Episode 13 - Reassessing The Reassessment
Yes, it's Harvey Levinson, Tax Assessor. Strange visitor from another planet who came to Nassau County with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal assessors. Harvey Levinson, Tax Assessor, who can change the assessment of mighty townships, reclassify single family homes as commercial properties with his bare hands, and who, disguised as Harvey Levinson, mild-mannered Assistant District Attorney for a great suburban prosecutor... fights a never-ending battle to consolidate Sanitary Districts, restructure the property tax, and end the patronage way.
In our last episode, Harvey Levinson, Tax Assessor, had secured the records of the Nassau County Board of Elections, noting the names and addresses of all registered voters who had cast their ballots for Kate Murray. "These houses will all be reclassified as Commercial premises," quipped our hero. "Now they will pay for their evil and thoughtless ways."
Ducking behind a nearby cell phone tower, Harvey Levinson, Tax Assessor, donned his now famous cape (previously assessed as a high ranch), and took flight to Sanitary District 1 to do battle with his nemesis, Natman of the Planet Swergold.
As fate would have it, Swergold, who was off at Morton's Steakhouse having a $700 filet mignon, had left a trap for the unsuspecting Harvey Levinson, Tax Assessor -- a garbage truck filled with Murrayite, the only known substance, mined in the Ra Galaxy, capable of zapping Harvey Levinson, Tax Assessor's powers to reassess.
"Great Suozzi's ghost," came the cry from Denis Dillon, our hero's adopted father, as he clutched his Rosary.
Would this be the end of Harvey Levinson, Tax Assessor? Would the League of Women Superheroes intervene to save him? Will the Town of Hempstead be spared from the evil clutches of the Mondelloids -- creatures from another dimension of time and space whose thinly-veiled acts of benevolence are cryptically codified in their treatise, To Serve Man. [Yes, its a cookbook, you idiot. Haven't you ever watched a Twilight Zone marathon?] And what about, Naomi?
For the answer to these and other questions, be sure to join us for Episode 14, Assessing the Reassessment of the Assessment, in The Continuing Misadventures Of Harvey Levinson, Tax Assessor.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled pogrom, The Kate Murray Hour and A Half, with your host, Kate Murray.
The Next Frontier: Beyond Property Tax Relief ~ REAL REFORM
Tom Suozzi, having tackled the county's fiscal woes during his first term as County Exec, has now set his sights on another mess he inherited and we all pay handily for - the school property tax.
Accounting for somewhere in the neighborhood of 60% of our property tax bill, school taxes, left unchecked, are going nowhere but UP. It was no election year hype when the pols told us that, unless we do something bold, the school property tax will DOUBLE within 5 years. Now that should frighten every homeowner in Nassau County.
When it comes to "bold," no one fits the bill better than Long Island's own Tom Suozzi. Think of him what you will (even Spitzer into the wind, if you'd like), his oft times brash style has behind it a substantive flair for innovation and creativity. Clearly, if there is anyone who could lead the charge to change the very fundamentals of how we finance our public schools, its Tom Suozzi.
No, he cannot do it alone, or simply pay homage to the old catch phrase, "We can do it because we did it." School District financing is as complex and intricate as the State's School Aid formula is archaic and incomprehensible. It will take a team of inspired and resourceful thinkers and doers (included among them, hopefully, more than a handful of Nassau County's best), ready and willing to take on both the status quo and the stagnant mindset of Albany -- which itself has been unable or unwilling to so much as poke at the property tax monster with a 10-foot pole.
