Tuesday, January 31, 2006

American Idle

Combating Complacency In A Community Most Content

There can be no doubt in anyone's mind that complacency by any name -- indifference, apathy, languor -- is commonplace in these United States. Here on Long Island, the grumbles and groans of the indignant aside, it has become a lifestyle.

We are, if not content, then at least resigned to live out our lives of quiet desperation paying top dollar for mediocre services delivered begrudgingly by more levels of government bureaucracy than there are stars in the heavens.

When we are heard to complain, it is but a brief respite from the otherwise muted chorus -- a fleeting moment when the few echo sentiments only occasionally brought to mind by the many, and rarely voiced even by the most ardent.

There follows the roasting of those few brave souls who dare to speak out upon the fires of retribution, as the masses retreat behind closed doors of houses overtaxed, lining streets where last season's debris still hugs the curb, at the crossroads of nowhere and no place, the mindset of the majority as opaque as the writing on that corner street sign.

School taxes explode. Illegal apartments abound. 900 taxing jurisdictions knock at our doors demanding their share, my share and your share.

We are polled and surveyed, almost relentlessly. "What do you think?" "How do you feel?" "What will you do?" "Where will you go?"

Our response is overwhelming --"We are outraged." "We feel betrayed." "We're leaving Long Island?" "We'll move to Tennessee." -- while our actions of withdrawal, acquiescence, passivity tell a different story. "We're happy with the services we get." "We're willing to pay more." "We'll always vote the party line."

We clamor for change, yet send the same lineup onto the field for every game. We juggle the monthly bills and wonder how, amidst ever-rising property taxes, we will ever be able to keep our homes, pay our utility bills, or retire in relative comfort. We hear the voices that tell us to rally, to petition, to air our grievances -- and to back our break from bondage with our voices and our votes -- and we resist, we repel, we recoil.

What does it take to move us to action? Do we have the will to fight for lower taxes, better schools, paved roadways, revitalized 'Main Streets' and affordable housing? Or has that will been broken, defeated by too many years of allowing ourselves to be disenfranchised and disengaged?

Fight back! Get involved! Take back your town, your downtown, your community! Tune out American Idle and tune in the American ideal!
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Need a weapon in the war to take back community? Your local civic association holds the key to the arsenal.

Here are but a few of the upcoming forums where you can enlist to combat complacency:

Thursday, February 2, 2006 at 7:30 PM
Elmont Public Library, Hempstead Turnpike
(across from Home Depot)
Civic leaders of Elmont UNITE!
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Monday February 6, 2006
(and first Monday of the month) at 6:45 PM
Uniondale Public Library, Uniondale Avenue
Meeting Room 400
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Wednesday, February 8, 2006 at 7:30 PM
Oceanside School #8 Auditorium
3252 Fulton Avenue, Oceanside
Bring Your Tax Assessment Questions To This Meeting!
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Wednesday, February 15, 2006 at 7:30 PM
West Hempstead Middle School Cafeteria, Nassau Boulevard
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A "Think Tank" For Community Leaders
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Contact Laura Mallay at mallay@optonline.net
or 516-833-6699 for details
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Thursday, February 16, 2006 at 7:30 PM
in the Elmont Public Library
The guest speaker will be new Elmont Public Library Director Trina Reed
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Tuesday, March 7, 2006 at 7 PM
in the Averill Park community room on Schenck Boulevard and Drew Avenue,
just two short blocks east of Covert Avenue
The guest speaker will be newly elected district attorney Kathleen Rice
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Wednesday, March 29, 2006 at 7:00 PM
at the Seaford Public Library
2234 Jackson Avenue, Seaford
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Check the community listings of your local papers for the dates and times of meetings and forums of your neighborhood civic or homeowners association.
Want others to know about your organization's community meetings? Clue us in at info@thecommunityalliance.org.

Monday, January 30, 2006

So, What's Wrong With A Puppet Government?

The New World Order Comes To Nassau County. . . Or Not

With growing turmoil in the Nassau County Legislature, and the widening divide between legislators and the constituents they are elected to serve, readers of The Community Alliance blogspot ask, "Why not a puppet government in Nassau County?"

"Okay, so the red-faced, loud-mouthed, school yard bully is now Presiding Officer of the Nassau County Legislature. Big deal. We've gone to great lengths, and sacrificed many lives, to bring to power puppet governments around the globe. Isn't it time we had a puppet government of our own in Nassau County?"

- - Dori Pearl, East Rockaway, NY

Right you are, Dori. A puppet government of our own, right here in Nassau County, and not a single shot fired. [Unless, of course, you count that bullet right through the heart of the will of the electorate!]

From Wikipedia: A puppet government is a government that, though notionally of the same culture as the governed people, owes its existence (or other major debt) to being installed, supported or controlled by a more powerful entity, typically a foreign power. Such a government is also known as a puppet régime.

The term is partisan and prone to semantic disputes, used almost exclusively by detractors of such governments, whether or not the majority of citizens affected acknowledge the characterization, or object to that kind of government. Often a proclaimed puppet government faces a rival government which uses the puppet government term to weaken the legitimacy of that government. Also usually implied is the government's lack of legitimacy, in the view of those using the term.

For example, each of the two Korean governments has throughout its history often used the rhetoric that it is in fact the only true ruler of the peninsula, and that the other government is merely a "puppet" of the US/Soviets.

A vassal state may be instituted as the result of a military defeat when the winner does not have enough military power to fully control the defeated or enough population to colonize the new acquisitions. The tribute is a compromise for both the victor and the defeated state.

Governments which take power after foreign military intervention, or the threat thereof, are often accused by their opponents of being puppet governments, for example the government of Hamid Karzai in post-Taliban Afghanistan or the Diem government of South Vietnam, supported by the United States. Indeed, such accusations are commonly used to destabilize governments, encouraging and justifying coup d'états. Click here to read more. . .

Okay, so Peter Schmitt is a puppet of Joe Mondello, as his fellow Republican Legislators are puppets of the GOP Machine. Like wind-up soldiers, each walks lock-step behind the other, of one mind, one voice, one agenda (and it's not yours). Now, as if an updated, 3-D version of Toy Story, the puppets themselves pull the strings, moving the lips of Roger Corbin and manipulating the head of Lisanne Altmann. [And you thought they were only pulling your leg!]

So what if the budget gets short shrift when it comes to legislative review, and capital projects fall by the wayside? Will anyone really notice, particularly in Nassau County's forgotten South Shore?

So what if we return to the days when the Republicans controlled job appointments and borrowed with abandon? Are we not simply paving the way for Madam Murray to ascend to the thrown?

So, what's wrong with a puppet government, anyway? It worked for The Muppets, it can work for Nassau County!
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ON AGAIN OFF AGAIN! Click HERE for Newsday story, Control Up In Air.
Read Newsday's Joye Brown, In Nassau, No Work, All Pay
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Money Comes To Money

Our friends at Exxon-Mobil posted a 4th Quarter PROFIT of $10.7 billion in 2005. That's nearly ELEVEN BILLION DOLLARS. The highest quarterly earnings of any U.S. company in American history.

In 2005, Exxon-Mobil had record profits of $36 BILLION DOLLARS. Exxon-Mobil grows plump, while you pay more at the pump!

Can you still think of an excuse not to JOIN THE BOYCOTT OF EXXON-MOBIL?

Friday, January 27, 2006


Exploring Interest In Townwide Newspaper

There can be no question that a free press is the cornerstone of a free society. The flow of information (and the ability to refute misinformation), the exchange of ideas, and being "in the know," are essential elements of a democracy.

No less can be said for the press here on Long Island, and the dissemination of news and commentary in the community.

