Special Taxing District Saga Continues
The folks at Residents for Efficient Special Districts (RESD) offer feedback -- and a most watchful eye -- on the happenings and taxings at Long Island's fire districts.
Today, RESD member and West Hempstead resident Tony Brita reports on new lows in Gordon Heights and Selden seen accountability. . .
It seems like nary a week goes by without hearing another new story about the beleaguered special taxing districts who continue to demonstrate ad nauseam that costs are out of control and that they are incapable of managing their own operations. The Town of Brookhaven Board recently rejected a petition signed by 70% of the residents from Gordon Heights who pay thousands of dollars each year for fire protection services. While the rejection of the petition was based on minor technicalities such as the failure to authenticate signatures and a lack of proper binding, it should be self-evident to the Town Board that the residents have reached the saturation point with regards to receiving little to no value for their tax dollar. It would be interesting to see if the Town of Brookhaven (not exactly known for its pristine probity over the years and certainly deserving of the term “Crookhaven”) has applied the letter of the law so completely in its other dealings. The implicit point of the petition is that the will of the people has spoken and it is now the responsibility of elected officials to abide by the will of the voters.
It remains to be seen what other roadblocks the Town of Brookhaven will put in front of the intrepid residents of Gordon Heights who have been left little choice but to take matters into their own hands. Elected officials who should have been addressing the massive inequities in the special taxing districts in the first place have abandoned the very people who elected them to office. While the residents of Gordon Heights were protesting runaway taxes in their special taxing district, residents in Selden were decrying the other deadly sin of the special taxing districts – no accountability or oversight.
Apparently in Selden (as reported in Newsday), it is common practice for fire commissioners to hand in receipts for reimbursement on the back of business cards. The commissioners even admitted as much and said that they had also spent portions of their food allowance on alcohol, which is a non-reimbursable travel expense in New York State. The Chairman of the Fire District’s Board of Commissioners James Spatafora had the temerity to say "There's nothing illegal going on, there's nothing criminal.” I am not Perry Mason but if alcohol is a non-reimbursable travel expense in New York State and the good fire commissioners were being reimbursed for the drinks they had with their steak dinner (you can’t wash down a nice medium-rare porterhouse with a Coke! In Vegas?), that would appear to me to be rather illegal. Oh, to be a fire commissioner! (or any special taxing district commissioner for that matter) I could go to Vegas on the taxpayer’s dime, spend $15 on dinner, grab a business card and write “Dinner: $75”, then get reimbursed and pocket the other $60. Thank you residents of Selden. Life is so much easier when no one looks over your shoulder.
Another Selden Fire Commissioner provided (presumably with a straight face) further insight into the business travel practices of the commissioners. "Basically when I go out to eat on a business trip I eat the same way that I eat on my own," Robert Santora said, explaining money spent on alcohol. "I'd say it's pretty standard for most of the people in the whole state." TRANSLATION: “I don’t give a crap that taxpayers are paying for my meal. Why should I care about being responsible? It’s not my money. I’m doing what I want. Oh and by the way, everyone else is doing it too, so that makes me feel like it’s ok.”
The Selden Fire District’s budget is almost four million dollars yet it is run less professionally than a child’s lemonade stand on the sidewalk. Unless the special taxing districts can demonstrate that they can operate professionally and competently like the multi-million dollar organizations they are, public pressure should continue to force them to reform or disband their operations like the residents in Gordon Heights are attempting to do. In the meantime, it is a virtual lock that we will see more stories like Gordon Heights and Selden as taxpayers continue to be fleeced by the special taxing districts.
Tony Brita is a founding member of Residents for Efficient Special Districts (RESD).
If you are interested in learning more about RESD or would like to become a member, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Residents for Efficient Special Districts (“RESD”) is a nonpartisan, not for profit civic organization devoted to advocating for the most efficient and effective provision of Fire, Sanitation & Water services within the Town of Hempstead.
RESD’s mission is carried out through the following activities:
-Increasing public awareness of special districts and their impact on residents’ tax bills;
-Encouraging competitive elections for open commissioner seats;
-Promoting a single election day for all special districts and supervised by the Board of Elections;
-Lobbying elected officials on all levels, for consolidation of special districts into more efficient, transparent and accountable public service providers.