board.

We won't name names, but wasn't it the Nassau County Executive who, broom in hand, told us that he "stopped" the outrageous hikes in the property tax? And wasn't it the Town of Hempstead Supervisor, smiling all the way to the office of the Receiver of Taxes, who pledged to "freeze" property taxes across the board? [Oh wait. That was for 2009 and 2012. Stuck right there in the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression were hefty property tax hikes!]

Did someone, somewhere, not get the memo? Where are our Republican/Tax Revolt Party tax cuts?

But enough of the rhetoric. Let's look at the numbers.

For the County of Nassau, where ideas aren't the only things being swept under the rug, here are just some of the property tax increases over 2010 tax levies:

General Purposes -- +9.89%
County Police -- +6.05%
County Environmental Bond -- +26.94%
County Sewage Collection District -- +11.88%

Thank goodness taxpayers won't have to add a Coliseum/Hub Bond to the list!

On the Town of Hempstead side:

Highway Repairs/Improvements -- +6.50%
Building-Zoning-Etc. -- +6.47%
Town Lighting District -- +3.96%
Town Park District -- +9.07%
Town Public Parking District -- +12.33%

And while the tax levy for the Town of Hempstead's Refuse Disposal District actually decreased by 19.46%, the levy in the Town's Sanitary District (#6), whose budget is approved (or should we say, rubber-stamped?) each year by the Town Board, went up by 15.07%. That's a lot of garbage, folks!

We've been had, blind-sided, played for fools! So, what else is new?

Yes, our local governments are holding the line, all right, while taxpayers are left holding the now empty bag!

Sure. Wait 'til next year. A freeze. A Tax Cap. A promise to be made and later broken. One hand patting us on the back while the other picks our pockets!

We asked you to let us know if that "bottom line" on your property tax bill for 2011 had, in fact, gone down compared to 2010. Well, has it?

Just looking at the bottom line, we are moved, like so many of our fellow Long Islanders, to pick ourselves up, lock, stock and barrel, and venture to greener, less taxing, pastures. And we would. But who can afford the tolls to cross the Hudson?
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Won't Get Foooled Again? Yeah, Right!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Don't Think Twice, It's All Right

The Abandonment of the Nassau Hub

In case you hadn't noticed -- assuming you even care -- the deadline for new proposals for the redevelopment of the Nassau Hub/Coliseum has come and gone.

Newsday reported that eight -- yes, count 'em, 8 -- proposals had been put forth, each to be "carefully reviewed" by the County.

As per Newsday, of the eight ideas (none either novel or entirely new), "One response offers a revenue-sharing model; several 'appear to revisit leveraging the surrounding areas as a means to finance a new arena;' others seek to develop without an arena; none would privately finance a new Coliseum..."

Inspirational, isn't it? One wonders where all the visionaries have gone? To the Farmers' Markets, we suppose...

Developers are vying, if not drooling, to get a foot in the door. Special interest groups, under guise of that "better Long Island," are still lobbying. Taxpayers, at least those left here, are still reeling from hit after hit to their wallets.

Ideas? We have an idea? Bring back Charlie Wang, his Lighthouse and his money, and let's get a move on.

Ho. Hum. Been there. Done that.

So, now that Ed Mangano & Company's rushed Referendum on an ill-conceived, patchwork plan to bilk taxpayers out of $400+ million has gone down the tubes, it's back to "wait and see." Delay. Obfuscation. Put the patient back on the respirator and hope for the best.

And what has become of the great protagonists of progress -- or, for that matter, the antagonists, who "just say no" to absolutely everything?

Eleceted officials have gone back to doing what they do -- issuing boistrous press releases and smile-filled photo ops signifying nothing. Islanders fans have retreated to the shadows of a crumbling arena, back to discussing trades, jerseys and prospects for the coming season. Community groups and civic organizations, wishy-washy on the Coliseum/Hub issue, at best, have returned to their perceived core issues of suburban life. Why, even the naysayers have been silenced momentarily, awaiting, no doubt, the next big idea, and yet another opportunity to say "no."

