America’s Largest Township Can Do Better ~ Time To Abandon The Band-Aid Approach
When our business districts along “Main Street” look like festering sores – a hodge-podge of over-sized signs over vacant storefronts permeated by building Code violations that ooze onto filthy streets – What does the Town of Hempstead do? Put a Band-Aid on it!
When our essential services – fire, police, schools, water – are overburdened by scores of illegal apartments, supplanting suburbia’s vision of single-family homes with overcrowded boarding houses, what does the Town of Hempstead do? Put a Band-Aid on it!
When street signs are twisted, obliterated, illegible or simply missing; when roadbeds resemble moonscapes; when eyesores dot the suburban landscape, permanent reminders of ongoing neglect; what does the Town of Hempstead do? Put a Band-Aid on it!
We ask you, when our quality of life diminishes, seemingly in inverse proportion to the ever-increasing property taxes we pay, what does the Town of Hempstead do? That’s right. Put a Band-Aid on it!
Many of us came to the suburbs to escape the urban sprawl, the congestion, the ongoing deterioration in the quality of services and, in some cases, the inability to find a parking space in front of our own houses. We came to the Levittowns, the Bellmores and the Merricks in search of that vision of suburbia. We moved our families from Brooklyn to Lynbrook to follow that dream of a better life. We fled the concrete jungle for greener pastures, open spaces and that ideal of the white picket fence. And what do you know? Some are saying that we have become Queens. Folks, let’s not disparage the fine Borough of World’s Fairs. Face it – Queens has a leg up on us in the Town of Hempstead. As community leaders from Elmont have told us, “We’re not becoming Queens. We’re becoming the Bronx, without the elevated subway!”
The troubles of the city have followed us – and while the City has adopted a “zero tolerance” stance to return civility and livability to the five boroughs, what does the Town of Hempstead do? You guessed it – Put a Band-Aid on it!
We don’t know about the rest of you, but we’ve had enough of the Band-Aids applied over open wounds. Enough of the Around The Town portrayals of a utopian Town of Hempstead. Enough of the constant knee-jerk reactions to the same problems our hamlets and villages faced one year ago, five years ago, ten years ago. If we’re hearing the grumbling correctly, you’ve had enough too.
That’s why The Community Alliance today offers its enthusiastic endorsement of Harvey B. Levinson for Supervisor of the great Town of Hempstead, America’s largest township. A new direction for our hometown.
Now, you can’t fault the Town of Hempstead, or for that matter, Supervisor Kate Murray, for everything. Indeed, there are some aspects of Town life that are picture perfect. Our Town parks and beaches, for instance, are second to none. Clean, pristine, well cared for. No attention to detail is overlooked. It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? How can the Town do right in the places we play, but fail us so dismally in the places we live, work and shop?
Then there’s the Town’s finances – you’ve heard the Supervisor tell us, time and time again: “The Town of Hempstead has the best Bond rating in the nation.” True enough. An excellent Bond rating – earned on the backs of Town of Hempstead taxpayers. By the way, whatever happened to that fifty million dollar surplus the Supervisor used to boast about? [We know. We know. Gone to pay for all of those patronage jobs at Town Hall!]
And how about those property taxes? For years we’ve been told that the Town of Hempstead has “held the line” on property taxes. Well, we all know, and the bottom line bears out, that Town property taxes - including those so-called "Special District" taxes - continue to skyrocket, with no relief in sight.
The Supervisor is right on the mark when she says that there is an “already lengthy list of taxes that citizens pay to finance local government…” The Town of Hempstead spends more - over $51 million - on “Highway Repair and Improvement” than the entire tax levy for County General Purposes. So it must be true - the streets of our Town really are paved with gold! [Given the call by Kate Murray in the proposed 2006 "Tax Freeze" Budget for a $113 million Bond initiative (a tax by any other name) "for numerous road improvements, infrastructure enhancements and upgrades to town facilities,” we call it highway robbery!]
The Town’s Refuse Disposal District rakes in over 46 million in tax dollars, more than double the County levy for Parks, Recreation and Museums. Of course, that doesn’t account for the additional $21,589,720.90 those in Sanitary District 6 have to cough up for refuse collection. Maybe we could ask our neighbors to make less garbage so we could save a buck or two!
