Conference On Special Districts Yields Discussion
The first-ever County-wide conference on the status and fate of the so-called Special Districts -- semi-autonomous governmental agencies that provide services from Fire to Water (and levy taxes to pay for same), often with little or no independent oversight -- was held on June 8th at Hofstra University.
Over the next several weeks, The Community Alliance will analyze, reflect upon, and pass along information, concerns and ideas gathered from those who attended and participated in this important forum.
Today, we are pleased to publish the prepared text of the speech presented by Laura Mallay, resident of South Hempstead (within Town of Hempstead Sanitary District 2), who, in recent months, has spearheaded the organization of a grassroots taxpayer group, Residents for Efficient Special Districts (RESD).
- - -
On the 31st of March, of last year, the Chairman of the Nassau County Board of Assessors, Harvey Levinson, held a town hall meeting to discuss Special District Taxes. As residents of South Hempstead, Baldwin Oaks, and North Rockville Centre packed themselves into the Covert School auditorium, Levinson informed us all that we have the highest Fire Tax rate in Nassau County, adding a definitive insult to our injury of being the 2nd highest taxed community in regard to Sanitation. As the gasps of shock made their way through the room, our Fire District acknowledged that even they were unaware of their status as the highest tax rate in the county.
This meeting was meant to be informative but was unfortunately derailed from its cause when it escalated into a protest by the South Hempstead Fire District. Firefighters from many surrounding Communities attended in their full dress uniforms. With their trucks outside, their uniforms on, and their fellow firefighters by their side, the South Hempstead Fire District arrived to change the night from "informative" to "anti-consolidation." With the intention of the meeting lost in the may-lay. Many residents left the now adversarial meeting with a bad taste in their mouth.
Thus my journey began. While others looked at the Fire District as the source of, and thereby solution to, the problem, I focused my attention on Sanitation District # 2. It did not take me long to realize, that were my sanitation district an actual commercial business, it would most definitely be bankrupt.
My initial course of action was to contact my elected officials, so I attended meetings. At one of these meetings a Town of Hempstead official told me as well as a room full of other people that the residents of Sanitation District # 2 "don't mind paying twice as much to have [their] garbage picked up." Town officials also told us that they had no power over these Special Districts and that "if [we] want[ed] change, we should run for commissioner." So that is exactly what I decided to do.
Early on in my campaign for Sanitation Commissioner it became clear that the very same Town of Hempstead officials who advised me to run were in fact working against me. They held a number of meetings in support of my opponent, advising him on how best to beat me, one of which was held just 3 days prior to the election.
The Board of Commissioners of Sanitation District # 2 as well as the entire workforce ardently campaigned against me. On the day before the election, Sanitation District # 2 used tax dollars to print a flyer denouncing me and my tax cutting ideas and workers, while being paid by the taxpayers, were told to distribute these leaflets to the electorate.
On the day of the election, because Sanitation District #2 gets to make their own election rules, they positioned District Supervisors outside the polling places, electioneering and intimidating voters. The police were called to polling places multiple times.
Unfortunately, it did not stop there. This is as local as politics gets; it's neighbor vs. neighbor. Workers were being told by their supervisors that if I won, they would all lose their jobs. As a result, I was stopped on the street by angry workers and became the recipient of many threatening phone calls.
To this day I am still the target of retribution all because I spoke up for the over taxed residents of my community. I am not here for sympathy, but to demonstrate firsthand what the average tax-payer is up against when it comes to Special Districts. These districts are tax Payer financed clubs for a select few.
Please remember, that the majority of volunteer firefighters and sanitation workers are the same overtaxed residents. There are long standing political forces in Nassau County that perpetuate fear in these workers. They have been lead to believe that consolidation will result in the loss of their jobs and fire houses, leaving neighborhoods unprotected. While in reality, it is the upper management positions in these districts that have the most to loose by consolidating.
A number of citizens have banded together to form a new group called the Residents for Efficient Special Districts. Our group has developed some short term solutions we believe will improve the level of accountability and transparency of the special districts.
1. We want to see councilmatic districts within these Special Districts. Presently we have a "Taxation without representation" situation going on here. In Sanitation District #2, four of the five commissioners live within a 5 block radius of one another, which leaves far too many taxpayers unrepresented.
2. We also want to see the county Board of Elections take over the administration of these special district votes and have all the voting take place on Election Day in November.
We believe that the only long term solution is to consolidate these special districts in order to lower our tax burden.
The tax problem in Nassau County is harming the community that we all cherish. New and old residents are being driven away and we are only suffering more.
The future has two options: we must either reform the current dysfunctional system or continue to suffer "Death by Government."
I hope that we can walk away from this forum knowing that reducing the tax burden on our residents is the number one priority of our elected officials.
- - -
Thank YOU, Laura, for taking up the cause of community in such a vocal, visible and productive way. Those wishing to learn more about, and perhaps get involved in the activities of Residents For Efficient Special Districts (RESD) should send an e-mail to RESD@aol.com.
If there is to be true reform of the Special Districts, that change has to start with basic, grassroots community involvement. That means YOU!
- - -
As a relevant aside, it should be noted that Kate Murray, Supervisor of the Town of Hempstead, was in attendance at the Special District conference. The Town of Hempstead holds a special place near and dear to the Special District dilemma, as readers of this blog well know. [The Town's fallback position has always been that residents "enjoy" the services they receive via the Special Districts (and are, therefore, willing to pay whatever price, be it excessive, exorbitant, or bordering on legalized extortion), and that the Town has "no control" over the Special Districts (a fallacy belied by the fact that the patronage staffing/blessing of the Special Districts -- from Supervisors to Commissioners to General Counsel -- all flows from Town Hall and/or County GOP headquarters in Westbury).
Several sources informed The Community Alliance that while Ms. Murray welcomed the opportunity to join the discussion about the Special Districts, she would need to hear "the will of the people" before the Town moves to take over the Special Districts.
Kate, hold off on the glossy mailings and the formal polling. We can already tell you what the good people who live in the Sanitary Districts want. They want to pay twice as much -- or even four times the going rate -- for service equal in quality (by your own admission) to that currently offered directly by Town of Hempstead Sanitation. Don't you know, Kate, we "enjoy" paying more!
Well, at least she didn't blame it all on Nassau County Assessor, Harvey Levinson. [Harvey's got enough to carry on his shoulders, given that he's personally responsible for, among other evils, the war in Iraq, the Bird Flu epidemic, and the successful return of the Dixie Chicks!]