While we enjoy regional coverage ala Newsday and the Long Island Press, and "local" coverage through such media outlets as the Tribune, Herald, and the Anton papers (and let's not forget the original Elmont Herald), there is an apparent void when it comes to the coverage of townwide issues.

Yes, we get a smattering of articles in the papers now serving our communities -- mainly through regurgitated press releases that amount to little more than "planted" stories (the CIA holds nothing to what some of our local governments pass off as "news!") -- but very little in-depth, substantive coverage of issues that impact directly upon Town residents.

Now, we're not talking about what happened at last week's meeting of the Levittown School Board, or which local Boy Scout was awarded Eagle Scout status. The neighborhood weeklies cover those stories well enough, we suppose. What we had in mind was exhaustive coverage -- with corresponding commentary from community leaders, civic associations, and citizen advocates -- of the quality of life issues that impact upon the lives and livelihoods of all Town residents.

Call it Hempstead Town Crier, or by any other name you choose, a townwide publication -- whether monthly, bi-monthly, or otherwise -- might be just the remedy to the "lack of information" culture that breeds complacency.

Ignorance may well be bliss to some, but here in the Town of Hempstead, in particular, and on Long Island, in general, it is the source of many woes -- not the least of which is the hit to our wallets as we "gladly" pay more than our fair share for trash collection, education, and, yes, even water. [Not that we want to pay more than our neighbor one hamlet over or, for that matter, the guy who lives across the street. We're simply not "in the know."]

So, the question must be asked -- as inquiring minds of would-be publishers want to know -- would you subscribe to a townwide newspaper, dedicated to the issues and voicing the concerns of Town of Hempstead residents?

Secondarily, would you be willing -- as a community advocate, officer of a local civic, elected official, or simply a concerned taxpayer -- to pen an article (either on a regular basis or as an occasional contributor) to a paper slated for townwide distribution?

And then, there's the question of revenues. Would you be willing to buy advertising space (either for your business and/or your community group) in a townwide publication?

We think it best that, before any other considerations, we ask whether you would like to see a townwide newspaper that covers the Town of Hempstead, in its entirety and exclusively. Toward that end, we ask you to take our e-Poll as appears below.

Then, if we've peaked your interest, contact The Community Alliance at info@thecommunityalliance.org with your comments and suggestions.
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Create polls and vote for free. dPolls.com

Thursday, January 26, 2006

It Really Is The Property Tax. DUH!

New Study Finds Property Tax Most Onerous; LIers Favor Income Tax To Replace School District Property Tax

Why do we pay millions of dollars to ask questions we already know the answers to? Who knows? Let's get a grant, do a study, take a survey, and find out!

Anyway, the latest survey conducted by the Rauch Foundation in Garden City concludes that a majority of Long Islanders "support alternative funding schemes for public schools including an income tax and redistributing business tax revenues equally among districts..." [SEE Newsday's At The Tipping Point On Taxes.]

Cringing at the use of the word "schemes" in the same sentence as "public schools," and leaving aside that this "majority" evidently does not reside in Hempstead Town (where they apparently "enjoy" paying excruciatingly high property taxes), we can at least say this: "Harvey Levinson, you've been vindicated!"

According to the survey, 55% of Long Islanders favored reducing the property tax by two-thirds and instituting an income tax.

"The steady unyielding property taxes every year are unfair because there is no adjustment in terms of your life circumstance, your ability to pay," Patrick McGivney, a New York City firefighter who lives in Miller Place with his wife and three preschoolers, told Newsday. "I'm absolutely for an income tax."

As reported in Newsday, "Long Island has a whopping 901 governmental entities (including Special Districts). Together, they spent $15.9 billion in 2003, the most recent available data, with school expenditures representing almost one-half. Schools also were responsible for the largest increases in spending during the past five years. They receive the lion's share of their funding from property taxes, which have risen to an average of $7,477 from $6,858 in 2001."

With school district levies constituting nearly 60% of the property tax burden, and the market value of Long Island's housing stock in the stratosphere, is it any wonder that, given some thought, most Long Islanders would like to scrap the property tax (based on the market value of one's house) in favor of a more equitable income tax (based on one's ability to pay)?

This seemed like a no-brainer to us -- the convoluted dissonance of income tax detractors aside -- and it still does.

When polled by Newsday on the question of what reason (if any) has prompted residents to consider moving away from Long Island, the responses were as follows:

34.1% - The housing prices are too high (1634 responses)
54.3% - Property taxes are too high (2605 responses)
0.8% - I'm unsatisfied with local services such as sanitation (36 responses)
1.9% - Too much crime (91 responses)
1.1% - Weak school system (54 responses)
7.9% - I would never leave Long Island (378 responses)
4798 total responses

The numbers, of course, are most telling. Add to this the nebulous "quality of life" concerns so difficult to put a finger on, and the general dissatisfaction of residents with life on our Long Island must be said (survey or no survey) to be markedly greater than even these poll numbers demonstrate.

Replacing the regressive property tax with a progressive income tax, a measure advocated by The Community Alliance, is not a new idea, as Newsday reported in New Proposal Resurrects Old Idea. Mario Cuomo, then New York's Governor, suggested it over a decade ago. Harvey Levinson, Chairman of Nassau County's Board of Assessors, gave new life to considering a local income tax last year (despite the obvious political pitfalls), and continues to champion its cause. Now, Long Islanders themselves have voiced their opinion on replacing the school property tax with an income tax, giving their nod of approval. Perhaps this is an idea whose time has finally come!

In 2006, every seat in the New York State Legislature will be up for grabs. Could this be the year that our legislators finally address the taxing issues that weigh so heavily upon Long Islander's minds as well as their wallets? Let us hope so!
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Click HERE to read At The Breaking Point? Taxation And Governance On Long Island.
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Click HERE to read the New York Times article, Property Taxes Push Residents To Their Limit.
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Today's e-Poll (If you have yet to vote in this e-Poll, please do so. If you have previously voted, we thank you):

Create polls and vote for free. dPolls.com
Click HERE to check out all e-Polls and e-Poll results.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Value Of Rental Housing

Where Did You Live When You Were 25?

Civic Strategies, Inc., a strategic planning firm that focuses on public policy solutions for cities and regions, opines on the double-edged sword of rental apartments on Long Island. The organization, based in Atlanta, may not have the complete picture, as do those who live here, but even this broad overview paints a picture of concern for the future of America's oldest suburb.

Ask anyone who worries about the decline of older suburbs and she'll tell you that one of the greatest culprits is rental housing. Healthy suburbs are overwhelmingly owner-occupied, she'll say, and places that allow detached housing to become rental units and apartment complexes to move in are asking for trouble. But that may not always be the case.

Take New York's Long Island suburbs. On the surface, they're doing great. Only 20 percent of residents live in rental housing, compared to 33 percent nationally, and the value of owner-occupied housing is skyrocketing. Housing prices have doubled in the past six years, local real estate watchers say, and the average price of a single-family house last year was more than $390,000, twice the national average.

So what's wrong with this picture? Long Island is losing its young people who can't afford to buy a house and can't find an apartment to rent. Between 1990 and 2000, the number of 18- to 34-year-olds declined by 20 percent, the Chicago Tribune reported recently, causing leaders to worry about labor shortages and a shrinking tax base. "Our population is stagnant because there's no new housing. We're not growing," Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi told the Tribune. "We could face a tipping point where the high quality of life that we have in Long Island will come to resemble the death of the cities that we went through in the 1970s."

