Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Of Carousels And Painted Ponies

Nunley Carousel Suddenly Appears On Everyone's Radar

We woke up this morning to a full e-mail box here at The Community Alliance. Funny. On the substantive quality of life issues that impact dearly upon pocketbook and psyche, a trickle. On a non-starter, a carousel of all things, a deluge.

Without attribution, most of the comments received on the recent Nunley carousel spat asked the same question: Why all the commotion over a merry-go-round when there are so many critical concerns – from property taxes to illegal housing – that we need to concentrate on?

Why indeed? After all, the Nunley carousel was dismantled when, yesterday? No. Try a decade ago. Since then, it’s been sitting in a warehouse gathering dust. Few seemed to notice, let alone care, that Baldwin was missing its famous landmark. Then, along comes Billy Joel, who apparently loves carousels almost as much as he enjoys driving his car through an occasional house, and Tom Suozzi, who just happened to have an old carousel on ice, with no money to restore to its former grandeur – in Baldwin or elsewhere. The Piano Man volunteered to raise money – privately – to fix the carousel and move it (from the warehouse, not Baldwin) to a location in Oyster Bay, and Tom Suozzi said, “Okay.”

Now we don’t have the inside track as to what Tom Suozzi was thinking, but it seems to me that the process went something like this: “I’m really not that concerned about where the carousel goes, as long as taxpayer dollars are not used to fix it up and move it. Next issue.”

Quite suddenly, as if the once proud carousel had only recently come to a screeching halt, another County – or at least a County Legislator in the form of Joe Scannell – is heard from. “We want our carousel in Baldwin!” Joe, where were you ten years ago? You just noticed the carousel was missing?

Then, like ants on a watermelon on a hot summer day, in march the great saviors of carousels – Republican County Legislators, and – riding that great white elephant (saved from destruction, no doubt, by the Town’s Adopt-A-Pet program) – the guardians of Town Hall in Hempstead. [SEE, It's A 'Good Thing', from the Oyster Bay Enterprise-Pilot.] “Here we come to save the day!” Why, surely Mighty Mouse himself would have been brought to tears. Hey, even yours truly, the original skeptic of all things governmental, was convinced. Suozzi bad. Town good.

Judging from the e-mails that even now continue to flood our in-box, we misread the County Exec, and were too quick to praise those who, with transparent selflessness, came to the aid of a fallen icon of amusement. Could it be that Tom Suozzi was saying, “Hey, I like carousels as much as the next guy, but we’ve got more important matters on the table and limited resources to play with. If someone from the private sector wants to pay to restore and relocate (from a warehouse, not Baldwin) this relic of the past, fine. We’ve got the future to worry about!”

Will private funds be raised to restore, move and maintain the carousel at the Town’s Baldwin Park? If taxpayer dollars are at stake, I’d like to put in a bid for this piece of south shore history for Echo Park in West Hempstead. :-)

As Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray put it, "Moving this south shore treasure to Oyster Bay makes about as much sense as moving the Coney Island Cyclone to Peoria, Illinois." Has the Supervisor taken a ride on the Cyclone of late? Did she complain when the Thunderbolt (which, in our humble opinion, trumped the Cyclone by far) came tumbling down? Has she been to Peoria?

Politics, like life, is a carousel. We get on the painted horse. We go round and round in circles, slow at first, then faster, then slow again. Up and down we go, to the upbeat melody of the calliope, reaching for the brass ring. Unlike life, where the music eventually quiets to a din and the forward motion stops, in politics, the carousel’s journey is seemingly endless, the circular motion relentless, and some of the riders just don’t know when to get off.

By the way, Binghamton, New York prides itself as “The Carousel Capital of the World.” Hmm. We wonder if they’d be interested in another carousel?

Friday, April 08, 2005

The Magical Mystery Bus Tour

County Exec's Economic Development Plan Needs To Move Forward

Nassau County Executive, Tom Suozzi, concluded yet another Road Trip promoting his much touted Strategic Economic Development Program with a bus ride through Lakeview and Malverne. Indeed, since the Economic Development Plan was announced in 2003, Mr. Suozzi has toured most if not all of the 35 Economic Development Zones established under his stewardship, hosting town-hall style meetings in the respective communities, giving local advocates and John Q. Public the opportunity not only to hear and reflect upon his ambitious plans, but to stick in their 2-cents as well.

Having toured the County, heard from and spoken with residents, and gotten a lay of the land, the time has come for Mr. Suozzi and his economic development team to get off the bus, and to start putting the Strategic Plan in motion. What Mr. Suozzi has planned for and been openly discussing over the past three and a half years should, during the course of the next four, be transformed from glowing vision to a real and lasting symbol of Nassau’s rebirth and resurgence as America’s premier county.