If the Nassau Hub itself has not been abandoned, in great measure, by those who declared themselves the strongest supporters of development, then certainly, logic and reason have been left on the curbside of a Hempstead Turnpike at the crossroads of desolation and hopelessness.

To borrow from Bob Dylan, via Peter, Paul & Mary (did they ever play the Coliseum?), Don't Think Twice, It's All Right:

We're walkin’ down that long, lonesome road, babe
Where we're bound, we can’t tell
But goodbye’s too good a word, gal
So we’ll just say fare thee well
We ain’t sayin’ you treated us unkind
You could have done better but we don’t mind
You just kinda wasted our precious time
But don’t think twice, it’s all right
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HERE to read the Anton News Viewpoint, Bigger Than One Building

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Driving Miss Daisy

Or Is It, Dawn?

A hardly-noticed blurb, hidden in the hinter-pages of Newsday, chronicled, in short order, a motor vehicle accident involving a car owned by the Town of Hempstead and operated by a TOH employee, one Dawn Kurutz.

Nothing remarkable, on the face of it. After all, accidents happen.

What struck us, though -- raising a red flag -- was one salient fact: The accident took place in Copiague, County of Suffolk.

While the Town of Hempstead is, indeed, America's largest township, its reach extending far and wide, when last we looked, neither Copiague nor Suffolk were within the Town's boundaries.

So, what was a Town of Hempstead employee, driving a car owned by the Town (and, presumably, paid for by the Town's taxpayers), doing out in Suffolk County?

According to the Town's Minister of Misinformation, Mike Deery, as reported in Newsday, "Kurutz was on her way to work and was authorized to have the town vehicle."

Is there a reason Kurutz could not use her own vehicle to drive to and from work in Hempstead Town, this even if the TOH-owned car was used by her in the course of her employment? Did the Town have "business" out in Suffolk County for which Kurutz required use of an "official" vehicle? Do Town of Hempstead employees typically use Town-owned/taxpayer paid for vehicles to travel to and/or from work? Exactly what was this car doing out in Suffolk, other than providing a free ride to a TOH employee on the taxpayers' of Hempstead Town dime (add in gas -- unless this was one of those new-fangled Hydrogen-propelled vehicles -- and we're talking real money here)?

We won't even get into why a Suffolk County resident is on the Town of Hempstead payroll, especially at a time when so many qualified Town of Hempstead residents are unemployed, ready to work, and have more than vested interests in the municipality's affairs. [Will assume, for purposes of this blogpost, that Miss Kurutz is a relative, friend, or significant somebody connected in some way to the GOP.]

But we digress.

In a time of economic upheaval, when government, from the feds to the counties, is cutting back, firing workers, and moving toward austerity, how is it that a Town of Hempstead employee is "authorized" to take a Town-owned car to and from work?

In a Town that boasts -- time and time again -- the highest possible credit rating on Wall Street (and we all know now exactly how much credence we can put into that, thank you, Standard and Poors), how does allowing employees to have use of Town-owned vehicles for non-business purposes equate with fiscal prudence?

In an election year, with a campaign slogan of, "Trusted on Main Street," how can citizen taxpayers of Hempstead Town continue to place their "trust" in Town officials who squander hard to come by tax dollars on after-hour honorariums, such as use of official cars for unofficial business?

Maybe it's not just the "crash" in the stock market we have to worry about!

Of course, we may be off base here. Perhaps, way off. Could be that there was a very good reason for Dawn Kurutz having a Town-owned car to travel to work from Copiague in the County of Suffolk. Assuming a valid and reasonable explanation is in the offing, we'll report it right here on this blog, leaving you to decide the propriety -- or not -- of the act.

We are, however, painfully -- although not shockingly -- reminded of the many reports of Town employees operating "official", taxpayer-funded vehicles outside the scope of employment, ala Sanitary District supervisors driving Town-owned SUVs to, from, and virtually everywhere in between.

Yes, it gives us pause when we see, for instance, a vehicle emblazoned with the markings of a local fire, water or school district driving on a roadway outside of, say, Oneonta, New York. Seeing a "Chief's" SUV from a nearby hamlet's fire district on the NYS Thruway north of Westchester, we are tempted to flag 'em down, pull 'em over, and ask, "Where's the fire?"

