Thursday, August 31, 2006

From Small Town To America's Largest Township

Size Doesn't Matter When It Comes To Entrenched Local Government

The New York Times reports on the political comings and goings of Vernon, CA, a town of some 91 residents where the Mayor has held office since the Eisenhower administration.

Heck. That's nothing! Contrast the venerable Town of Hempstead, where one party has held a lock on power since... well, since Theodore Roosevelt was in the White House, and the Chicago Cubs last won the World Series.

Okay. At least we don't have any streets named "Mondello's Way" or "Kate Murray Boulevard" -- YET!

To Outsiders, a Town Seems a Cartel by Any Other Name

By REGAN MORRIS

VERNON, Calif. — With 44,000 workers by day and 91 residents at night, Vernon is no ordinary small town. Its motto, “Exclusively Industrial,” says it all. This 5.2-square-mile city a few miles south of downtown Los Angeles is strictly for business, with a few homes dotted amid warehouses, factories and meatpacking plants.

Vernon has no movie theaters, parks or high schools. But despite its tiny population — or maybe because of it — it has not escaped accusations of small-town corruption. In April, Vernon held its first contested election in 26 years, and local leaders, would-be City Council members and state officials have been battling ever since.

Vernon officials have refused to count the ballots, saying they will await the outcome of litigation filed by City Clerk Bruce Malkenhorst Jr. against three Council opposition candidates and their housemates over their right to run for office and to vote or even to live in Vernon.

The dispute has resulted in a number of lawsuits.

Judge David P. Yaffe of Los Angeles Superior Court has ruled against the town, saying it cannot invalidate the election. Another Superior Court judge, Aurelio Muñoz, said in court that Vernon was “run like a fiefdom,” and rejected its attempt to strip the opposition of their right to vote.

But lawyers for Mr. Malkenhorst, whose father retired as city administrator in 2004 with salary and perks of nearly $600,000 that year, say they will appeal.

The impasse has fueled debate over the ability of small towns to run their own elections. The California secretary of state, Bruce McPherson, has called on Vernon officials to count the votes, and Mr. McPherson supports a bill to strip the city of its power to administer elections for two years.

“This is an egregious abuse of the process,” Mr. McPherson said in a letter endorsing the bill, which would give Los Angeles County power to run Vernon’s next election. “Although this bill would not settle this issue for this election, it would ensure that future elections are conducted according to law.”

The fracas started in early January when a part-time bulk paper broker, Donald Huff, and a group of eight men and women moved into town, took up residence in an old building and registered to vote. Mr. Huff, 42, and two of his housemates filed to run for City Council, prompting city officials — according to Mr. Huff — to shut off their electricity and hire “armed thugs” to tail them.

By Jan. 26, the newcomers had been evicted because the city had declared their house a fire hazard.

City officials, in court papers, say Mr. Huff and his friends are puppets of Albert T. Robles, who as treasurer of nearby South Gate was convicted on corruption charges and is awaiting sentencing.

“I’ll live in my car if I have to,” Mr. Huff said. After spending weeks living in his S.U.V. in Vernon, he now sleeps on friends’ couches elsewhere, but said he had not given up his fight.

“I’m not going away,” he said. “They think they can chase me out of town, but they won’t.” Mr. Huff added, “The mayor doesn’t own this town.”

But he does own some of it.

Vernon business owners eat at La Villa Basque, owned by Mayor Leonis C. Malburg, who has been on the Council since the Eisenhower administration. The restaurant is next to the Leonis Malburg Building on Leonis Boulevard a few blocks from Malburg Way.

Mr. Malburg, the grandson of John B. Leonis, Vernon’s founding father, warmly greets lunch patrons at La Villa Basque, which has had the same décor and some of the same employees since it opened in 1960. But with outsiders, city officials seem guarded. When asked for comment after a recent City Council meeting, the mayor just smiled and walked away.

Silence, in fact, appears to be policy in Vernon. Other city officials said nothing when asked their names or if they would comment on the lawsuit and Judge Muñoz’s ruling. Phone calls requesting comment were not returned.

According to the Chamber of Commerce, 44,000 people commute to work in Vernon. The city owns nearly all the homes in Vernon, and most residents work for the city and pay cheap rent. Vernon has its own police, health, utilities and fire departments. Owners of many of the 1,200-plus businesses in town praise the city leaders for excellent services, low taxes and inexpensive utilities.

