Tuesday, October 31, 2006

What do they call "bobbing for apples" in the Bush White House?


Sometimes these blog posts are sheer torture, aren't they?

Only 1 week until Election Day! According to Bush, "if you turn Congress over to the Democrats, the terrorists win." Does anyone beside this blogger hear desperation?

On the other side of the coin, if you allow the Republicans to maintain their stranglehold on our government, well, the Detroit Tigers win, in 7. No, really. They do!

Okay, George, Dick, Don, Condi -- You can take off your masks now! "Luke, I am your father..."

Ahh, Dick Cheney. The best life insurance policy a president could buy.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN from The Community Alliance Blog. Hey, it doesn't get any more frightening than this... Halloween at the White House.

Folks, if you keep sending the same nitwits back to do the same job, why does it surprise you when you get the same results? Some Americans apparently enjoy self-flagellation. [And if you like flagellation, you'll love crucifiction, coming this holiday season (er, ah, Christmas) to a Theocracy near you.]

As the Captain of the Titanic said to the helmsman, after the ship had hit the iceberg and was on its way under, "Stay the course..."

Monday, October 30, 2006

Petition To Dissolve Gordon Heights Fire District Fails

i's Not Dotted, t's Not Crossed, Brookhaven Town Board Nixes Residents' Plea In Long Island Fire District With Highest Taxes Per Capita

In August, this blog reported on the grassroots campaign of Gordon Heights residents to dissolve their fire district, a special districts serving some 800 homes, with an average tax of $1,344 -- and that's just for fire services. [SEE, Dissolve Two Fire Districts...]

Now, the Brookhaven Town Board, citing irregularities in the Petition -- a Petition, residents allege, signed by 70% of Gordon Heights homeowners -- has rejected residents' request to dissolve the local fire district.

According to a report in Newsday, the irregularities included a failure to verify and authenticate signatures, and signature sheets that were not properly bound or notarized.

"They screwed it up," Brookhaven spokesman Michael Pitcher told Newsday. "Election law is a minefield and if anyone is doing a petition subject to New York State election law, the first thing you've got to do is hire an attorney to write it."

Resident activists have vowed to try, try again, and this time, to enlist the aid of counsel.

Rosalie Hanson of Medford, one of the Gordon Heights taxpayers who helped organize the first Petition drive, was undeterred.

"What was incorrect about our petition, we learned yesterday morning from the Brookhaven Town attorneys, was quite insignificant and merely technical," Hanson said in a letter to Newsday, copied to the not-for-profit watchdog group, Residents for Efficient Special Districts (RESD), and forwarded on to The Community Alliance.

"This should not discount the fact that this petition contained over 70% of the residents whose signatures were individually verified and notarized; or the fact that people in this community had the courage to step up to the plate and face unchartered waters in an effort to finally do something about an issue that has plagued them for more than 20 years... "

Hanson says that residents had requested the Town to provide the proper petition format before they began the Petition drive. The Town was unable to provide this information. [Did you really expect help from the Town?]

Residents are now faced with the task -- and the expense -- of hiring an attorney to launch a second wave upon the fire district by way of a renewed Petition to dissolve.

Gina Previte, a resident paying nearly $2600 each year to the Gordon Heights fire district, told The Community Alliance, "We desperately need legal help. The problem is Gordon Heights is mostly a low income community which is least able to afford an expensive legal battle. Yet doing nothing is creating a financial burden."

"We have done alot to expose the Commissioners who have no regard (for either residents or theoir money)," said Previte, "and who proved it again last week when they submitted the same $1,481,000.00 budget as last year, creating a tax rate of $64.00 per $100."

The search is now on to find an attorney, possibly someone willing to offer services on a pro bono or reduced fee basis, to assist residents in their continuing battle for equity, justice, and a fair tax rate.

Anyone reading this blog who is or knows of an attorney familiar with the Election Law and willing to help the residents' Petition Committee in their quest to dissolve the Gordon Heights Fire District should contact Residents for Efficient Special Districts at RESD@aol.com.

And to the residents of Gordon Heights, take heart. If at first you don't succeed in battling either special district or Town, try, try again. You can take on Town Hall and win!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Oceanside Civic Meeting October 30th

Developments In Oceanside To Be Discussed

A community meeting of the Oceanside Civic Association will be held on Monday, October 30, 2006 at 7:30 PM, in the auditorium of Oceanside school #8, 3252 Fulton Avenue, in (of all places) Oceanside.

Among the invited guests are Senator Dean Skelos, Assemblymen Harvey Weisenberg and Bob Barra, Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman, and County Legislators Denise Ford and Jeff Toback.

Given that this is an election year for Mssrs. Skelos, Weisenberg and Barra -- with that election just a tad over a week away -- we hope that prudence also dictated invites to the loyal opposition. [No, this meeting isn't a debate or Candidates' Forum, but good civic association protocol calls for either having all sides present at such public conclaves held in close proximity to an election, or postponing the appearance of candidates, albeit duly elected public officials, until after the election.]

For the record, Senator Skelos is being challenged by Five Towns attorney Odelia Goldberg; Assemblyman Barra faces off against IT consultant Daniel Torres, and Assemblyman Weisenberg has as his opponent former police officer, former teacher, former priest, and now attorney, Frank McQuade.

As with most incumbents, the "ins" have considerably more clout -- and that all-important name recognition -- than the "outs," but in an election year which sports a more than mild distaste for incumbency (or so the talking heads tell us), and an expected low voter tutnout, you never know.

In any case, public forums -- whether formal debates or less formal civic association meetings -- provide a great opportunity for the public to meet and get to know the candidates, whether those candidates have held office for a couple of decades, or are virtual babes on the political scene.

That's democracy at its best. Just ask the Board of Trustees of the Franklin Square Public Library or Harvey Levinson (who's not running this year, by the way, but still has his website up from his ill-fated 2005 campaign against Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray. Could a rematch in 2007 be in the offing?).

Back to the Oceanside Civic Association meeting.

This is a wonderful opportunity for both residents and friends of the Oceanside community to find out what's going on around town, including the latest on the Serota recycling plant.

All Oceansiders are encouraged to attend.

For more information, visit the association's website at www.OceansideCivicAssociation.com, or contact OCA President, Ray Pagano, at 516-594-1940, or by e-mail at ray31@aol.com.

The New York Times Endorses Dave Mejias For Congress

And So Do We!

Not that it would have taken the skill of a John Edwards (the psychic, not the former Senator and vice presidential candidate), given what we've written in these blog posts about Congressman Peter King of New York's 3rd Congressional District, but we'll say it again, anyway. Voters should retire Pete King from the House of Representatives, consigning him to write nasty letters to the editor of Newsday and his former constituents.

We could go on, in encyclopedic chapter and verse, about the inherent evils of Pete King. We'll say our piece, to be sure, but defer to our blogging colleagues at the Peter King Watch to take that in-depth swipe at the McCarthyesque Chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

Usually, we can find something nice to say about those who dedicate themselves to public service, but in this case, well, we'd be hard-pressed to find a kind word for King, a man who has as much disdain for the very people who voted him into office as he does for the fundamentals of the Constitution.

Maybe its the fact that Peter King not only stands by George W. Bush -- touting his failed policies from Iraq to Medicare Part D to immigration -- he embraces this president. And just what can one say of a Congressman, from our own neck of the woods, no less, who embraces incompetence, ineptitude and bungling baffoonery? "You lie, Mr. President, and I'll swear to it!"

Perhaps its his staunch conviction that anyone who aids and/or abets an illegal immigrant, by so much as providing a hot meal, should have a conviction of his/her own -- a felony conviction, that is. Or whose immigration policy hinges on a 700 mile long fence along our border with Mexico (it was King who sponsored the measure, and Bush who signed it -- the original Dumb and Dumber). Sure, a fence will quell the rush of the huddled masses yearning to toil in the fields for less than minimum wage so they can feed and clothe their kids back home. [Gee, we wonder if they got a permit for that fence. Somebody call Town Hall.]

How about screwing the seniors among us, voting in favor of a prescription drug program that feeds the coffers of drug manufacturers and health insurers, as it forces the elderly to choose between taking their meds and eating dinner. Yeah, Pete and your G(reed) O(ver) P(eople) bretheren in Congress (who have their own prescription drug plan with no caps, limits or deductibles), thanks for that!

It could be King's insistence that "racial profiling" is a good thing that irks us. After all, such profiling would certainly keep us safe from that lilly white militia of boys and men (not a Muslim among them) who attack helpless school children with assault rifles. Or was it just your refusal, Pete, to extend the federal ban on such weapons? After all, VP Cheney needs his AK-47 to knock off those ducks -- and an old friend, or two. Quack. Quack.

How about King's now infamous quotes: “I’m George Bush’s man in Congress” and “I thank God every night that he is our president.” That's enough to sway our votes!

Or maybe its just that you're not a nice guy, Pete. A mean-spirited, self-serving, ill-tempered, vacuous well of ugliness who upholds what has become, unfortunately, the American way.

The bad news, folks, is that Pete King's way is the wrong way. The good news is that you can, and should, do something about it. VOTE FOR DAVE MEJIAS FOR CONGRESS ON TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 7th!