Actually, this is a common problem among older suburbs (the Silicon Valley near San Jose, Calif., and the Los Angeles suburb of Orange County also have sky-high prices and not enough apartments). So why not just build more apartments? Because residents hate the idea of renters in the suburbs and go ballistic over talk of "affordable housing," which they equate with welfare recipients. "If development is viewed as threatening those things people embrace as suburbia, those projects aren't going anywhere," one regional planner said. So leaders on Long Island use euphemisms like "workforce housing" and "next-generation housing" to sell residents on the idea of mixing in a few apartments when land is redeveloped.

Footnote: So what are rents like on Long Island? So high that some resident have illegally converted their basements into apartments, which they rent to college kids at Stony Brook University. One student told the Tribune such places can go for $750 a month. Most who rent have to bring in a roommate to afford it.

© Copyright 1998-2006, Civic Strategies, Inc.
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Wow. $750 a month for a basement apartment (presumably illegal) in Stony Brook. Come out to Nassau County's west end, where a basement apartment in Elmont will fetch upwards of $1200. And the more people the landlord can squeeze into that basement -- and squeeze for tax-free rent money -- the better (for the landlord, that is).

Yes, we all know there's a problem here, and it is multi-faceted, to say the least. Soaring cost of single-family housing and related expenses (fed, in part, by the artificial hike in market value when a single-family house is marketed -- wink, wink -- as a multi-family home). Lack of affordable housing stock (inclusive of legal rentals) for so-called "workforce" and the "next generation." Erosion of tax base due to uncaptured income (illegal rent rolls not reported). Escalating costs, passed on to the taxpayers, of providing essential services (fire, police, sanitation, schools, water) to the not so invisible legions of illegal renters, from whom zero property tax is collected.

Add to the mix an unwillingness on the part of Long Islanders to build vertically, to increase density, and to demand strict compliance with and enforcement of the building and zoning codes, and we find ourselves in a serious quandary, indeed.

Illegal rental units have been described as a "scourge" upon our communities, and rightfully so. The lack of affordable housing -- whether through ownership or rental -- has reached a critical stage. Long Islanders are beginning to feel the economic pinch, as this aging suburb goes from melting pot to meltdown.

At The Community Alliance, we will continue to examine the many quality of life concerns that impact upon our communities, and to explore viable and feasible solutions to the problems that threaten the very fabric of the suburban patchwork quilt.

In addition to enforcement issues and getting a firm grip on how we raise revenues to pay for services from sanitation to schools, we must begin to look more closely at how we can redevelop our "Main Streets," "Downtowns," and "brownfields" so as to not only generate growth in the business sector, but moreover, to create, at the core of community, affordable residential living space that measurably increases available housing, while decreasing -- and, long term, eliminating -- the necessity that has created the mother of all insidious inventions, the illegal accessory apartment.

Where do we go from here? We'd like your opinions, suggestions and commentary. Write us at info@thecommunityalliance.org.

A Legislative Laughing Stock

Nassau County Legislature Taps Schmitt As Presiding Officer; Corbin Is Deputy; Abrahams Gets Minority Leader Post

It's unofficially official. Well, Sort of... Schmitt 9, Abrahams 8, Corbin 2. Election "Certified" by Clerk, Stayed By Court

In what many in political and community circles say stands democracy on head and flies in the face of the will of the electorate, the Nassau County Legislature, controlled by a Democratic majority, today elected Peter Schmitt, a Republican, as its new Presiding Officer.

Roger Corbin, the Democratic legislator who, with fellow Democrat Lisanne Altmann, orchestrated a coup (in collusion with Schmitt and his Republican colleagues) to oust Judy Jacobs from the top post, has taken his old seat as Deputy Presiding Officer, while Kevan Abrahams, a Democrat, is the new Minority Leader.

After the vote, "certified" by the new Clerk to the Legislature (a Republican appointed by Mr. Schmitt), the Democrats stormed out of 1 West Street and took their case back to State Supreme Court. Their argument: 10 votes are required to elect a Presiding Officer. Schmitt got 9 (all of the Republican Legislators), Kevan Abrahams 8 (all of the Democrats except Corbin and Altmann), and Corbin got 2 (his own vote, and that of Altmann). The Court has stayed the certification of the Legislature's vote, keeping the status quo, with the matter adjourned until Monday.

One observer of the scene, upon learning of the vote from The Community Alliance, described the outcome as "topsy-turvy." Said another, "the people elect a Democratic majority, with the presumption that it will be a Democrat who leads, and here the legislators wheel and deal, in their own self interests, defying the public will!"

An aide to a high-ranking Nassau County elected official, who at the time had no formal word of a vote having taken place, spoke to The Community Alliance on the condition of anonymity. "If what I'm hearing is true, it's a good thing that the collective memory is extremely short. If the election was to be held tomorrow, some of these guys would get the boot." And deservedly so!

In a chain of events unprecedented in local politics (akin to a Republican controlled United States Senate electing Ted Kennedy as its Majority Leader), the Nassau County Legislature has slapped the faces of voters who elected a Democratic majority.

What this legislative body has done -- short of castrating itself in the minds of Nassau County residents -- is "obsence." That's not our opinion, but rather, the word of Peter Schmitt himself, who said, "I don't want to be presiding officer of a legislature that is a Democratic majority... That would be obscene... That is not what the people of this county intended when they elected 10 Democrats... The Democrats should be in charge."

Of course, that was then, before the Legislature's vote, not now, as Mr. Schmitt goes to the head of the class. Today's civics lesson: a new meaning for the word "obscenity."
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Return to this blogspot for updates on this story.
ON AGAIN OFF AGAIN! Click HERE for Newsday story, Control Up In Air.

The Poor Get Poorer

Now It's The Library Districts' Turn To Tax

A recent review of the property taxes levied by the 52 Public Library Districts in Nassau County reveals, probably to no one's great surprise, disparate and disproportionate property tax levies, with residents in some of the "poorest" Districts paying the most for library services.

A survey, as conducted by Harvey Levinson, Chairman of the Nassau County Board of Assessors, and reported in Newsday, reveals that residents in some lower income areas are paying more than $600 per year in library taxes while others in wealthier areas pay less than $50 per year. [SEE, LI Library Taxes Hit Poorest Hardest.]

Based on a market value of $350,000, for instance, a homeowner in Roosevelt, the highest taxed Library District in the County, will pay $630.40 in Library District taxes for calendar year 2006. Meanwhile, in the Gold Coast Library District (Oyster Bay), an owner of a home with a like market value (as if there was a house to be had in Oyster Bay for $350,000), will pay $42.96 in 2006 for Library District taxes. [SEE, Library Taxes.] While median income figures for the respective communities have not been furnished, suffice it to say that we can take notice of the fact that, in terms of monetary wealth, at least, Roosevelt is not Oyster Bay.

"Since library taxes are not as high as school taxes they get lost in the analysis," Levinson told Newsday. "Most people pay the library tax with their school tax bill, and nobody informs the community that they are paying substantial amounts to borrow books."

In some communities, residents are not only paying more for trash collection than they are for police protection, they're also paying more to read and borrow books than they are to have that cop on the beat.

So, we can now safely add Nassau's Library Districts to the growing list of Special Districts -- providing services from the water we drink to carting the garbage we throw away -- where residents on one side of the proverbial tracks pay much more, or much less, than those who live on the other side of the tracks.

Why do we have 52 separate Library Districts -- each setting their own tax rates -- in a single County? Why do we have more than 400 distinct taxing jurisdictions in a single County? What is it that makes these tax districts so "special," and how is it that no one -- whether the County, the townships, or the State -- is willing to take control?
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Eliminate? Consolidate? Or Continue To Tolerate?

