Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Special Districts Cost Taxpayers Big Bucks

Nassau County Comptroller Seeks Greater Accountability; Calls For Review By Towns

It may not seem like much of a drain -- fifty dollars for the Lighting District; a couple of hundred for the Sewer District -- but given that there are more than 200 Special Districts in the towns of Hempstead, North Hempstead, and Oyster Bay alone, these numbers quickly add up to big bucks. Money flowing from your wallet like water from, well (pun intended), the Water District.

Nassau County Comptroller, Howard Weitzman, is calling for townships to review, at the very least, the budgets of the Special Districts, rather than to continue to "rubber stamp" these budgets, at great cost to the taxpayers.

As the Comptroller notes, "Special District taxes make up approximately 75 of Town taxes paid by residents... every Town Board has an obligation to the taxpayers to review how 100 percent of their Town taxes are used.”

We agree, and so should homeowners and owners of commercial properties, who bear the brunt of the heavy tax burden imposed upon taxpayers for everything from Parking Districts to Fire Hydrant Rental Districts to Sewage Collection Districts.

Contact your Town Supervisor and your local Councilmember, and tell them you want 100% accountability for the Special Districts. The time has come for our towns to take back control over the Special District fiefdoms!


Special Districts Receive 75% of Town Taxes, Need Greater Scrutiny, Comptroller Says
Saying that “no town should simply rubber-stamp special district budgets,” Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman today sent a letter to the Town Supervisors of Hempstead, North Hempstead and Oyster Bay urging all three towns to review upcoming budget submissions by the towns’ approximately 200 special tax districts.

The budgets, for districts including sanitation, water, fire, and other municipal services, are expected to come before the Town Boards within the next two weeks. So far, only Oyster Bay and North Hempstead have requested that the districts submit their budget plans in advance so that they may be reviewed prior to public adoption of the budgets at Town Board meetings.

“Special district taxes make up approximately 75 percent of Town taxes paid by residents,” Comptroller Weitzman said. “In my view, every Town Board has an obligation to the taxpayers to review how 100 percent of their Town taxes are used.”

In the next two weeks, the special districts will bring their 2007 budgets before the Town Boards, which must approve them before they take effect. In his letter, Weitzman wrote, “I understand that the Towns of North Hempstead and Oyster Bay are encouraging special districts to submit their budgets on the same timetable as Town departments, to enable budget analysts to carefully review the spending plans before they are finalized. This is a very encouraging development – just the promise of such a review may impose a greater degree of discipline on district spending plans, to the benefit of our taxpayers.

“Considering that special district taxes make up approximately 75 percent of Town taxes paid by residents of unincorporated areas,” the letter continues, “no Town should simply rubber-stamp these budgets. All our Towns should exercise their right to review special district budgets before including the amounts in their own budgets. Moreover, in the public interest, the Towns should publicize the meeting date and time when the Town Board will review these budgets, so that members of the public can raise concerns about special district spending, just as they might about other types of spending.”

Comptroller Weitzman urged the supervisors to “take concrete steps to begin to make special district government more cost-effective and responsive to the taxpayers. I believe that the plans announced by North Hempstead and Oyster Bay to increase public scrutiny of special district budgets are a laudable and essential step to increase the districts’ accountability. I strongly encourage all the Town Boards to publicly review the special district budgets before voting to include them in the Town budgets,” he concluded.

Comptroller Weitzman organized the first-ever Conference on Nassau County Special Districts last June at Hofstra University to examine how the districts contribute to high property taxes in Nassau. At the conference, a distinguished panel of public officials, including the three Town supervisors, joined policy experts and nearly 400 Nassau residents to discuss why Nassau more has so many taxing districts. The conference considered various approaches to increasing the efficiency, transparency and governmental oversight of the special districts.

In the fall of 2005, Comptroller Weitzman’s audits of five town sanitary districts found millions of dollars of waste by some special districts, and a general lack of accountability, transparency and oversight.

This fall, the Comptroller’s Office expects to issue audits of four water districts, a study of the cost disparities for similar municipal services in various communities in Nassau, and a report recommending cost savings for the special districts that can be accomplished in the short term.

Town Supervisor Letter - Special District Budget Review (9-18-06) - (.pdf format)
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SEE ALSO, Nassau County Special Districts, The Case For Reform

Monday, September 25, 2006

This Vote Counts!

Nassau County To Test New Voting Machines Today; Public Input Sought

The days of "pulling the lever" for your favorite candidate may be coming to an end, at least in Nassau County, as the electronic age is about to forever change the way Long Islanders will vote.

Mandated by federal law to update voting machines, something that hasn't been done in New York since the mechanical lever machine was introduced in 1892, some 20,000 mechanical lever machines will be sent to the junk yards, and voters will have to relearn the time-honored tradition of casting their votes.

To aid in the transition, and, in fact, to garner public comment on the various options for new equipment available to the Island's voters, the Nassau County Board of Elections will be holding a "mock election" on prototype machines today at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City.

September 25, 3:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
The Cradle of Aviation Museum
Charles Lindbergh Blvd., Garden City

The general public is invited to come out to look at and try these state-of-the-art voting machines -- and to bring along the entire family (including the next generation of voters), as you need not be a registered voter to "cast your ballot" in this demo election.

There will follow, on October 11, 2006, a public hearing on the new machines before the Nassau County Legislature, which all residents are encouraged to attend. After all, if history is any guide, New Yorkers will likely be using these new-fangled machines on election days to come for the next 100 years, or so!

October 11, 7:00 p.m.
1 West Street in Mineola
Legislator Diane Yatauro, Chair
Government Services andOperations Committee

By the way, the law [Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA)] required that these new voting machines be in place for the 2006 election. Obviously, that's not going to happen, New York falling behind the times on yet another front.

Still, the changing of the old guard is a necessary and vital step in moving New York into the 21st century (or at least the 20th), as concerns how we record votes here in the Empire State.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Not Only Pork, But Beef

Legislators Look To Hide Payouts To Selves, Others

Two seemingly unrealted news stories about legislative "gimmes", one out of Long Island (Newsday), the other out of Albany (Times-Union), actually tie into one another quite nicely.

The Albany Times-Union piece, Media Join Lawsuit in Pork Case, brings to the public eye, yet again, the practice of the NYS Legislature to quietly -- if not clandestinely -- dole out millions of dollars in pork via the fabled, if not infamous, member item grants.

As The Community Alliance pointed out in previous blogposts [ SEE, Your Tax Dollars At Play], its not so much where the money goes (though sometimes, it clearly is), but the secretive, backdoor, out of the public eye manner in which public money is appropriated.

Now there's a lawsuit demanding a disgorge of information which would tell the public who asked for -- and who got -- what. In essence, "show US the money!"

As an interesting if not relevant aside (and possible precursor of nothing to come), presumtive Governor and self-proclaimed "reformer," Eliot Spitzer, filed papers requesting the court to protect (read as, "keep from the public") information that would reveal which lawmakers asked for specific grants for community projects, part of $170 million in annual discretionary spending.

Ah, we see Governor Spitzer is well on his way toward fixing Albany!

Meanwhile, back on Long Island, our esteemed Nassau County Legislature apparently tried to give themselves raises by hiding the funds in the 2007 proposed budget under such line items as "legislative assistants." Maybe they should have put it under, "legislative ASSISTANCE!" [READ, Newsday, LI Pols Tried To Hide Funds For Raises.]

Judy Jacobs, Democrat, called Peter Schmitt, Republican, a liar. Schmitt wanted to know what Judy's smoking. He said, she said. Let's call the whole thing off.

It is not so much that the legislators wanted to hike their salaries (from $39,500 to $55,900) for the first time since the Legislature was formed in 1996 [or maybe it is, given the NC legislators' antics earlier this year that effectively brought county government to a halt], but more so the unmitigated gall in trying to keep any inkling of this hefty pay raise hidden under the budget bushel.

Hey, its not like someone isn't going to find out about it, usually sooner rather than later!