The New York Times reminds us -- as if most of us needed reminding -- that Pete King is the last Republican Congressman standing on Long Island. Like those cardboard placards of that "other" cellular network, voters should give King that little nudge, watching him fall, along with his myopic views, like the house of cards upon which his agenda is built.

No doubt the notorious Mr. King will attempt to have the writers of this blog tried for treason by reason of this publication. Our only regret is that we have but one blog to post for our country.

As for our support of Dave Mejias, well, The Times editorial board put it best when it said, "Mr. Mejias is one of the few bright bulbs in the low-watt Nassau Legislature. He helped to create a bill of rights for domestic workers in Nassau, requiring that employers give them written statements of their rights under federal and state law. He has a good environmental record, particularly in efforts to preserve open space, and has been an important ally of County Executive Thomas Suozzi in restoring fiscal discipline to Nassau government. He promises to be a refreshing change in the Third District, and we endorse him."

"One of the few bright bulbs..." We like that one. Truth is, Dave Mejias is an independent thinker who stands firm in his beliefs, even when at odds with his own party. Unlike King, Mejias listens to his constituents, respects what they have to say, and values their input. What more could an informed and involved electorate ask for?

Pete King has said he's "going for broke" in this campaign. We certainly hope so. We're endorsing Dave Mejias. He has our confidence and support, and he deserves your vote!
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Or maybe its as simple as King being cut of that same cloth as the folks who steal lawn signs, even off the lawn of the mother of the opposition candidate, replacing Mejias signs with King tributes. The proverbial fruit -- or, in this case, fruitcake -- does not fall far from the termite-riddled tree.

By the way, Newsday has endorsed Dave Mejias as well. Now, its your turn!

Election Day is Tuesday, November 7th...

There Are No More Superheroes. . .

. . .At Least Not At Long Beach High School!

The following story, as appeared in yesterday's Newsday, struck us as sooooooo utterly ridiculous that we just had to reprint it here at The Community Alliance blog.

First, it was an uproar over Dodgeball -- the great emotional scar raiser among elementary school kids -- which ultimately led to its virtual banishment in school districts across America (including New York).

Then it was Tag -- yes, Tag, as in, "you're it!" -- deemed by school administrators to be too dangerous, and now, along with peanut butter and some semi-automatic weapons, banned from school grounds from California to Massachusetts.

And now, its the Superhero who gets the boot -- or at least Captain Underpants -- who, even on Superhero Day, has no place at Long Beach High School.

So, all you would-be Supermen, Spiderwomen, Batpersons, and other superheroes in tights and underwear (that would be most of our childhood champions, wouldn't it?), be gone. There is no longer a place for you on school grounds.

Seems that kids can't even been kids anymore. No more running in the schoolyard (just busing 20 miles away through heavy traffic). No more peanut butter sandwiches (sloppy joes riddled with e-coli are on the menu. See your local school lunch lady). And, while you, Mister and Miss high school student, can wear your pajamas, and clothes with more holes than material, to class on a daily basis, please, for goodness sake, leave your underpants at home!

Sure, we need some decorum in our schools, if not elsewhere. No gang colors. No streaking through the hallways. No "kick me" post-its on the back of fellow student's shirts.

Still, with all the stress and craziness today's children face, in school and out -- what with growing up in a world where a raving lunatic has his finger on the nuclear button (choose your lunatic, Kim Jung Il or George W. Bush), and the very real prospect that, at any given moment, a madman with an assault weapon may burst into the classroom and randomly open fire, looms in every schoolhouse from Columbine to Lancaster -- maybe letting kids throw a Dodgeball at one another, risk danger to life and skinned knee as they play tag, and wear their underwear on the outside every once in a while, wouldn't be such a bad thing.

Yes, its all fun and games, 'til somebody takes out an eye. Even so, in a world where there are far too many restrictions, whether on personal liberties or good, old-fashioned playground sport and Spirit Day antics, we think that more parents should lighten up, taking a time-out from their picayune posturing, and school administrators, Long Beach HS principal Nicholas Restivo included, should take a couple of steps back, and chill.
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Captain Underpants costume foils students school fun

Newsday Staff Writer

This sounds like a job for Captain Underpants!

If the captain's creator, author Dav Pilkey, were to write the story of the conflict Wednesday at Long Beach High School, it might open like this: The evil school principal went insane with horror when he saw three girls strolling brazenly through hallways looking like caped crusaders. Naked caped crusaders.

But in reality, principal Nicholas Restivo is simply an administrator who, on Superhero Day, had a problem with the way the three seniors were dressed. He issued them an ultimatum: Change clothes, cover up or leave school.

At the root of the clash was Captain Underpants, chubby superhero star of popular children's books in which he battles talking toilets and foes such as Professor Poopypants.

Chelsea Horowitz, Ashley Imhof and Eliana Levin, all 17, arrived at school Wednesday as the captain: They wore beige leotards and nude stockings under white briefs. Red capes flared from their backs.

Around them, students milled about dressed as Superman, Wonderwoman -- even Quail Man, the nonviolent hero from the cartoon "Doug."

Superhero Day is part of Long Beach High's Senior Week. Monday was Switch Day, where boys dressed like girls and vice versa. Tuesday was Nerd Day. Thursday is Spirit Day, where they wear school colors, blue and white. Friday is Pirate Day. But the Captain Underpants getup didn't meet the approval of principal Restivo. He described the costume as "tight-fitting, flesh-colored leotards and leggings."

"Yes, I know they weren't naked," he said. "But the appearance was that they were naked."

The outfits looked so much like nude skin that they caused a commotion among students, Restivo said. The girls and their parents all said otherwise. "They're not see-through or anything," Horowitz said. "All the teachers thought it was cute."

Restivo said they could have worn gym shorts or called someone to bring clothes to school for them.

The girls said a wardrobe change wasn't an option and they felt forced to leave school -- which they did.

Horowitz, an honor student and softball player, said they didn't want to wear "someone else's hand-me-downs" and their parents weren't available to bring clothes to the school.

Captain Underpants is a pot-bellied character who wears nothing but a toothy grin, red cape and tighty whiteys."

I didn't know which superhero it was, not that it mattered," Restivo said. He pointed out that other students wore underwear on the outside, but on top of pants or shorts. That was acceptable.

Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.
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"Switch Day?" "Where boys dressed like girls and vice versa?" Not that there's anything wrong with that!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Congrats, New York ~ You've Set A Record. . .

. . .In Debt! $49.7 Billion This Year (your individual share is $3515, in case you were wondering)

And you thought the national debt, at $8 1/2 trillion (and growing -- thanks, George) was all that you -- and your great, great, great, great grandchildren -- had to worry about!

The Citizen's Budget Commission, a nonpartisan, nonprofit civic organization devoted to influencing constructive change in the finances and services of New York City and New York State government, reports that New York State's debt -- second highest in the nation, after California -- has doubled since 1993.

The State's debt load has risen 8% in less than two years, thanks to the folks in the State Legislature who somehow believe it is their birthright to spend, borrow, and spend some more. [The very same folks who, by the way, want you to "return" them to Albany come November 7th. If only we could get our 5 cent deposit back for every legislator returned!]

Incredibly, more than 90% of the State's debt comes by way of those troublesome -- and wholely unaccountable -- public authorities. You know. The good people at such venerable institutions as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Gap? What gap?), the Long Island Power Authority (not really power to the people, is it?), the Agriculture and New York State Horse Breeding Development Fund (we kid you not), and the Empire State Development Corporation, to name but a few of the hundreds of so-called Public Benefit Corporations that borrow and spend New Yorkers' money, too often with reckless abandon.

“New York State debt is out of control,” said CBC President Diana Fortuna, in a press release issued October 17th. “Before legislators attend to their personal finances, they should attend to the people’s business and fix New York’s broken debt limit.” [Ms. Fortuna is alluding to a likely post-Election Day special session, where legislators are expected to return gleefully to Albany to vote themselves a raise for their fine efforts on behalf of their consitituents. Hey, you got a property tax rebate, didn't you? What more do you want?]

The Commission also recently released a publication summarizing the fiscal reforms that emerged from a two-day statewide conference last spring of 120 civic, business, labor, and government leaders from across the state, organized by CBC and held in Armonk, NY. The so-called “Armonk Agenda” contains 12 high-priority steps that should be taken to enact real fiscal reform in New York.

The Citizen's Budget Commission's "12 steps" (which, from what we can glean, do not include drinking heavily) are as follows:

1. Reduce State-mandated local government Medicaid costs more than authorized by the 3 percent cap on local growth enacted in 2005.
2. Redesign State school aid programs including STAR to better serve poorer districts and thereby lower their local school tax burden.
3. Redesign the State-mandated pension benefits for future state and local government workers through changes such as raising the minimum retirement ages, increasing the required employee contributions, eliminating inclusion of overtime in benefit calculations, and eliminating variable supplements for uniformed workers.
4. Lower Medicaid expenditures by eliminating long-term care eligibility loopholes that extend benefits to middle-class residents.

1. Discontinue issuance of State-funded debt to cover operating deficits.
2. Integrate public authorities’ proposed borrowing for capital investments with the State’s capital plan in order to prevent inefficient use of borrowing capacity.
3. Subject public authority borrowing to more rigorous financial review by an enhanced Public Authorities Control Board or by the Division of Budget.
4. Reduce the State’s future debt by lowering capital spending and/or increasing pay-as-you-go financing.