A citizens advisory committee on the Special Districts, to be composed of concerned community advocates working closely with government officials, is presently in formation.

Local community leaders, from Elmont to Wantagh, can contact Laura Mallay at 516-833-6699 or by e-mail at mallay@optonline.net for more information and to get on board.

Bookmark The Community Alliance blogspot for further details.
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Meanwhile, Back At The County Legislature. . .

Our fellow bloggers at Nassau GOP Watch have been keeping tabs on the ongoing antics that threaten to stand democratic (with a small "d") rule on its head. [SEE, "If Nominated, I Will Not Run...".]

For the latest on the side show that has become the main event at the Nassau County Seat, SEE Newsday's State Blocks Nassau Dems From Preventing Presiding Officer Vote.]

Your elected government at work -- or not!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Have Lunch On Us

Rand-om Thoughts . . .

by George Rand

Who Said There's No Such Thing As A Free Lunch?

Try telling this to your boss sometime: "Boss, I'm holding a meeting with some of our employees at lunch today in that little French bistro downtown and, of course, I'll give you the bill when we get back." Sounds farfetched? Maybe in the business world, but not in our multimillion dollar public school system.

State Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi found in an audit of the Manhasset school district that the superintendent billed taxpayers $2,168 for business lunches without providing information on their purpose or who attended. What would happen if you did that where you work?

More interesting, however, was this: The auditors questioned the superintendent's "justification" for routinely scheduling meetings during lunch hour and incurring food expenses."
Sure, let the taxpayers pay for lunch!

At about the time the auditors released the above report, two former employees of the Roslyn public schools pleased guilty in a $11.2 million embezzlement scheme. If you saw this in a Hollywood movie you would never believe it could happen on Long Island. Millions of dollars were spent by the Roslyn school superintendent and his administrators and no one noticed. Not the school board, not the school's accountants, not the taxpayers, until someone wrote an anonymous letter.

School officials spent money on Concorde flights, cars, vacations , real estate and various personal luxuries. The superintendent fraudulently steered more than $200,000 in school funds to his domestic partner who was his frequent travel companion to Las Vegas. The school's business manager pleaded guilty to stealing $4 million from the school district; her son, a building contractor, has been charged with using the school district's credit card to buy construction material. Even the accountant who audited the school for years is accused of falsifying records. And during all this time, Roslyn residents were happy as can be since their kids were getting into the best colleges and they were giving credit for that to their superintendent, the one now awaiting sentencing to a long prison term.

Do you know where your school taxes are going?
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George Rand is a resident of Franklin Square and a frequent contributor to community interest publications, the local papers, and now, The Community Alliance blog. Have some thoughts of your own concerning our Long Island community (or your little part of it)? Write us at info@thecommunityalliance.org.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Finding Relief From A Taxing Situation

We need a solution to Nassau's unequal burden of levies

By Harvey Levinson

School district spending and property tax rates will continue to rise each year. It is not an encouraging prospect, but it is certainly one we have to face.

As we all revel in the fresh start of a new year, our collective resolution for 2006 should be our commitment to working together to change the fabric of a school and special district property tax system that has created a new class of house-rich and cash-poor homeowners.

In the past year, a handful of elected officials and I have initiated studies exposing the unchecked tax-and-spend mentality that led to scandals in school districts, wasteful duplication of services, and perpetuation of nearly 400 shadow governments imposing about 1,600 widely different tax rates on homeowners and businesses in Nassau.

Although the curriculums, operating costs, revenues and contractual obligations vary among school districts, school taxes still account for about 65 percent of a homeowner's overall property tax bill. Individual school tax rates for residential properties in 2005-06 ranged from $173 in Manhasset to $409 in Levittown for every hundred dollars of assessed value.

Is there any reason why the exact Levitt-style home valued at $281,000 should be paying $3,290 in school property taxes in the Island Trees district and $4,336 in Levittown?

As Draconian as school property taxes are for homes, those paid by businesses are even harsher and vary significantly among districts.

A gas station valued at $500,000 (based on 2004-05 school tax rates) paid $28,790 in the East Meadow district while a similar business paid $40,665 in Valley Stream School District 24.

One possible solution to this disparity would be the creation of a single commercial school property tax rate for all districts, with a percentage of the taxes collected redistributed to all districts under a revenue-sharing formula. Other than sheer happenstance, is there any reason why only two school districts should benefit from the property taxes being paid by the Roosevelt Field Mall?

For sanitation districts operating independently within each town, the disparity of tax rates imposed on homeowners - as opposed to the general town collection district - are significant. If you live in the Special Sanitation District encompassing Elmont, Valley Stream North, West Hempstead and Franklin Square, you are paying 53 percent more for garbage service than most homes east of the Meadowbrook Parkway in the Town of Hempstead.
There is no reason why garbage collection cannot be consolidated and operated by town government under one tax rate for all of its residents.

Similar disparities occur in water districts. When a glass of water costs more than a glass of milk or your neighbor across town is paying a different price for a glass of water, you have to question whether your money is being well spent and if there is not a better way to provide services for these rapidly aging water systems. One possible solution is to place all public water districts under a single water authority, mirroring that of Suffolk County.

The task of finding workable solutions to change the school and special district property tax system requires meticulous planning and coordination from our leading financial experts and state legislators.

Everything must be on the table, including a study of replacing the residential portion of the school property tax with a modest income tax and using the more than $1 billion in STAR and existing school aid to supplement school district budgets.

Many local officials and lawmakers around the state have offered reform measures geared to the problems and financial resources of their regions. But if you apply any of those solutions to Nassau County without addressing our particular system, you create new and more complex problems.

Any study must be conducted at the state level with special consideration given to each region, with the clear understanding that the assessed value of one's property is not an indicator of that person's ability to pay taxes.

I hope all elected officials on Long Island will join me in calling on the governor to appoint immediately a bipartisan committee to submit a course of action to reform the school and special district property tax issues. There is no reason why they cannot be debated in a civil and respectful manner.

Harvey Levinson is Chairman of the Nassau County Board of Assessors.
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The Community Alliance encourages all who read this to contact Governor George Pataki and their respective State Legislators, urging them to take swift and appropriate action to reform our school and special district property tax systems. WE CANNOT LET THIS WAIT UNTIL NEXT YEAR!

Click HERE to contact Governor George Pataki

Click HERE to contact your New York State Senator

Click HERE to contact your New York State Assemblymember

Sunday, January 22, 2006

"We Have To Redesign The Community..."

Everyone Needs To Be On The Same Page

To make a difference in Elmont (as in every community), everyone - the residents, Town, County, Sanitation, Police, Fire, Schools, houses of worship, businesses, State and Federal government - needs to be on the same page. That was the consensus of the remarks made at the well-attended January 3rd meeting of the Elmont East End Civic Club (EEECC).

Attendees, including many from other Elmont civics, also heard words of support and commitment from elected officials, and an announcement that the State Legislature had approved Elmont as one of the state’s Empire Zones.

"How do we enhance Elmont? How do we get it to grow as a sensible economy? How do we stop the proliferation of illegal apartments contributing to the oversaturation of the community - an over-saturation that has reached a volume detrimental to community atmosphere, and drains resources.? How do we provide affordable housing that won’t further burden the taxpayers?"

These are questions, not only for Elmont to resolve, but also for the entire county where the number of illegal multiple dwellings is growing by leaps and bounds and the tax burden is forever increasing.

Discussion around these issues brought out the public to the meeting to hear how we can all work together to make things happen here in Elmont - to reinvigorate the community.