The use of publicly owned vehicles to perform non-government tasks can sometimes be substantiated. More often than not, however, unofficial use of official vehicles is just plain wrong, if not outright unlawful (think Alan Hevesi's first conviction).

More than this, it prompts this blogger to ask two simple questions: Who is watching the pot at the Town of Hempstead, and do Town taxpayers really give a damn when their tax dollars are literally going out the exhaust pipe in Suffolk County?

We await Mike Deery's response. Stay tuned...
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From Newsday:

Town of Hempstead car in Copiague crash

August 10, 2011 by WILLIAM MURPHY /

A car owned by the Town of Hempstead was one of three vehicles involved in a collision Wednesday morning in Copiague, Suffolk County police said.

All three drivers were treated for minor injuries after the accident, which occurred about 9 a.m. in front of 30 Merrick Rd., police said.

One of the drivers, who was not identified, was cited for aggravated driving without a license, police said.

The Town of Hempstead employee driving the town vehicle, Dawn Kurutz, was not issued any summonses, a police spokeswoman said.

Town spokesman Michael Deery said Kurutz was on her way to work and was authorized to have the town vehicle.
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The Community Alliance
Today's Vision. Tomorrow's Reality.

Thursday, August 04, 2011


Back To The Drawing Board At Nassau Hub

Could it have been the VOTE NO robo-calls running 4-1 over the VOTE YES phone tags, with sponsors postured disingenuously under monikers such as Association for a Better Long Island ("better" for whom, the developers that comprise the association?) and Committee for Smart Growth on Long Island (whose members wouldn't know "smart" if it came up and smacked them in the face)?

Or maybe it was the fact that the Referendum was foolishly held in the dead of summer, on a Monday, in the midst of the lazy days when even die-hard voters won't come out to the polls.

Perhaps the full strength of the most ardent of Islanders fans was no more able to secure a victory for the Mangano Plan than they were in bringing the elusive Stanley Cup back to the Island.

Did NIMBYism kill the Coliseum? Taxpayer disgust? The Tea Party?

While no one factor doomed the proposition, suffice it to say that the negatives tugged harder at the purse strings than the positives did at the heart strings, the Referendum to borrow $400 million on the taxpayers' tab going down to a resounding defeat on August 1.

Sure, we are all Islanders. Or not. Few argued that the outdated Coliseum should stand forever, the icon of the protracted debate of small-minded politicians and closed-minded residents. State-of-the-Art, circa 1970, clearly has no place in today's suburbia.

On the other hand, even those who wanted desperately to build a new arena had qualms about paying for it with our tax dollars, particularly when, just the year before, billionaire Islanders owner Charles Wang was ready, willing and most able to put up his own money to finance the overall redevelopment of the entire site that we call the Nassau Hub.

Bottom line: Not with our tax dollars, you don't!

Okay. The battle has been lost. What's next?

Islanders to Brooklyn? Cleveland? A Farmers' Market Tuesdays and Thursdays in the Coliseum parking lot? Guided tours of the county's answer to the ruins of the Acropolis?

There was to be no Plan B, according to Nassau County Exec Ed Mangano -- that is, until the Referendum failed, when, suddenly and without fanfare, there was to be a Plan B. Much like Plan A, there are no details and even fewer ideas (although the call for ideas now goes out), there not being much on the vision front in Mineola.

Politically, the Dems blew it (as they seem to do every year), and the GOP flubbed it. "Just say NO" appears to have won the day in Nassau County.

Credibility? Not Wang, whose billions remain in his pocket while taxpayers are out some $2 mil for the failed vote. Not Ed Mangano, whose every proposal since his surprise election has faded into obscurity or been left behind in the dust. Not even Islanders fans, who, despite some gallant efforts and a torrent of blogs and Tweets, could not muster enough YES votes to carry the measure.

So, now what?

Re-enter Town of Hempstead Supervisor, Kate Murray, quietly waiting in the wings to sing out (ala Mighty Mouse), Here I come to save the day!