The business of keeping the people's business -- particularly when it comes to dollars and cents -- away from the people is nothing new, either in Albany [where it has always been "Three Men In A Room"] or Mineola [where, for years, several men in a room (known as the Board of Supervisors) decided behind closed doors who got what]. Of course, longstanding policy doesn't make a terrible practice any better.

Whether we're talking about the accountability of public authorities or how legislators give out money in their own districts, the process requires public scrutiny -- even where the public, for the most part, has relinquished their right of both preview and review to the foxes who they've left, often for decades if not lifetimes, to guard the hen house. So much for reforming Albany.

As for the Nassau County Legislature, do we reward bad behavior and unproductivity, especially after the children were caught with their hands in the cookie jar, trying to sneak some extra chocolate chips without mom knowing? We don't think so.

Legislators, be they in the State Capital or at the County Seat, may technically be said to be part-time employees. Their responsibility to the public, however, is a full-time job. They have to get our respect -- not to mention pay raises and member item monies -- the old fashioned way, by earning them. As for our votes, well, you figure that one out...

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Fear Monger Turns To Oratory Of Hate

A King Fit To Be Deposed

The American Heritage Dictionary defines "McCarthyism" as "the practice of publicizing accusations of political disloyalty or subversion with insufficient regard to evidence" and "the use of unfair investigatory or accusatory methods in order to suppress opposition."

Add to this, "SEE ALSO, Kingism. . ."

If ever a bloodless coup were in order, its in New York's 3rd Congressional District, where Representative Peter King has once again reaffirmed our belief that he's not only arrogant, but downright dastardly.

The Chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security (quick, lock the doors), has labeled his opponent in the fall contest, David Mejias, as some sort of radical terrorist supporter, this for receiving campaign contributions from members of the Muslim community.

Never mind that King himself received political contributions from the same quarters -- thank goodness for campaign finance reporting. King has taken the "govern by fear itself" MO of W and company down to the next level -- if the fear doesn't get votes anymore, try spewing hate!

King, who has always been that schoolyard bully, ranking on his own constituents when they dare to question either motives or actions, and attempting to silence the press (or more particularly, Newsday) when they dare to exercise that little observed First Amendment right -- would, if he could, put Mejias on the next plane to Guantanamo Bay (via Syria, for a little secret torture to go).

He of the "terrorist profile" and "Valerie Plame deserved to be outed" would, no doubt, place Mejias and his Muslim/Terrorist (to King, these are interchangeable) ilk in internment camps, this for the duration of the Congressional campaign, at least. "Enemy combatants," one and all, as is practically anyone who risks dissent from the perverse views of Peter King.

The problem with Peter King is not so much that he is full of himself, humility not typically the trait of an elected official. It is more that King is simply full of it -- boastful, brazen, baseless words, founded upon principles that are nowhere to be found in either our Constitution or the true spirit of America.

In many ways, Peter King reminds us of one of his predecessors in Congress. Another self-indulged crusader against the freedom of thought; a calculating purveyor of fear and hate. Senator Joseph McCarthy. [There really is much more than a striking physical resemblance. What a fantastic campaign "morph" that would make, if only today's voters had the slightest idea who Joseph McCarthy was...]

McCarthy eventually got his, not at the hands of the voters in his home State of Wisconsin, but rather, by those who, heeding the words of Edward R. Morrow, understood that "We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home."

"We will not walk in fear, one of another," said Morrow. "We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep in our history and doctrine and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes which were for the moment unpopular. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of the Republic to abdicate his responsibility."

We can only hope voters of New York's 3rd CD take a page from history on November 7th and accept their responsibility, taking the liberty to remove this far from benevolent King from power!
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The New York Times reports that Congress has a 25% approval rating. With the likes of Peter King holding the reigns, is it any wonder?
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For poignant insights on life, death, the terrorists and the terrorized, read Fear Itself, by Washington Post Columnist Gene Weingarten.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Family Ties

Family Day Across The USA Slated For September 25th

A family that breaks bread together, sharing more than a meal at the dinner table, is not only a family that stays together, but moreover, the very cornerstone of a connected and concerned community.

That, in a nutshell, is the idea behind Family Day 2006, when families across the nation will sit down at the dinner table -- at the same place and at the same time -- to eat, to talk, to reconnect.

Sure, it may well be a challenge to many of us -- used to "catching a bite" before running off to that soccer game or PTA meeting -- not only to put aside some precious time to convene around the dinner table with the family, but to get the conversation going. Still, having the entire family together, if only for a single meal, makes the effort so worth while.

The talk around that dinner table -- whether about school, work, the Mets clinching the NL East, politics (as in "What has our State Legislator done for us lately?"), or the news of the day -- will, hopefully, spur further conversations (and maybe more meals together), reconnecting family member to family member, and, perhaps (if we're lucky), families to their communities.

Here at The Community Alliance, we're asking families -- parents and kids alike -- to "take the pledge" to participate in Family Day 2006.

Its not only about keeping kids away from drugs and alcohol (although that's an important part of it). Its about keeping the entire clan in sync with one another, and getting a dialogue going to build upon and strengthen those often strained (if not temporarily broken) family ties.

"Too busy" to sit down for dinner with the family? "Too tired" to have a meal together or for "small talk?" Convenient excuses at the dinner table, as much as they are for neglecting to participate in that which is taking place beyond our own front doors. Get over it!

Just as we, as citizens and residents, must become involved and remain engaged in the affairs of both community and government, so too must we, as parents and family units, be engaged and involved in the day-to-day of our children. And it can all begin at and around your dinner table!

Help spread the word about Family Day, bringing families together all over your community. Let's begin to open the lines of communication at home. From there, who knows just how far we may go?
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Family Day was conceived by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University back in 2001.

Click HERE for the 10 Benefits of Frequent Family Dinners.

For more on Family Day 2006, visit

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Little County That Could

Jefferson County, NY Boasts Lowest Per Capita School Taxes In State; What Are The Rest Of Us Doing Wrong?

Last week, we reported on the counties with the highest per capita school taxes in New York -- to recap, that would be Hamilton ($2524) and Nassau ($2206), based on 2004 data. [SEE, High Taxes In New York? Boy, Are They Ever!]

Today, The Community Alliance blog focuses on the county with the lowest per capita school taxes. And that would be? Jefferson County, on the banks of Lake Ontario, where the per capita school taxes (2004) were a mere $485.

So, how do they manage to do it up in this picturesque corner of New York, known to many as the vacation wonderland of the Thousand Islands?

Could it be that there are no children to be educated in this relatively sparsely populated region of upstate New York? Maybe they're sending the kids across the water to schools in Canada, eh?

Perhaps they don't transport hundreds, if not thousands, of students by the busload to out of district private and parochial schools, saving the school districts millions of dollars.

Or, maybe, as was blogged right here back in April [READ, See Spot Run], Jefferson County's school districts are getting more than anyone's fair share of State Aid from Albany. [Just who is it that they know?]

There are 11 school districts in Jefferson County (10 if you include BOCES) Alexandria Central School District, Belleville Henderson, Carthage Central School District, General Brown Central School District, Immaculate Heart, Lyme, S. Jefferson, Central Indian River, Central Lafargeville, Sackets Harbor Central, Thousand Islands School District, Watertown Central School District.

In See Spot Run, we reported that, according to the 2006-07 School Aid Runs released by the Education Committee of the NYS Assembly, The General Brown Central School District had a minimum (before final State Aid figures were calculated over the summer) of 61% of its total budget covered by the State.

Compare that to what your school district received from Albany. [HINT: If you reside on Long Island, and your school district got as much as 15% in aid from the State, you are among the lucky ones!]

While complete budget figures for individual school districts are not readily available online (the posting of complete budgets -- both proposed and adopted -- on school district websites should be mandated by the Legislature and/or the State Education Department), we were able to secure at least some information, which again sheds some light (though not favorably) on the great disparity in State Aid between upstate districts and downstate districts.