1. Prepare more extensive multi-year financial plans.
2. Enforce and build upon new requirements for reporting by public authorities.
3. Require that lump-sum appropriations meet specific program criteria and be subject to sunshine provisions.
4. Publish the Adopted Budget in a format similar to the Executive Budget.

Of course, we've heard most, if not all, of these debt-busting measures before, without any true "reform" in Albany, and little if any relief trickling down to the masses.

Then again, reform is highly overrated, isn't it? After 7 years as an Albany insider, Eliot Spitzer calls himself a reformer. And closer to home, the Islip Town Republicans, in power seemingly forever and trying to free themselves of the shackles that sent former Supervisor Pete McGowan to jail, refer to themselves in radio spots as "Islip's Republican Reformers."

Just what is a reformed Republican, anyway? That's right, a Democrat!

No, we've never known real reform in New York when it comes to debt, budgets, taxes or public authorities. Not to worry, though. We will. If not in this lifetime, then in the next!
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Election Day is Tuesday, November 7th!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Less Than Rosey Picture Of Nassau County's Parks

Fall Report From PARCnassau Cites Abandonment, Neglect, And Inexperience At The Helm

Bruce Piel, Chairman of PARCnassau, a county parks advocacy group, issues his second annual report card on Nassau's parks, and finds, yet again, that our parks -- from active to passive -- are still not making the grade.

Now, we all know that Bruce is no partisan of the Suozzi administration, and would probably give poor grades under any Democratic reign, but truth is, the condition of Nassau County's parks, particularly the too long neglected local, or so-called "passive" parks, speaks for itself.

With the progress of our County parks apparantly as stagnant as the waters in our local ponds, Mr. Suozzi's $18 million " “Nassau County Parks Are Making a Come Back” Campaign, launched in January, 2005, notwithstanding, one wonders just where all this money -- tax dollars, every one -- is going.

And now, with the $50 million raised through the last Environmental Bond Act (2004) allocated, if yet to be utilized in reclaiming the few community parks under the County's domain, voters are being asked to approve yet another Environmental Bond -- this for $100 million (Propsition One on the November 7th ballot) to preserve open space and protect our drinking water.

Well, if it isn't "tax and spend," its "borrow and spend" -- which, of course, comes down to "spend now and tax later, with interest," as we've learned through the agony of past bond initiatives, whether for State Transportation (which monies are rarely seen locally), or for Town Highways (which dollars never hit any pavement we've driven over).

Yes, we need to clean up and maintain our parks, to preserve what precious open space is left us in Nassau County, and to make sure that our drinking water, where it is still pure and potable, remains so for generations to come.

Perhaps if the next Governor of New York trims that Medicaid fraud still further, and the Legislature takes a break from its annual "spend like there's no tomorrow" binge, we'll actually have enough money to pay for these things without having to send the taxpayers to the poor house.

And maybe the County Exec, along with our venerable County Legislature, will realize that our Department of Parks, Recreation and Museums needs experienced, hands-on management, and not just a Phys Ed teacher cum Commissioner at the helm.

Yeah, and we're winning the war in Iraq, too!

Election Day is Tuesday, November 7th!
Second Annual Report Card for Nassau County Parks , Recreation and Museums

The Park Advocacy & Recreation Council of Nassau (PARCnassau) has completed its second annual report card for Nassau County Parks. Chairman Bruce Piel announced that the grade is a disappointing "D". Despite the sincere efforts of the Chief Deputy Commissioner and the few remaining annual employees, our parks and facilities remain in unacceptable condition. It is readily apparent that the county has financially abandoned the park system.

The limited personnel, equipment and resources have been concentrated in Eisenhower Park and a few larger parks with active and vocal advocates. "Lesser" parks, preserves and historic sites have been largely ignored. A couple of hundred employees in a system that once boasted 1,200 obviously cannot do the job. While hundreds of essential entry level jobs go unfilled, the addition of new Deputy Commissioners continues. Added to the roster this year were Deputy Commissioners for Museums, Finance and Golf. In addition, a new Commissioner was appointed. None of these have any park experience continuing the inexplicable policy of the current administration.

The county again hosted the PGA Commerce Bank Golf Tour this year. This is the tournament no one wants, that loses money and denies residents access to the Red Course at Eisenhower for several weeks. The public response was so bad this year that the administration allowed county workers to be spectators for free upon presentation of their employee identification.

Vandalism and trespassing after hours in the parks have increased dramatically. This was highlighted when picnic tables were piled up in the childrens' Playground gazebo in Bay Park and set afire.

Historic sites remain on the verge of collapse. Little or no maintenance is done to keep these important reminders of Long Island Heritage around for future generations. The highly touted Bethpage Restoration Village has become the Bethpage Desolation Village and is slowly crumbling to the point of no return. After freeing this facility from the administration of a notorious "friends" group, the county has yet to find a vendor for the gift shop or snack bar further dissuading visitors.

Preserves are also ignored. Volunteer groups seeking trash removal, cleanup supplies and equipment are offered nothing but lip service. Here again, vandals, dirt bike enthusiasts and other neâer-do-wells have taken over and are systematically destroying these pristine areas. Pond clean ups, highly publicized, have ground to a halt, leaving ugly mud flats for months at a time.

Museum Row at Mitchel Field has been a continuing embarrassment all year. Mismanagement and poor fund raising have finally galvanized some members of the legislature to action. The privatization of the Cradle of Aviation and other facilities has not worked. The county has had to bail the museum out financially over and over. Enough is enough. It is time to return museums to the Museum Division of the Parks System. After all, there is a new Deputy Commissioner (albeit without any museum experience) who is charged with administering such sites (and paid accordingly). Those prominent citizens now sitting on the museum board should turn their efforts into developing private financial support and leave operations to park professionals (yes, there are still a few).

In summary, through patronage and benign neglect the taxpayers of Nassau County are losing a major ingredient in our suburban lifestyle, our parks, preserves and historic sites. A first glance, most look good. It is only when you check the filthy lavatories, and examine the facilities closely that one sees the deterioration and negligence our parks have suffered. It is past time for our taxpayers to demand that budgeted moneys for parks be spent there and not sequestered for more politically advantageous projects.

Let your County Executive and Legislators know how you feel about the travesty occurring daily in what once was one of the finest park systems in the country.

Bruce Piel
Park Advocacy & Recreation Council of Nassau
246 Twin Lane East
Wantagh , NY 11793
(516) 783-8378

Friday, October 20, 2006

Race For State Senate Seat Handicapped By Pundits

From A Wheelchair, Democratic Contender Seeks To Roll Old-Time GOPer Into Political Grave

Brooke Ellison, the exuberant Harvard grad, has never taken anything sitting down, not even her physical confinement to a wheelchair since being struck by a car on her way to school at age 11.

Now, Brooke takes up a challenge of another, yet no less noble kind -- to unseat veteran Republican State Senator Caesar Trunzo, who, for 35 years, has confined himself to his legislative seat in Albany.

The New York Times reports on Brooke's campaign, and the real challange of bringing true reform to the New York State Legislature.

Brooke Ellison commands a host of endorsements, and The Community Alliance, in its first endorsement of this election season, is proud to join that list.

Meanwhile, in other political news, former NYC Mayor, Ed "How'm I Doin'" Koch, has endorsed the re-election bid of Congressman Peter King. Yet another reason NOT to vote for King on November 7th!

Paralyzed, 28, and Aiming for the State Senate


SETAUKET, N.Y. — Brooke M. Ellison, the Democratic challenger for a State Senate seat here, displays an oversize button on her lapel with her slogan, “Overcoming challenges for New York.” Her television commercial opens with close-ups of her talking about those challenges — in health care, schools and the environment.

Then the camera pulls back to reveal the biggest challenge that Ms. Ellison, who turns 28 on Friday, has overcome so far, showing the motorized wheelchair she uses because she is paralyzed from the neck down.

The current challenge for Ms. Ellison — who was injured in a car accident as a child and went on to graduate from Harvard with honors and to jointly write a book that Christopher Reeve made the basis for a movie about her life — is to unseat John J. Flanagan, a Republican who has been in the State Legislature for 20 years.

Because of Ms. Ellison’s personal narrative, along with the changing political environment here on Long Island, local Democratic leaders say she is one of their best hopes for an upset on Nov. 7. They are also aiming for the adjacent seat held for 34 years by Senator Caesar Trunzo, whose challenger is Jimmy Dahroug, 27, an aide to the popular Suffolk County executive, Steve Levy. (Republicans hold all nine State Senate seats on Long Island, and have a 35-to-27 majority in the Senate over all.)

The two Democrats certainly face an uphill struggle against long-serving, well-financed, popular incumbents in districts that are solidly Republican; Mr. Flanagan’s district has 20,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats, and Mr. Trunzo’s district has 22,000 more, though both also have large numbers of independent voters. But Democratic strategists are counting on the popularity of their candidates for governor and the United States Senate, disenchantment with Republicans nationally and the recent gains their party has made on Long Island, where Democrats now control the Nassau and Suffolk county governments.

Mr. Flanagan, a lawyer who was first elected to an Assembly seat held by his father in 1986, won 62 percent of the vote in 2004, and has raised nearly three times as much money as Ms. Ellison’s $300,000. But she began the race buoyed by publicity from her book, movie and appearances on national television programs like “Today” and “Larry King Live.”