Yes, it was Kate who denied us the Lighthouse. Too big. Too much. Too bad. Preserving the character of suburbia while figuratively cutting off its head. Lighthouse would morph into Lighthouse Lite, and then, to a new Development Zone, lower density, less height, more suburban. [If it seems that the Town of Hempstead has almost as many "zones" as it does special districts, it does!]

Kate's 77 acres under the Mitchel Field Mixed Use Development Zone has a lower profile, a smaller scale, and, perhaps, a more palatable appeal for the masses. Not so much a grand plan and yet, in the scheme of things, in giving the people what they want as well as what the Island needs (assuming LIers have any clue along those lines), a leaner model may just be that lean forward Nassau County could go for. A Plan B (or are we up to C? D?) that both preserves the suburban character and positions the county for growth.

Would Charles Wang go for the Murray Plan now that the Mangano Plan is dead, cremated, with ashes strewn over the Coliseum?

Depends. It all boils down to economic feasibility. The economy of scale. Would a Lighthouse Lite give Charles & Company sufficient bang for the buck to make this project pop.

We'll leave crunching the numbers to the analysts and wonks. Frankly, it would be difficult to imagine that there wouldn't be enough of a profit in moving ahead with the Murray Plan (details to be forthcoming, to be sure), given Charles' insistence that a new arena alone, as base for the Islanders, is a profit generator. Throw in 500 homes, myriad retail businesses, and a host of recreational facilities, and voila -- a suburban paradise!

Can residents be sold on a Murray Plan? You betcha. Why, even we, at The Community Alliance, are coming around to embrace a Lighthouse Lite. And if there is anyone who can sell the public on such a redevelopment scenario, short of P.T. Barnum, it is Town of Hempstead Supervisor, Kate Murray!

What better time, in an election year [There's an election? Really? Hey Gary Port, did you hear that?] for Kate and Team Murray to triumphantly proclaim (with respects to Andy Kaufman), Here I am to save the day!, unveiling and, yes, championing the Murray Plan for the Nassau Hub. [General Marshall, you had absolutely nothing on Supervisor Kate!]

Kate. Charlie. The puck is, as they say, in your arena...

Follow The Community Alliance on Twitter @CommunityAlli

The Community Alliance
Today's Vision. Tomorrow's Reality.

Monday, July 25, 2011

As Hempstead Goes, So Goes The County

Town GOP Key To August 1 Referendum

Whether the Referendum to build a new home for the Islanders and a minor league ballpark at the Hub floats or sinks next Monday doesn't depend as much upon the YES votes of Islanders fans as it does the appearance of the GOP faithful of Hempstead Town at the polls.

Fact: In Hempstead Town, regardless of registration numbers, Republicans turn out to vote. This is particularly so for non-Election Day polling, where the turnout is traditionally low.

Face it. For better or worse, little if anything happens in America's largest township -- the Town of Hempstead -- without the blessing and consent of the local GOP.

Be it planning (what little there is of it), zoning (whatever the rhyme or convoluted reason), or filling elective office (from Sanitary Commissioners to Town Supervisor), the GOP is calling the shots. When it comes to shaping the vote, nobody but nobody does it better.

Call an election for special district commissioners, for instance. Be it the dead of winter or the Dog Days of summer, with nary a registered voter aware that an election is even in the offing, and GOP voters show up at the local polling places to cast votes for the party's designated (wink, wink) victor.

No surprise in a town where almost everyone has a relative who is somehow connected or beholden to the local GOP, if not actually on payroll. The patronage web is huge, and while the reward for the individual voter may be miniscule -- or nonexistent -- one dare not take the chance.

The party says "jump!" The party faithful asks, "How high?"

Suffice it to say that, in Hempstead Town, one party rule is still the norm, and upsetting the Republican apple cart the most rare of exceptions.

So, what does this have to do with the Coliseum/Hub plan?


Lest we forget, the memory of LIers being shorter than the lifespan of the cicata, it was the Town of Hempstead GOP that dimmed the lights on the Lighthouse project, reducing same, in perfunctory fashion, first to Lighthouse Lite, and then, unceremoniously, snuffing out the candle entirely under guise of zoning change.