In the Watertown School District, for instance, the 2006-07 budget called for an expenditure of $48,568,425. The final State Aid appropriation for Watertown schools for 2006-06 was $30,009,564, or nearly 62% of the total budget.

Contrast this with, say, the Long Island school district referenced in See Spot Run, where the 2006-07 budget is $48,548,512, and final aid from Albany was a paltry $6,397,009, or just a drip over 13%.

Did the folks in Albany think we wouldn't notice? Or is it their justifiable reliance on the electorate's innate inability to put two and two together?

Okay. Speak to the folks in Albany -- or even the adminisitrators is upstate school districts (where your tax dollars are picking up the majority of the tab), and they'll cite (as if by rote) chapter and verse on aid formulas, wealth differentials, disparate costs to educate a child, etcetera, etcetera.

Its all a crock, folks.

Fact is, your (income/sales/name it) tax dollars are going up to Albany, but if you live in the lower third (give or take) of New York State, they're simply not coming back. In fact, folks on Long Island, through their hard earned tax dollars, are buying leather shoes for the kids in the Watertown schools, while their own children essentially go barefoot!

Mind you, we have no objection to using tax dollars to finance public education (notice, we said PUBLIC), but where is the equity, where is the justice, heck, where is the common sense, in giving the bulk of those tax dollars to schools in Jefferson County, while the little piggies in Nassau get none -- or so little, it is the moral and practical equivalent of none?

For all of their glossy releases and campaign fluff, the downstate delegations of the New York State Legislature -- regardless of party -- have simply failed to bring home the bacon.

Then again, its not only downstaters who suffer.

Remember, Hamilton County, in the Adirondacks just north of our State capital, had the highest per capital school tax (2004 data).

Hamilton County has four school districts -- Indian Lake, Lake Pleasant, Long Lake, and Wells.

Indian Lake has a 2006-07 budget of $5,203,721. The district will receive $511,140 in aid from Albany. That's 9.8%, for those doing the math. [Cheer up, LIers. Some upstaters are getting more of a royal screwing than you are!]

Are some communities' school children worth more than others? Are the Thousand Islands more worthy than an Indian Lake? And what do the numbers look like in your hometown?

You really should take a long hard look at the school tax figures incorporated into the New York Matters report, High Taxes In New York: What Are The Options? [Page 15 of the pdf document.] The disparity in what New Yorkers pay in school taxes based solely upon where they live is as mind-numbing as the formulae used to determine how much State Aid each school district receives is mind-boggling. [As the drugs the guys who come up with these crazy formulae must be mind-altering!]

The reasons given for this disparity -- this bottomless pit of inequity -- are myriad. [In fact, if you call your State Legislator and ask him/her why your school district gets so little and you pay so much, invariably, the response will be, "myriad." Try it. You'll see!]

The solutions -- seemingly few and far between (and almost all relying far too heavily on that wistful, distant STAR) -- consisting largely of non-starters (i.e., scrapping current State Aid formulas and reinventing the wheel -- this time, in the round), or pork barrel liners (i.e., the "let them eat my dust as I hightail it back to the Capitol" rebate).

The talk -- from task force to public forum -- is plentiful. Action, scant. And no one bothering, in this legislative election year, no less, to ask their State Legislators, "WHY?", "HOW?", and, at long last, "WHEN?"

Thursday, September 14, 2006

High Taxes In New York? Boy, Are They Ever!

No Doubt About It, Taxes Top NYers' List

We couldn't think of an original blog for today, so we stole a page from the website of

The not-for-profit public research group continues the focus on taxes, education, health care, and other issues of concern to New York residents and businesses, and now hopes to stir the debate with public forums across the State.

One such forum will be held tonight (September 14th) in Buffalo, and other community conclaves to discuss and consider options to deal with New York's most pressing issues -- from high taxes to school financing -- are scheduled for Long Island (September 16th), NYC (September 28th), and Rochester (September 30th).

Even if you cannot attend one (or more) of these public forums, you'll certainly want to take a look at Erika Rosenberg's timely report, High Taxes In New York: What Are The Options, a "white paper" circulated in advance among the Long Island forum participants to help stimulate the debate.

While the conclusions reached are no surprise, the in-depth analysis is compelling, and the presentation of real-world options to solve the crisis, downright refreshing. [We hope the folks at New York Matters sent a copy (or 100) of this report to Eliot Spitzer and his pre-transition staff, as well as to every member of the NYS Legislature!]

By way of both background and prelude, consider the following vis-a-vis New York's taxes:

-The average State and local taxes per person in New York were $5,260 1n 2004, some 53% higher than the national average;
-Local taxes (County, Town, Special District) are 83% higher than the national average;
-NY State has the highest burden in the nation with $137 out of every $1000 of personal income going to State and local taxes.

Tax "relief" programs in New York (including the infamous death STAR) haven't stopped the tax burden from continuing to increase.

POP QUIZ: Which county (in 2004) had the highest per capita school taxes?

If you answered Nassau or Westchester, you got it wrong. The winner -- or loser -- was Hamilton County in the Adirondacks, checking in at $2524. Must be all that fresh air.

Nassau county came in second at $2206, with Putnam crossing the line to show at $2061. [Geez. Wouldn't it be nice if most of us were paying a mere $2206 in school taxes? Try the neighborhood of $6000, and you're beginning to get warm!]

Nassau did come in first in county taxes (again, in 2004 -- why does it take so long for the numbers to catch up with reality?), with a per capita tax averaging $1404. Hamilton came in at number two with $1321 per capita. Take that, Hamilton County!

So, what can be done to stop the madness? First, read the report. Then, get involved in grassroots campaigns to find viable, workable, and affordable solutions to the forboding tax avalanche. Learn the facts. Spread the word. Join the debate. Then raise your own expectations, and demand more from the government you pay for, and pay for, and pay for!

Public Forums Will Spotlight Top Issues

New York Matters, a project to draw attention this fall to the issues most important to New Yorkers, is sponsoring public forums this month across the state on the topics that voters are most concerned about.

The forums will try to answer the questions that are vexing New York, such as: How can we fund schools and other priorities without breaking taxpayers?How can state government help the upstate economy recover?

Our poll found that voters want these problems discussed in advance of the November election, when New York will pick a new governor.

Participants will include New Yorkers who responded to the New York Matters issues poll, representatives of civic groups, academic experts, elected officials, and more.

Here are the details:

Buffalo, Struggling in New York: How Can the State Help the Economy Recover? 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14, at the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, 1 Lafayette Square.

Participants include: Assemblyman Robin Schimminger; Dr. Kausar Hamdani of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s regional office; Gary Keith, regional economist at M&T Bank; Assemblyman Mark Schroeder, and Henry Louis Taylor, director for the Center for Urban Studies at the University of Buffalo.The panel moderator will be Marsha Henderson, vice president of external affairs at the University of Buffalo.

Long Island, High Taxes: What are the Options?
12 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, September 16
Room 114, Studio A, of Dempster Hall, Hofstra University.

Participants include: Patrick Halpin, executive director of the Institute for Student Achievement; Richard V. Guardino Jr., executive dean of Hofstra’s Center for Suburban Studies; Lisa Tyson, director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition; Pearl Kamer, economist with the Long Island Association; and Elaine Gross, president of Erase Racism. The discussion will be moderated by Larry Levy, the host of WLIW’s Face-Off program and a Newsday columnist.

New York City, Is Robin Hood the Good Guy? Moving Toward a More Equitable School Aid System for New York.
5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, September 28, Baruch College Conference Center, Vertical Campus, 55 Lexington Avenue at 24th Street, 14th floor.

Participants include: Robert Jackson, NY City Council member and chairman of the Education Committee; David Shaffer, Public Policy Institute of the Business Council; Diana Fortuna, President of the Citizens Budget Commission; and Kent Gardner, President of the Center for Governmental Research. Eugene Keilin, Citizens Budget Commission trustee, will be the moderator.