As Chairman of the Nassau County Board of Assessors, Harvey Levinson has poured over tax bills, trying to reconcile why a home in Oceanside, valued at $350,000, pays $1,616.55 in Town and “Special District” taxes, while a home with the same value in South Hempstead pays $2,234.40. He’s listened to the complaints of Franklin Square residents, who pay $655.68 to have their garbage collected by the “special” taxing jurisdiction known as Sanitary District 6, while neighbors served by the Town of Hempstead Refuse & Garbage District pay only $248.22. He’s run the numbers and has seen the great disparity in property taxes paid by homeowners – through a maze of self-governing, semi-autonomous “shadow governments,” most operating under seal of the Town of Hempstead, staffed by the Town of Hempstead, and answerable to no one other than a sputtering political machine – and he has dared to publicly ask, “When will this travesty end?”
Levinson has been chided and ridiculed by the current occupant of the Supervisor’s office for having the audacity to suggest that the Governor appoint a panel to consider whether the school portion of the property tax – a tax that will double in just five short years if we fail to act – should be replaced by a nominal income tax. Levinson has shown that he is willing to take the heat for what may be an unpopular idea, rather than to bury his head in the sand as the sitting Supervisor has done, barely acknowledging that we have a property tax, let alone that there is something terribly wrong with it.
The Town Supervisor, in one of many letters mailed to more than 200,000 households in the Town of Hempstead – letters mailed at the taxpayers’ expense, we must add - told residents that “We at Town Hall are vehemently opposed to this proposal,” offering no alternative, no practical solution, not even so much as a Band-Aid. Let the Supervisor curse at the darkness if she will. Harvey Levinson stands before us to say that he is opposed to a property tax that is unfair, unjust, and tied not to one’s ability to pay, but only to the value of one’s house.
Harvey Levinson has registered his opposition to the great disparity of tax rates within the Town of Hempstead, where, on a house valued at $350,000, a homeowner in Valley Stream pays $6,824 in school property tax, a homeowner in Floral Park-Bellerose pays $5,078, and a homeowner in Levittown pays a whopping $8,508. And Harvey Levinson has expressed what we believe to be genuine outrage when a senior, in tears because she has to decide whether to pay her property tax bill or put food on the kitchen table, tells him that she pays twice as much in property taxes as she paid for her home when she bought that piece of the American Dream back in 1962.
We admire Harvey Levinson’s courage and candidness, and share his sense of indignation over a system of government that is broken and in desperate need of repair.
The current occupant of the Supervisor’s office called Harvey Levinson “Robin Hood” for suggesting that we could more equitably "share the wealth" by distributing the whole of Nassau County's commercial property taxes, as collected, to all school districts within the County, rather than to the few that have a viable commercial tax base. Well, better a Robin Hood than an Alice In Wonderland, falling through that looking-glass filled with smoke and lined with mirrors.
The property tax crisis is out of control, and it will not suffice for the Supervisor of America’s largest township to dismiss this dilemma – one that threatens to consume every one of us, along with all of our money – ignoring the problem, hoping against hope and reason that it will just go away.
America’s largest township deserves better than what it is getting from this administration. Indeed, we deserve better than what we’ve gotten from nearly four generations of the appointed and anointed – since 1907, to be exact. The time has come for us to take back our Town.
We can and we must take back our Town from the ravages of benign neglect. You cannot bring vitality and vibrancy back to downtown by throwing a few pavers and Victorian lamp posts at Main Street, whitewashing the façade while ignoring the underlying decay. America’s largest township deserves better!
We can and we must take back our Town from the menace of illegal apartments, a scourge that threatens our economy, our schools, our tax base, our suburban lifestyle and, yes, life itself. We dare not lose another child to a fire in an illegal, below-code apartment or to carbon monoxide poisoning in an illegal cellar apartment, or risk the life of another firefighter, whose path to safety is blocked by an illegally erected wall. You cannot begin to get a handle on this horrendous problem by refusing to enforce Building Codes and Zoning Laws. And you cannot eradicate this blight on our communities – this pickpocket in our wallets – with half a dozen Building Inspectors assigned to cover the entire Town. America’s largest township deserves better!