Although Judge Muñoz ruled against Vernon, he agreed with city officials that the newcomers were trying to gain power. He cited the youth and the lack of education and employment of most of them, but rejected the city’s attempt to cancel their voter registrations, saying in court that “power grabs aren’t illegal.”

Prof. Richard L. Hasen, an election law expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said he had “never heard of a situation anywhere where votes had been cast and then a clerk makes a decision not to count the votes.”

“Vernon’s like the Wild West,” Professor Hasen said. “The idea that they can just lock up the ballots — not only does that violate election laws, but it’s outrageous.”

Several business leaders said those in control of Vernon did a good job. “What city doesn’t have some corruption?” said Todd Levin, president of Todd’s Incorporated, a packager of dried nuts and other snack food. “I’m not saying they’re corrupt. I just know I get a great deal here, and they’re great to work with.”

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
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If Vernon, CA is like the Wild West, does that make New York's Town of Hempstead the Wild East? Anyone for lunch at Santino's?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Illegal Apartment And The Fire Next Door

Blaze In Englewood House, Started In Basement Apartment, Kills 2, Injures 6

Whenever we hear or read about a fire in a residential neighborhood, we always wait for the "illegal accessory apartment" shoe to drop. And it apparently has, yet again!

Only a matter of time, and continued non-enforcement of the building code, for the other shoe to drop here in Hempstead Town. . .

Two Dead, Six Injured in Englewood Fire

ENGLEWOOD, N.J. (1010 WINS) -- Two people died and one was critically injured in a fire that swept through a multi-family home early Wednesday, authorities said.

The three people were trapped in a basement apartment when the fast-moving fire tore through the home just before 3:45 a.m., firefighters told media outlets.

"Their means of egress was cut off by the fire,'' Englewood Fire Capt. Erik Enersen told WABC-TV in New York. "So the firefighters had to do what they had to do to extinguish or at least hold the fire in check until the firefighters could get past and conduct a thorough search and locate the victims.''

The critically injured person was rushed by helicopter to a hospital in Livingston.The names of the dead and injured were not immediately released by authorities, who were investigating whether the basement apartment was legal to rent out.

A total of 14 people lived inside the house at the time of the fire and firefighters rescued nine people, including an18-month-old child. They were transported to hospitals with various injuries, mostly smoke inhalation.

The Bergen County Prosecutor's Office was investigating the cause of the fire.William Galda, first assistant prosecutor, said investigators are working to determine the cause of the fire."My gut feeling from past experiences is that these things are usually due to an overloaded circuit,'' he said. "But they will investigate to determine whether or not the fire was intentionally set or not.''

New York Matters -- No, Really!

From The Rockaways To Rochester, Quality Of Life Issues Take Front And Center

While it may seem at times that this blogger -- and other bloggers similarly situated across the Island and around New York State -- have been whistling in the wind on issues such as property taxes, education and the inefficiency of State government, there is good news -- we are not alone!

Out there in the not too distant blogosphere (just a mouse click away, in fact), is NewYorkMatters.org, a non-partisan group focusing on the very issues we've been clamoring about, whose objective is "to promote healthy debate and drive productive changes in Albany— regardless of who wins." [Hey, if we can live to see "productive changes in Albany," we all win!]

Exploring issues such as education, health care, and the economy (sound familiar?) -- with in-depth analysis of significant concerns presented in timely and frank reports [READ, STAR Fails The Test and Shine Light Public Authorities.] -- New York Matters takes the typical "bitch and moan" to the next level. And without all of the partisan rant.

The very issues that we've been bantering about locally here on Long Island are now getting to the table statewide -- and by organizations with a heck of a lot more clout -- and financial backing -- than we've got.

NewYorkMatters.org is a product of the Center for Governmental Research, a non-profit center for objective policy analysis, often referenced (but never imitated) in these blogposts.

How in tune is New York Matters with what's going on here on "the Island?" Well, we think they've hit the proverbial clown on the nose, as evidenced by their recent findings on exactly what it is that worries us Long Islanders (aside from the fear that Peter Schmitt might one day get off his leash and bite Judy Jacobs in the rump). [READ, Long Island: Taxes Top Of Mind.]