Sure, Town officials cloaked themselves under the "We Are All Islanders" banner, but the road signs, from constant delay and deferral to overly burdensome demands upon the developers, all pointed to a dead end.

Then came the Mangano Plan, di minimus in comparison to even Lighthouse lite, sparce in detail, and to be financed not by private enterprise but rather, by you and I as taxpayers.

The reception at Hempstead Town Hall? Lukewarm, at best. No hoisting of County Exec Ed Mangano -- a fellow Republican -- upon the broad shoulders of Town Supervisor Kate Murray. A tacit nod of approval, if that, more akin to sitting on the fence, awaiting the outcome of the August 1 Referendum, than it is to getting aboard the Coliseum Express, selling the plan, lock, stock, and ballpark.

Not necessarily a bad move on the part of Town officials and the local GOP, given the ambivalence of residents ("Sure we need a new Coliseum, but why the heck should Nassau County taxpayers foot the bill?"), and the hesitation to add even a dollar to the property tax in a year when most Town officials must seek re-election. Wait and see seems to be the order of the day, and, quite possibly, the death knell for Ed Mangano's plan.

A thumbs down to the Referendum puts the future of the Hub back into the Town's court, after all. A town which is loathe to cede control on any matter, whether trivial, or, here, of major significance.

Not that the Town of Hempstead didn't have a fair shot at redeveloping the Hub many times over during the past decade. Maybe they just didn't want to. The timing wasn't right. The plan wasn't entirely theirs. The piper had yet to be paid to play.

In a Town where mailings and TV spots urging residents to do even the mundane (along the lines of checking to make sure the light goes off in the fridge once the door is closed) are commonplace, the deafening silence from Hempstead Town Hall on next Monday's vote gives one pause to consider whether there will come an 11th hour call to muster the troops, summon them to the polls, urging them to vote YES.

Without that bugle call from Town Hall, not even the YES votes of every stalwart Islander fan is likely to alter the outcome. Turnout will be low. NO voters always managing to find their way to the polls, come hell or high water. The urge to Vote YES not quite as strong as the inclination to stay home.

With defeat, the Town can say, "We told you so," leaving a hapless Ed Mangano with yet another black mark in the loss column, and the Town again holding all the chips. And should the Referendum pass? Well, then Kate Murray and Kompany can hold their heads high and proclaim, "We were with you all the time!"

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Voices From The Ledge

A "Thumbs Up" And A "Thumbs Down" On Nassau Hub Plan

The vote is scheduled for Monday, August 1.

The pols have spoken. The Unions have chimed in. The Isles have broken the ice. Even we at The Community Alliance have put in our two cents (or was that $58, $13.65, or a tax figure to be added to the bottom line later?). Soon it will be your turn to give the Coliseum Referendum a YEA or a NAY.

Now, two more voices can be heard: Eric Alexander, Executive Director of Vision Long Island, and Jay Jacobs, Chair of both the NYS Democratic Committee and Nassau County Democratic Committee.

Reprinted from the Editorial pages of the LI Herald, the debate sallies forth:

Pro and con on Nassau Coliseum redevelopment

Vote ‘yes’

After years of meetings planning the future of the Nassau Hub area, it is time to support the bond act that will refinance Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Public financing of the arena would allow the Islanders to stay on Long Island, preserve the tax base and provide the opportunity for mixed-use development and revitalization in the surrounding area.

A responsibly financed Coliseum redevelopment would enhance the quality of life in Nassau County by providing the state-of-the-art sports and entertainment complex the county deserves. It would be a strong first step toward a new town center at the Hub, one that would expand the tax base, provide jobs and create tangible economic development benefits well into the future.

For the many residents, civic associations, small businesses, chambers of commerce and other local organizations that supported the Lighthouse project and other past proposals for redevelopment, supporting the bond is a logical choice. There are many reasons why the Lighthouse project did not move forward, despite wide and deep public support. Chief among them was the Town of Hempstead’s fear of the project’s impact, as well as the failure to secure necessary state and federal infrastructure funding by former county officials.

The kind of “smart growth” proposal offered by the Lighthouse project is critical to Long Island’s future. The current redevelopment proposal offers similar promise while using different methods. Redevelopment of the Coliseum would serve as a companion to the town’s recently approved mixed-use code in the area around the arena, which includes housing, office and retail with new development guidelines.

