Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Two Towns of Hempstead

How The Other Half Lives… And What The Other Half Pays

We’ve all heard tell of the two Americas – one for the rich and privileged, and the other for the rest of us. And, of course, the two Nassaus – one for the opulent and green North Shore, the other for the forgotten and deforested South Shore. But what about the two Towns of Hempstead?

Yes, the two Towns of Hempstead. One under the stewardship of incorporated villages, where zoning laws and building codes are strictly enforced and local control means just that, local control. And the other Town of Hempstead, the land of the unincorporated, where the vestiges of the wild west still reign. On the zoning front, exceptions carve up every rule. Code enforcement is a four letter word. And there is about as much “local control” over those “special” taxing jurisdictions as the hopelessly incontinent have over their own bladders.

The two Towns of Hempstead. One for the connected and party faithful, who would have us believe that folks are willing to pay twice as much as their neighbors for garbage collection, and that we somehow need the services of those sanitary districts 6 days a week. And the other Town of Hempstead, where unsuspecting residents and business owners are paying double the property tax paid by their counterparts in the aforementioned Town of Hempstead, and where illegal apartments artificially drive up assessments, destroy the tax base, and impoverish entire communities.

The two Towns of Hempstead. One where government by press release and photo opportunity is accepted and commonplace. And the other, where residents pay nearly $2 million dollars a year for postage so that the Town Supervisor can tell you only what she wants you to know. One Town of Hempstead, where single-party rule has been the practice for nearly a century. The other Town of Hempstead, whose place in government has been relegated to a single seat on the Town Board, whose muffled voice is barely audible over the din of the Grand Old political machine.

On Route 80 in New Jersey, not far from the Delaware Water Gap, there is a road sign that reads: “Land of Make Believe, This Exit.” One would expect to see the added verbage underneath: “Kate Murray, Supervisor.” For here in the Town of Hempstead, we are often asked to cast aside all belief, and accept that life in, say, Garden City or Malverne, is naturally better than in Elmont or Baldwin because “It’s a village.” Those in the “special” sanitary districts are to accept – no, “enjoy” – digging deeper into their pockets to pay more than twice as much as those serviced directly by the Town of Hempstead, and to believe that we have any semblance of control over these political fiefdoms. We are to believe Town officials today when they tell us they’re working on the eradication of illegal apartments, on the revitalization of “downtown,” on the elimination of encroaching blight, while wiping from our collective memory the time-worn stories as told to us (in many instances, by the same people) for the past twenty years.

We are asked to believe – and too many of us apparently do – that a year after a 12.8% Town tax increase, the 2006 Town budget will have a 0% increase. Of course, that’s only for the taxes under the Supervisor’ control, not the taxes for all of those “special” districts. Not to worry, though. After all, the special districts – which account, by the way, for half of the Town taxes – are under “local control.” Phew. And we were worried there for a minute!

Yes, there are two Towns of Hempstead. One for those with one hand in the pot and the other in our pockets. And one for the rest of us. One Town of Hempstead where the status quo is as good as it gets, and that other Town of Hempstead, where we know we can do better!

Who Ya Gonna Call?

Property taxes on the rise. School taxes to double by the end of the decade. Illegal apartments in single family houses stretching limited resources and endangering countless lives. “Downtown” looking more like “Ghost town.” Services dwindling. Quality of life on the decline. Who ya gonna call?

The Community Alliance, Long Island’s premier quality of life watchdog group, says, “Call us!” Better still, e-mail The Community Alliance (times being what they are, who can afford a telephone?) at, and join the crusade to rebuild suburbia.

Initially formed as an umbrella organization through which local civic associations and community groups could channel complaints, formulate joint strategies and “think tank” shared solutions to common concerns, The Community Alliance now reaches out to the rank and file – the folks who pay the bills – the residents and property owners of our towns, villages and hamlets.

“This is a unique and unprecedented opportunity for residents to have a voice beyond their own communities,” said Roy J. Mezzapelle, Co-Chair of The Community Alliance. Citing the fact that those who are active and involved close to home are not always engaged beyond the borders of the local community, Mezzapelle commented, “Quality of life knows no boundaries. We have to think locally, act globally, and work together in our endeavor to return suburbia to both Town and County.”