Rochester, How Can Rochester Recover from Downsizing at the Big Three?
Noon, Saturday September 30 at the Golisano Auditorium at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Participants include: Assemblyman Joseph Morelle; John “Dutch” Summers, CEO of Jasco Tools; Senator James Alesi; Jennifer Leonard, president of the Rochester Area Community Foundation; Ellen Rosen, vice president of the Rochester Business Alliance; and Jim Bertolone, president of the Rochester Labor Council. RIT President Albert Simone will be the moderator.

For more information on the public forums and the initiatives of New York Matters, contact Michael Caputo at (585) 327-7082 or

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Taking Back Nassau's Passive Parks. . .

. . .One Gazebo At A Time

Park activist, Bruce Piel, reports on trials and tribulations at Bay Park in East Rockaway.

So, how's your local community park doing? The Community Alliance -- and your Long Island neighbors -- would like to know!

Nassau's Forgotten Park

By Bruce Piel

When the County built the Sewage Treatment Plant in East Rockaway they also built Bay Park. This was to provide a compensating amenity for the village as well as a buffer for the local community. The park provided tennis courts, basketball courts, athletic fields and a nine-hole golf course. Despite many years of improvement, community involvement and the value of this facility to the area, in the past decade it has become a neglected stepchild of the County Park system.

Like most of the county parks, Bay Park has been surrendered to vandals and other inappropriate uses when this administration eliminated the park ranger unit a few years back. Community residents no longer visit the park at dusk or after dark. Each week another act of criminal mischief is discovered. On August 1st an act of arson galvanized the Bay Park Civic Association to call a meeting to address the park issues.

On that night, vandals took a crib mattress awaiting curb side pick up and put in on picnic tables under a gazebo within the confines of the Children's Park and Playground, where it was set afire. When the Police and Fire Department arrived about 10:00 p.m., the entire structure and contents were engulfed. The loss of the gazebo and contents from a Children's Park that the community had long fought for became the last straw. Trashed toilets, graffiti covered benches, walls and vehicles driven over the athletic fields and now this.

The Bay Park Civic Association called a meeting for August 17th and invited all concerned public officials and residents. Over 200 residents attended, as did representatives of the 4th Precinct, Auxiliary Police, the Village Board, and Hempstead Councilman Anthony Santino. No one from Nassau County Government or Parks Department deigned to show up!

The community was told that Deputy Commissioner Andrew Hartwick would represent the Parks Department, but neither he nor any park representative made the meeting. Local county legislator Jeff Toback declined to come or send a representative. This snub was not mitigated by his offer of a $250 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the culprits. The Civic Association expressed their disappointment in the county representation to County Executive Thomas Suozzi who has yet to respond.

PARCnassau firmly believes that the county aided and abetted the vandals by failing to lock the lavatories and Children's park area, as well as not securing the park generally and enforcing the posted hours of access. The incidences of vandalism, underage drinking and drug use are on the rise in all county parks and if their response to the Bay Park situation is any example, the county doesn't care to address these issues. Once again, one of the finest park systems in the country is being allowed to disintegrate. It is past time for Nassau to adequately fund, maintain and protect our parks. They must start by meeting with the Bay Park community and it's Civic Association.

Bruce Piel is the Chairman of the Park Advocacy and Recreation Council of Nassau, a coalition of park advocacy and user groups throughout the county.

246 Twin Lane East
Wantagh, NY 11793
(516) 783-8378
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Editor's Notes: The Community Alliance reached out to the Bay Park community over the Labor Day Weekend and found that most residents were pleased with the $250 reward offered by Nassau County Legislator Jeff Toback (a reward matched by the Bay Park Civic Association, by the way), and thankful to Mr. Toback for having 100 reward posters printed so they could be posted by the civic association.

As a point of information, we have learned that the community meeting referenced by Mr. Piel was called by Town Councilman Tony Santino, not by the Bay Park Civic Association.

Further community meetings as to the conditions at Bay Park are to take place during September, we are told, with due participation of the County.
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In related news, there is evidence that the County's parks are making a comeback, getting much needed relief. READ, Mill Pond Gets Liposuction.

And today, the Nassau County Legislature takes up appropriation measures (under the Environmental Bond Act) designed to rehabilitate and revitalize some of our local community parks.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Close Encounters of the Illegal Kind

Addressing The Core Issues On Illegal Accessory Apartments

The following editorial first appeared in the Elmont Herald (Roy J. Mezzapelle, Publisher), and is well worth republishing here at The Community Alliance blog:

Illegal Housing & Illegal Immigration:Two Separate Issues

I feel it necessary to address a very important issue. Lately, especially since The New York Times article titled On Lucille Avenue, the Immigration Debate was published, I see more and more people blaming the illegal housing problem on illegal immigrants. This is simply not the case; and these two unrelated issues, when linked to each other, make it very difficult to address either one effectively.

As you are well aware, the illegal housing problem in Elmont, and throughout Long Island, is blamed on the lack of affordable housing, the lack of housing in general, and high property taxes. While these facts are certainly true, the root problem of illegal housing is a decades old problem that snowballed into the mess it is today by Town governments turning a blind-eye to it when it first became an issue.

In Elmont, with the exception of a few new houses being built on previously vacant land, the number of housing units will never grow in any great numbers because there is simply no room to build more homes. Our big issue is that our population in Elmont will grow by leaps and bounds, not from illegal immigration but from homeowners renting parts of their homes, usually illegally, to those who were born and raised on Long Island and can't afford to purchase a home, yet need or simply want to stay on Long Island.

As I have written in the past, while illegal immigrants certainly occupy illegal residences throughout Elmont, Long Island, and the Nation, these illegal immigrants by no means make up the majority of illegal renters. I've spoken with hundreds of people on this issue, and it seems that it is the middle-class American that makes up the majority of the illegal renters. Teachers, police officers, nurses, college students, and even red-blooded American families with honor-roll students are just some of the many people forced into illegal renting situations.

One misconception, probably brought about by the news media, is the notion that all illegal renters live in deplorable conditions. I've seen rental units in Elmont that would put some Garden City homes to shame. These, however, are the ones you don't see or hear about. What you see on the broadcast media is the non-English or broken-English speaking family, living in unlivable conditions, in over-crowded spaces. This is what perpetuates and leads us to believe that the illegal housing problem is solely an "illegal immigrant" issue.

Now before all of you think I'm getting soft on this issue, believe me I am not. Illegal is illegal; and whether it's immigration or housing, laws pertaining to both need to be enforced. If by enforcing the law it means the removal of family from an illegal apartment, or the deportation of an illegal immigrant from the country, so be it. The law is the law. We simply cannot afford to pay the bill for illegal activity any longer.

And hear this loud and clear, ILLEGAL RENTERS DO NOT PAY PROPERTY TAXES! The notion that a renter pays rent, and the landlord pays the taxes on the house, so therefore the renter pays property taxes, is simply not true.

Illegal housing is a local government issue and can be easily addressed with the laws currently in place; illegal immigration is a more complex issue, especially when it comes to enforcement.

EVERY illegal housing situation in Elmont can be corrected by the Town of Hempstead if they so chose. Unfortunately, and for unknown reasons, they choose to let the problem get worse, at our expense.

In an upcoming edition of the Elmont Herald (to be republished here at The Community Alliance blog) we will show how one local incorporated village has successfully implemented legislation, and enforced that legislation, to combat illegal housing within its borders, while the Town of Hempstead, with more money, personnel, and resources can't seem to, as my father used to say, "find its ass with both hands" on this issue. (My father was very quiet, but came out with some good one-liners when you least expected to hear them.)
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Nassau County Assessor, Harvey Levinson, offers an update on his office's efforts to reclassify single-family homes with illegal accessory apartments as commercial properties for tax purposes. [SEE, Illegal Multi-Family Housing Initiatives.]

In view of the literally thousands of illegal apartments in single-family homes located in Nassau County -- primarily along the forgotten south shore, and within the borders of the Town of Hempstead, America's largest township -- one has to ask, "Why only 24 reclassifications to date from residential to commercial tax rolls?"

