Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Can 96,146 People Be that Stupid?

Ignorance & Complacency - 96,146; Hope & Reason - 65,485

If ignorance is bliss, then in Hempstead Town, where voting by crayon and staying within the lines is a way of life, there must be euphoria.

Forget the corruption and excessive costs of the Sanitary Districts. Vote to keep 'em. Never mind the patronage and cronyism at Town Hall. Its all in the family. Who cares if half a million tax dollars are spent on campaign mailings? Apparently, not the voters of Hempstead Town.

Illegal accessory apartments. Skyrocketing property taxes. Unaffordable housing. A quality of life that only a sewer rat could love. Welcome to the Town of Hempstead. Kate Murray, Supervisor.

There may be joy in Mudville -- where the uninformed, misinformed, and blatantly lied to voted with a single, albeit unintelligible voice (sounded kinda like Jabba The Hutt), while the party of a thousand voices (that which sounds something like democracy), failed to vote in numbers sufficient to stem the tide and change the course -- but the elation belies a reality that is as close at hand as your next tax bill.

For those who saw the light, only to have it dim when all the votes were counted, take heart. Machines, even the best of them, will, at some point, break down. And while you can seldom defeat ignorance -- either by argument or at the ballot box -- there is solace in knowing that, ultimately, ignorance will defeat itself. Let's hope most of us are still around when that day comes!

Meanwhile, as both consolation and reminder, DON'T BLAME ME, I VOTED FOR LEVINSON bumper stickers will be available in the Gift Shop.

Looking ahead two years to the next election for Town of Hempstead Supervisor, a prediction. No, a guarantee. It will not be Kate Murray. No sir. Kate will be plucked from her perch at Town Hall for the political plumb she's been craving for - a judgeship. The Nassau County GOP will delight once again in anointing our next Supervisor (Tony "You Ain't Paid For Nothin' Yet" Santino, perhaps?). And a new face will chair the County Republican Party -- Katuria D'Amato? Who said you can't go back to the "bad old days?" Geez, we've never left!

As for The Community Alliance, we're moving forward to tomorrow. Property taxes (remember them?) remain top on our list. The battle against the Special Districts did not end on Election Day. It has just begun. Consolidate. Eliminate. And, Madam District Attorney, after you take that oath of office in January, convene that Grand Jury and pursue justice for the residents of Hempstead Town. The tyranny of those invisible taxing jurisdictions -- and of those who refuse or neglect to take responsibility for or control over them -- must be brought to an end.

School Districts, accounting for some 60% of our property tax burden, must be held accountable to the residents they serve, as our State Legislature and Governor must be held accountable to both School Districts and constituents. If you mandate it, fund it. If you provide State Aid to a School District situated in a suburb of Buffalo to the tune of 75%, you give that same 75% to School Districts in Elmont, Baldwin and Wantagh. No more 100% funding of upstate School Districts, while Long Island's schools garner but 16%. An income tax to replace the school property tax? We already have one! Long Islanders want to see their tax dollars at work on Long Island. The Campaign for Fiscal Parity begins today!

Affordable housing and downtown revitalization. Buzz words bantered about with an almost unrelenting drone. No more talk. Our downtowns and "Main Streets" are Twilight Zones, not Development Zones. Our children cannot afford to buy into the American Dream. Our parents -- and, in many instances, we ourselves -- can no longer afford to live in our own homes.

We've dumbed down "Smart Growth" on our Long Island for far too long. Today we begin to take back our "downtowns," with a reasonable mix of retail, recreational and affordable residential development. Today we begin to dispel the myth that suburbia has to be either horizontal sprawl or a vertical tower touching the sky. Applying vision and plan, we can provide safe, affordable housing for our seniors and workforce, in an environment where we not only know our neighbors, but can once again walk with them for the morning paper, a loaf of bread, or for a stroll in the park. Let's begin today to reshape our communities, bringing life to the very ideal of the suburbs envisioned by those who brought many of us here in the first place.

Our problems and concerns -- whether property taxes, the education of our children, or the costs of energy and a roof over our heads -- did not magically disappear when the polls closed on Tuesday. They are still with us -- real, ominous, and waiting for those of vision and action to step to the fore.

The Community Alliance will continue to lead as we travel down that road to take back our town, to rebuild our downtown, and to restore pride and livability to our hometown. We will continue to ask for your ideas, your suggestions, your courage and your support.