The county is expected to prepare a request for proposals for development around the Coliseum. Vision Long Island encourages this development to include an integrated mix of uses, various housing options, including a work force component, accessibility to public transportation, walkable streets and a strong, safe link to Hofstra University, Nassau Community College, Museum Row and offices in the area. Additionally, we hope to see ample state and federal dollars for infrastructure improvements around the new development, which was absent from previous proposals.

Long Islanders need jobs. One of the region’s most pressing challenges is to keep workers, including young workers, from leaving the area. Revitalizing the Nassau Coliseum would not only create a regional high-quality entertainment hub that would cater to a wide demographic range, from the very young to seniors, it would also create expanded employment opportunities for residents of a densely populated area.

According to Nassau County’s economic impact statement, the project would provide a positive cash flow of $2.2 million annually, in excess of the debt service of $26 million. The new Coliseum would attract about 1.37 million visitors each year, versus the no-build alternative of 100,500 visitors — or far fewer if the Islanders ultimately move.

The $400 million bond proposition would provide key infrastructure and facility financing in and around the Hub area. This bond could spur critical economic growth for Nassau County. After careful analysis and discussion with business and government leaders, we believe this plan to be responsible and appropriate.

We are happy that the public will be able to weigh in on this project via a referendum on Aug. 1. Vote “yes” in that referendum.

Eric Alexander is executive director of Vision Long Island, a nonprofit smart-growth planning organization that has long supported redevelopment in the Nassau Hub.

Vote ‘no’

Two weeks ago I was featured in a Newsday story about County Executive Ed Mangano’s plan to revamp Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum with $400 million in borrowed money. The paper described me as “one of the loudest opponents of the proposal,” and I described the Coliseum bond as “something that is not going to pass.”

After the story ran, the Nassau Democratic Committee received a dozen emails from people who took my words to mean that Democrats don’t want the New York Islanders to stay in Nassau County.

There’s a difference between supporting the Islanders and supporting bad fiscal policy. I like the Islanders. I want them to stay on Long Island. But it doesn’t make sense to rebuild their arena on the taxpayer’s dime.

While it’s true that a new-and-improved Coliseum would be a nicer place to see sporting events and concerts, we need to ask ourselves: Is a nicer Coliseum worth a 4 percent increase in our county’s sky-high property taxes? I don’t think the people of Nassau County will vote to increase their own taxes. We’re smarter than that.

The people who stand to benefit most from a new Coliseum are private businessmen and women, with Islanders owner Charles Wang chief among them. With all due respect to Mr. Wang, it’s clear that he recognizes how much he has to gain from a new arena. Five years ago he was willing to partner with Reckson Associates to renovate the aging Coliseum and develop the surrounding land — without taxpayer money.

The Wang-Reckson plan fizzled owing to inside baseball in the Town of Hempstead. I won’t go into the details because that’s water under the bridge, but I want to remind county taxpayers that we came close to getting a new Coliseum financed entirely by private enterprise. That’s the solution we need to pursue today, because the county can’t afford to take on $400 million in new debt to pay for this project.

If voters approve this massive bond on Aug. 1, the county will have to pay about $26 million in debt service every year for the next 30 years. In return, the county will receive about $14 million in profits from the new Coliseum. That would leave taxpayers on the hook for $12 million to cover the rest of the debt service — every year for the next 30 years.

Unless my calculator is broken, Mangano must be stringing us along when he says his Coliseum plan wouldn’t cost taxpayers a thing. It’s hard enough to raise a family on Long Island. Our finances are already stretched to the limit by the cost of owning a home, sending our children to school and paying the taxes that accompany all of these things. We can’t afford to increase our property-tax bills by paying for a project that Mr. Wang could easily finance himself.

Nassau County is proud to be the home of the Islanders. We’d love to have a new arena, but we simply don’t have the money — not in the county’s coffers, not in our overstretched budget and certainly not in taxpayers’ pockets.