The simple answer, as Harvey Levinson points out, is that before the Assessor's office can act, the towns and villages -- in whose hands jurisdiction lies, and upon whose shoulders the apparently overwhelming (as in "why bother trying at all?") burden of enforcement falls -- must act to investigate, and bring to judgment, homeowners acting outside the law.

Granted, the courts -- ill-equipped and not inclined -- have failed us here, too (recall our longstanding request for the township to establish a community court to hold sway over quality of life issues, such as illegal accessory apartments), but the town has primary responsibility in applying and enforcing the code. To say that the Town of Hempstead has been lax and far from proactive on this front is nothing short of understatement.

As Harvey Levinson laments, “I am disappointed that two of the three towns have chosen to ignore my calls over the past two years for a coordinated approach to combating and finding ways to eliminate these firetraps.”

We, too, are disappointed in the inaction and malaise, particularly in America's largest township -- which brings us to the more complex, and most perplexing reason for the stalemate in the battle to eradicate illegal rental apartments: the willingness of law-abiding homeowners (taxpayers all) to put up with the Town's failure to act, in any meaningful way, to resolve this still growing scourge upon our communities.

Rebuilding New York. . .

. . . And Waiting For Godot!

Nothing emboldens the terrorists more than for them to see their arch enemies squabble, babble, scratch their heads, and sit on their hands.

While Osama travels from cave to cave, he and his sinister cohorts can log on to the Internet on any given day [just how does he do that, when we can't get wireless to work from one room in our houses to the next?] and see that the huge hole he put in the ground (not to mention in our hearts) some five long years ago, is still nothing more than that -- a huge hole in the ground.

As a kid, I used to watch those old war movies. You know. The ones where the bad guys blew up a bridge, and, not a commercial later, the good guys had rebuilt it. In fact, every time the enemy blew up that bridge, the "good guys" (no matter the risk to life and limb) built a new one. Boy, did that demoralize the enemy.

Maybe its harder to tell the good guys from the bad guys, these days. I think it has something to do with hats. Or maybe there just aren't as many well-staged war movies anymore.

Maybe we've lost our will, or, given the scarcity of intelligent leadership, have lost our way.

Odd how we could rebuild the whole of Europe, not to mention a good part of Asia, but we can't seem to so much as lay a cornerstone here at home. We can build schools and hospitals, fix roads and electric lines, in Baghdad, but can't build a tower in New York or fix a levee in New Orleans. We can't even recover in a timely fashion from a relatively minor blackout (caused not by terrorism, but by a storm) in Queens. But not to worry. At least we're safe!

Or, it could be a matter of fatigue -- we're simply 9-11'd out. Years of waiting in fear -- as the colors change from yellow to orange, and, as if by calculated scheme, nothing happens -- will do that to you.

No, you can't say that. Why, it is blasphemy (if not downright unAmerican) to even think that!

But face it, five years, tens of thousands of feet of news reel footage, dozens of documentaries, myriad memorial services, a half dozen second-rate movies, and endless "chatter" -- from commissions, elected officials, families, wannabes, the media, Larry Silverstein, and the terrorists themselves via audio and video tape -- and many of us, admit it or not, have, frankly, had enough.

Build the Freedom Tower, already. Build something. Anything.

Okay, maybe we can never move on, but at least we should begin to move forward.

That, dear friends, will be our best defense against terror.
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Meanwhile, with 9-11-06 behind us, we take a moment to commemorate 7-11. Not the date -- the convenience store. It will give us something else to think about, and, with a Big Gulp in hand, something tangible to build upon.

Monday, September 11, 2006

"Special" Takes On New Meaning

Residents For Efficient Special Districts Looks To Redefine Business (and Politics) As Unusual

The dictionary offers several definitions for the word "special," among them, "surpassing what is common or usual; exceptional; distinct among others of a kind; having a limited or specific function, application, or scope; and, regarded with particular affection and admiration."

Hmmm. That last one doesn't seem to fit the bill with respect to the hundreds of Special Districts that pass for local governing bodies (not to mention taxing jurisdictions) here on Long Island. [Then again, we do so love our Sanitary Districts, don't we?]

Residents for Efficient Special Districts (RESD), a nonpartisan, nonprofit civic organization advocating for the most efficient and effective provision of Fire, Sanitation & Water services within the Town of Hempstead (and beyond), offers its own "special" take on the Special Districts.

Read on. . .

Special Districts: Redefining the word “Special”

Newsday recently ran an article (see Roosevelt Fire Commissioner Campaigning in Florida) about Fire Commissioner Ronnie McLean who moved to Florida yet failed to resign his position with the Roosevelt Fire District. [The Community Alliance likewise followed up on Emi Endo's expose with its Man Of Many Hats blogpost.] It was not until the St. Petersburg Times reported that Mr. McLean was running for an elected position in Florida while still holding office in New York, that anyone in Roosevelt was aware of Mr. McLean’s whereabouts. “Before I was actually on the ballot down here, I'm pretty sure that I was not a commissioner in Roosevelt” was Mr. McLean’s response. Well, I’m pretty sure the taxpayers of Roosevelt deserve a better explanation than that.

Ever since Harvey Levinson, in his failed run for Town of Hempstead Supervisor last year, began to throw light on the ever increasing and seemingly arbitrary costs of the special districts, the public has become understandably upset with how their tax dollars are being spent. An increasing number of politicians from both parties, editorial boards of newspapers, and civic groups have begun to advocate for the consolidation of special districts. The argument being that consolidation would reduce the duplicative administrative costs associated with operating the special districts, thus lowering the costs of providing the service which in turn would lower taxes for everyone.

Due to the attention on taxes, the primary fixation on the special districts has been to highlight the opportunity to lower the tax burden. One area that has received less emphasis, but in some respects is equally important; if not more, is that of transparency and accountability. Even though the special districts are public entities with elected officials, they are not subject to the same controls, oversight, and regulations as most other government organizations. The story of Mr. McLean is an example of this lack of control. It’s clear the Fire District did not have a written policy regarding the resignation process for commissioners. It would be laughable to think that either County Executive Suozzi or Town Supervisor Murray could jet off to Florida, run for election there, and not have anyone notice. Unlike Fire Commissioner Daniel Markham who said “I don't know when he (Mr. McLean) moved; he didn't tell me. I found out just two days ago that he's resigning and he's relocated.”

The administrative operations of special districts have been run like mom-and-pop shops since the day they started, and to be fair, it worked when the tax burden was manageable. If the Sanitation Commissioners went out for a $700 steak dinner, well…. what was the big deal, right? Special districts have failed to realize, so far, that times have changed. Given the fact that Long Islanders have one of the highest tax burdens, not just in New York, but the country, residents are rightly demanding that every dollar used by any public service provider be accounted for. It is not an unreasonable demand given the current environment. The cost of incompetence has become too high to bear. The special districts need to become more professional and begin to institute many of the controls and oversight that other public service providers are required to follow. Here are just a few steps special districts could take to increase accountability to the public:

1. Submit their budget to a public vote similar to the school budget or, at the very least, an opportunity for public review and comment before it is enacted;
2. Have an independent auditor perform an assessment on a regular basis;
3. Develop written policies and procedures for every aspect of operations;
4. Create a website with public information such as meeting dates, commissioner contact information, budget information, and election dates.

Consolidation of the special districts is ultimately the proper direction to take. As many have come to learn, this consolidation will not happen overnight. It will take many years and there will be protracted struggles along the way as entrenched groups will fight tooth and nail to protect their special interests. In the short term, what we as residents can do is encourage the special districts to become more responsible, accountable, and transparent to taxpayers. Even though our taxes may not go down anytime in the near future, at least we will have the peace of mind that basic controls and oversight are in place to ensure that our tax dollars are not being wasted.