In a recent poll, conducted for New York Matters by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, taxes headed up the list of the greatest issues facing the next Governor (issues which were largely ignored over the past 12 years by the present Governor), with education taking a strong, but still distant second. [Click HERE to see the Long Island Results.]

Together with other nonpartisan organizations, New York Matters will present a series of town meeting-style public forums. [One such forum will take place at Hofstra University on September 16th. (More on this in upcoming blogposts).] These events, to be held at various locations throughout New York State, will give voters, elected officials and topic experts the chance to explore critical issues and policy options throughout the 2006 elections, and hopefully, well beyond.

Yes, we know, more forums, conferences, and town meetings. Been there, done that. The old preaching to the choir (off key as we are).

Tom Suozzi, the Nassau County Exec and would-be Governor, held a forum with members of Long Island school boards to consider ways to lower the school property tax. The conclave met, and then what happened? Nothing.

There was a conference -- attended by experts and lay citizens alike -- at Hofstra on the farce and fate of the special districts. The result? Nada.

Now, now. There's reason to hope -- and to lend both a voice and an ear to the New York Matters forums. The idea behind New York Matters is to reach beyond the provincial interests locally, building a broad-based consensus, a strategic objective, and more than just loose change in Albany.

Here, at The Community Alliance blog, there may well be method to the madness. At New York Matters, we sense that the method not only has legs, but credibility, and that the powers-that-be in Albany are watching very closely.

Can actually listening to us Long Islanders, and taking action on our behalf, be far behind?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Empire Zone Comes To West Hempstead

411 On Economic Development To Be Held At West Hempstead High

The County of Nassau Office of Economic Development will hold a public meeting at West Hempstead High School on Thursday, September 7, 2006 at 7 PM on the new Empire Zone designation, this as part of a community information series.

The entire West Hempstead community – both business and residential – is invited to attend, as are residents of neighboring communities upon which the Empire Zone is likely to have significant impact. [A decent public showing at this information session (and actual hands-on involvement down the road) is in order, lest Nassau ’s Empire Zone follow the path of other such EZs across the State to being little more than bastions of political patronage.]

Who knows – maybe residents will even get to meet and speak with West Hempstead’s very own member of the Empire Zone Board, Kuldeap Krish Prasad!

West Hempstead High School is located at 400 Nassau Boulevard, West Hempstead, just south of the Echo Park Pool complex.
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Business and Community Information Series on the Empire Zones, Nassau County Office of Economic Development, West Hempstead High School , West Hempstead , 7 p.m. Call (516) 571-1784 for information.

EXTRA! EXTRA! Town of Hempstead Sues Own Zoning Board

Biting The Hand It Feeds? Who Would Have Ever Thunk It?

In a seemingly unprecedented move, the Town of Hempstead has filed suit against its own Zoning Board of Appeals, in a dispute involving a deck over Reynold's Channel.

Could it be that the Town of Hempstead, always known for its Band-Aid approach, is suddenly becoming more proactive?

Newsday reports on this strange occurence. We surmise there must have either been a full moon, or something more in the water of Reynold's Channel than just salt and fluke!


The Town's curious suit against itself raises not only eyebrows here at The Community Alliance, but a few questions, as well.

Who will be picking up the tab for legal fees in this lawsuit which pits Town of Hempstead against Town of Hempstead? [Ah, that would be John Q. Public!] Can the Town of Hempstead really sue itself? [Maybe the Town considers its Zoning Board as a seperate legal entity, much like the Town's Sanitary Districts. Local control versus out of control.]

What next? Perhaps Joe Ra, as Town Attorney, will commence a lawsuit (or an Article 78 Proceeding) against Joe Ra, as General Counsel for Town of Hempstead Sanitary District 6.

In Hempstead Town, stranger things have happened!

Hempstead sues its zoning board over bar

BY EMI ENDO
Newsday Staff Writer

The Hempstead Town Board has taken the highly unusual step of suing its own zoning board of appeals over a popular Point Lookout waterfront bar.

At issue is the outdoor deck behind Scotty's Marina that overlooks Reynold's Channel. For patrons, it's been a prime spot to take in the view with a drink. For neighbors, it's been a nuisance.