After listening to comments and hearing from Town and County representatives, an enthusiastic Sol Marie Alfonso Jones, from Sustainable Long Island (SLI) - a group invited to get involved in the process to help create partnerships that can to work effectively to empower Elmont residents to work for and implement plans for a dream community - said she was encouraged and psyched for all of Elmont. “This evening you have heard Town, County and State support for re-invigorating Elmont. Your elected officials are hearing you.”

EEECC President Pat Nicolosi invited town and county officials, as well as SLI, to attend as part of an ongoing effort to address the needs of Elmont by involving all the levels of government.

"What is the county doing to address the serious issues of illegal housing, exorbitant property taxes and the need for smart economic growth?" That’s what EEECC members asked Patty Bourne, from the Nassau County Office of Economic Development.

Bourne reported that the County Executive had held meetings in 35 communities around Nassau over the past 3 years regarding needs and economic growth. County Executive Tom Suozzi, she said, is appropriating $1 million to be divided among the communities based upon need and willingness to get involved.

Bourne also noted that the county is hearing about the tax burden in all communities. Outlining some strategies for bringing businesses to the county, Bourne indicated the county can “look to New York City to attract businesses,” and assist with affordable housing needs for senior citizens and business employees.

“Who’s going to subsidize this affordable housing? Me? I’m all tapped out,” said one resident.

Bourne went on to say the County doesn’t believe Nassau gets its fair share under the present state aid for education formula. The County is working with school districts to look at readjusting that formula.

Elmont schools are doing very well, and were recently cited in a recent NY Times article “Elmont’s School Success Is a Lesson to Others.” But taxpayers are picking up the burden of increased enrollment with many of those new students coming from illegal multiple dwellings. And the cost of all services is increased and passed onto property owners with single-family homes absorbing the biggest burden.

“The governments have to realize there is a problem,” said Elmont resident Peter Foltmer, who also commended Nicolosi for “rattling their cages.”

Town Councilman Ed Ambrosino said, “We’re in a crisis situation. We have to rebuild in a smart way. We have to attract business that will be here for a long time.” Acknowledging EEECC’s “phenomenal community involvement,” Ambrosino said there is a need to get people to care about our community.

Ambrosino’s message was clear: Governments must join hands and work together. They must put aside political labels and rhetoric to make this work. “We have to redesign the community,” he stated, noting that it had like most of Long Island, just happened. “We need to start again and rebuild Hempstead Turnpike.”

Regarding illegal basement apartments, Ambrosino said, “We’re all victims in this situation. Only the landlords are the winners.” The Councilman assured that his office acts on all reports of illegal housing. “It’s not the role of other residents,” said Ambrosino, to subsidize landlords.”

“If I had the ability,” said the Councilman, “I would single-handedly remove every illegal basement apartment in Elmont. These apartments drag down the community.” Ambrosino noted, however, that there are others in the community advocating for these apartments.

Residents also cited lack of enforcement of traffic and parking rules, as well as building codes as a big part of the problem.

“Your elected officials are hearing you,” said Alfonso Jones of Sustainable Long Island, who is reaching out to all levels of government to get them involved. ” With an RFP (Request for Proposals) from the Town and money from the County, I believe that by the end of the year you will see things happening here in Elmont.”

It should be noted that Assemblyman Tom Alfano and Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy have pledged support for an enhanced Elmont.

Written by Cathy Ferrigno, Editor-in-Chief, Elmont Herald. Republished with permission.
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What is being done, needs to be done, or should be done to reinvigorate and revitalize YOUR community? Write to The Community Alliance at info@thecommunityalliance.org. News, comments, ideas and Guest Blogs are always welcome. [Remember, it is not just about Elmont. It's about all of our Long Island communities!]
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Saturday, January 21, 2006

There's No Place For Hate On Our Island

Local Assemblyman Decries North Valley Stream Hate Crime

I hope everyone is as outraged as I am over the hate crime that took place in North Valley Stream this past week. I am sickened by this act and strongly support the fullest prosecution of those involved in attacking our community.

As a resident of North Valley Stream, I want to say publicly and forcefully that hate has no place in our neighborhoods. Those who commit these acts do not represent our diverse community that welcomes everyone with an open hand. That’s why, I want to say I am truly sorry that the Burke family has had to go through this. This is not a “welcome mat” anybody deserves.

The graffiti incident in North Valley Stream is symptomatic of individuals who would rather divide and stereotype rather than embrace and learn from people of all cultures and backgrounds. The fact is, our strength as a community comes from our diversity.

Today, we can look at points in our history where hate and prejudice held us back as a nation. Whether it was “Irish Need Not Apply,” anti-Semitism, anti-Italian slurs, separate water fountains based on race and countless other attacks, we can reflect on the narrow-mindedness and prejudice these actions had.

Racism and prejudice has no place in our neighborhoods. Period. As a community, we have a responsibility to educate and enlighten. And, we have a responsibility to stamp out racism in every corner.


Assemblyman Tom Alfano
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Friday, January 20, 2006

Empire Zones ~ Proceed With Caution

Building Empire Zones

Before the first bill or even the first official speech in this year's legislative session in Albany, the three men who run New York's state government called for the cameras. Once the lights were on full, and the microphone canted in their general direction, Gov. George Pataki; the Senate majority leader, Joseph Bruno; and the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, announced the creation of three new Empire Zones around the state. One would be in Nassau County, one in Livingston County and one in Chinatown.

If they beamed like rich patrons handing out post-holiday goodies, that is because that was just what they were doing: doling out one of the best tax breaks that New York State has to offer.
Which raises this question: Will these new zones create jobs, or will they do little more than reward political cronies, as too many of them have done in the past?

Empire Zones were created 20 years ago to stimulate long-term economic growth in distressed communities. It was and is an excellent idea, if it works the way it was intended to work. But two years ago, in a random sampling of Empire Zones across the state, Comptroller Alan Hevesi and his auditors reported a series of failures in the oversight and operation of these zones.

One notable example was a real estate company in Syracuse that created one job at an annual salary of $26,000 but claimed a tax credit of more than $250,000. Another was a Rochester company that added one $10,000-a-year position and got a tax credit of $137,000. As Mr. Hevesi noted: "Giving companies tax breaks is giving away real money."

Although the comptroller has said he intends to continue checking on how the 75 zones operate, it is not clear, really, whether the Empire Zone program has improved since his audit. Only one important thing has really changed: the way that these zones are handed out across the state.

Previously the governor's appointees controlled the awards. Now the governor and the two legislative leaders decide among themselves who gets these valuable tax breaks, which is why each man had a reason to smile for the cameras last week. Mr. Silver was especially relieved that his own district finally earned its bonus. Chinatown and the Lower East Side of Manhattan lost over 50,000 jobs after Sept. 11, 2001, but Mr. Silver noted sourly that it took four years for his district to get the help it deserved.

Maybe it is better for three politicians to control who gets these rewards, instead of just one. But the bottom line should always be not who has the clout to distribute these useful benefits, but which blighted areas can best use them.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company. Reprinted with permission.
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Click HERE for a look at the Cortland County Empire Zone.

Next Week: The "visioning" process gets underway in Elmont.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

On The Road Again

"Listening" Tours Are Nice; "Doing" Tours Are Better

As The Community Alliance reported in a previous blog, no candidate dare ignore the all-important Jewish vote. [SEE A Chicken Soup (with Matzo Balls) In Every Pot.] Apparently, Nassau County Executive, Tom Souzzi, no "goyishe kup" he, knows this better than anyone, having kicked off his pre-campaign campaign for Governor with a visit to the Orthodox community in Brooklyn's Borough Park. [SEE Newsday's, Souzzi Tour Hits The Road.]