“It’s a media-driven, quasi-celebrity campaign,” said a Republican lobbyist, Desmond Ryan. He said Ms. Ellison “has a record to be proud of,” but described her as a “cause célèbre” and questioned whether her lack of experience qualified her for public office.

Bradford W. O’Hearn, a Democratic consultant who is not working on the campaign, acknowledged that her odds were long, but described Ms. Ellison as “a very appealing candidate.”

“Everybody who meets her says she’s so bubbly and likable,” he said, “but John is well-liked, too.”

The problems presented by a campaign involving a disabled candidate were underscored when some Ellison supporters took offense at a 30-second Flanagan commercial they called insensitive and gratuitous. In the ad, an unnamed “Democrat for Flanagan” describes herself as a teacher, mother and golfer, then adds: “Huge — I have a huge handicap.”

On a blog, www.nassaugopwatch.blogspot.com, Democrats complained that the ad was “vile and reprehensible” and “in bad taste.”

Mr. Flanagan defended the ad, saying it was simply one of several unscripted testimonials from supporters in the district. Neither the candidate nor his campaign manager could explain why a comment about a golf handicap would be chosen for inclusion in a campaign commercial. They also declined to identify the woman in the ad.

Last week Mr. Flanagan introduced a new ad that praises Ms. Ellison as courageous and inspirational, even while questioning her credentials by describing her as “young” and “inexperienced.” (Mr. Flanagan, 45, was first elected to the Legislature at 25 — younger than Ms. Ellison.)

Asked about the “handicap” ad, Ms. Ellison said of Mr. Flanagan, “It’s unfortunate that he was ready to engage in those kinds of tactics so early,” but added, “I’m not going to waste my time or energy on that.”

Ms. Ellison’s life changed on her first day of seventh grade when, at age 11, she chose not to take the bus and instead walked home with friends and was struck by a vehicle and paralyzed. She had been active in karate, baseball, soccer, dance, choir and cello.

At Harvard, she was chosen by classmates as a commencement speaker, and went on to earn a master’s degree in government. With her mother, Jean, who accompanied her at Harvard, she wrote the book “Miracles Happen,” which was the basis for Mr. Reeve’s movie, “The Brooke Ellison Story.”

She returned home for doctoral studies in political psychology at Stony Brook University and to work as a motivational speaker, also volunteering for an old family friend, Marsha Z. Laufer, now Brookhaven’s Democratic Party leader.

Ms. Ellison relies on a ventilator to breathe, needs help getting dressed, guides her wheelchair by touching a remote-control device on the roof of her mouth with the tip of her tongue, and uses a voice-recognition device for dictation and to operate computers.

“I heard you have an amazing life,” Marga Cardona, a radiologist, told her one recent day when the candidate was campaigning door to door here. Outside a Stop & Shop, where Ms. Ellison was stationed beside a fall pumpkin display, a bearded man who declined to give his name but said he is a Republican told her, “I just sent you $100.”

Senator Flanagan, who flirted with running for governor this year, is also well known here and basked in bipartisan support as he bounded door to door at Halloween-decorated homes in Lake Grove wearing a campaign T-shirt, tan shorts and sneakers.

“Of course, I’m voting for you,” smiled Maureen Shanley, who said she is a Democrat and a PTA leader, thanking Mr. Flanagan for help on school aid.

At Uncle Giuseppe’s supermarket in Smithtown, Roberta Feltman told him, “I know who you are. I saw you on TV, and your whole life history in the mail.” Asked her political affiliation, Ms. Feltman said, “If John Flanagan is a Republican, I’m a Republican.”

The candidates clashed over taxes, health care and schools in a debate scheduled for broadcast Oct. 26, 28 and 29 on News 12 Long Island, and even disagree about their first meeting, last year, when Mr. Flanagan came to Ms. Ellison’s home to give her an award.

Ms. Ellison recalled asking his views on stem-cell research, which she supports for treating paralysis and other illnesses. “He said he would get back to me and never did,” she recalled. He said that he offered to introduce her to various state officials to respond to her concerns and that “frankly, that’s the last I heard on the subject.”

On the campaign trail, Ms. Ellison accuses Mr. Flanagan of failing to support stem-cell research and says his party has blocked a vote in the state Senate on a Democratic proposal to finance such work. But Mr. Flanagan says he supports a $250 million Republican plan for research that could include stem-cell projects, though they are not specified, and has urged a state bioethics panel to make recommendations on the issue.

“I’m focusing on who I am, what my record is, what I’ve delivered to the district,” Mr. Flanagan said. “I’m not taking anything for granted.”

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Illegal Housing Equals Higher Taxes In Nassau County

Homeowners Who Rent Out Illegal Apartments In Single-Family Homes To See Huge Tax Increase As Properties Are Reclassified As Commercial

From the pages of the East Meadow Herald:

Taking on illegal housing

By Hector Flores

This month, property owners who are suspected of illegally renting their divided homes as boarding houses are in for a shock when they open their monthly school tax bills and discover that their taxes have nearly tripled.

For years, Helen Meittinis, president of the Community Association of Stewart Avenue in Salisbury, has kept the issue of illegal housing at the forefront of her community's concerns. Now, thanks to Nassau County Assessor Harvey Levinson, combating illegal housing has been made easier through the reclassification of illegally altered homes from residential to commercial, dramatically raising their property taxes.

Levinson said that the change in classification now requires property owners who rent parts of their houses to pay two and a half times more school property taxes than they once did. "The October 2006 school tax bill reflects the first increases in [school] property taxes that will have to be paid by 13 property owners who were reclassified in 2004," Levinson said. "For two Westbury homeowners, their [school] property tax obligation will increase from $8,768 paid in 2005-06 to $26,277 in 2006-07."

A total of 24 properties have been reclassified from residential to commercial in East Meadow, Elmont, Franklin Square, Garden City, Long Beach, Roosevelt, Plainview and Westbury. According to Levinson¹s office, the targeted property in East Meadow, on Post Street, faces a school property tax increase from $8,330 to $22,393.

This is good news for Meittinis, who hopes that it will help deter illegal housing in her area. "I give [Levinson] a lot of credit for doing this," she said. "He spent his career in the district attorney's office and knows the law, and he knows what is hurting the people in Nassau County."

Meittinis added that a community suffers when a landlord converts a home into a boarding house. "These illegal properties impact services to the taxpayers and we carry the load," she said. Leon Campo, deputy superintendent of the East Meadow School District, agreed. "Illegal housing affects our schools," he said. "If you have multiple dwellings, it will make our taxes go up because children from these illegal residences attend the school district without contributing to the school tax base."

Campo added that the district spends, on average, approximately $12,500 per child enrolled in school, and this would increase if more illegal dwellings were to spring up in the district. Susie Trenkle, spokeswoman for the Town of Hempstead, said that the town supports Levinson's initiative if it helps curtail illegal housing. “Particularly in those cases where a house owner has attempted to turn a single-family home into a boarding house, it is a good thing,” Trenkle said. “It provides us with one more tool to combat illegal housing.”

Other initiatives to combat illegal housing, proposed by Levinson to the Nassau grand jury investigating illegal housing on Dec. 15, 2005, include:

- Amending town, city and village codes to permit penalties for illegal housing, which would include fines against landlords of two times the monthly rent collected.
- Reporting violators to the Internal Revenue Service for further action, since rents are usually collected in cash.
- Informing insurance companies, since most policies are written for single-family use.
- Amending landlord/tenant petitions filed in Nassau County Court to include affirmations of apartments' legal status.
- Denying back rent payments to landlords of illegal apartments.
- Requiring the Long Island Power Authority to create a form on which homeowners would explain the placing of additional meters. Once the form was received by the utility, it would be forwarded to the town for further investigation.
- Asking sanitation workers to identify houses with consistently large amounts of garbage.
- Twenty-four-hour on-call inspection by town building inspectors.
- Use of emergency response reports by fire departments and police precincts to report unsafe living conditions.
- Empowering the fire marshal with the authority to close down illegal boarding and rooming houses.

Comments about this story? HFlores@liherald or (516) 569-4000 ext. 283.

©Herald Community 2006
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What? The Town of Hempstead showing support, and the Communications office saying nice things about Harvey Levinson, Tax Assessor? Now we know for sure its not an election year at Town Hall!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Get Out Your Wallets, Folks, Town Tax Freeze Is Over!


Public Hearings on Town of Hempstead Preliminary Budget for fiscal year commencing January 1, 2007 to be held Tuesday, October 17th;

Increases to be Seen By Most Residents Across the Board

Proposed Budget can be viewed online

On Tuesday, October 17, 2006 at 2:30 p.m. & 7 p.m., the public is invited to offer comment on the proposed Town of Hempstead budget for 2007.

Town Board meetings are held in the Nathan L.H. Bennett Pavilion, adjacent to Hempstead Town Hall, One Washington Street, Hempstead.

Come on down to Town Hall to ask the tough questions and to see how YOUR TAX DOLLARS will be put to work next year.