The town board views the use of the deck as violating the rights of the Town of Hempstead, which owns the underwater land below the channel, and disagrees with the Hempstead zoning board of appeals decision that permitted dining there in November 2005.

The town board appoints members to the zoning board, an independent body.

Town Attorney Joseph Ra said the bar owners had never obtained the necessary permit to build it. The zoning board has decided to revisit the situation and has scheduled a hearing for Dec. 13 at 2 p.m.

In 1999, Tom and Roberta Doheny, who own Scotty's Fishing Station and Marina, opened The Buoy Bar. At first, the bar and seating was contained on the deck, but the owners later sought to create an indoor bar with some outside seating.

The zoning board ruled on Nov. 30 that the owners did not need special permission to operate an indoor restaurant and granted a parking variance. The zoning board also found that the owners had the right to use the deck for dining. "... A member of the public could perhaps bring food from home and consume it on the deck," the zoning board wrote. "The mere consumption of food on the deck is not a restaurant."

The town board, however, argues that it alone governs the waterway rights and that the zoning board overstepped its authority. According to the lawsuit, "Scotty's Marina's proposed use of the deck for outdoor drinking and dining by customers of its bar and grill is patently unrelated to the riparian right of access to the waterway for commerce and navigation." The town board dismissed the zoning board's "hyper-contrived determination that 'the deck is not a restaurant.'"Controversy over the bar has divided the cozy beach community.

The owners say their establishment is low-key.But critics complain of noise and crowds and say they don't want to deal with patrons urinating in their bushes or events such as a "Speedo Nite."
Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Whistle In The Wind. . .

. . .Or At Least Talk About It!

Don't miss this opportunity to learn about the european experience with wind energy!

This Thursday, August 31, 8 PM at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington: Offshore Wind Power - A European Perspective

Mr. Jens Larsen of the Copenhagen Environment and Energy Office will give a free talk and answer questions about the Danish experience with offshore wind power. He was instrumental in making the Middelgrunden offshore wind park a reality for Copenhagen, Denmark.

This facility now generates 40 MW of pollution-free electricity for the residents of this beautiful city.

For more info on this forum and directions, click HERE.

There is no admission fee, but an RSVP by e-mail to reli@optonline.net is requested.

For additional resources, visit Renewable Energy Long Island (RELI)

Plus, mark your your calendars for Saturday, October 7: The National Solar Tour & Green Buildings Open House Tour comes to Long Island.

Get your free visitor's pass, tour locations and more info by clicking HERE.

Dissolve Two Fire Districts. . .

. . .And Give Homeowners A Tax Break In The Morning


Newsday reports on community efforts to dissolve the Gordon Heights Fire District in the Town of Brookhaven, where tax levies are the highest on the Island.

An aberration, or the start of a trend to eliminate, consolidate, and hold the line on taxes?

Call to town to dissolve fire district

BY BRANDON BAIN
Newsday Staff Writer

Residents of the Gordon Heights Fire District, angered over having to pay the highest fire district taxes on Long Island, last night presented the Brookhaven Town Board with a petition to dissolve the fire district.

The residents - some wearing green shirts to symbolize money - submitted a petition with signatures from more than 400 homes, well over the 51 percent of district households required to force the town board to hold hearings on the issue. Eventually, the town board might have to vote on the matter. The signatures are being reviewed by the town.

Experts say no fire district in New York State ever has been dissolved. Some members of the mostly black fire district have brought up concerns that race could be a factor in the drive to shut it down.But residents denied that. "It's all about money," said Rosalie Hansen, a Gordon Heights resident who collected signatures. "They're trying to make it a racial thing but it's only about the color green, and that's money."

Gordon Heights Fire District Commissioner Chesley Ruffin said dissolving the district could be damaging to fire safety in the area and wouldn't guarantee a reduction of taxes."Do I feel taxes in New York are high? Yes," he said. "But they are giving people false hopes."

Fire officials in Gordon Heights, a predominantly black community, have said the department's history as a black organization must be preserved.Residents, who started petitioning to close the firehouse on Hawkins Avenue in April, pay on average $1,344 in fire taxes, more than three times what is paid by residents in neighboring Medford ($358) and Yaphank ($398). Fire department officials blamed high taxes on the lack of a commercial tax base in the district.