Standing still does not serve the best interests of community. It never did. We cannot -- and dare not -- go back. We never will. That leaves but a single option -- to move forward. Today, we take that next step toward tomorrow. The train to the future is leaving the station. We welcome you to either get on board, or, with all due respect, to get the hell out of the way!

Several years ago, we who now form the core of The Community Alliance, posited the question, "Why do we need to work together to improve our community?" We were taken aback for a moment by the response. We assumed, after all, that it would be intuitive. "Strength in numbers. Speak with one, unified voice. Our problems are your problems." Of course, we soon realized that it wasn't quite that simple.

Just as all politics is local, most issues confronted on the "community" level - whether related to code enforcement, business district revitalization, or the clean up of a pond or an abandoned lot - are perceived as local, the province of this or that civic group. "You want to come here and help us? Why?" Suspicious thoughts as "outsiders" are looked upon as unwelcome interlopers.

"You stay in Elmont and concern yourself with those deadly basement apartments. We're not West Hempstead, with that loathsome Courtesy Hotel. We'll handle our own problems, thank you very much."

Community is, indeed, sacrosanct. It was not all that long ago, when a Tri-Community Summit (Elmont, Franklin Square & West Hempstead) was first proposed, that a local civic leader said that he thought such a conclave would be a great idea, but "don't expect too much. They (the civic and business leaders) are like warlords. Very territorial. They are quite protective of their own turf." For a moment many of us felt as if we had left the security of our respective communities for the uncertainty of the Afghan frontier. Have we not learned, in this enlightened society, that such divisiveness breeds only destruction? Have we not come to see, after years of life under the fiefdoms, the "clubs," and the Special Districts, that the real and beneficial changes come - if at all - only when the entirety stands as one? "Yes," we thought. "The whole must be greater than the sum of all of its parts." Ah, we were young and naive.

As we pore over the papers indigenous to each locale, even today, we sense a common appeal. "Join your civic association. Band together to fight the evils of community. Together, we can make a difference." No less vivid is the call to action, echoed by each group with mounting fervor. "Fight the illegal rentals. Demand greater code enforcement. Bring business back to 'Main Street.'"

And yet, this seemingly single mindset, placing us, definitively, on the right track, is often drowned out by the chorus of civic voices. Nowhere is this more evident than in the pages of our community periodicals, where the many voices of community come together, if but on paper alone, only to fade into the background without significant impact.

The message of community is often lost in the din. What need be a common voice of the people, a concert in harmony, is, more often than not, singular sound bites from one group or another. The noise, while appropriate and necessary, is but chatter lost in the cosmos. Sure, as "local" organizations, we hold our own. We manage, after long and protracted battle, to close down the after-hours clubs on the Turnpike. We muster the energy to fight the mega gas stations and the car washes. We are most proficient in the piecemeal salvation of the trees, even as much of the forest is forever taken from us.

In the more "global" arena, however, in attempting to address the issues that touch all of us, we make few inroads, and see little appreciable progress. Yes, we are on the right track. We must acknowledge, nevertheless, that even those on the right track are going to get hit by that train if they just stand still!

That quality of life which we value, that which we speak of longingly, is what our civic and business organizations most want to preserve and enhance. Even so, it is that very quality of life, that vision of suburbia, which, despite our best efforts and noble intentions, continues to slip away. Illegal accessory apartments proliferate. The condition of our "downtowns" deteriorates. Property taxes rise and aggravate. Elected officials promise to ameliorate. The suburban landscape so cherished, but for the occasional tree we are able to save, erodes before our eyes.

We live, and yesterday's election results makes this abundantly clear, in a dual society. Call it the two Americas, the two Counties, or, for that matter, the two Townships. One is of the privileged; those who seem to get everything they want, often without ever having to ask. The other - and we fear we on the south shore of Long Island, in general, and in the unincorporated areas of the Town, in particular, fall squarely in this category - is of the forgotten.

The forgotten are asked to bear the burdens and endure the hardships, to accept substandard services delivered at exorbitant expense, to witness the intrusion of urban ills, to be content with sprawl and decay, and, above all, to be patient.

The forgotten are asked to wait for their roads to be paved, their parks to be maintained, their streets to be cleaned. The forgotten are told "It won't happen overnight. The wheels turn slowly. We're on your side."

The years go by. The names and faces change - and sometimes they don't - and here we stand, amidst the decline of the Turnpike, the Avenue and the Road - forgotten.

The question asked is no longer, "Should we work together?" but rather, "How can we work together effectively to bring about positive change in our collective community?"