Hey, its YOUR money!
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Click HERE to view the 2007 proposed budget for the Town of Hempstead.
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FROM THE PRELIMINARY BUDGET -- Message of Supervisor Kate Murray:

The Bottom Line
This proposed spending plan for 2007 is well within the limits of inflation, as measured by the rise in consumer prices for the latest one-year period. The budget, totaling $383.5 million, represents an increase of $11.8 million, or 3.2 percent, over last year’s budget. At the same time the CPI has risen by 4.67 percent.

Approximately $220.8 million of this proposed budget will be funded through property tax levies. This represents an increase of 4.6 percent over last year. Additional funding will come through mortgage and sales taxes, state aid and user fees. This budget contemplates the use of $6.5 million in reserves.

Taxes Frozen for Residents of Incorporated Areas
The 2007 budget that I am proposing freezes general town taxes, which are paid by all residents of the township. In fact, this budget holds the line on general town taxes, the only town taxes paid by residents of incorporated villages, for the 11th time in 12 years. The general town taxes levied in my 2007 proposal are actually less than the total general taxes levied in 1995, more than a decade ago. On average, a homeowner in an incorporated village will pay a total of $59 in town taxes (not factoring in Nassau County changes in assessment).

Residents of Unincorporated Areas
When speaking of the impact of this proposed budget, it is difficult to speak in terms of a typical taxpayer. The town’s budget is divided into funds and residents pay taxes only to those funds providing services to their community. For example, certain communities are served by one of the town’s water districts and pay taxes to support its services. Other residents who are not served by the town make payments directly to other water providers.

Costs associated with refuse disposal continue to rise and the amount of garbage generated by homeowners is increasing. As a result, residents of the refuse disposal district, which manages waste once it is collected, should expect to see an average increase of $12.02 a year.

Our beautiful town parks, both those with extensive recreation facilities as well as passive green areas, number almost 200. These properties have enjoyed substantial upgrades through a $40 million parks enhancement initiative. This effort, along with ongoing improvements, will result in an average increase of $6.48 in parks taxes for most residents.

Finally, residents of unincorporated areas will pay an average of $12.63 more in taxes next year to fund highway maintenance and roadway improvement projects. The effect of harsh winters on the town’s infrastructure and an over $100 million roadway/infrastructure improvement program are factors influencing this increase.

Moreover, residents of the unincorporated areas of Hempstead will see on average an increase of $44.85 in the total amount of town taxes paid...
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So, NOW we're going to pay for that Town Highway improvement bond (without much collateral improvement in the Town's roads and highways). We were wondering when they were going to sock it to TOH residents!

And look who's going to pay MORE for parks, MORE for refuse disposal, MORE, MORE, MORE in already burdensome Town taxes -- that's right, those of us who reside in the Town of Hempstead's UNINCORPORATED AREAS. Surprise!!!

Of course -- and as to be expected -- these tax increases for 2007 do not include taxes that benefit the so-called Special Districts (i.e., Sanitation, Water, Fire). And you know where those taxes are going. . .

Take a good look at the Town's 2007 preliminary budget -- and see where your hard-earned money is going (as in, "going, going, GONE). You know, people just don't realize how many GOP Committeemen it takes to spend $383.5 million dollars!

Yes, big changes are in store for Town of Hempstead taxpayers in 2007 -- read as, "YOU ARE GOING TO PAY MORE AND GET LESS!"

Still, at least the rhetoric remains pretty much the same: Blame the tax bite on the school districts, the reassessment, and factors over which the Town of Hempstead, as with almost everything else, says it has no control.

Look, you can't say we didn't warn you, folks. And no one can blame us at The Community Alliance. After all, we endorsed Harvey Levinson for Town Supervisor. More than just hindsight is 20/20. . .

Empire Zones: Tax Incentive Or Drain On Local Economy?

Upstaters Take Closer Look At Their Empire Zone. Is There A Lesson To Be Learned Here In Nassau County?

Money for nothing; The state won't tell you who collected the most Empire Zone tax breaks. The secret: It's a New Jersey company that runs old, dirty power plants that didn't add workers. From the Syracuse Post-Standard:

The state's Empire Zone program is supposed to work this way: New York rewards your company with tax breaks if you expand or add jobs.

But the king of the Empire Zones is a business that has done neither.

Taxpayers paid $22 million to NRG Energy for one year, and it did almost nothing to deserve it. The New Jersey company added one-half of one employee. It operated Upstate electric plants built decades ago by someone else.

Two of these plants are the state's worst polluters and a third rarely operates.

Despite this, NRG grabbed a bigger Empire Zone tax break than any of the 8,300 other eligible businesses, an investigation by The Post-Standard reveals. No. 2 was another out-of-state energy conglomerate: Reliant Energy of Texas.

State taxpayers reimburse the companies for their property taxes, making them, in effect, as property tax-free as a hospital or church.

While New Yorkers paid the third-highest electric rates in the nation, the state gave a total of $84 million of their taxes in recent years to two power companies.

There's more. State Empire Zone millions go to companies that do little From an Associated Press story:

A company brings jobs to the state, and gets tax breaks in exchange.

That's how the state's Empire Zone program is supposed to work.

But one of the state's largest beneficiaries of the program, NRG Energy, only added a half an employee and got $22 million in tax breaks in 2003, according to an investigation by the Syracuse Post Standard published Sunday.

The New Jersey company, which operates electric plants in Tonawanda, Dunkirk and Oswego, grabbed a bigger Empire Zone tax break than any of the 8,300 other eligible businesses, the paper reported.

When it applied for the program, NRG said it would hire two new employees at Oswego and six at Tonawanda. But the number of union workers at the three plants has dropped since 1999, said Dave Falletta, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 97.

Because some Empire Zone benefits run for more than 10 years, NRG could eventually collect $200 million.

The second largest beneficiary of the program was Reliant Energy of Texas, which owned 40 upstate hydropower stations in Empire Zones along with two electric generating stations in Brooklyn.

A Reckless Giveaway From an editorial in the Syracuse Post-Standard:

Ladies and Gentlemen of the taxpaying jury: You are good citizens of New York state. You work hard, you pay your taxes. You trust your leaders to use the money wisely.

Well, here is Exhibit A in the case against that happy conclusion: These leaders have refused to account for scandalous waste and flaws in the state's Empire Zone program.

The leadership's big three the governor, the Assembly speaker, the Senate majority leader are sure quick to hold you accountable. Did you forget to get your car inspected or registered on time? You'll pay a fine on top of the usual fee. That's accountability. Did your fourth-grader and her classmates do poorly on the state's standardized test? Their school will get a nasty report card from Albany. That's accountability.

But when a state program designed to reward job growth and improve troubled neighborhoods leaves loopholes so big that out-of-state companies could drive power plants through them, where's the leadership? The governor at least made an effort to tighten the loop. But his effort died in private budget talks with the other two.

No one will say why. That's not accountability.

Accountability means answering a few basic and reasonable questions: Who benefits from this program? How much financial benefit do they get? What does the state all of you get in return?
In the six-year history of this program, state leaders have either refused or been unable to answer those kinds of questions. How could any elected official be so indifferent with money that comes from you, taxpayers, and which ought to be used with utter care and judgment?

Today on the front page debuts the results of an investigation by The Post-Standard that will attempt to answer some of these questions, while the state continues to dodge them.

You decide if you think it's OK that an energy company gets a full refund of tens of millions of dollars in property taxes each year for a decade even though it hired no new full-time workers all because of the loopy rules written into the original program.

It's your money, $22 million of it, that gets refunded to that one company, without any of the program's supposedly good intentions being met. It may be the biggest beneficiary, but as you'll read in coming weeks, it is just one of hundreds of companies feeding at this trough that the state so sloppily and generously filled.

And as you read, if you decide that it's not OK, then you must find these leaders guilty of reckless behavior with your tax money. Tell them you expect more. Tell them you demand more.

It is fitting that the program's initials (EZ) form an acronym pronounced "easy." For a bunch of lucky business beneficiaries, it has been easy money. Which ought to outrage you, who worked so hard to earn it.
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Nassau County is now home to the State's newest Empire Zone. Heralded by State and County officials alike as a boon for the local economy, taxpayers should be more than a bit leary of exactly what this EZ brings to a community's resurgence, and more than this, to State, county and local (including school district) coffers.

In light of the Empire Zones' torid history west and north of this burb (and our proclivity to repeat past mistakes rather than to learn from history's lessons), residents would be well advised to keep a keen eye on local economic development under the Empire Zone program, and to insist on greater accountabilty from those who manage it. That goes for everyone involved, from the local EZ Board to those three men in a room up in Albany.

We'll keep you posted on the meanderings of the Empire Zone as it wends its way through Nassau County. You keep reading these posts. . .

Friday, October 13, 2006

Bringing Democracy To Iraq. . .

. . . Or At Least Sanitary Districts

The New York Times reports on the trials and tribulations of trash collectors in Baghdad (SEE below).

What, with the car bombings, insurgencies, and occasional rocket attack, it seems that even picking up the garbage is risky business -- and not only on bulk collection days.

That's why we should consider exports to Iraq more in line with our treasured democratic way of life -- since, obviously, sending these folks billions in cash, our young men and women, and our Constitution (of limited use here, anyway), just isn't enough.

We're hearing rumors at The Community Alliance that Don Rumsfeld has entered into secret discussions with the Town of Hempstead's Kate Murray -- something about sending consultants to the region to explore the possiblity of establishing special districts in Iraq.