Join forces with your neighbors – across the street and clear across town – to reinvent community as it once was, as it should be, as it can be again. As a citizen-member of The Community Alliance, you’ll have access to the resources needed to stay informed and in the know, and you’ll be a very real part of the strength in numbers that will empower you and your hometown. The cost of citizen-membership in The Community Alliance? FREE. The benefit of being a member of Long Island’s vanguard of the suburban lifestyle? PRICELESS!

Monday, June 20, 2005

The World According To GOP

Harvey The Reassessor

Funny, but to hear Peter Schmitt - the Nassau County Legislature’s Minority Leader – tell it, Harvey Levinson – the Chair of the Nassau County Board of Assessors – “helped create” the reassessment that so troubles Nassau County taxpayers.

Forget Charlie O’Shea. Forget the old Nassau County Board of Supervisors. Forget years – no, decades – of Republican hegemony that perpetuated an egregious tax system. Forget the machine-driven contentment to not only condone a broken and burdensome system, but to embellish it through a multitude of autonomous taxing jurisdictions. Forget all logic and reason. Harvey Levinson is responsible for the reassessment. Not only that, ladies and gentlemen, Harvey Levinson is also responsible for the sinking of the Titanic, the Great Depression and the Black Plague! You read it here first.

Yes folks, while Harvey Levinson was serving the good people of this County – 25 years in the Nassau County District Attorney’s office, the last of those as the right hand man to Denis Dillon – he was plotting to create the reassessment and to tax homeowners above and beyond even their wildest nightmares. The one public official who – against popular notion and self-preservation – isn’t afraid to suggest that at least a portion of the property tax be replaced by a nominal income tax. Oh no. He’s the cause of all our woes. How utterly absurd.

What galls us is not so much the laughingly inane sound bytes that flow from the gunked up guts of the GOP machine, but that there are folks out there who actually buy into it! And few among us – not even the press – call them on it.

Greg Peterson, the born-again former Town of Hempstead Supervisor who, with a flash that puts Tom Gulotta to shame, resurrected as the golden boy who would be County Exec, chides Tom Souzzi for raising County taxes 19% - this after the County had been thrown into a financial hole by a generation of mismanagement and incompetence under the rule of, guess who? Yup. The GOP. Who is he kidding? That’s like blaming a surgeon who saved his patient’s life by removing a lung, this after his predecessor and his predecessor’s team failed to diagnose and treat the Cancer in the first place. [And we won't mention the now familiar Peterson ploy that Suozzi plans to run for Governor in 2006. Oops. We just mentioned it. Remind us again who it was that resigned the position of Town of Hempstead Supervisor, shortly after his re-election, to take the job as chief of Nassau OTB, permitting Gentleman Joe Mondello to appoint Rich Guardino in his stead? Hmm. That would be Greg Peterson. Forget we ever mentioned it!]

All the talk of Bond ratings by the Town of Hempstead elite. Oh yeah. The Bond ratings are up there, all right. And you know what that means – more borrowing, and more taxes to pay back that which has been borrowed.

For those with rather short memories, let us take you back to the Gulotta years. The days of smoke and mirrors galore. We were told, in no uncertain terms and with the same constant dribble as now drones down to us, that the County’s finances were in fantastic shape. That our Bond rating was top notch. That there was no need to raise taxes or cut programs. That everything in America’s premier County was a picture perfect photo opportunity. And we bought into it, lock, stock and barrel of sitting ducks.

And so, the County borrowed, borrowed and borrowed some more, until the bottom fell out. Who was left to pick up the pieces and pay the piper? That would be us, the taxpayers. Hey, don’t blame the Republican machine. Its Tom Suozzi’s fault.

Today, that same scenario – one that should frighten us all – is being played out on the stage of the last bastion of GOP domination – the scene of the greatest puppet show on Earth, awaiting the final curtain - Hempstead Town Hall. The Bond rating is second to none. The Town’s finances have never been stronger. We’re freezing all Town taxes under our control. And we buy into every bit of it, don’t we?