It is no longer a matter of "talk and walk" with our elected officials, but instead, a call to engage in a true partnership, with all levels of government, to cooperatively and decisively tackle the problems that we share.

The privileged have the time to wait, though they rarely have to. The forgotten, on the other hand, have little time before their voices are silenced, before they are overwhelmed by the insurmountable. The privileged have their special interest groups, their highly paid lobbyists, their monied Political Action Committees. And the forgotten? Well, we have The Community Alliance to make certain that we're all working together, that our collective voice is heard, that, ultimately, we are successful in getting the job done!

Hope and reason may have lost the election for Town of Hempstead Supervisor on November 8th, but hope, if not reason, springs eternal. In the long run, ignorance will be defeated by reason, and hope shall triumph over complacency.

In the name of hope and reason, let's get moving!


  1. How much did yesterday’s elections in Nassau County actually accomplish? Compared with the state of things a week ago, not much has changed. Suozzi is still the County Executive, the Democrats still hold a razor-thin 10-9 majority in the Legislature, and the Republicans still control the Town of Hempstead. Had it not been for Kathleen Rice’s upset of Dennis Dillon, Nassau County government today would be an exact replica of the one before the election. Basically, we are all still in the same boat.

    While Ms. Rice’s victory is impressive (even historic perhaps), it neither helps the Democrats nor hurts the Republicans very much from a legislative perspective. Even Suozzi’s victory should be taken with a grain of salt. Yes, he won by an impressive margin; however, he was fortunate to run against a clearly inferior opponent with no new ideas and who was symbolic of the administration that had run the County into the ground. Suozzi’s popularity was not able to translate into any gains in the Legislature; and until late afternoon yesterday, there were legitimate worries that both Toback and Meijas could lose their races. As you moved to the Town level, Suozzi’s coattails disappeared. Levinson’s campaign realized that their candidate was a long shot from the start but there was disappointment that the margin of victory was as large as it was. Despite the loss for the Town of Hempstead Supervisor, it is painfully obvious that the Democratic Party in Nassau County right now is clearly stronger, better financed, more organized and disciplined than their Republican counterparts. Until the Republican Party casts off its chains of the “good old days,” starts to think anew, and become a modern political entity (i.e. get rid of Joe Mondello), the Democrats will continue to take advantage of this weakness.

    As for the Town of Hempstead Supervisor race….. Harvey Levinson, of all of the Democratic candidates, clearly had the toughest hill to climb. In addition to the fact that the Republicans still have a firm grip in the Town of Hempstead, Harvey was campaigning as the current County Assessor which gave the Republicans plenty of ammunition with which to lie and distort. And lie and distort they did, to great success. His loss inevitably leads many to wonder “what could people actually be thinking” when they voted for Ms. Murray.

    Earlier this year, George Lakoff, a cognitive scientist from Cal-Berkeley, wrote a small book called “Don’t think of an elephant! Know your values and frame the debate.” Mr. Lakoff is one of the world’s best-known linguists. The primary thesis of his book posited that people think in “frames.” Frames are “mental structures that shape the way we see the world. They are part of what cognitive scientists call the ‘cognitive unconsciousness’ – structures in our brains that we cannot consciously access.” Lakoff goes on to say that if someone has a strongly held frame that doesn’t fit the facts, the facts will be ignored and the frame will be kept. Many Democrats are probably saying today “Harvey confronted Town of Hempstead residents with the facts yet those who voted for Ms. Murray did not reach the right conclusion. They just must be idiots.” Lakoff argues that just because people are presented with facts does not necessarily mean they will be accepted. If the facts do not fit into the frame, the frame must be changed in order for the facts to fit.

    The Republicans created a frame by claiming that the assessment was a tax increase. Every time Harvey Levinson negated that frame by saying assessments were not a tax increase (and providing a litany of facts to prove it), he simply reinforced and evoked that frame. When Nixon said “I am not a crook!” everybody thought of him as a crook. It’s not clear that even if Harvey Levinson had been able to reframe the debate about the assessment, it would have changed the ultimate outcome. But the Republicans hammered him on that issue through blatant lies and misrepresentations more than anything else. Democrats need to look at the bright side, given the demographic changes and the trends of both the Democratic and Republican parties in Nassau County; it is only a matter of time before the Town of Hempstead meets the same fate as the Town of Brookhaven in Suffolk County. It will happen sooner rather than later.