A new nonprofit, nonpartisan civic group called Residents for Efficient Special Districts (RESD) has been formed to advocate for these very things. If you are interested in learning more about RESD and/or would like to become a member, please e-mail

Friday, September 08, 2006

Primary Colors

Here In New York, They're Orange And Blue

On Monday, our nation commemorates the 5th anniversary of the horrific events of September 11, 2001. We thought it appropriate, in what we consider a fitting memorial, to celebrate another date somewhat significant to American freedoms and liberties – September 12, 2006.

That’s Primary Day here in New York, and while this year’s elections have generated about as much excitement as Univision's fall line-up, there are choices out there, and decisions to be made – decisions that will likely impact on our future as Americans, as New Yorkers, and, yes, as Long Islanders.

The Race For Governor

Anyone who is playing with even half a deck has to know that, barring some unforeseen calamity, Eliot Spitzer has this one sewn up.

So, why is The Community Alliance endorsing Tom Suozzi, an underdog that only an underdog could love?

Well, that one is easy. Not only it is essential for our survival – as a State and as a region – to get Tom Suozzi’s message out there for the masses (and for the legislature) to debate and act upon [taxes, housing, education – all bantered about in the campaign like so many trial balloons, with few taking heed of our County Exec’s call to stop talking and start doing something], but moreover, Long Islanders must send a message – to Albany and around New York State – that WE matter.

“Hello? We’re out here, New York. Can you hear us?”

Trouble is, no one west of Tom Suozzi is paying anything more than lip service to Long Island, if that, evidenced glaringly by the fact that upstate school districts garner 60% or more in State Aid to education, while Long Island school districts languish with little more than 12% from Albany.

Need we say more?

Will Eliot Spitzer remember Long Island when his new abode is the Governor’s mansion? Maybe. But first, he’ll have to find Long Island. Seems that to the Attorney General, any place east of Central Park might just as well be in Manchuria. [What do you know? Mr. Spitzer is scheduled to visit Manchuria today. Alert the media.]

At least with Tom Souzzi, Long Island would have a chance. He's young. He's brash. [And after 12 years of the Pataki doldrums, we could use young and brash.] If nothing more, Long Island would have a voice in State government, something that has been missing for a long, long time, bemuddled efforts of our venerable legislative delegation notwithstanding.

A vote for Tom Suozzi on Tuesday, September 12th may not turn the Spitzer tide, but it would let Mr. Spitzer – and the rest of the Capitol crowd – know that Long Islanders (and their concerns) are to be reckoned with. [At the very least, it would let Albany know that Long Islanders actually vote, which itself would be a step in the right direction!]

In voting for Tom, we make Spitzer work for our votes in November, rather than taking the Long Island electorate for granted. [Not that Suozzi supporters would be inclined to vote for John Faso (trust us on that one), but an overwhelming show of support for Suozzi would certainly make Spitzer think twice before abandoning LI and its causes -- at least between September 12th and November 7th.]

A vote for Tom Suozzi would also be a great way for us Long Islanders to say “thank you, Tom.” Thank you for putting the issues -- our issues -- in play. Thank you for standing up for homeowners, our children, and a vision of New York that was seemingly left along the roadside long ago by most politicos who have entrenched themselves in State and local government. Thank you for staying in this race, Tom, and keeping the debate (which Spitzer conveniently avoided) alive (for all who would listen, anyway), when it would have been easier – and more politically expedient – to have quit the race, stayed at home, and let the tired and worn chips fall where they may.

A vote for our County Executive, Tom Suozzi, would also be a nice way to welcome Tom home. Sure, he’s been away from his post campaigning. Such is the bane of anyone seeking higher office for the greater good. Still, absent a miracle that pits Suozzi against Faso in the November 7th election, Tom has three more years to serve as County Exec. Three more years to continue to raise the standard, to churn the pot, and to keep Nassau moving ever forward toward prosperity. Three more years for the man who really can do it, not only because he did it, but because it is in our own self interest as Long Islanders to see that Tom succeeds.

Once back in Mineola, should the fates and the voters declare Tom Suozzi’s quest for Governor at an end, we should once again embrace Tom’s leadership, his vision, and the idea that Nassau County is not only back from the brink, but back in front of the pack where it belongs -- where we belong.

And with the Governor’s race presumably out of the way, Tom Suozzi should give serious consideration to recanting his pledge not to seek elective office after his term as Nassau County Executive comes to an end. [We also hope that whoever is behind the Suozzi blog will continue to post. Beyond its entertainment value and biting politics, there's an anything but subliminal message calling all New Yorkers to action. Blog on!]

We really do need Tom Suozzi in our future!
Attorney General

On the Democratic side, there are three candidates: Andrew M. Cuomo (son of former Governor Mario Cuomo), Mark Green (perennial candidate), and a political newcomer (of sorts), Sean Patrick Maloney (a former advisor to President Bill Clinton).

One thing we can say with certainty about both Mr. Cuomo (Secretary of HUD under former President Clinton) and Mr. Green (former NYC Ombudsman) -- "been there, done that!"

Both Cuomo and Green are old school. Not much to be expected in the way of reform here. In fact, it would pretty much be color by numbers with either Cuomo (who fashions himself as the latter day Spitzer cum Mario Cuomo -- you can almost see the morphing taking place) or Green (who has seemingly run for every public office in the State, save County Coroner).

This is not to say that Sean Patrick Maloney will be anything other than out of the mold, but at least he's a new face, and not one of the party "regulars." Besides, Maloney gets the uncontested nod, by the New York Post, no less, as one of the 25 Sexiest Men in New York. On that basis alone, in an election that will likely be dominated by Andrew Cuomo, The Community Alliance throws its support to Maloney in Tuesday's Primary.

United States Senate

In the Democratic Primary, incumbent Hillary Rodham Clinton faces an out of nowhere (and at this point, going nowhere) challenge from anti-war candidate, Jonathan Tasini.

Unlike his Democratic counterpart in Connecticut, Tasini has been able to make little, if any hay on the war issue, and really hasn't distinguished himself from Hillary Clinton on other issues of concern to New Yorkers.

You have to give the guy credit, though, for running in the first place, with the odds and the big bucks clearly stacked against him, and a major thumbs up for simply getting on the ballot, this in a State that makes vying for public office more difficult than winning the Olympic Decatholon.

Give Tasini the award for tenacity here. Our endorsement, however, goes to Clinton.

On the Republican side -- apparently vying for the position of "also ran" (as in, "your obit will note that you once challenged Hillary Clinton for her Senate seat") -- are Kathleen Troia "KT" McFarland (clearly, the face that launched the Cold War) and John Spencer (not late of West Wing fame).

McFarland served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs under President Ronald Reagan, and, frankly, hasn't done all that much in service to the people of New York since.

Spencer is the former Mayor of the City of Yonkers, and a heck of a lot easier on the eyes than McFarland.

Neither impresses us as U.S. Senate material, but between the two -- and considering McFarland's considerable "flake" factor -- we'll go with John Spencer to take on Clinton in November.
No other primaries to speak of here on Long Island, the players pretty much having decided who you will get to vote for in November. [Of course, there's always the "write-in" vote. . .]
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The greatest tribute we can pay to the heroes of 9/11 is to embrace freedom with every fiber of our being. Take up the cause of freedom – VOTE!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

"Clean Money, Clean Elections" Comes To Long Island

Public Interest Group Seeks To Highlight Need For Campaign Finance Reform

The folks at Citizen Action of New York have asked us to pass along the following information:

Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson will be stopping in Long Island on thier 2nd statewide bus tour this Friday, September 8th. Check out the details below.

This is a great opportunity for us to let them know there are Clean Money, Clean Elections (CMCE) supporters all over the state, including Long Island.

Please let Jessica Wisneski, the Clean Money, Clean Elections Campaign Coordinator, know if you can make it to either of these events. Jessica can be reached at or (518) 465-4600 x109.

"I have CMCE signs I can overnight to you so you can have them to bring to the event," says Jessica. "They say 'I support Clean Money, Clean Elections - DO YOU?' on one side and our education message on the other. We need them waving at every campaign stop. Folks have already been seen by Spitzer and Paterson in Kingston this morning, will see folks in Albany in about an hour and again on Thursday in Rochester."