Suozzi has said that "everything is on the table" vis-a-vis the school property tax. Of necessity, this must include more than passing consideration of many factors and options, including, without limitation, the following:
- Full funding of State and Federally mandated programs. If you mandate it. Pay for it!;
- Parity in State Aid among the State's multitude of school districts, including 126 such Districts -- each a taxing jurisdiction in and of itself -- on Long Island;
- The realization that the State's STAR (School Tax Relief) [as in "Wish Upon A..."] program provides only paper relief, where a reduction of the school property tax is erased by a corresponding (or greater) hike in the tax rate by the School Districts;
- Consolidation of School District programs, initiatives, common expenditures (i.e., transportation, insurance) and, in some instances, of the District's themselves;
- Real answers to the tough question, "How many Superintendents, Assistant Superintendents, Deputy Superintendents, and assistants thereto does it take to operate Long Island's schools?"
- Utilization of the existing revenues from the State Income Tax and sources other than a residential property tax to provide for the guarantee of a free primary and secondary education as embodied in the State Constitution in 1894: "The Legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools, wherein all the children of this State may be educated." [We have a hard time equating a $6000+ school property tax bill with "free."];
- Harnessing the power of strength in numbers by getting ALL of Long Island's School Boards in the same book and on the same page, lobbying the powers-that-be in Albany for funding parity with upstate districts, full funding of every mandated program, and substantive revision of the State Aid formula, which has, for all intents and purposes, been frozen in time since the 1960s;
- Full funding of every No Child Left Behind initiative mandated by the feds, but unfunded by Congress;
- The cooperation, support and proactive resolve of Long Island's delegation to the State Legislature in working with County officials (and Town officials, too, should they be so inclined to join the effort rather than to merely ridicule it) to restructure school financing. [We are fortunate to have in our own backyard the Deputy Majority Leader of the New York State Senate, the Honorable Dean Skelos. Dean has served Nassau County residents with distinction for more than two decades (that's over 20 years, folks). He is one of the most powerful people in Albany today. Its time for Dean to get on board the School Property Tax Reform train, in deed and not just in word (that "word" generally being STAR, which, as we said, provides little if any real tax relief).]
While one would think that in 20 years of service, Senator Skelos, working with his colleagues, would find a way to bring true reform to a tax system that, quite frankly, hasn't worked in at least that long, the record of inertia on this issue proves otherwise. Our State Legislature may, ultimately, be the solution here, but for now, they remain a very big part of the problem.
Here's the thing: Every seat in the State Senate and Assembly will be up for grabs in 2006. That means our State Legislators have less than one (1) year to get their acts together and bring real property tax reform to Long Island. Let's begin to hit them with this issue TODAY, and not wait until the fall campaign season, when the best we can hope for is the promise of reform.
Perhaps its time -- more likely, past time -- that we hold our State Legislature hostage, rather than the other way around. If we're still in the same sinking school property tax ship come Tuesday, November 7, 2006, we vote the do-nothings -- and each of them -- OUT!
There are a host of ideas we've not mentioned here -- this in the interest of whatever brevity is left on this blog. Your ideas, most certainly, are welcome. Let's explore. Let's discuss. Let's even debate. And at the end of the day, which swiftly approaches, let's be determined to, at long last, ACT!
There is no tomorrow on the property tax front, folks. The dollars aren't there. Our homes, the future of our children, and our very way of life here on Long Island are on the line.
ENDNOTE: The Community Alliance would like to extend our sincere thanks and heartfelt gratitude to Harvey Levinson. Harvey, the election may not have gone your way (or ours), but the issues you raised, and the changes you envisioned, not only helped to shape the campaign and fuel the eventual outcome in other races, but gave impetus to many of us who, with you at our side, will continue the fight for honest, open, efficient and effective government. You've opened many an eye as to the injustices and inequities of our taxing jusrisdictions, the failures of the property tax system, the corruption and costs of those special districts, and the consumate chutzpah of the folks who think they own Hempstead Town Hall.
While your message may not have resonated among the voters of Hempstead Town on November 8th, too many of whom continue to blindly vote with eyes wide shut, take heart -- our steady advance to take back our Town from the constant ravages of 100 years of benign neglect, self-serving cronyism, and pick-pocket politics cannot and will not be halted by a rusting, broken Machine -- and that Tuesday in November, 2007, is closer than it appears in the mirror!