Of course, Tom could have started his tour in the Five Towns -- Lawrence has its share of Orthodox (and they've got the bucks you need to catch up with Eliot's treasure chest). Even West Hempstead, with it's Five Towns Orthodox wannabes, would have been a nice place to visit (you just wouldn't want to live there).

Then again, there's not as much exposure -- or political mileage, for that matter -- to be gained by campaigning in your own back yard, where everybody knows your name, and, by now, you've either locked in their votes or lost 'em to Spitzer, Weld or Randy Daniels (Randy Daniels?).

"Touring" the Island, your press coverage is generally limited to News 12 and a reporter from the Herald, who made a wrong turn off the LIE. Certainly, no one in "the city" pays any attention to what happens here, and as for upstaters, gevalt -- as the sign says on the Belt Parkway, "fuhggetaboutit!"

No. You don't run for Governor of New York by schmoozing in Syosset or kibbitzing in Cedarhurst. If the late Grand Rabbi, Menachem Schneerson (may his name be a blessed memory), hasn't "come back" (yet) to Borough Park (would you?), then Tom Suozzi will.

We admire Tom's tenacity -- not to mention his willingness to undergo a ritual circumcision, to be performed by Mike Bloomberg.

Sure, Tom arrived at his breakfast in Borough Park (hold the pickled herring, please) about 45 minutes behind schedule, according to published reports. Not to worry, Tom. In the Jewish community, that's known as being "fashionably late."

Admittedly, Tom Suozzi is a good listener. If you recall, Tom spent much of his first term "listening" as he embarked on his 35 community economic development tour in his native Nassau County. We talked, Tom listened. Tom talked, we listened. There was a lot of listening going on. We got on the bus. We got off the bus. It was a good beginning. "Nischt geferlach," as we say in Gaelic.

Some of us are still listening. And we're listening very carefully. [So much so, you can hear a Breast Cancer awareness pin drop from a politician's lapel (is anyone in "favor" of breast cancer?)].

Beyond the talk, there still hasn't been much action on the economic development front, and that's disturbing. As the talk turns to curing the ills of the school property tax, our ears perk up. Again, we listen, and we wonder whether there will be any substance over form. There's talk, too, about affordable housing (yes, build 100 affordable homes elsewhere in the County for the same cost of building 30 affordable homes in Garden City. That's not racism. That's common sense!). Here, too, we listen. The sound of silence is almost deafening.

As civic advocates (and many of you reading this blog are), we often ask ourselves, "Why are we fighting the same battles, facing the same issues, getting the same assurances? Isn't anybody listening?" Of course they're listening. It's actually "doing" that seems to be the problem.

Don't get me wrong, folks. This is not a problem unique to Tom Suozzi. It is a systemic paralysis -- a political polio that renders government incapable of getting from "listening" to "doing." Maybe it has something to do with creating job security -- an annuity, of sorts. After all, if you get the job done -- lower property taxes, build affordable houses, find a cure for breast cancer -- what will be left to do? Plenty, on the community front, as we all know.

From all indications, Tom Suozzi has an uphill road to travel as he "listens" his way across the Empire State. [According to a Newsday Poll, if the Primary was held today, Spitzer would handily defeat our County Exec by a margin of 71.2% to 28.8%. That's some deficit, and a heck of a lot of ethnic food, to swallow as Tom tours New York.]

True, Tom's been up that hill before, and he's a fighter to the last. Call him the underdog here, which, as one who roots for the runner that gets a late start out of the gate, makes him this blogger's early choice. [Aside from the fact that no one else out there -- not Spitzer, Weld, Golisano, or any of the other would-be Governors -- is going to do a damn thing for Long Island. At least with a Long Islander at the helm, we've got a shot.]

Hopefully, as the Suozzi "listening" tour advances from Borough Park to Chinatown to Little Italy and beyond, we'll begin to see some results of "talking the talk" in our neck of the woods. A little work on those brownfields. A groundbreaking, or 100, on some affordable homes, a move toward a "fix," both in Albany and closer to home, of a solution (or several) to the property tax fiasco, and maybe even a few developments -- economic and otherwise -- in Nassau's new Empire Zone, a baby that Tom himself helped father.

There is bound to be much talk along the road as the Suozzi bus travels from Uniondale to Utica. Lots of latkes, strudel, and zeppolis, too. The promises will flow. The messages will be telegraphed. And here on Long Island, we'll be watching for results we can hang our hats on -- from a candidate who delivers more than stump speeches and can memorize the name of every county north of Rockland.

More than this, here on our Long Island, we'll be listening.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A Post Card From Albany

Throwing Good Money After Bad

Many readers will recognize the name George Rand from his frequent Letters to the Editors of our local papers, as well as his regular column in the Tribune. Today, George's rant graces the cyberpages of The Community Alliance blog in what we hope will be the first of many such Guest Blogs. George calls this piece, A Post Card From Albany. We'll simply refer to this and other opinion pieces yet to come from George as, Rand-om Thoughts. :-)

I received a multicolored post card from my representative in Albany, State Senator Dean Skelos, in which he wrote that he tried to ease the burden of high property taxes by providing record levels of state aid to the Franklin Square school district.

Franklin Square schools now receive $3.7 million more each year than they did a decade ago. "This 156% increase," Sen. Skelos wrote, "is over six times the rate of inflation. This year, I provided $282,000 more for the Franklin Square District than the amount first proposed."

So why are school administrators always complaining about being shortchanged on state aid? Because Senator Skelos has not attacked the real problem: Instead of pouring more of our tax money into the public schools from a state budget that is in a fiscal crisis, he should force school districts to cut costs and put a lid on skyrocketing teachers' salaries.Thanks to their powerful union, public school teachers on Long Island are among the highest paid in the nation.

In the Lawrence school district, more than 32 percent of teachers have salaries of over $100,000 even though Lawrence is on a contingency budget. Most teachers receive extra pay for tasks that persons in the business sector would normally be expected to perform. Why should a teacher with a salary of $104,000 for about a nine month school year get paid extra for supervising kids in the cafeteria?

Senator Skelos shouldn't be surprised to find a first grade teacher in Franklin Square earning $101,374 plus an extra $801 for acting as grade chair. By union contract, this teacher's paycheck will soar in two years to $108,000. Since teachers work 182 days a year compared to the 234 days the average business sector employee puts in, that $108,000 is equivalent to about $139,000 in private business. Our high school superintendent with a salary of $240,000 is paid more than the vice president of the United States and the chief justice of the Supreme Court. And now the Franklin Square School District is projecting a whopping 8.6 percent rise in the next school budget.

Does this make any sense to Senator Skelos or to anyone else? Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi said recently, "School taxes here on Long Island are no longer a mere hardship; they are a destructive burden, devastating families."

George Rand
Franklin Square, NY
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Putting The Public Back In Public Works

Help Wanted: Nassau County Commissioner Of Public Works

Nassau County is looking for a new Commissioner for the Department of Public Works (DPW). So says an ad in Sunday's Newsday.

Now I'm not an engineer -- I don't even play one on TV -- but this blogger might just submit his resume to the County Executive for this coveted position. Call it my shot at redemption.

True, I have no expertise in road, bridge or sewer construction, or the maintenance and repair thereof. Then again, looking at the state of repair of Nassau's roadways, bridges and storm sewers, it would seem that no such experience is necessary. Surely, ANYTHING this blogger can do, short of pulling a Michael Brown, would be an improvement!

Sewage treatment and disposal is not really my forte, either. Here too, if news out of Cedar Creek is accurate, the outgoing Commish of DPW didn't really have a handle on these aspects of the job, let alone an eye on day-to-day operations.