What they don’t tell you – and dare not tell you – is that the Town is headed down that same road the County took – with us as paying passengers. They somehow forget to remind us that, for 2005, the Town increased taxes by 12.8%. [Since when does a municipality with a professed surplus RAISE taxes?] They conveniently forget to tell us that, thanks to that wonderful Bond rating, the Town of Hempstead is $56 million dollars in debt, and plans to borrow even more - $33 million to $35 million per year from 2006-2009. And they’re not going to tell us that the Town of Hempstead’s largest revenue fund (Sanitary – surprise, surprise) is running at a deficit. [This all according to Fitch Ratings, the folks who rate the Bonds.]

We sometimes ask ourselves, “With all the money the Town is borrowing, with all this debt being loaded on the backs of the taxpayer, why is Kate Murray always smiling?” Then again, until the very end, Tom Gulotta was smiling, too!

Heaven help you, Harvey, when you do take office as Town of Hempstead Supervisor, and all of the borrowing, bellowing and pork-barreling finally breaks the bank. Its all going to be your fault.

Sure, its all about taxes, stupid. Whether we cap the property tax increase or not isn’t the issue, and the finger-pointing mentality that is the hobgoblin of little minds is not the solution. Without a cap on tax rates – by school districts, sanitary districts and the plethora of other special districts that pick our pockets clean – you could, theoretically, lower the assessment, and our taxes will still go up.

The property tax is among the top quality of life issues confronting Nassau County residents. It festers, it spirals out of control, and it contributes to other evils, such as illegal accessory apartments, which in turn burden schools and essential services. There appears no end to the vicious cycle.

We can accept that the property tax system, which is oppressive and beyond the means of the ordinary wage-earner, cannot be fixed. That this is a system that needs to be replaced by a fair and equitable tax, based on one’s ability to pay, not on the artificial value of one’s house.

Or, we can continue to buy the broom they’ve inconspicuously placed at the checkout counter – a broom we’re going to pay for again and again – and then, we can blame it all on Harvey!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

May The Force Be With You . . .


Once, in a galaxy far, far away, there were massive property taxes that threatened to consume every homeowner…

Duh… 46 school district budgets failed. Many that passed came through by razor thin margins. Are folks disgusted with the property taxes? Ya think? Sometimes, just sometimes, you wonder whether anyone is paying attention to us.

Upstate school districts get upwards of 60% of their budgets through State Aid. The average State Aid to Long Island school districts hovers around 13%. What gives? You wonder why our Governor has an approval rating in the 30s – and he has to “think about” whether he should run again. Run, George. All the way back to Peekskill!

Of course, you really can’t put all the blame on the elected. The electors have a little to do with the mediocrity we send and return to office – ad nauseum. How many times do I ask, “Just how stupid do they think we are?” The answer – pathetically stupid. And the proof is in the pudding – a complacent, uninformed, willing to believe whatever they see and hear (I’d say read, but most of them don’t – or can’t), stepping into that voting booth and sending buffoons to “represent” us everywhere from the State house to the White House. This in the vain hoping of savoring a few table scraps and fruit cake crumbs.

We buy into the myth and the mystique – like those warm and fuzzy TV spots for Haliburton, with all the trees, the clean air and water, the gushy concern for the environment. This from the folks who rape the forests, put money in the pockets of those who sponsor terrorists, and care for only one tree – or should I say Bush.

Closer to home, when a fella named Golisano was running for Governor as a third party candidate, telling us that the sky is falling on New York’s finances, nobody listened. The guy was barely a blip on our radar screen. We shrugged our shoulders and sent the two-bit grape farmer back to Albany. NOW we blame Pataki?

Truth is, its no different in our own backyard. We blindly followed the Nassau County parade – right off the edge of the cliff into the abyss – then blamed the showman we so willingly returned to office - again, and again, and again. Everyone knew Tom Gulotta was a larger than life personality – the man of a thousand photo ops who was wholly absent on the managerial scene. Why, even Joe Mondello knew what he was shoving down our throats all those years. Fact is, we kept closing our eyes, opening our mouths, and pleading, “More please.” Just how dumb are we? Tom Gulotta was who Tom Gulotta is. A genuinely decent, relatively humble, truly personable guy who lacked the skills to manage Nassau County, and whose underlings – the anointed and the appointed – knew and cared even less. You can’t fault Tom Gulotta for being, well, Tom Gulotta. Blame Joe Mondello? Sure, why not? In lesser counties, they would have run him out of town on a rail. In Nassau town, we just keep threatening to shut those rails down, lumbering along the potholed road on a broken wagon with three reinvented square wheels. Is it really Joe’s fault that we let them get away with it – year after year, decade after decade?

