June 8th Conference at Hofstra to Consider Effect on Property Taxes, Possible Reforms
Nassau’s patchwork of 200 special tax districts, how they contribute to the county’s high property tax burden, and how local government might be streamlined will be the subject of a county-wide conference at Hofstra University’s Center for Suburban Studies on June 8 (8:30 am to 12:30 pm).
Plans for the first-of-its-kind “Nassau County Conference on Special Districts” were announced May 1st at a news conference at Hofstra hosted by Richard Guardino, Executive Dean of the Hofstra Center for Suburban Studies. Joining Mr. Guardino was a bipartisan coalition of public officials assembled by County Comptroller Howard Weitzman, including County Executive Thomas Suozzi, State Senator Michael Balboni, State Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli, Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto, County Assessor Harvey Levinson and County Legislator Diane Yatauro. In addition to Supervisor Venditto, the conference has the support of North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman and Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray.
The conference is being co-sponsored by Hofstra, the Long Island Association, the Rauch Foundation, and Herald Community Newspapers.
“Nassau has too many layers of government, and this is one reason that we have the highest property taxes in the state,” Comptroller Weitzman said. “In addition to the county, three towns, two cities and 64 villages, there are 200 other districts with taxing authority – not including school districts. While some special districts may be efficiently run and provide good service, our audits found that others are wasteful and have little or no public accountability, transparency or oversight. This conference will be the first step in a public dialogue in which all viewpoints will be represented and respected. We do not have a preconceived agenda for reform, but I do think that in many cases it’s possible to reduce property taxes, even while maintaining or even improving municipal services.”
County Executive Tom Suozzi said, “I am pleased to join this bipartisan effort to increase the accountability of the hundreds of special taxing districts in Nassau County. Combined with the campaign we have already begun to find a way to reduce school taxes, the single largest tax burden on our residents, this is another important step in our fight to reduce the tax burden across the county.”
Rich Guardino, Executive Dean of the Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, said, "The Center for Suburban Studies is devoted to researching suburban issues throughout the nation, often using Long Island as a microcosm. We are hosting and sponsoring this Nassau County Conference on Special Districts because finding innovative ways to deal with Nassau County's property tax burden is crucial to the future of Long Island and can be a model for first suburbs in other areas."
State Senator Michael Balboni said, “We need to carefully consider every option available to us if we are ever going to contain property taxes and realize economies of scale. A step to achieving that goal is to examine whether the same level of quality services can be provided by local governments through consolidations and intermunicipal cooperation, which could ultimately lead to less municipal spending and relief for property taxpayers.”
New York State Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli said, "Discovering creative ways to make government work more efficiently remains a constant challenge. An examination of the impact of special districts on the delivery of municipal services presents a unique opportunity to assess our current system. I congratulate Comptroller Weitzman for being proactive in bringing together such a diverse group of individuals and perspectives in a public forum to discuss these issues. I support his efforts and look forward to contributing to this important dialogue."
Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto said, “All levels of government, including special districts, need to continually explore ways to make government more efficient and accountable. The Town of Oyster Bay looks forward to participating in this important conference.”
Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman said, "I am looking forward to joining with Comptroller Weitzman and all of the other stakeholders to take a fresh look at the issue of special districts and how to make local government work better. The Town of North Hempstead, by creating the new Office of Intermunicipal Coordination, has shown that it is committed to partnering with all municipal entities to solve mutual problems and work together to foster more efficient government."
Assessor Harvey Levinson said, “While it may take some time to change a system that has existed for decades, thanks to the efforts and leadership of Comptroller Howard Weitzman, County Executive Tom Suozzi, Senator Michael Balboni, Assemblyman Tom DiNapoli, our town supervisors, Legislator Diane Yatauro and Hofstra University, we are taking an important first step to find workable solutions that may help reduce the property tax burden imposed on homeowners by the 200 special taxing districts in Nassau County.”
Mitchell H. Pally, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Long Island Association, said, “The Long Island Association strongly supports the concept of this conference. We have to objectively determine whether the services being provided to our residents are being provided at the lowest cost possible, in view of the fact that we pay the highest local real property tax rates in the country.”
Nassau County Legislator Diane Yatauro said, “I appreciate the effort being made to undertake this comprehensive review of special taxing districts throughout Nassau County. I am looking forward to exploring ways in which we can work with the employees of the many districts to reduce the tax burden on the residents of Nassau County.”
A partial list of speakers scheduled to participate at the conference includes: Nassau County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi; Town Supervisors Venditto, Murray and Kaiman; NYS Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli; NYS Senator Michael Balboni; Long Island Association President Matthew Crosson and Vice President Mitchell Pally; Professor Eric Lane of Hofstra University; Economists Pearl Kamer of the LIA and Irwin Kellner of Hofstra; Charles Zettek, Jr. of the Center for Governmental Research; Newsday investigative reporter Elizabeth Moore; and Joseph F. Beach, Assistant Chief Administrative Officer of Montgomery County, Maryland, a county often cited for its streamlined and unified approach to county government. Special District commissioners and community group representatives are expected to participate in panel discussions as well.
Comptroller Weitzman’s office in 2005 conducted audits of five sanitary districts in the three towns. In four of the five audits, the Comptroller found serious financial mismanagement; a lack of oversight; few, if any, written policies and procedures; overspending, faulty contracting, and questionable employment and benefit practices. As a result of the audits, the State Comptroller and the District Attorney initiated independent investigations. A December 2005 “white paper” on the county’s special districts issued by the Comptroller’s Office reviewed their history and development, examined lessons learned from the audits, and cited a widespread lack of oversight and accountability. The report may be downloaded or read on-line at www.nassaucountyny.gov/agencies/comptroller/Docs/PDF/05Dec19-SpecDistRpt.pdf.
For more information on the June 8th conference, contact the Nassau County Comptroller's office at 516-571-2677 or by e-mail at NCComptroller@NassauCountyNY.gov.