While Town officials will neither confirm nor deny these reports (that means they're true, folks), Counsel to Town of Hempstead Sanitary District 1, Nat Swergold, was seen boarding a Saudi Air jet the other day, en route to an undisclosed destination, believed to be Yemen.

We caught up with attorney Swergold at the gate, boarding pass and loaf of bread in hand, and asked him about his mission.

"Its all about giving the Iraqi people local control," said Swergold. "That, and sucking every last dollar out of their pockets.... Think about it, if we divide and conquer in Iraq, as we do in the Town of Hempstead, folks will be so confused and confounded, they'll have no time for civil unrest. And when you pay more for garbage collection than you do for local police protection, why, freedom and the democratic way of life are just around the corner."

Hmmm. Interesting thoughts.

Nat Swergold may have a point there. Or maybe all they need is to simply add additional trucks during Ramadan to pick up the leftover food.

And who knows, while the Iraqis are preoccupied with lighting districts, sewer districts, roadside munitions containment districts, we can bring home that army of occupation we've sent over there, and no one will even notice.

Anyway, with all the money Iraqis will pay to "enjoy" special district services, they won't have a nickel left over, either for pipe bombs or for training Al Queda. A win-win for all of us!

Cost of the War in Iraq (to date): $333,909,200,000 (and the meter is running)
Number of American service people killed in Iraq (to date): 2756
Typical household tax paid for garbage collection in Sanitary District 6: $801.00
Bringing Special Districts to the rest of the world: PRICELESS!
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Even Picking Up Trash Is a High Risk in Baghdad


BAGHDAD, Oct. 12 — Sabah al-Atia sometimes calls home every 10 minutes when he is working to let his wife know he is still alive. After all, his job is one of the most dangerous in the city.
Mr. Atia is a trash collector.

In a city where a bomb could be lurking beneath any heap of refuse, and where insurgents are willing to kill to prevent them from being discovered, an occupation that pays only a few dollars a day has become one of the deadliest. Most of the 500 municipal workers who have been killed here since 2005 have been trash collectors, said Naeem al-Kaabi, the city’s deputy mayor.

“When we are working, we are working nervously,” said Mr. Atia, 29, who started collecting trash during Saddam Hussein’s rule. “We are carrying our souls in our hands.”

The danger to trash collectors is at the root of one of the most visible symptoms of collapse in Baghdad. Garbage is ubiquitous, especially in dangerous neighborhoods, blanketing street medians, alleys and vacant lots in stinking, fly-infested quilts. Trash collection has joined a long list of basic services, including electricity, water and sewerage, that have slipped badly in many places since the American-led invasion.

Trash collectors have frequently refused to venture into especially problem-plagued Baghdad neighborhoods, including Dora, Adhamiya, Jamiya and Ghazaliya, where spasms of violence have often been the norm. Or they have dashed in and out when the danger ebbed, hauling away what they could.

Insurgents have taken to hiding roadside bombs amid the refuse. Trash collectors sometimes stumble upon them and notify the police, but other times they are not so lucky.

To protect the bombs set for American and Iraqi convoys, insurgents have killed scores of trash collectors.

Most of the workers are Shiites, Mr. Atia said. They usually have few other options because of their limited schooling. Because they work in the open, he said, they are easy targets for Sunni extremists. Mr. Atia used to decorate the inside of his trash van with the images of Shiite clerics, but he took them down.

“We are afraid,” he said.

Beyond the challenges posed by the violence, the city is woefully ill equipped to deal with the waste of six million people. It has just 380 working trash compacting trucks, compared with 1,200 before the fall of the Hussein government, Mr. Kaabi said. Most of the vehicles were destroyed or lost in the looting that seized this capital after the invasion. He estimated that Baghdad needed 1,500 garbage trucks.

With help from the Iraqi government and private organizations, the city is looking to acquire several hundred trucks, he said, and substantially upgrade its facilities for processing waste.

“We want to make Baghdad a civilized and bright city,” Mr. Kaabi said.

But any tour of the capital demonstrates it has a long way to go to reach that goal. In Arasat, an upscale neighborhood, trash heaps are piled waist high in front of an electronics store in a street off the main road. In Saidiya, a middle-class neighborhood in western Baghdad, 10 piles of random garbage dot an area barely a quarter-mile square.

“I never see the trash collectors,” said Aimen Amjad, 30, a shop owner in Saidiya. “If they do come, they come once in a blue moon.”

Ola Sami, whose third-floor apartment balcony overlooks a large neighborhood dumping ground, said she was worried about the spread of disease.

“Forget about how badly it smells,” she said. “My son got infected because of the piles. The area is like a barn.”

Even in Masbah, a wealthy central Baghdad neighborhood that was once home to many of the foreign embassies in Iraq, mounds of refuse have accumulated in front of elegant homes and gardens.

“If we try to sit in the garden, we cannot because of flies and mosquitoes,” said Muhammad Amin, 45, who lives next to one of the larger heaps of trash on his block. “We cannot even sit in the garden to enjoy the weather.”

It had been months since trash collectors, who went door to door during Mr. Hussein’s rule, had come down his street, he said, because of concrete barriers blocking the road.

In Mansour, the troubled western Baghdad district where municipal officials have struggled to keep trash from accumulating, a district councilman who would give only his last name, Naji, said he had fewer than half the trucks he needed. As a result, each garbage crew has to handle a much larger area than it should, which means the trucks make fewer trips through each neighborhood and the trash heaps grow.

Meanwhile, side streets are often ignored because the district does not have enough small garbage trucks that can squeeze down the alleys.

But security is by far the larger issue, Mr. Naji said. In dangerous areas in the district, the main roads, where many people have taken to dumping their trash, cannot be cleaned because roadside bombs are often hidden there.

Sadr City, the Shiite slum that was once notorious for its trash-strewn streets, is one place where conditions have improved. In the past, residents would often use the mounds of trash that dotted street medians as landmarks. (Turn right at the fourth trash pile.)

But over the last few months, the area, which has been relatively free of violence because it is dominated by the Mahdi Army, Moktada al-Sadr’s militia, has become cleaner. Municipal work crews now go daily to shovel away trash dumped on the main roads. A median across a street from a busy food market that used to be piled high with garbage was closed off by a barbed-wire fence.

Still, it is hardly pristine. On a recent afternoon, children picked through an expanse of trash off the main road leading into the neighborhood. Deeper into the slum, near a fruit stand, rancid garbage lay in a wide ditch.

Usually just one garbage truck, with a driver and a worker, serves 20,000 to 30,000 people, said Satar Jabar, a district council member.

“It is not enough,” he said.

In many places, a more profound change is needed, said Ali Hasan, a Mansour District Council member who represents Washash, a poor neighborhood where trash is a major blight. The fall of the government brought freedom, he said, which some interpret to mean freedom to dispose their trash as they please.

“During the time of Saddam, people were afraid of authorities,” Mr. Hasan said. “But now people are not under anyone’s control, and they don’t have the awareness to keep their neighborhood clean.”

Mr. Hasan said he had became so exasperated that people were not throwing their trash in bins, he assigned a person to each one, ordering them to carry trash from every home to the metal bin. But the police later took away the bins because of fears they could be hiding places for explosives, so the idea collapsed.

The city government has tried educational campaigns, posters, even seminars in schools and mosques to promote cleanliness. But in certain areas, only an armed presence has helped. Since August, the American military, with its Iraqi counterpart, has been conducting neighborhood sweeps of troubled sections of Baghdad. Once areas are secured, trash removal by Iraqi crews is among the first priorities.

The most recent statistics on the campaign contained a startling figure, alongside others on houses searched and weapons seized: 7,107,536 cubic feet of trash removed, about the size of the Hindenburg.

Muhammad Hasan was in charge of a crew of 40 working recently in Dora, one of the first neighborhoods secured.

“As you can see, the workers are working without any threat from insurgents,” he said.
Before the Americans came through, trash collectors had not showed up for months in some places, several Dora residents said. The situation has begun to improve. At first, the main roads were cleared but the side streets remained repugnant. Now even those are being shoveled clean.
Elsewhere in the city, however, the piles continue to grow.

Reporting was contributed by Khalid al-Ansary, Omar al-Neami Khalid W. Hassan, Hosham Hussein, Qais Mizher and an Iraqi employee of The New York Times.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Fool Us Once, Shame On You. . .

Fool Us Twice... Three Times... More? Fire District Plays Fast And Loose With Tax Dollars

$55,000 to buy a race car. $260,000 to refurbish a rec room. A $2.9 million fire district budget, recently adopted by commissioners in Farmingville (Long Island), also includes a $12,000 raise for a recently hired maintenance mechanic, who just happens to be the son of a sitting Commissioner, the stepson of a second, and the godson of a third. [This inbreeding in the Special Districts has gotten way out of hand!] SEE Newsday, Fire District Spending Has Farmingville Hot.

Sure, the firefighters are volunteers. They work hard. They put their lives on the line to protect life and property. But race cars? Quarter million dollar improvements to rec rooms? Rampant nepotism? Why not? After all, who's to complain? The voters approved all of this, right?

Well, not exactly. The fire district's commissioners approved all of this, and now, Farmingville residents are burning mad.