Friday, September 8
11:00 AM
Visit Shinnecock Fishing Village
369 Dune Road
Hampton Bays

2:15 PM
Deliver Remarks at Fulton School
40 Fulton Ave
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EDITOR'S COMMENTS: Query as to whether one could say "Clean Money, Clean Elections" and Eliot Spitzer (or frankly, any other candidate) in the same breath, and with a straight face, no less!

Anyway, "Clean Money, Clean Elections" is a great idea, and a campaign that should not only be endorsed by candidates and electorate alike, but practiced by those seeking elected office rather than simply preached.

Bird Call At Nassau County Legislature

Mineola Not All Its Quacked Up To Be. . .

Another "would you believe," this time from the Nassau County Legislature, which, in the face of new budget woes and legislative time constraints, now ponders which bird to make "official."

This from the Great Neck Record, because, folks, we can't make this stuff up!

Legislative Majority Report

By Presiding Officer Judy Jacobs

You Get to Choose the Official Nassau County Bird

Who will it be? The Tree Swallow? Osprey? Or the American Oystercatcher? While these three contestants will not be asked to sing prior to voting, they represent the three contestants vying for the title of Nassau County's official bird. New York State has its blue bird, but I believe Nassau County deserves its own official bird. I am thrilled to be putting the decision into the hands of Anton's readers and all of Nassau's residents...

Why should American Idol judges have all the fun?

Only a few counties have "official" birds, according to Robert Alvey, president of the Garden City Bird Sanctuary. The three suggestions for the official bird came from the members of the Garden City Bird Sanctuary.

Those interested in having their opinion count can vote, starting August 29, on the County website, and look for the bird contest.

The first candidate is the TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor). Tree swallows are medium-sized swallows with purer white underparts and slightly forked tails. Adults in breeding plumage have glossy metallic blue underparts tinged with green. They are distinctive and elegant looking and populate much of Nassau County.

The second candidate is the OSPREY. The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is a medium large raptor which is a specialist fish-eater with a world-wide distribution. It is also known as the fish hawk, sea hawk or fish eagle. The Osprey is 52-60 cm (20.5-23.6 inches) long with a 152-167 (5-5.5 feet) wingspan. It has white underparts and long, narrow wings with four "finger" feathers at the end of each.

The third candidate is the AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER (haematopus palliates), occasionally called the American Pied Oystercatcher, are large, conspicuous birds that were hunted to near extinction along the Atlantic coast. Given total protection, they have once again become numerous and now nest in numbers as far north as Massachusetts. Oystercatchers insert their long blade-like bills into mussels and other bivalves, severing the powerful adductor muscles before the shells can close.

It is my hope that by putting a spotlight on the birds of Nassau County, we can educate residents regarding the variety of species we have here in the County and also generate an interest in protecting the birds and their habitats. For more information about the contest, call my office at 516-571-6216 or for more information about birds; call the Garden City Bird Sanctuary at 516-326-1720.
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"Look for the bird contest." Yup, that about says it all!

Judy, if we blogged it once, we've blogged it a thousand times -- Nassau County already has an official bird, the vulture! [Make that the Peter King Vulture...]

We wonder whether the birds will get more votes than Tom Suozzi in the September 12th Primary?

Of course, Long Island voters already pay homage to their own official bird, the Ostrich!
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Tomorrow on the blog: Our New York Primary Picks

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Man Of Many Hats

They Also Serve Who Move To Florida

A Roosevelt Fire Commissioner moves to Florida, runs for Hernando County Commissioner, and continues to "serve" the fire district in New York.

So, what's wrong with that?

After all, we've heard about elected officials who wear two or more hats (and collect two or more salaries and two or more pensions), as well as special district commissioners who winter in Florida, yet somehow never officially "miss" a district board meeting, pocketing the per meeting allowance notwithstanding their absence. [Hey, you think suntan lotion is cheap?]

Seems there's no one watching the pot when it comes to watching those who are supposed to be watching the pot.

Go figure!

He has a new place in the sun

Fire commissioner is campaigning for a county seat in Fla., but has yet to officially give up his post here

Newsday Staff Writer

A former Roosevelt resident running for office in Florida on Tuesday has yet to officially resign as a fire commissioner here, according to a district official.

Ronnie McLean, 42, who was elected in 2004 to the Roosevelt Fire District, has moved to Hernando County, Fla., and said he had planned to leave the fire district before his term ends in 2007.

That came as news to one of his fellow commissioners, vice chairman Daniel Markham, who said yesterday that McLean has been voting at board meetings and saw him as recently as a couple of months ago. McLean still has a voice mailbox as a commissioner at the Roosevelt Fire District.

"I don't know when he moved; he didn't tell me," Markham said. "I found out just two days ago that he's resigning and he's relocated." Markham said he and the other commissioners were surprised. "Go figure," he said. "People do what they do."

Markham said the board was waiting to receive a hard copy of McLean's resignation letter, which was apparently faxed to the office earlier this week. The board will likely discuss the vacancy at their next meeting, Sept. 13, Markham said.

But McLean said yesterday that he informed the other commissioners earlier that he would be quitting. "I told them that I was resigning at the beginning of the year," he said. "I haven't really been around."McLean, whose position as a Roosevelt fire commissioner while he was a candidate in Florida made headlines in the St. Petersburg Times on Thursday, said he had done nothing wrong. "

Before I was actually on the ballot down here, I'm pretty sure that I was not a commissioner in Roosevelt," he said.McLean is a candidate in a three-way Democratic primary for Hernando county commissioner.

It is unclear whether holding office as a fire commissioner while standing for election in another state would violate election laws. Under New York State election law, for instance, a town supervisor who moved out of that town would automatically create a vacancy, said Lee Daghlian, a spokesman for the state Board of Elections. But whether that would apply to a special district such as a fire district is not clear.

According to Hernando County elections officials, McLean registered to vote in Florida on Feb. 17, 2005.

In Nassau County, McLean's New York voter registration is still on file but as of June 7, 2006, he is flagged as being inactive in this state, according to a Nassau elections official.

New York State and Nassau officials said it often takes time for a voter's previous registration to be canceled. In New York, "the law says you can't be registered" in more than one place, but it "routinely happens," Daghlian said. "People move."

McLean said, "I registered the way I was supposed to. Once I registered, I never voted in New York again."

Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.
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Okay, so you need to hold two jobs to make ends meet on Long Island. But in Florida?

Apparently, Commissioner McLean isn't held in such high esteem by those who cover the political beat in Florida, either. [READ the St. Petersburg Times piece, Don't Waste Time On Questionable McLean.]

According to published reports [SEE Candidate Still Holds Office In New York], when pressed for answers on his dual role and possible conflicts (if not election law sidesteps), McLean responded, "God is going to sort it out, this kind of thing, because I'm not going to take your threats."

That's it, Commissioner McLean. When reason if not law fails you, call upon the Almighty. [After all, your fellow Commissioners may not be able to get down to the Sunshine State in time to vote for you!]

Said Sterling Ivey, a spokesman for the Florida Department of State, "Well, tell him, before God has a chance, the voters might have a say."

Of course, if Florida voters reject McLean -- as they should -- he could always come back to Long Island. Surely, residents here would welcome him with open arms -- and maybe even a new Commissioner's post, or two...
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POSTSCRIPT: Fire Commissioner Loses Fla. Race; Quits Local Post

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Car 54 Where Are You?

Official Town Vehicle Goes Missing. Well, Sort of. . .

There's a hold-up in the Bronx,
Brooklyn's broken out in fights,
There's a traffic jam in Harlem
That's backed up to Jackson Heights.
There's a Scout troop short a child,
Khrushchev's due at Idlewyld,
Car 54, Where Are You?

Newsday reports of a flap over a Town of Hempstead Public Safety vehicle which was alleged to have been stolen. [Is nothing safe or sacred in the Town of Hempstead?] READ, Flap over missing patrol car.