We can and we must take back our Town from a system of patronage where Town officials are beholden to party leaders, and not to the people they serve. There are good, decent and hard-working people in Hempstead’s Town Hall. Too bad they’re not allowed to do the jobs for which they are getting paid. You cannot drive our Town forward into the 21st Century on the wheels of a machine mired in early 20th Century Tammany Hall politics. Boss Tweed would be proud of the accomplishments of a fossil-fueled machine whose legacy has gone the way of the dinosaur. America’s largest township deserves better!
We can and we must take back our Town from the indifference that passes for concern, and from yesterday’s broken promises and half-truths masquerading as today’s innovative ideas. Collective memories may fade over time, but the Supervisor can’t hold up an artist’s rendering of a “new Elmont” without expecting that at least some in the audience will recall that we’ve seen those drawings before – three Supervisors ago. The Supervisor can smile her way through the photo ops with cuddly dogs and cute kittens at her feet, but all the glossy brochures - those warm and fuzzy mailings at your expense - can’t disguise the fact that our quality of life is slipping away, our property taxes are spiraling out of control, and our children’s future is being ransomed. America’s largest township deserves better!
Walk along Hempstead Avenue in Malverne, with its quaint shops, tidy storefronts, and thriving business district, and get a sense of what a hometown is supposed to be, of what a hometown can be. Take a walk along Hempstead Avenue just a mile away in West Hempstead, and you get a sense of desolation, of despair, of a loss of what it is to be a community. Ask the Town about this difference of night and day, and they’ll tell you, “Malverne’s a village.” We can’t say for sure that it takes a village, but we will say that there is simply no excuse for the Town’s failure to give the residents of its unincorporated areas the same level of services, the same presence of hometown, the same sense of community as residents of the incorporated villages enjoy. America’s largest township deserves better.
The current occupant of the Supervisor’s office has suggested that "...government should be seeking ways to cut the costs of providing services." We wholeheartedly agree. The seat of government for the Town of Hempstead, where it is reported that some 36 million tax dollars per year go to keep the patronage mill in operation, would be a wonderful place to start!
America’s largest township, diverse in its peoples, rich in its heritage, proud of where it has come from and decisive as to where it wants to go, deserves a proactive Town government, one that puts people before politics, and practical solutions before platitudes. A Town government that leads by way of example, not by way of subterfuge. A Town government that recognizes our problems, shares our concerns, and strives for a long-term cure, not a short-sighted fix. America’s largest township deserves more than a Band-Aid approach to government. America’s largest township deserves better, can do better, and, with the appropriate choice at the ballot box, will, in time, be a better place to live, to work and to raise our children.
In the final analysis, the race for Hempstead Town Supervisor is not about Democrats versus Republicans. Neither is this campaign about defeating Kate Murray (Murraygrams, photo ops, and her father and brothers on the Town payroll aside). Kate Murray is an intelligent, endearing and truly capable public servant, who, left to her own devices, unshackled from the party machine, would make a most proficient administrator. In another time and place, cut loose from the puppet strings, our nod would likely go to Ms. Murray. Indeed, in the past, it has. Recognizing both her talents and her tenacity, we have faith that, in the future, we will again have the opportunity to stand beside her in service to community.
No, this race is not about Kate Murray. In fact, it isn’t even about Harvey Levinson, per se, for no one person at Town Hall, not even the Supervisor, can, in short order, serve as panacea of ills that have, over the decades, become endemic. It is, rather, a race about responsibility, accountability and transparency. It is, as Mr. Levinson so aptly declared in announcing his candidacy for Town Supervisor, about beginning the fight to take back our Town!
The Community Alliance, acknowledging that change is necessary if the Town of Hempstead is to thrive on a Long Island still struggling to survive, urges the voters of the township to pull the lever for Harvey Levinson on Tuesday, November 8th. Let’s give Hempstead Town a new face, a fresh start, and a reason for hope of a better tomorrow!