Jay Jacobs is chairman of the Nassau County Democratic Committee and the New York State Democratic Committee.
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Sensing quite a bit of ambivalence on the issue of the Hub/Coliseum redevelopment plan among County residents (notwithstanding the lopsided numbers in our own unscientific survey), and having expressed, in this blog, our own uncertainties, we are disposed nevertheless to err -- if, in fact, it is to err -- on the side of the visionaries (limited though their sights may be in this scaled-back, taxpayer-financed, decades-delayed redevelopment project).

While Mr. Jacobs makes a number of valid points -- from debt we can't afford to a town's refusal to move a privately funded, comprehensive plan, in the form of the Lighthouse Project, forward -- the gist, we fear,  is more "us vs. them" political grandstanding and opportunism than it is true concern over taxpayers' wallets and Nassau County's future.

Whether the Hub/Coliseum plan, if passed by the voters on August 1, and thereafter approved by the County Legislature and the Nassau Interim Finance Board (NIFA), ushers in an era of "Smart Growth", as Mr. Alexander so justifiably supports, or stands as iconic monument to far-fetched folly, remains to be seen.

One thing, though, is certain. Doing nothing bears the greatest cost of all to the citizens of America's first suburb. We take a chance that we are, indeed, at least beginning to move forward in the right direction, or, we stand pat, with little left for us to do but cue the tumbleweeds!

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Friday, July 08, 2011

Destination, Nassau County

A New Beginning, Or The Beginning Of The End

August 1 will either usher in a new era of engagement for America's first suburb, or the final bugle call for the continued exodus from Long Island.

That's when the Referendum for County Exec Ed Mangano's Nassau Hub/Coliseum Plan goes before John and Jane Public for a thumbs up or thumbs down.

The hubbub on the hub is plentiful, from the local papers to the blogs (there's a Facebook page, of course), and we post below a mere sampling (feel free to Google more) for your reading pleasure.



LI Herald

Let There Be Lighthouse (or whatever the heck may follow in its wake)

The New York Islanders (with Kevin James, no less)


You can read the official report, partake in the polls, and wade knee deep in the written word, most of which, thankfully, remains online, saving countless forests. Push comes to shove -- or wink comes to nod -- not much will matter but the actual vote on Monday, August 1. [Yes, aside from the fact that the vote will be held other than on Election Day, it will be put before voters on a Monday, rather than a Tuesday. Only on Long Island!]

So, where exactly do we, at The Community Alliance, stand on the present plan, which, in essence, gives Nassau a new Coliseum (the old one to be returned to Rome) and a minor league ballpark?

Well, the heartstrings are certainly pulled toward a YES vote.

As Islanders fans, coming off some pretty lousy seasons of what only the likes of a B. D. Galoff may call "play", we certainly take note of the fact that the Coliseum, by far the oldest arena in the NHL, has become little more than a brownfield set within a larger brownfield, whose backdrop is just a sinkhole shy of a, um, er brownfield. An asphalt wasteland attracting little more than tumbleweeds, smack dab in the center of Nassau County.

We need a new Coliseum. [And can we call it something other than the Coliseum?] We could use a few new Islanders, too, but that's a story best left for our Isles/NHL blogging friends.

A minor league ballpark would also be a welcome addition, obviating the need to venture out to Islip to take in a Ducks game, or battle the traffic on the Belt to see the Cyclones in Brooklyn.

And let's face it. Development -- or in this instance, redevelopment, albeit partial in nature and muddled in detail (or the lack thereof) -- tends to spur growth, re-energize the economy, and, yes, attract both visitors and residents.

On the downside (where the brain begins to kick in and say, "Whoa! Wait a minute."), there's the questionable economic gains (long term), and the obvious short term loss (increased taxes to pay for borrowed money).

Sure, there will be job creation -- mostly surrounding the construction project -- but in the long run, how many permanent jobs will be created and sustained?

Then there's the projected revenues. Enough to cover costs and to give the County something extra in its coffers at day's end? So they say. Then again, in a County that boasts a surplus one minute, then lays off hundreds the next, we wouldn't exactly start counting on money in the bank -- or, for that matter, in our pockets.