  2. Mr.Arthur you are exactly right on the beginning of your blog - the county and the democrats are no better then they were before election day with the exception of Rice winning over Dillon.

    But really was it a monumental win over Dillon or was it simply his time - he was in office for what 30 some odd years?

    As far as Kate Murray and the TOH run I don't agree with what you state and the theory of "Frames".

    Explain to me this how are Assessments not increases in taxes?

    If you assessment increases from $500K to $520K in 1 year then doesn't the tax increase?

    I know that the TOH sets the tax rate but you get your taxes you pay based on a combination of both?

    So what lies did the Republicans claim??

    That the County Assessments are basically unfair??

    Because they are based on the "fair market" value of your home, and that value is only what you COULD get if you were to sell it???

    Let's face it most residents in Nassau County bought their homes with the intention of staying not selling?

    Then you can factor in the Seniors who are on fixed incomes, the young who want to buy in Nassau but can't afford the home prices or the taxes and what do you get??

    What the Democrats have been complaining about illegal apartments!!

    And how does that affect the average homeowner??

    If the renters have chidren they are going to our schools and we all know how much we pay in school taxes and how the increase in students fluctuates the school budgets.

    So tell me what is the answer to these problems because they all relate to each and effect our property taxes, school taxes, & illegal apartments??

    Sorry to do this also but another Big complaint about the TOH was the Sanitation Districts- Does anyone realize that the Special Sanitation Districts are NOT under the control of the TOH Supervisor but their own set of COMMISIONERS who were elected by the individual town elections??

    The TOH ONLY collects the taxes and distributes it to the individual districts, they set their own budgets and any increases to their budgets MUST get voted on by a Town vote!!

    If the individual sanitation districts are out of control then the State Comptroller should come in and take control like they did in the Roosevelt School District throw out all of the Commisioners and either setup new local officials or Combine & Consolidate these Districts into the jurisdiction of the TOH, so then Kate Murray COULD be held responsible for those Districts.

    Is the above statement regarding the Special Sanitation Districts Right or Wrong??

    Always think outside of the box but first get the facts straight.

  3. OK, this is the last time I (and everyone else on this blog) will explain the assessment system to you. If you do not understand after this, you will never understand and I won't bother trying to respond to you anymore.

    Assessments are estimates of a property's fair market value. Back in 2001, Nassau County converted to an assessment system based on market value under court order based on a lawsuit that claimed (correctly) that the previous assessment system was unfair. The County had not performed a re-assessment in over 30 years. This resulted in serious disruption and financial pain for many people since properties that were undervalued (mostly older ones) had to pay more while overvalued properties received reductions. Since then, assessment increases have been linked to increases in market value. The Court went on to order that the re-assessment take place every year until 2007, at which time, it was assumed, all homes would be assessed correctly. Got it? Old system, unfair. New system, fair (after a few years of adjustments).

    The county assessor (i.e. Harvey Levinson) does not set property tax rates. That is done by the various tax levying entities - county government, town government, villages, special districts, schools. The assessor's role is to provide information used to determine what your share of the total tax levy will be.
    Property assessments are rising because property values are rising. There are a number of factors for the wild increase in home values. The first is a simple supply and demand issue in Nassau County. There are simply not enough homes to meet the demand. With only about 67,000 acres of developable land left in Nassau County, there isn't enough space to increase the supply of houses to meet the demand. The other alternative would be to change the zoning laws to allow for town homes and other higher-density options. The problem with that approach is that there is great resistance from local governments and residents to move towards these types of housing options. It's a classic NIMBY study case.

    The second primary reason for the housing boom has been the historically low interest rates which have allowed people to buy homes that they otherwise could not have afforded. The Fed lowered interest rates in order to stimulate a sagging economy and has not raised them back accordingly as the economy has gathered strength. This stimulus has created a housing bubble which has been the primary driver of our economy over the last 3-4 years.

    OK, so let's review. Old assessment system, unfair. New assessment system, fair. Rising house prices are due to lack of supply and low interest rates, not Harvey Levinson. Got it? Probably not, but I'll continue.

    A house in Nassau County that was worth $300,000 in 2002 now might be worth $500,000, a 40% increase. This increase has been driven by the factors I mentioned above. That DOES NOT, however, equate to 40% tax increase.