Last weekend, I was watching the Star Wars movies in anticipation of Episode III – The Trilogy, Episode I, and I really don’t know what happened to Episode II (Was there an Episode II? There had to have been.). Let me tell you, never watch these movies before you go to sleep. You’ll have the strangest dreams. Call it a nightmare, actually…

I found myself in the alien bar, as appeared in the original Star Wars. It was Election night, 2005, and the Nassau County Republicans had rented out the bar for the evening. The other-worldly were all in attendance, rattling their light sabers, speaking unintelligible gibberish, devouring gruel imported from The Sand Castle in Franklin Square. And then the shocker.

Up steps Joe Mondello to the microphone to announce that Greg Peterson – the once Town of Hempstead Supervisor regurgitated as the party’s answer to Tom Suozzi (Who asked the question?) – had been elected County Executive. [Apparently, Suozzi could not come back after the Lorna Goodman scandal broke in late September. Something about stiletto heels, whips, chains and a dungeon in the basement of the old County Court House. Hmm. Let’s not even go there…] In saunters Greg Peterson, a blinding flash of light glinting off of his gold jewelry. He gives us his broadest signature grin, with that whiter than white smile, and, before he can say a word, lifts his hand to his face and briskly pulls off a mask, revealing none other than Tom Gulotta. I gasp. The assembled begin to take notice.

Wait. It gets worse. The crowd ooohs and ahhs. [That’s all they ever do, isn’t it?] Petersen again lifts hand to face (I’m not certain it was his own hand, though that rarely matters in the circles he travels), and off comes yet another mask, this time revealing none other than Joe Mondello himself. Joe – the other Joe – which one is the real Joe makes no difference. They are all Joe. - puts his arm around the man we thought was Peterson, turns to the gathered GOP, and proudly proclaims, “Greg, I am your father…” At that moment, in slimes Jabba the Hut, disguised as none other than Town of Hemp…

It was at that point I awoke, bolted out of bed in a cold sweat, and ran to check the calendar. Phew. It was only May, not November. There was still time. But hold on. Was there time enough to save the Empire, let alone the Town and County, so far, far away. Where is Yoda when you need him? Geez, I can’t even pick up the phone to call the President to warn him that the alien invaders are walking among us. [Fade to the Oval Office, where the President has just screened Episode III – although he thinks its FOX news footage of the invasion of Afghanistan. As the credits role, W wipes the popcorn off of his PJs, as Dick Cheney approaches from behind. “George, I am your father…”].

But I digress. What were we talking about? Oh yeah. Those stupid property taxes. Who do we blame for this terrible, terrible mess in which we find ourselves? We’ve all heard the age-old expression, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” What do we do, however, when that tired, old machine finally does break down, and there’s no R2D2 around to make those crucial repairs? Why are we governed by our inferiors? Who, pray tell, do we blame?

We have seen the enemy, and he is us!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

To Bed, Bath & Beyond . . .

Remember the Flea Market at the old Roosevelt Raceway? Many an afternoon spent looking for bargains, and finding the torn and tattered Wranglers mom tossed – 3 pair for $10. [Today, those same jeans – you know, the ones with holes in the knees and the frayed bottoms, faded beyond recognition of anything that might have been blue – sell (under a famous label, of course) for $200 a pair at National Jean Company. Mom, I coulda been a contender!]

In case you hadn’t noticed, Roosevelt Raceway – Flea Market and all – is no more, the surrounding area supplanted by a curious mix of big-box stores, restaurants, and now, housing.

In an era of “Smart (as in ‘Smart is what Smart does’) Growth,” one expects – indeed, desires - a favorable mix of retail, commercial and residential use, and yet, the Roosevelt Raceway “hub” (for lack of a better term) defies the rule of planned development.

True, we now have more stores than Disney’s Main Street, but no main street in the area can be crossed in safety by residents of the newly built apartment complex, and woe to the residents of the soon-to-be constructed “gated community” for the over 55 crowd, who will no doubt become prime targets for motor vehicle traffic en route to, well, Target.