The “Main Streets” of our towns and hamlets, given short shrift when the plug was pulled on the “Operation Downtown” initiative under the prior County administration, and paid little more than lip service and a fa├žade facial by townships within the County, cry out for revitalization and the infusion of new life. An extreme makeover is necessary to convert the brownfields, reclaim that which the big box stores have literally driven away, and create a neighborhood environment conducive not only to pedestrian traffic, but to a suburban lifestyle that beckons us back to the heart of community – to live, to work, to shop.

Other concerns, including but not limited to Nassau’s transportation mess, the hubbub of the Hub, the preservation and restoration of our public parks and open spaces, and the growing property tax dilemma, now coming to the fore through similarly bold and innovative proposals, must likewise be forcefully pursed with equal zeal.

Yes, Mr. Suozzi can, at times, be brash and outspoken – often exuding a self-assurance bordering on arrogance. His ideas are big, and his mouth, every so often, bigger. At a time of fiscal conservatism and restraint, Mr. Suozzi talks of creating jobs, rebuilding an aging infrastructure, and bringing the American Dream of affordable housing to all who would call our fair county “home.”

Visions of grandeur? Perhaps. But in a county where we have left things go for far too long – closing our eyes to the problems while simply hoping for the best – throwing a few brick pavers and a couple of vintage lamp-posts at the Turnpikes, the Avenues and the Boulevards just won’t do the trick.

Frankly, its going to take “big,” even in the face of the naysayers who, for as long as one can remember, have always thought small. Nassau County needs a renaissance that only grand vision can bring. A 60-story lighthouse at the foot of the Coliseum? Perhaps not. Or maybe, just maybe, that’s just what we need – in one incarnation or another. One thing’s for sure – economic empowerment in a county that has seen its financial might and suburban allure erode and slip away won't come with quiet platitudes. We cannot stand still if we want to regain our footing as the most desirable place to live in America, and we dare not go back to the mindset of benign neglect that brought our County to its knees and to the brink.

In terms of Economic Development – and the redevelopment envisioned by our County Executive - the bus stops here. We need to do more than call forth the slings and arrows, as Mr. Suozzi's detractors are known to do, seeking to derail worthy objectives without further. We, as proponents of a truly new and thriving Nassau County, need to get off that bus and start walking. The time has come to roll up our sleeves and get to work!

Friday, April 01, 2005

The "Special" Taxing Districts

We all cringe when that tax notice arrives in the mail, but have you taken a closer look at who is taxing you and what the increases have been? More than this, do you realize that you may be paying more for services such as sanitation, fire protection and water than your neighbors across town - and in some cases, more than your neighbor across the street?
Nassau County Assessor of Taxes, Harvey B. Levinson, examines the financial impact of so-called invisible taxing jurisdictions, and debunks the myth that the Town of Hempstead has been "holding the line on taxes."

"While some of these special taxing districts or invisible governments have existed since the 1930s," exclaimed Mr. Levinson, "the so-called Commissioner-operated fire, water and sanitary (garbage collection) districts are now collecting some of the biggest tax dollars with little or no oversight." A look at the 2005 Town tax bill of a West Hempstead home, for example, with a market value of $346,900 gives credence to Mr. Levinson's call for increased scrutiny, consolidation and, in some instances, the elimination of these special taxing jurisdictions.

While Town General taxes increased from 2004 by some 8.21% (enough of a burden), Town Highway went up $15.94%; Town Building & Zoning increased by 16.73%; Town Lighting by 14.65%; Town Park by 14%; West Hempstead Public Parking by 1.09% and Town Refuse Disposal by a whopping 18.77%.

Add to this already onerous tax burden (it hurts just to write it) "Special District" taxes for Sanitary District # 6, up 17.27%; West Hempstead-Hempstead Gardens Water District, up 3.41% (even more if you live in Cathedral Gardens); and West Hempstead Fire District, up 10.56%.

Assessor Levinson asserts, and the numbers bear him out, that "if a home in West Hempstead was not in Sanitary District # 6, and its garbage was picked-up by the Town of Hempstead Refuse and Garbage District (for which residents are also taxed), the taxes on this hypothetical home would be reduced from $656 to $308 - a reduction of 53%."---Statistics courtesy of the Office of the Nassau County Assessor.

Learn more about the financial impact of "Invisible Taxing Jurisdictions" by logging on to www.co.nassau.ny.us/assessor/pressrel/01-27-05.html.