Of course, there's so much more to the job of Commissioner than a mere degree or field experience can yield. First, you have to be capable of managing and administering, demonstrating the capacity not only for oversight and supervision, but for putting the right people in the right places -- both in the office and out in the field -- to get the job done correctly. That I can do.

Next, you actually need to be on the job -- more than merely 9 to 5. Your availability is literally 24/7, and you are "on call" to show evidence of your prowess and proficiency, exhibiting that same coolness and presence of mind at the scene of that 3 AM water main break as you do at the routine morning briefing. Okay, that's me all over.

You are in control, yet not overbearing. In charge, yet willing to listen to the advice of others. The buck stops at your desk, and you earn that paycheck every day in service to the taxpayers of Nassau County. So far, it seems like a natural for this blogger. When do I start?

All right. So I'm being a bit presumptuous. Certainly, there are those on the patronage ladder who must be considered before us peons who reply to ads in Newsday. [And why was this blogger looking in the job postings, anyway? Please don't tell my present employer. You know what they say about payback!]

Then, assuming the appointment of a Commissioner requires consent of the County Legislature, well, having offended almost every member of that illustrious body (did I mention that Roger Corbin is one of my favorite people? Hi Roger. I was only kidding when I called you a puppet of the GOP Machine. No, really.), I suppose the operative word here is "screwed."

What about passing muster before the media? A man of many convictions -- well, at least one -- with no related experience to speak of. A public works neophyte who talks a good blog and can rant with the best of them, but where are the qualifications for the job? Okay. Human frailties and my own record of deconstruction aside, you'd be surprised how far half a brain, an enormous heart, and a relentless appetite for serving the public good can take you. [As for transparency, I'd invite the press to stick by my side as I perform my duties, day in and day out. If only they can keep up with me...]

Give me the latitude to assemble the best professional staff -- political considerations aside -- and to captain a ship and crew seaworthy through squall and gale, and this quick-study will sail the DPW through the darkest night and most treacherous storm. [And speaking of that storm, the storm sewers and catch basins, forever clogged with sand, tree limbs, and styrofoam cups from McDonalds, will flow freely once again!]

Usher in a new era, not only at the County, or DPW, for that matter, but on all levels of government, where innovation and creative decision-making is the norm. Without appearing radical or "left-wing," with all the talk of economic redevelopment and the establishment of the County's first Empire Zone, now is the time for Nassau's New Deal -- a modern-day reinvention of the positive attributes of FDR's Works Projects Administration (WPA), creating jobs for our young workforce and an infrastructure for the 21st Century.

In an enlightened community, a community on the move and poised for growth, we need more than an "Adopt-A-Sump" program to ensure that our waterways are clean, and we must pay more than the lip service of "Under Construction" (if only it were so) at the County's Department of Housing, the agency charged with "homeless intervention," and at the Department of Real Estate Planning & Development, those who would seemingly be called upon to do battle on the affordable housing front. [There I go, being critical again. Damn, I'll never get that job! Heck, maybe we need critics, not only shouting from the outside, rattling those walls, but inside the glass house as well.]

There is still another quality that a Commissioner must possess. It is, perhaps, foremost in consideration, particularly in the public arena. That is, always keeping in mind the people you have been appointed to serve.

If they want a traffic signal on a major thoroughfare, where speeding cars threaten motorists and pedestrians alike, don't spend $100,000 to commission a study, only to tell residents that no traffic control device is warranted. As long as safety and prudence permit, give them a traffic light.

If a County roadway is crumbling, its drainage nonexistent -- a barely passable biway posing a danger to life and limb -- don't take a decade (if not more) to plan, design, and scope out its reconstruction. Get to it. Listen to the community. Do not wait until we've reached the point where it is necessary to call in the Army Corps of Engineers.

And for goodness sake, coordinate services with other County agencies, and with those of the townships and localities, so we can have a comprehensive yet simplified plan of action for everything from synchronizing traffic signals to cleaning up Cedar Creek to shoring up Thixton Creek. Let's put an end to the "public be damned" mentality of our government!

All things considered, I may not have the expertise, background, or experience that one looks for in a Commissioner of Public Works (although, I can state with absolute certainty that this blogger is at least as qualified as any sitting Sanitation Commissioner in any of those Town Sanitary Districts. Maybe I could get the Richners to back my bid.)

I don't have a daughter or brother or sister-in-law in government, so the nepotism route does nothing for me. I'm just a poor blogger -- an observer of government and an advocate of community -- trying to get back in the saddle and do some good for my neighbors. Gee, that should count for something, shouldn't it?

Okay, so in all likelihood, someone other than this blogger will be the next Commissioner of Nassau County's Department of Public Works. Odds are that "someone" has already been chosen, the Newsday ad simply covering the bases. Godspeed to him -- or her. Please keep my resume on file for future reference, however, should an appropriate opportunity avail itself. If not DPW, then maybe something in communications, public relations, or that favorite stomping ground of mine, community affairs.

If not Commissioner, then, perhaps, Deputy Commissioner, Director, Liaison, or Chief Cook & Bottle Washer (ah, finally my years of experience pay off). And if there should be an opening somewhere for a $95,000 per year Executive Assistant/Appointment Secretary, by all means, please keep me in mind!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

How Much Is That Legislator In The Window?

While Leadership In The County Legislature Remains In Play, Taxpayers Continue To Pay

Who's footing the bill, you may ask, for the legal spat over the positions of Presiding Officer and Minority Leader in the Nassau County Legislature? Why, John Q. Public, of course.

As Corbin, Schmitt, Jacobs, Altmann and their respective political parties battle it out in State Supreme Court -- with no less than 11 attorneys between them -- Nassau County residents will be expected to pick up the tab for legal fees. To be sure, these lawyers don't come cheap, and with no less than two lawsuits now before the court, taxpayers are looking at quite a bill.

Forget the void in County government -- that the role of the Legislature has been all but nullified while hostilities persist at the County Seat is rather refreshing -- taxpayers may have to face a special assessment just to cover the cost of this politically motivated, self-serving battle royale. [And this time, no one can blame it on Tax Assessor, Harvey Levinson!]

Fact is, as Justices of the New York Supreme Court sitting in Mineola ponder the fate of Judy, Roger, Lisanne and Peter, folks are burning the midnight oil trying to come up with ways to pay for this mess.

Here are a few suggestions:

1. Create a Special "We're All Spoiled Brats With Oversized Egos" District. Surely, residents would "enjoy" paying taxes for yet another Special District. Indeed, with over 400 such taxing jurisdictions in Nassau County and its subordinate townships, it is more than likely that no one (save The Community Alliance) would even notice the addition of one more;

2. Drop the lawsuits, and schedule a lightweight bout -- the winner take all -- between Roger "The Reformer" Corbin and Judy "Not Related To Jay" Jacobs at the Nassau Coliseum, with proceeds to cover legal fees, and anything left over going toward the redevelopment of the Hub. Dub this one, "The Travail In Uniondale." [Other matches on the fight bill to include Peter "The Red Faced" Schmitt vs. Lisannne "I Coulda Been A Contender" Altmann, and Jay "Not Related To Judy" Jacobs vs. Joe "The Machine" Mondello, the victor to claim all rights to the name "Jacobs," the excommunication of Judy notwithstanding.];

3. Have all Nassau County employees contribute 1% of their salaries to the Legislative Legal Fund. Wait, we've already gone that route, haven't we? Scratch that one;

4. Hold a Pay-Per-View Celebrity Poker tournament, with all counsel participating. Needless to say, Fred Brewington, who represents Roger Corbin, will have the advantage, the "race card" (is there any other for Fred?) coming into play. [Question: If they don't want Roger "in" because he's black, do they want Judy "out" because she's white?] While we have serious doubts as to the capacity of the members of the Nassau County Legislature, and/or their respective political parties, to judge their leadership on the "content of their character," we sincerely believe that these would-be leaders are not, in fact, "judged on the color of their skin." There remains too much hate, divisiveness, and "race-baiting" in our society. Let's not use this self-indulgent political and personal posturing as an excuse to create still more.