"A new race car will hone the volunteers' firefighting skills by enabling them to compete in drill tournaments," Commissioner Edward Stewart Jr., father of the mechanic, told Newsday.

Yeah, right. And a new rec room -- replete with beer on tap, we surmise -- will give the firefighters a leg up on manning the hoses. Give us, the not too bright but still reeling taxpayers, a break!

So, why did residents "pass" this budget, chock full of "gimmes" for boys who like to play with fire truck (and, apparently, race car) toys?

Well, call it a combination of the old "we didn't know" (as in "who really looks at budgets anyway, whether they're for fire districts or school districts?"), "we didn't vote" (as in "who knew there was an election?"), and "out of the woodwork" come the firefighters, (as in ex-chiefs, commissioners, and their sons, stepsons, and godsons, are the many among the few who come out to vote on the fire district's budget). [Actually, residents don't vote on the fire district budgets -- the Commissioners do. Residents elect the Commissioners, who themselves decide what the budget will be and how the money will be spent. So much for "local control" over local spending, the raison d'etre for special districts on Long Island.]

Commissioner Stewart tells Newsday that having a shiny new race care "fosters camaraderie among volunteer firefighters." Anyone ever hear of a company picnic, a weekly softball game, or a group outing to the Long Island Ducks? [Of course not! We need race cars and scuba diving trips to the Bahamas to foster camaraderie and hone skills...]

On the charge of patronage in the first degree, Commissioner Norman Neill, stepfather of the mechanic in question, opined, "It's not like nepotism where you took someone that's an idiot and gave him a job."

Don't be silly. That would make him a Commissioner!

The NYS Legislature has tightened regulations of late, enacting laws designed not to foster camaraderie, but rather, accountability. While certainly a step in the right direction, we wonder if the band-aid over the festering wound will heal a broken system and limit the spread of infection, as residents continue to bleed out greenbacks through ever-increasing property taxes.

There are renewed calls in Farmingville -- as is often the case after the horse has left the barn -- for increased scrutiny by way of audits and external oversight. Well and good. Independent review and reporting is both necessary and beneficial.

Still, when it is our money on the line, shouldn't we, as taxpayers, take a more active role in watching the pot BEFORE the commissioners are elected, the budgets are passed, and the money is allocated?

Ignorance -- of Special District elections, Commissioner-derived budgets, and discretionary spending run amuck -- may be bliss, but it sure is costly to the taxpayers here on Long Island.

In Farmingville, that's an increase of some 26% over last year's fire district budget. "Gentlemen, start your engines."
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Election Day is Tuesday, November 7th. [NOT for fire commissioners, but hey, you have to start somewhere...]
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READ Newsday's special report, FireAlarm.

Monday, October 09, 2006

So Many Blogs. . .

. . .So Few People In Power Paying Attention

Venture online, and lunge into a blogosphere literally choked with hundreds, no, thousands of blogs. Blogs from the left. Blogs from the right. Centrist blogs. Comical blogs. Inane blogs. You name it, there's a blog out there for it, about it, or against it!

In the New York blog-arena alone, there are dozens of blogs offering insight and opinion on everything from property taxes to racial profiling.

Eliot Spitzer has a blog. John Faso doesn't. [He's waiting for November 8th, no doubt!]

There are Long Island blogs, upstate blogs, Hudson Valley blogs, and Adirondack blogs -- just to name a few.

And there are blogs that defy classification, like the NY Bathroom blog. Hey, when ya gotta go...

The point we're trying to make here is not so much that individual blogs -- including this one -- are lost in the vastness of the blogosphere [we are lost, but we're making great time...], its that notwithstanding so many bloggers posting on many of the same critical issues, few in officialdom are catching the drift, picking up on the cue, and taking the lead.

Of course, the electorate -- be they what the are (the ignorant leading the uninformed toward that light at the end of the tunnel -- which light happens to be attached to an oncoming train) -- is also reading (or at least "clicking"), yet there's not even a feeble effort to change the stagnation of the status quo. Go figure!

Perhaps we need a blog of blogs -- sort of like Sid Caeser's Show of Shows. A showcase of issues, forums, and cyber-roundtables, where both represented and representative can gather, exchange ideas, and, ultimately, take action.

Or maybe, just maybe, more of us need to to stop blog-surfing, and begin to take an interest in what's happening in the real world, starting with our own communities.

We might all be amazed at what a little local activism could accomplish. And, to be sure, when folks do shut down their computers and walk out the front door into the brilliant light of day, we'll be right there to blog about it. . .
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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Anyone out there who isn't aware of breast cancer? Good. This whole "awareness month" thing is working. . .

Friday, October 06, 2006

Hitting The Illegal Landlord Where It Hurts. . .

. . .In The Pocketbook!

We've been bellyaching here, along with many local community activists, about the growing scourge of illegal accessory apartments in single family homes. Indeed, this "concern" was the primary moving force behind the formation of The Community Alliance in the first place.

Many a blogpost on what should be a hot button issue (check the archives), but not nearly enough effort from Albany, the county seat, or town hall.

Years, if not decades, go by, with little if any action from government -- local or State -- other than to add more unenforced or unenforceable laws to the books.

Indeed, the very roots of the problem -- skyrocketing property taxes and the lack of affordable housing -- have yet to be addressed, let alone addressed adequately, by the State, by the counties, or by the multitude of townships that have borne witness to the growing epidemic of illegal rental units.

Ideas are tossed about in State and local legislatures. Bills stall, die, or evolve into impotent laws that, even if enforced, do nothing to stem the tide. And the problem not only persists, it grows, threatening to destroy the very fabric of our suburban way of life.

Agree or disagree, absent other authority, or even so much as a willingness to get off of square one, the only game in town (literally) aimed at getting a handle on the illegal rental horror show comes out of the office of the Nassau County Assessor, Harvey Levinson.

Yes, use the dreaded reassessment to the advantage of law-abiding homeowners for a change: Reclassify single family homes that serve as multi-family boarding houses as the commercial properties they are, and tax the illegal landlord into submission.

The so-called Levinson Plan on illegal housing is far from perfect. Surely, it is no panacea, no long term solution to the ills of the illegal rental -- from their burden on local services such as schools and fire departments, to their danger to occupants and homeowners alike -- but at least it is a useful tool in sending the message home, if not added much needed dollars to the coffers.

"Every weapon at our disposal." That's what town, county and State officials have told us they would use to fight the battle against illegal accessory apartments, and ultimately, to win the war.

Those "weapons" have thus far proven most elusive, if not entirely nonexistent, the mass distraction on the part of the respective legislative bodies amounting to little more than a war of words and a battle of wits -- half, dim, and otherwise.

Many are tired hearing about the illegal rental crisis. Frankly, we've tired writing about it. And all of us, as residents, as homeowners, as taxpayers, should be tired of paying through the nose for it, as our property taxes escalate, while illegal landlords reap profits as result of a need too long unaddressed.
By the way, Harvey Levinson isn't running for re-election this year, or for any other elected office. Yet, he is one among only a few elected officials who not only talks the talk on illegal housing, but continue to pursue avenues of relief from this "scourge upon suburbia."

We wonder where all those other voices have gone? Would that the watchdogs, the guardians, and the representatives of the people, wherever they may be, would add not only their voices, but their actions.

Election Day is Tuesday, November 7th.
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From the editorial pages of Newsday:

Make landlords pay heavy taxes
A good way to attack illegal housing

It's not going to completely solve the problem and may even make part of it worse. But Nassau County Assessor Harvey Levinson deserves kudos for doing what he can to discourage the spread of illegal housing.

Levinson's approach makes innovative use of the only weapon at his office's disposal - tax assessments - to squeeze some of the profit from illegally converting single-family homes to apartments. He does this by assessing these homes as if they were businesses, which they are - and which means their owners must pay a far higher tax than most similar residential real estate in the county.

For example, Levinson's actions boosted the school taxes on a Plainview split-level - built to house one family in a residential neighborhood - from $5,326 to $29,377. His office found that it had been converted, without town approval, to a boarding house. The added taxes, Levinson hopes, will discourage this landlord and others from dividing up homes and renting them out to multiple occupants.

In fact, Levinson reported, more than a dozen landlords threw in the towel and rented their houses out to a single family. Although a drop in the bucket, it's a start.

Illegal conversions have become blights on many neighborhoods and can be a danger to the tenants. The houses often are poorly maintained, as absentee landlords seek to keep down their expenses. That can depress the value of surrounding homes. The extra residents also put a burden on public services, such as schools and waste collection, without contributing any more tax revenues to pay for them.

But illegal housing stems from a demand for affordable housing, especially needed to attract young workers to area businesses. And cracking down on illegal units - particularly in poorer communities - may only raise the pressure on demand, and so inspire more landlords to risk illegal conversions. Levinson is doing his part with his powers, but officials in the villages, towns and county must do everything possible to encourage production of more affordable homes.

Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Upstate, Downstate, Its STILL The Property Tax, Stupid!

Tax Woes In Upstate New York Counties -- from Broome to Chautaqua -- Mirror Those In Nassau

Okay. We know how bad things are taxwise (or not so taxwise) here on Long Island. But things don't look much better as we travel north.

Our colleagues and compatriots at the Upstate blog tell us that there's plenty to worry about in Poughkeepsie, and more than a few sad homeowners in Syracuse.

