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!

No comments:

Post a Comment