Saturday, February 12, 2005

Town Holds Line On Taxes. Not Quite!

For nearly a decade, the Town of Hempstead touted, “We have held the line on taxes.” In October of 2003, blurring that line a bit, Town Supervisor Kate Murray released her 2004 budget proposal, proudly proclaiming that, for the ninth consecutive year, the Town was “freezing” General Town taxes. This, of course, left most of us with the impression that, once again, our Town, with a hefty $50+ million surplus, was holding that line on taxes. Not so fast, Kate Murray!

Lo and behold, we receive our Statement of Taxes for the 2004 General Levy, and the numbers begin to speak for themselves – making quite a racket, at that. Yes, the General County taxes increased by 8.06%. We expected as much. The “worst run county in America” had to bite the bullet to secure its fiscal house. But the Town of Hempstead?

True, the Town “held the line” on “General Purposes” taxes, actually decreasing the levy by 0.01%. We all felt that tax relief, didn’t we? Just go down the line under Town of Hempstead Taxes, however, and relief is offset by horror.

The tax levy for Town Highway-Repairs/Improvements increased 8.00% from 2003. So, the streets are paved with gold!

Part Town-Building-Zoning-Etc increased 5.98%. Must be the additional resources pumped into Code Enforcement, or the high cost of “etcetera.”

Town Lighting District taxes are up 8.98% from 2003. It does seem so much brighter, especially in the unincorporated areas of the township, doesn’t it?

Town Park District taxes saw an increase of 5.99%, and Town Refuse Disposal District levies jumped 6.00%. If only we didn’t make so much garbage.

Add in the taxes for the Special Districts (which, in reality, fall under the auspices of the Town), and we see a 9.61% increase for Sanitary District 6, a 3.41% increase for the West Hempstead Water District and a 7.10% rise for the West Hempstead Fire District.

So much for “holding the line” on taxes!

Of course, we’ve yet to touch upon School Taxes which, for 2003-04, witnessed a 10.66% increase over the prior year’s levy, and accounted for 58.2% of the property taxes we pay. As the 2004-05 school budget is formulated (a 7% - 10% rise is in the offing), we will likely endure additional increases, made necessary, in great measure, by unfunded State and Federal mandates, including the No Child Left Behind Act, the grand-daddy of all unfunded programs. Then there’s that whopping 18% increase in transportation costs for 2004-05, borne by a public school district which, again under mandate, must absorb the cost of transporting some 1000 students out-of-district to private and parochial schools. Your tax dollars at work!

Property Tax reassessment. The STAR program. State Aid and Sales Tax Credits. No apparent impact on the bottom line. No, the property taxes continue to spiral out of control, with no relief in sight.

And who is to blame? Sure, we can point fingers at our elected officials for talking tax relief yet doing little to replace a regressive property tax with a progressive income tax. After all, it is politically incorrect to so much as mention the word “taxes,” even when it would save most taxpayers hundreds if not thousands of dollars per year. We can fault Washington and Albany for their unfunded mandates, to the tune of billions, translating into millions of dollars which must be raised locally. The Feds have shifted health costs to states and forced states to pay for unfunded mandates for homeland security, election reform, and No Child Left Behind. As a result, states and communities have had no choice but to raise taxes and cut services.

Meanwhile, the State, promising mandate relief, continues to burden localities with the costs of Medicaid, public pensions, child welfare and instructional and non-instructional mandates imposed upon our public schools. Locally, the failure to coordinate and consolidate services, to enforce zoning and building regulations, to contain costs and to eliminate waste add to already top-heavy County and Town budgets, while squandered opportunities for economic growth and revitalization continue to place the tax burden squarely upon the shoulders of the homeowner.

So, who is to blame? Initially, the onus is on those whom we have empowered to represent us, from Washington to Town Hall. They have the means, if not the impetus, to effect positive change. Where, year after year, nothing changes but for the names of those who represent us – if even that – then we can only look to blame ourselves. For the real power, whether it is found in our nation’s Capitol or in the Meeting Pavilion at Town Hall, belongs to the people, and the only weapon of true change in a democratic society is the ballot box. The greatest increase to the bottom line should, by all reason, be in the percentage of eligible voters who turn out to cast their ballots on any given election day!

NOTE: The INCREASE in Town of Hempstead Taxes for 2005 was calculated at 12.8%. So much for "holding the line!"

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