Speaking of money -- our money -- the projected tax increase for the average Nassau County homeowner (are you average, or a cut above?) is said to be $58 per year. A drop in the tax bucket, one might say. Then again, this is just a projection. And we all know that taxes only go up, not down or away. And will there really be a return on our investment?

Consider, too, that when the Lighthouse Project was on the table (remember the Lighthouse, and Lighthouse Lite, before we were left in the dark?), private developers were set to pick up the tab (to the tune of $3.75 billion), fully funding a comprehensive (arena, ballpark, hotel, residential, retail, you name it) revitalization plan. Come now the Mangano Plan and, voila, already overburdened taxpayers are asked to cough up some $400+ million to finance the project. Your tax cap "savings" (which, as followers of this blog already know are nonexistent, a "cap" not being a "drop") gone in one fell swoop. Well, actually, a swoop that picks tax dollars out of our wallets for some 30 years. [Geez. We're still paying off those Environmental Bond issues, aren't we?]

Do you feel the tug of a NO vote, or its equivalent, the "stay at home and don't bother to" vote? Um. The empty pockets and equally vacuous promises say so. The hope, the dream, no, the reality of a truly viable, sustainable Long Island, say otherwise.

Progress has a cost. As history shows, the act of doing nothing (something we've become all too accustomed to here on Long Island) has a much greater cost.

If the surveys are correct (and is the LI Index ever wrong?), they're leaving -- or planning to leave -- Long Island in droves. The young. The old. Whatever may be left of the middle class. The tired, yearning to be free of outrageous taxes, unaffordable housing, unbearable congestion (another issue not adequately addressed under the Hub plan) and an ever encroaching malaise that accompanies the sinking feeling that our island's -- and, perhaps, suburbia's -- best days are behind her.

Hold that thought. Then, embrace the vision. [I said, "embrace the vision." Not get forever stalled in a visioning process that circles the wagons but leads us nowhere!]

Nassau County, with all of its wounds -- economic, social, political -- many of which were, of course, self-inflicted, is due (long overdue) for what can only be categorized as an extreme makeover. It's infrastructure is aged out and crumbling. The spirits of the populace, sagging. There is little to look forward to on a horizon that has been built out upon a foundation of miserable planning and lousy zoning.

The grand plan -- and, perhaps, best plan -- would have been to scrap it all and start again. Bulldoze, from the Turnpike in Elmont to the Grand Avenue in Baldwin. Begin anew.

Of course, here on Long Island, grand schemes and big thinking -- like the Lighthouse Project itself -- tend to fall by the wayside, prey to the hobgoblin of little minds and provincial mindsets.

Piecemeal "improvements," though little more than facades themselves, seem to be all that we can tolerate.

The Mangano Plan for the Hub/Coliseum, while far from the renaissance called for, gives Nassau, and, yes, all of Long Island, the chance -- at least in theory -- to rebound, to restart, to reinvigorate the suburban landscape.

True, the plan, as presently constituted, is no panacea. Small potatoes in a land that once called vast potato farms home. And yet, the "build it and they will come" concept has more than a little merit to it.

Yes, we could leave the Coliseum as is, perhaps setting up a farmer's market in the parking lot on alternate Tuesdays. [Smart Growth dumbed down to the lowest level. If you can't rebuild Main Street, hawk cauliflower!]

Fact is, despite the drawbacks -- and there are many we have yet to touch upon here -- doing nothing is simply not an option. Take another route? Well, just how long can we wait here, on the side of the pot-marked road, for Godot?

Do something, and Long Island has a shot at redemption, and so much more. Sit tight in the great void of NYMBYism, and we forever foreclose the opportunity to emerge from the doldrums into which Nassau has descended.

The decision on August first is not easy, by any means or measure. It is, however, a necessary one that every County resident must make.

To move forward, although with trepidation, toward a future where Nassau County is once again a destination. Or, to stand in place, mired in stagnant waters (the precursor of regression, decay, and, ultimately, the suburban demise), with Nassau being the place to flee rather than to flock.

That decision, of course, is yours. We, at The Community Alliance, encourage all Nassau residents to VOTE ON AUGUST 1. And, indeed, we implore you to VOTE YES!
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Common Concerns. Common Sense Solutions.