Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Taking On The "Special" Taxing Machines

New Watchdog Group Plans Multi-faceted Attack On Taxing Jurisdictions

Yet unnamed, a new grassroots organization is taking shape in Oceanside, and reaching out to community leaders throughout Nassau County, dedicated to lowering property taxes by addressing the multitude of problems associated with and created by the so-called Special Districts.

That there are more than 400* Special Districts within Nassau County and its inclusive townships, each acting as quasi-independent governments with the authority to set budgets and tax homeowners, is a given. That many of these districts -- from fire to sanitation to water -- are out of control, is coming to light and beginning to register with taxpayers.

First brought to the public's attention by Nassau County Assessor Harvey Levinson last year (even before the campaign for Town of Hempstead Supervisor began), the disparate and excessive costs associated with maintaining and operating separate and distinct fiefdoms -- each taking a bite out of our wallets -- is both widespread and systemic.

Sanitary Districts, Water Districts, Fire Districts, Library Districts, to name a few, duplicating effort and services, supporting a patronage mill run by political and familial cronies, self-serving and self-perpetuating mini governments paid for and made possible by your tax dollars.

Audits conducted by Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman, and an ongoing investigation by NYS Comptroller Alan Hevesi, bear out what many observers and taxpayers already knew: There are too many, doing too little, getting too much, and the taxpayer is getting ripped off -- royally!

Recently, Mr. Weitzman called for a countywide conference to explore the reform of the Special Districts. A daring few have now heeded the call.

And so it was, that out of a failed bid to gain a seat on the Board of Commissioners of a local Town of Hempstead Sanitary District (a bid borne of a desire to expose waste, mismanagement and malfeasance), grew a movement that hopes to educate residents, create transparency, and, ultimately, to consolidate services, eliminating unnecessary and costly layers of government.

Like kids in a candy store, filled with excitement and anticipation, community leaders met last week to form a committee and to brainstorm an agenda. Under the guiding hand of Laura Mallay, President of the South Hempstead Civic Association, the dozen or so civic activists agreed that a non-partisan organization was needed to open the doors of the Special Districts to the cleansing light of day.

The short-term mission is to gather information on the Special Districts -- from budgets, to expenditures, to personnel -- and to disseminate this information to the taxpaying public. [Watch this blog for postings relative to the Sanitary Districts and other taxing jurisdictions that, for the most part, fly beneath the public's radar.]

The group hopes to recruit candidates to run for Commissioners in Special District elections, to lobby for elections to take place on Election Day in November, and to promote a more open, transparent and responsive approach to operating what are essentially self-governing, taxpayer-funded public authorities.

Long-term, this watchdog group will look to our elected officials, particularly the State Legislature (which created the Special District monsters in the first place), to give localities the authority -- and the impetus -- to consolidate services, to eliminate districts that duplicate services more readily and efficiently provided by other agencies or departments, and, in so doing, lowering the tax burden that now consumes homeowners throughout the county.

We say "bravo" to Laura Mallay and her small force of taxpayer watchdogs. We hope that these "hounds" get the "scent" and will stay hot on the trail of those invisible taxing jurisdictions. Once exposed for the wasteful, tax dollar-eating beasts that they are, Mallay & Company should morph from watchdog into attack dog, latching on to the body of the behemoths like a pit bull to the postman's leg; not letting go until the Special Districts have either been brought in line, heeling to the will of the taxpayers, or better yet, taken off line, at long last spayed and neutered.

The next meeting of the taxpayer watchdog group will be held on Wednesday, March 29, 2006 at 7:30 PM in Oceanside. Community advocates interested in becoming involved in this grassroots campaign, and those seeking more information, should contact Laura Mallay at 516-833-6699 or 516-233-4026, or by e-mail at mallay@optonline.net.
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*The number of Special Districts in operation in Nassau County varies widely from report to report -- generally between 200 and 900 -- depending on which districts are included in the count. The lower figure typically represents fire, water and sanitary districts only, while the greater number takes into account library districts, sewer districts, lighting districts, and so forth. Bottom line: There are too many hands in our pockets, and most of them are not our own!
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For a bit of history (recent and otherwise) as to the antics of the Sanitary Districts, we take you back to July 14, 2005, Picking Through The trash at the Town of Hempstead Sanitary Districts. Much remains today as it was then. Only the tax rates have changed!

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