We haven't seen any numbers out there -- at least none we're willing to stick our caps on -- as to what the bill for legal fees might be when all is said and done. Suffice it to say that the meter is running, both in terms of the price tag and in the declining credibility, if not viability, of Nassau County's lawmaking body.

While the cost to taxpayers of the Legislators' protracted gamesmanship is real and tangible, let us not forget that there is a cost to be borne here that is greater still. It is the cost of representative government, indeed, of any government that is duty-bound to exercise the will of the people who cast their votes and placed their trust in elected officials who have taken that oath to faithfully execute.

And let us remember, too, as we today celebrate the dream -- a dream in many respects yet unfulfilled -- the words of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., spoken on August 28, 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial: "The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges. But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred."
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COMING UP: "The Death And Life Of Jane Jacobs" [Not related to either Jay or Judy.]
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POSTSCRIPT: In an earlier Blog, The Community Alliance prematurely reported the death of Shelley Winters. [Not only that, but we misspelled her name as well.] As it turns out, the actress was alive at the time. [Add another name to the necrology conundrum of, "We thought she was already dead..."]

Ms. Winters passed away on Saturday, January 14, at the age of 85. The Community Alliance apologizes for this error, and asks, "Who can we kill off next?"

Friday, January 13, 2006

A New York State Of Mind

Suozzi Announces "New York: A United State" Tour

Follows Filing of Campaign Committee for Possible Gubernatorial Bid

CARLE PLACE, NY -- Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi today announced plans for a statewide issues tour as he filed papers with the State Board of Elections to create a campaign committee to explore a Democratic bid for Governor of the State of New York. He said the crushing burden of high property taxes and the failure of Albany powerbrokers to address the problem are prompting him to consider entering the Democratic primary.

As part of his "New York: A United State" tour, Suozzi will hold meetings across the state over the next several weeks with community, civic and business leaders to get their perspective on the major challenges facing their regions and what the next governor could do to help address those problems.

Suozzi will also share some of the lessons he has learned about the impact state policies have on local governments from his time as chief executive of one of the state's largest and most complex counties, where he has developed a national reputation as a principled reformer who gets results. He was recently named Governing Magazine's "Public Official of the Year" for 2005.

"It has become painfully clear to me that local taxes, especially property taxes--72% above the national average, the highest in the nation, are crushing the residents I serve in Nassau County, as well as residents throughout Long Island and the State. There will never be effective solutions to reduce property taxes, especially school taxes, as well as improve low performing schools and create high-paying jobs, unless we fix Albany," said Suozzi.

"I want to hear from people in other parts of the state to see if they feel the same way, what they would like to see changed, and if they would be interested in working with me to reform the system and make it work for New York once again."

As Nassau County Executive, Suozzi, a lifelong Democrat with long family ties in the Party, has reformed a $2.4 billion county government that was nearly bankrupt and had been rated the worst run county in the nation. His strong leadership has resulted in Nassau County enjoying a reputation for smart, efficient and fiscally conservative operations and being recognized as one of the most dramatic financial turnarounds in the country.

"I believe that New York can be great! To do so we need to make sure that each part of the State can enjoy an improved quality of life. That means that people of Long Island and in areas throughout the State plagued by high property taxes must get relief. That means we must improve low performing schools in New York City and in low performing areas throughout the State. That means we must improve the economy of upstate communities suffering from decline and high unemployment. That means everyone should have the chance to enjoy the American Dream of affordable home ownership," Suozzi said.

"To succeed, we must make New York 'A United State,'" Suozzi continued.

Suozzi's tour around the state builds on the work he has done over the past two years as President of the New York State County Executives Association and as founder of "FixAlbany.com," a campaign to reform New York State government. In both capacities, Suozzi waged a relentless and successful campaign to reform the State's Medicaid program and to cap the growth of local Medicaid costs.

"To fund property tax relief, reform the school aid formula, improve the upstate economy and build affordable housing will require money. I believe that to find money without raising taxes will mean cracking down, without fear or favor, on a fast-spreading white collar crime that has been largely ignored by state authorities -- costly Medicaid fraud. Medicaid is an important, necessary program that provides essential help to those in need, but in New York State the program cost two and one half times the cost of the national average," said Suozzi.

"I know first hand that no matter how successful local officials are, our constituents have to bear the burden of a dysfunctional state government. Based on my experience, I believe I have a moral and political responsibility to advocate and work for change in the present system," stated Suozzi.

"I look forward to traveling the state, meeting people and learning more about the important issues we share in common. It is no longer upstate versus downstate. It is no longer city versus suburbs. It is no longer black versus white or rich versus poor. We are in this together and we need to make New York 'A United State'," concluded Suozzi.
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Water, Water Everywhere. . .

Tax Dollars Flow Like Water In Nassau County

Long Island is surrounded by water. It is also blessed with an abundant aquifer system and is home to numerous streams, lakes, reservoirs, and estuaries. But, according to Board of Assessors Chairman Harvey Levinson, Nassau County has over 50 separate water districts, corporations and authorities providing drinking water to homeowners at widely different usage charges and property tax rates.

In conducting his analysis of some 400 taxing authorities in Nassau County earlier this year, Assessor Harvey Levinson was not surprised to learn that water provider usage charges were as widely varied as the property tax rates imposed by other special taxing districts operating throughout each town.

According to Assessor Levinson, the variation of water usage charges based on a typical residential use of 100,000 gallons per year showed that homes in the Town of Hempstead are being charged anywhere from $79 to $426 with property taxes ranging from $38 to $205 for a house valued at $450,000. A similar sampling examined in the Towns of North Hempstead and Oyster Bay showed a water usage charge ranging from $84 to $330 and a property tax levy varying from $5 to $300 for a property of equal value.

“When a glass of water costs more than a glass of milk or your neighbor across town is paying a different price for a glass of water, you have to question whether or not your money is being well-spent and if there isn’t a better way to provide services for these rapidly aging water systems,” stated Assessor Levinson. “That is why I am calling for the creation of a special investigative committee (comprised of engineers and financial experts) to evaluate water district operations to see if they are truly providing the most cost-effective means of delivering water to our homes.”

Assessor Levinson went on to suggest that all public water districts be placed under a single water authority mirroring that of Suffolk County. The residential charge under the Suffolk County Water Authority is approximately $200 for 100,000 gallons of water used each year.

“Since public authorities fall under the jurisdiction of the State, regulatory action is needed to create a regionalized approach, single tariff pricing and a uniform tax rate by town,” stated Assessor Levinson. “I am also requesting that the committee examine the widely different charges that are imposed on our fire departments for the use of water hydrants. There is no reason why one fire district should be paying $519 to rent water hydrants from their local water carrier when another water company’s charge might be $65 in a different section of a town!

“Recently I had the privilege of touring the Plainview Water District and was witness to a clear example of a professionally-run organization,” concluded Assessor Levinson. “It is my hope that increased scrutiny aimed at these “invisible” layers of taxation will result in an exchange of ideas and creation of a water delivery system that will provide substantial tax savings to all homeowners throughout each town.”

Water District Comparison
( pdf format files - ®Adobe Acrobat Reader Required )
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