The idea behind Smart Growth, at least as we understand it, is to create a truly livable community, centered around a “downtown,” interspersed with affordable housing and plentiful green/recreational space, accessible to all – ideally by means that promote pedestrian traffic. At least give us a tram!

Okay, so the Raceway Cinema will have to suffice as a reasonable excuse for recreation (at least on a rainy day), but let’s face fact – in the shadows of the American Ref-Fuel facility and within earshot of the Meadowbrook Parkway, we have built out of the wasteland a, ah, wasteland. Look, you can’t get from point A to Point B – or from your gated apartment to Chili’s – without a car. As if traffic congestion wasn’t bad enough, let’s add hundreds of residential units – many to be inhabited by seniors – and invite more cars, more congestion and more pollution. [A note to prospective tenants: Do not sign long-term leases. Assuming you don’t get whacked crossing Merchant’s Concourse, the Carbon Monoxide from all those cars passing under your balcony (overlooking what, I have no idea) – or the “harmless steam” flowing from the stacks of the trash recycling plant – will be sure to get you. Forget the gated community. You need a bubble. Hey, what did you expect for $300,000 plus, Shangri-La?

And let’s tax those underground aquifers – the limited source of all of Long Island’s drinking water – like we tax everything else: to the max. Why, we could establish a Special Aquifer District (SAD for short) tax, not based on usage, mind you, but rather, on how many times you visit the Home Depot.

As for green space, heck, this is the Town of Hempstead, County of Nassau – if anything appears to be “green” or “open,” build on it. Need a variance? No problem. Zoning issues? Fugetaboutit! See Mrs. D’Amato next Tuesday at the Town Meeting Pavilion. You want green? Go to the food court at The Source or stop by the Olive Garden. They’ve got a great salad bar.

Anyone who ventures out to the maze that is now the Roosevelt Raceway hub will tell you – it’s a hellish nightmare. Why anyone in his/her right mind would want to live amidst this mess is beyond me, but I’m certain that the planners have this all figured out. Anyway, it really doesn’t matter. Someone’s gotten a sweatheart deal, made a buck or two, and paved over what little is left of paradise. No, not you. Someone else.

As for planning, development and “Smart Growth,” come on. Who are you kidding? This is, after all, the dominion of the Town of Hempstead Zoning Board of Appeals – the benefactors of 20-miles of ugly we call Hempstead Turnpike; the sentinels of that long-standing tradition of “if there’s a rule, carve out an exception;” the folks who say, “build it, and they will come” (to rue the day).

There’s a Rolling Stones song the chorus of which goes something like this: “You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you'll get what you need.” Seems we don’t ever get what we want. We hardly ever get what we need. We do, of course, get what we get. Could it be that, sometimes, we just don’t try?

Well, if not to infinity and beyond, at least to Bed, Bath & Beyond. “Get in the car, kids, we’re going to the hub!”

Friday, June 03, 2005


New meaning to “keep those cards and letters coming!” Still another mailing from our friends at the Town of Hempstead, this time to remind us about the Town’s “One Stop Passport Shop.”

Yes sir, why bother to go to your local neighborhood Post Office when you can go to Town Hall to complete your Passport application.

Why, they’ll even take your Passport picture for a nominal fee. [Surprise. They have photographers at the ready at Town Hall. Gee. Will wonders never cease?] Of course, there is just one small catch. Every Passport photo taken at Town Hall will show both the applicant AND Town Supervisor Kate Murray. SMILE!

Not only does the Town of Hempstead offer Passport services, so you can get out of town in a hurry, they also have a Mobile Passport Service, “bringing Passport services to your doorstep.” Funny. We always thought that those who applied for Passports were a relatively mobile lot, capable of traveling to the Passport Office under their own power. What do we know?

Looking to cut costs at Town Hall? Rethink the need for a One Stop Passport Shop. In these times, it is a luxury we cannot afford. If nothing else, axe the Mobile Passport Office (with the price of gas these days, taxpayers could go to Europe for what it costs to send a converted mobile home around our Town). And for goodness sake, stop with all those postcards, letters and glossy brochures. You’re not winning any friends by wasting taxpayers’ money!