    Rising property values means the size of the pie - total valuation of homes -is getting bigger. If government costs, (i.e. tax levies), are growing at a slower pace than property values, the tax rate, the amount charged for every $1,000 a property is worth, will actually decline. Unfortunately, this has not happened. School costs have risen though the roof over the last five years, and as a result, the tax rate has increased in order to generate enough money to cover the increasing costs. The same is true for Town costs and all of the ridiculous "special district" costs. The value of your assessment does not have any effect on what your taxes will be.

    I have tried my best here to explain as clearly as possible how the assessment works. I would imagine that most semi-intelligent people will understand what I have argued.

    If you can't see by now that increases in assessments are not increases in taxes, then you 1) can not understand or 2) do not want to understand. Either way, I feel sorry for you.

  4. Where do you come up with this???

    So you are telling me that a house worth $300,000 in 2002 & now assessed at $500,000 in 2005 that the taxes aren't going to rise at all???

    What kind of math are you using 1% of $300,000 is $3,000 & 1% of $500,000 is $5,000 so you are telling us that is not a $2,000 raise in 3yrs????

    Maybe you can explain that for us dopes that don't understand???

  5. No, that is not what I am telling you. If the tax rate stayed at 1% from 2002 through 2005 and the value of your house increased from $300K to $500K, then of course you would pay more in taxes. BUT THAT IS NOT BECUASE OF THE ASSESSOR!!! The market (rightly or wrongly) has increased the value of your house, not Harvey Levinson.

    There are two reasons why assessments have gone up dramatically over the last four years. The first was due to the reassesment ORDERED BY THE COURTS AND AGREED TO BY GULOTTA AND OTHER REPUBLCIANS IN THE NASSAU LEGISLATURE back in 2001. But not everyone's assessment went up, many homeowner's assessments went down. The re-adjustment of the assessment was painful for many people BUT REQUIRED BY A COURT ORDER. The second has been a white-hot housing market since 2001 which forced prices upward.

    When governments decided to use property values to raise tax revenue, no one ever anticipated the type of market we have experienced over the last four years (i.e 40% increases in home prices). Additionally, there was also an assumption at the time that a re-assessment would be made along the way. Unfortunately, the Republicans didn't perform one for over 20-30 years which created massive inequities in the system which led to the lawsuit.

    The result has been to create a whole class of people who are "house rich but cash poor." (of which you have claimed to be)When property values were used as a tax revenue generator, no one ever asked the question "Gee, what would happen if the market caused home prices to skyrocket by 40-50%? Won't that really screw people whose income doesn't increase at the same rate?"

    It's become more and more obvious that using property values to generate tax revenue has some serious flaws. Hence Harvey Levison's idea to explore the feasibility of using an income tax IN PLACE OF THE PROPERTY TAX. The income tax could be progressive (i.e the amount people pay is based on their ability to pay. the rich would pay more than the poor), not regressive like the current system is where everybody pays the same percentage no matter what assessed value their home is. (i.e. 1% for a rich person is a lot less brudensome than it is for someone who is not rich)

    The primary benefit of the income tax is that it would cover a greater segment of the population thereby broadening the tax base, which in turn would lower the amount of taxes everyone would have to pay. Simply put, there are more people with tax paying jobs in Nassau County than there there are taxpaying homeowners.

    Right now, if you rent a place to live in Nassau County, you pay no property tax because you don't own the property; however, you get to send your kids to school for free while homeowners subsidize the renter's portion. Under the income tax, renter's would be paying taxes into the system which would reduce the burden on homeowners.

    The income tax would also ensnare people living in illegal housing. Of course, the Republicans lied about this and claimed that Levinson wanted to ADD an income tax on top of the property tax, which was completely false. The income tax idea would have replaced the property tax.

    "Us dopes" understand now?

  6. But of Course Harvey Levinson has nothing to do with this as you say he is only the Nassau County Assessor; if he thinks that this is an unfair system then he should speak up!

    Assessing ones property merely by its "fair" market value is wrong, so if the real estate market drops will the taxpayers be reassessed and given a tax credit for the difference?

    I don't think so

    The system is flawed and everyone knows this, that is why it is such a hot issue in Nassau County!

    Stop trying to cover up the problem by diverting the taxpayers attention to school taxes, that is a problem amongst itself!

    The school tax problem should be handled by the individual school districts maybe if they were so blatantly passed when voted on they wouldn't become an issue?

    Maybe the school districts budget should be voted down so that they would have to go back and tighten their belts?

    I feel ALL school districts should and must be audited no more than every 2 years, to weed out the corruption and wasteful spending!