The news isn't all bad, however, as there are platitudes in Plattsburgh, where Franklin County property taxes are slated to decrease by more than 14%, and the tax rate itself will decrease by an amazing 29%. [Maybe we should send our Nassau County Legislators on a field trip!]

Westchester and Nassau counties have the dubious distinction, according to a Tax Foundation report, of having the highest property taxes in the nation. [Gee, we could have told you that!]

It isn't pretty out there, folks, and from all indications -- those great big taxable rebate checks aside -- its going to get alot worse before our friends in the NYS Legislature do anything substantive to begin to make it better.

So, read on, blog aficionados, as we commiserate with our neighbors from the southern tier to the northern hinterlands.

And remember, Election Day is Tuesday, November 7th!
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Local Tax Watch: One measure says New York's property taxes are nation's heaviest
Local property taxes rank high; Burden in Monroe, Wayne is among nation's biggest as share of home value (Jim Fitzgerald/Associated Press)

Homeowners in the suburban counties closest to New York City--Westchester and Nassau--pay the highest property taxes in the nation, a Census Bureau survey shows.

But when counties were ranked based on taxes as a percentage of home value, a different group of New York counties topped the nation: Niagara, Monroe, Onondaga, Wayne and Chautauqua were the top five.

A table posted online Wednesday by the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan tax research group, showed that the median tax paid for an owner-occupied house in Westchester was $7,337 last year, highest in the nation. Nassau was second at $7,025. The median means half of all homeowners pay higher taxes--and as million-dollar evaluations became common, so did annual property tax bills exceeding $20,000.

The rest of the top 10 counties, in order, were Hunterdon, Bergen and Essex in New Jersey; Rockland in New York; Morris and Somerset in New Jersey; Putnam in New York; and Union in New Jersey.

Twenty of the 21 most highly taxed counties were in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, the survey showed, and most of those were tightly clustered around New York City.
. . . .
The Tax Foundation compiled the table and the rankings with data from the Census Bureau's 2005 American Community Survey, an annual survey of 3 million households, or about 2.5 percent of the population. The figures, therefore, are from the homeowners, not from actual tax collections.

Broome property taxes 18th in U.S.; Survey calculates rates as percentage of home value (Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin)

By One Measure, Property Taxes Among Highest in U.S. (John Mariani/Syracuse Post-Standard)

[Chautaqua] County Ranks Near Top In Nation For Tax Burden (Jamestown Post-Journal)

[Chautauqua] County Satisfied With $15M Capital Projects Budget (Dennis Phillips/Jamestown Post-Journal)

A $15 million capital projects budget for 2007 seems to be satisfactory for county legislators and County Executive Greg Edwards.

On Wednesday, the Public Facilities and Audit and Control committees discussed 2007 capital projects, with Robert Anderson, D-Frewsburg and Public Facilities Committee chairman, saying the county is making the appropriate investment.

"I think for a county our size, knowing times are still difficult with the rise in fuel cost and the rise in building materials, it's about what we can afford to do," he said. "We always wish there was room for a wish list of things we would like to see done."

Edwards said the capital projects budget was determined after analysis was done by the county's Planning Board, which is a group of volunteers that spent many hours looking into potential projects.

Peterson's city budget nearly $52M; Tax levy to increase by 6.1%; public works to get a boost (Jennie Daley and David Hill/Ithaca Journal)

Ithaca Mayor Carolyn Peterson proposed a 2007 budget for the city that focuses on boosting the Department of Public Works and customer-service operations.

Peterson said Wednesday that the budget is designed to address problems seen in the city including neglected infrastructure, crumbling buildings and diminished service to the public.

To meet these needs and the rest of city costs, the mayor's proposal includes a 6.1 percent increase in the tax levy and a 2.3 percent increase in the tax rate. For the average home in the city, which is estimated at $145,000, this would mean an additional $43 in city taxes next year for a bill totaling $1,966, according to City Controller Steve Thayer. Total spending in 2007 would be $51.83 million. Of that, $300,000 would be added to the public works budget, with the same amount allotted in each of the next four years.

"We can have a zero-percent increase in the tax levy and a zero-percent increase in the tax rate but, after talking to the community, I've made the decision that to stop any work on the roads or sidewalks or to cut firefighters is not in the community's interest," Peterson said.

Oneida County budget unveiled today (Elizabeth Cooper/Utica Observer-Dispatch)

Oneida County residents will find out today what County Executive Joseph A. Griffo's fiscal plan for 2007 is.

Last year's budget totaled $321.83 million, and if this year's goes above that, it could mean a property tax hike.

The county is facing some rising costs:

"Health insurance costs for county employees may rise as much as 12 percent over this year's or more than $1 million," county Budget Director Tom Keeler said.

"Contractual raises for county employees are part of the 2007 budget. Those costs are rising roughly 3 percent, or more than $1 million," Keeler said.

"State mandated programs for the education of children with disabilities may go up as much as $800,000," Keeler said.

Like homeowners across the nation, the county must prepare for the possibility that fuel costs will go up next year.

Next year, the county still will get income from the 1.5 percentage point sales tax instituted in 2005.

The tax was reduced 0.5 of a percentage point in September, and according to the county's current plan, the remaining 1 percentage point would remain in place for most of 2007.

7% hike in budget is sought; [Town of Poughkeepsie] tax levy would rise 4.6% (Michael Valkys/Poughkeepsie Journal)

Town of Poughkeepsie residents with homes assessed at $200,000 would see their town tax bills increase about $22 under a 2007 budget proposal released by Supervisor Patricia Myers.

Myers presented her proposed spending plan to the town board Wednesday night at town hall. The $27.8 million budget represents a spending increase of 7 percent over the $25.9 million plan approved in 2005 for the current year.

Myers, preparing her first budget since taking office in January, called the proposal "frugal" with little room for reductions.
. . . .
The budget would increase the tax levy, or the amount to be raised by taxes, to nearly $16.8 million, a 4.6 percent hike.

Myers said expenses outside the board's control are the main reason for the spending increase, with health insurance, retirement costs, employee contracts and debt service as key culprits.

"It's mostly fixed costs," Myers said. "We are being very frugal."

Land taxes down 14 percent; Franklin County able to ease burden of property tax (Denise A. Raymo/Plattsburgh Press-Republican)

The tentative 2007 Franklin County budget has topped the $100 million mark for the first time, but it appears to lower property taxes by more than 14 percent.

The overall budget proposal is $100,327,186, an increase of 6.82 percent from the 2006 budget.

However, the amount to be raised by taxes has been reduced by $2 million due, in part, to the 1-percent increase in sales tax the County Legislature initiated in June.

The total tax levy stands at $13,211,619, a decrease of 14.02 percent, according to figures released by County Manager and Budget Officer James Feeley.

And the tax rate per $1,000 of assessed-property value will plummet 29 percent, going from $6.13 to $4.35.

A homeowner with a property valued at $100,000 would pay $434.84 in 2007 compared to $612.96 in 2006.

Initial budget contains increase; Supervisor says the $12.23 million plan 'basically keeps town running.' (John Doherty/Syracuse Post-Standard)

[Onondaga County Townof] Clay Supervisor Mark Rupprecht Monday presented a $12.23 million town budget proposal that is about 10 percent higher than the current spending plan.
The proposal calls for no new spending or major projects for 2007, Rupprecht said.

Manlius takes first look at 2007 budget; Slight decrease in tax rate seen in tentative spending package unveiled last week (Jim Read/Syracuse Post-Standard)

Town of Manlius taxpayers will see small decreases in the tax rate if no changes are made to the tentative budget presented to the town board last week.
. . . .
The board will work on the budget for the next several weeks. The revised plan will be presented at a public hearing, which most likely will be scheduled for Oct. 25.

[Town Supervisor Hank] Chapman said he projects the overall full-town tax rate, including highway tax, to be $4.258 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, down from $4.327 in 2006. The part-town tax rate is projected at $3.168 per $1,000, down from 3.273 in 2006.

Overall spending in the full-town fund, the largest budget which covers most services, is up 2.32 percent to $6.8 million.

Budget keeps taxes in check; Supervisor says town will use nearly $1.37 million in town surplus mone (John Doherty/Syracuse Post-Standard)

Cicero councilors have proposed a 2007 town budget that calls for no tax levy increase.

The town board is considering a $9.57 million budget that is 9.4 percent larger than this year's budget, yet calls for raising the same amount of taxes that was collected in 2006.

"Our goal is to achieve a zero tax increase, if at all possible," said Supervisor Chester Dudzinski.

The 2007 proposal calls for using nearly $1.37 million in town surplus money to offset taxes. This year's budget used about $800,000 for that purpose.

Spa budget would raise taxes 6 percent (Glens Falls Post-Star)

Finance Commissioner Matthew McCabe on Tuesday proposed a $35.6 million [Saratoga Springs ]budget for 2007 that would increase property taxes for homeowners by 5.92 percent.

McCabe said taxpayers "will receive uncompromised services, increased city resources and a reasonable tax rate" of $5.01 per $1,000 assessed property valuation under the proposed budget.

Residents owning a $200,000 home would pay a $1,002 tax bill, about $56 higher than last year, under the budget proposal.

The $35.6 million spending plan represents a 10 percent spending increase from the $32.2 million 2006 budget.