Turns out, the car was not stolen, but merely deemed abandoned by the public safety officer, who, or so say Town officials, had left the vehicle parked, unattended, at Rath Park in Franklin Square "for an extended period of time."

So, personnel from the Town's Department of Public safety, unbeknownst to the public safety officer, James Whitaker, to whom the vehicle had been assigned, "retrieved" the car from Rath Park (without, of course, advising Whitaker). [Don't they give these guys walkie-talkies?]

So here's poor James Whitaker, returning to his official vehicle -- whenever -- thinking that the car had been stolen. Whitaker calls the cops. The cops put out an APB, and the madcap adventure ensues.

A comedy of Keystone Cops proportions. [If only Officer Whitaker hadn't parked under the "Autistic Child Area" sign!]

Was this a case of mixed signals or retribution? Have Town of Hempstead employees taken to stealing cars, now that Town elections are over and there are no more lawn signs to steal?

“Hmm. Now where did I leave my official Town car when I went to get coffee 4-days ago?”

The plot for a new movie, perhaps? Call it, The Supervisor’s Car Is Missing.

“...left unattended ‘for an extended period of time.’” Kinda like most positions filled through the Town's patronage mill, eh?

Who, we wonder, will get stuck with the tab for Nassau County Police overtime, as officers in marked patrol cars, unmarked vehicles, and a supervisor, no less, looked high and low for the "missing" car? [And don't you feel so much safer knowing that the Town's Department of Public Safety is on patrol in your community 24/7 (or was that paid 24/7, but only working 4/3?).]

Sure. James Whitaker (loved him in Give 'em Hell, Harry! and Kiss Me Kate. Wait. That was James Whitmore. Never mind.) is being “punished” for doing well on a promotional exam. Yeah, right. Like that ever happens at a government office.

We concur with Town Supervisor Kate Murray’s proposed policy – “not to remove a vehicle from somebody who’s on duty.”

In fact, why not just leave the car where you find it until the guy retires, or goes off on disability. Time, after all, is relative. [At least that’s always been the case at Hempstead Town Hall!]
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UPDATE on That's Why They Call It Labor Day: We took considerable flak over our Labor Day piece that offered at least reserved praise for Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray, who, as per her pledge, held the line on Town taxes.

We were reminded by several readers that the Town was only able to "freeze" taxes by bonding millions of dollars which, while not in the budget, are expenses that we must pay for at some point nonetheless (as in digging into reserve funds or tax hikes down the road).

Okay. So we tried to be nice. Geez. You can't get a break, can you? Sorry, Kate!

The Community Alliance blog will be taking a closer look at those Town of Hempstead expenses to see if the numbers add up to real savings for the taxpayer, or just a borrowing from Peter today to pay Paul and Mary tomorrow.

Meanwhile, keep those cards and letters coming!

Monday, September 04, 2006

That's Why They Call It Labor Day

Work Harder, Longer, To Pay Those Property Tax Bills!

Those Tax Statements are in the mail again -- for Town and County property taxes. [The ultimate sticker shock, by way of your School Tax Statement, arrives in mailboxes in a couple of months.]

We're going to eat just a bit of crow (or is it vulture?) here at The Community Alliance, and give Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray her due -- and appropriate credit -- for actually having held that line on Town taxes, or at least those Town taxes that are levied outside of the infamous Special Districts.

Kate Murray and the Hempstead Town Board deserve kudos for "freezing" Town taxes, and we'll be among the first to tip our hats. But, oh those nasty Special Districts -- at both the Town and County levels.

We've gotten hold of copies of several Tax Statements from residents whose single family homes lie within the boundaries of Town of Hempstead Sanitary District 6, and we thought we'd share some round numbers with you [and keep in mind, none of this includes school taxes, which, on average, account for some 60% of your property tax bill].

With respect to separate taxing districts (call them "special" or otherwise), we counted no less than nine (9) on the collective Tax Statements, seven (7) Town and two (2) County.

The Water Districts and Fire Districts each saw increases averaging 7.5%, while the tax levies in the other districts remained more or less constant. On the Tax Statements reviewed, homeowners paid an average tax of $280 to the Fire District and $200 to the Water District.

Aside from Water and Fire -- both Special Districts of the Town -- the other taxing districts noted (with the average tax amounts in parentheses) are:

County Sewage Disposal District ($270)
E Rock-Lyn-Mal CSC District [Does anyone have the foggiest idea what this is?] ($35)
Town Lighting District ($54)
Town Park District ($241)
Town Public Parking District ($12)
Town Refuse Disposal District ($300)
Town Sanitary District 6 ($801)

For those keeping track (are you sitting?), that's a tax of $2193 for "district" taxes alone -- nearly one-half of the general levy for Town of Hempstead-County of Nassau property taxes.

There is some good news. The County tax levy for "General Purposes," which for 2006 was $35,641,318 and change, saw a 30% drop from last year.

Homeowners in Sanitary District 6 still pay more for garbage collection than they do for police protection, taking the aggregate of $801 paid to SD6 and $300 to the Town Refuse Disposal District [total "garbage" tax = $1101], versus the $805 in taxes that goes to the Nassau County Police. [In 2005, the SD6 tax paid taken alone was greater than the tax paid for County Police. Those numbers changed in 2006 owing to a 7.16% increase in the tax levy on the County Police line.]

Of course, that's not the complete picture. To be fair, we have to add in the $567 homeowners pay the County for "Police Headquarters," where the total tax levied is a whopping $116,523,232, more than 3 times the tax levy for County General Purposes, yet not quite as much as the levy for County Police, which outdistances all County and Town levies by far at $155,628,861. That must be some party they're having at Nassau County Police Headquarters, all on the taxpayers' dime! Thank you, Gary DelaRaba. . .

More good news! The streets of the Town of Hempstead really are paved with gold (those chunks of crumbling asphalt you see are actually gold nuggets in the rough). The total tax levy for Town Highway Repairs /Improvements for 2006 is $51,939,271. That's nearly as much as the levies for County General Purposes ($35,641,319) and Town General Purposes ($16,595,353) combined.

Then again, your tax dollars at work on Town roadways is but a drop in the bucket when compared to the 2006 tax levies for garbage collection/disposal. We're talking $21,587,424 for Sanitary District 6, and more than double that -- $46,073,603 -- for the Town Refuse Disposal District.

Talk about throwing away money. . .

All told, the average 2006 Town of Hempstead - County of Nassau General Levy, based on the Tax Statements reviewed by The Community Alliance, was $4622. Assuming that this constitutes approximately 40% of the total tax tab, these homeowners can expect a total tax bill (once school taxes are tallied and added to the mix) of somewhere in the neighborhood of $11,555.

Boy, that $235.56 "rebate" check these homeowners are likely to receive in October will sure go a long way in reducing their property tax burden, won't it?

Now don't take our number crunching on blind faith. Do a tax analysis of your own -- if you dare. Pull out that Tax Statement, and once your head stops spinning, add up a levy here and a tax rate there. A little for the Parking District. Some more for the Water District. A heck of alot more for the Sanitary District, Sewage District, and Refuse Disposal District. And let's not forget the E Rock-Lyn-Mal CSC District -- whatever that may be!

Can't find your 2006 Tax Statement? Already shredded it in disgust? You can still check out your property tax numbers online at Click the Property Search tab. Scroll down to and click the button for "accept conditions." Enter your property description either by Section, Block and Lot or by street address. Then click on the General and School Taxes tab.

Okay. We won't blame you if you don't look at your tax bill. After all, "See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil" seems to have been the order of the day in these parts for the longest time as concerns our property taxes. They keep taxing. We keep paying.

It's enough to keep the average Nassau County/Town of Hempstead homeowner up at night. [WARNING: If you do stay up all night, please don't leave the lights on. Remember, the tax levy for the Town of Hempstead Lighting District is now $8,654,978, or another $54 per homeowner into the pot.]

Have a wonderful Labor Day. Now, GET BACK TO WORK!