The small, volunteer district has a $1.48-million budget and protects roughly 800 homes.

If the fire district is dissolved, several scenarios are possible.

A nearby district's fire commissioners could vote to absorb Gordon Heights, or the town board could take on Gordon Heights as a fire protection district like Moriches, collecting taxes and contracting with a nearby fire department to protect its homes."

Many people are losing their homes, not to fires but to high taxes," said Melvin Robinson, a Gordon Heights resident since 1942 who pays $1,400 in fire taxes.

Also at last night's meeting, the Brookhaven Town Board passed its Energy Star resolution requiring that all new homes in the town be built under Energy Star standards for energy efficiency. Brookhaven Town officials are expected to meet today with Babylon Town Supervisor Steve Bellone to discuss more energy-reducing initiatives in their respective towns.

Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.
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A follow-up in Newsday reports a possible solution short of dissolution of the fire district -- the annexation of adjoining commercial and industrial properties, which would increase the tax base, according to the plan's proponent, Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Connie Keppert. [READ, Still Chasing Fire District Solution.]

Of course, if you take tax-producing properties from one fire district, you deprive a neighboring district -- and its residents -- from tax revenues. The old "borrow from Peter to pay Paul." And Mary gets stuck picking up the tab!

Has anyone in the Town of Brookhaven ever considered CONSOLIDATION of the Gordon Heights Fire District into one or more of the neighboring districts? Surely, this thought would never cross the minds of the Gordon Heights Fire Commissioners, who wouldn't voluntarily relinquish turf, let alone control, even if it meant a substantial tax savings for the roughly 800 homeowners who reside within the district.

Where a higher power -- whether the Town of Brookhaven or the State Legislature -- refuses or simply neglects to intervene for the benefit of the greater good (read as, the homeowners of Gordon Heights), it is wholely appropriate, and in this case, most commendable, for residents to take the bull by the horns and seek self-help.

The self-help here comes in the form of a Petition to dissolve the fire district, signed by more than half (over 400) of the homeowners of Gordon Heights, presumably forcing the Brookhaven Town Board to vote "yea" or "nay" on dissolution.

Should the Gordon Heights Fire District be dissolved, its Commissioners will have no one to blame but themselves, and local residents will surely have something to cheer about.

At the very least, Gordon Heights residents should be very proud of themselves -- and the rest of us could take a lesson in emulation here -- for picking up the ball dropped in their laps by State and local government. We'd like to see more such activism by community advocates across the length and breadth of our Long Island!

This is one to keep an eye on, as concerns the fate of special districts on Long Isand in the face of out-of-control property taxes. Residents For Efficient Special Districts please take note!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Five Questions To Ask Your State Legislators

Assembly, Senate Seats All Up For Grabs This Fall; Time To Ask, "What Have You Done For My Community Lately?"

With the campaign season about to get into full swing, Long Islanders prepare to let out their collective yawn. Think of it as a "same Senator, different year" kinda thing.

As lethargic as the electorate may be, we still should be asking our State legislators -- most of whom have been up in Albany so long that you have to scrape the moss off of their backs -- the tough questions on the difficult issues.

And if you're not going to ask your legislators (and most of you won't), you should be asking yourselves these questions (among others). At the very least, you should be thinking about the consequences of allowing these questions to go unanswered, and the underlying problems, unaddressed.

The Great Rebate

1. Albany's answer to the ever-escalating property tax -- an almost unbearable burden for most New York homeowners -- has been to offer a nominal "rebate," characterized by pundits as political fodder designed to buy votes, providing little in the way of real relief to the bottom line. Beyond the limited, if not entirely self-serving property tax "rebate," what proposal(s) do you intend to put forward to bring long-term property tax relief to long-suffering New Yorkers?

Watch The Gap

2. There is a growing disparity between the amount of State Aid recieved by upstate school districts (some getting upwards of 80% of their budgets funded by the State) and the paltry amounts, by comparison, received by Long Island's school districts (typically ranging from 12% to 15%). Why this glaring gap in funding public education, and how do you propose to end the inequity?

Home, Home On Deranged

3. There is a burgeoning crisis on Long Island, and elsewhere in New York, stemming from rising housing costs, a "built-out" suburbia, and a total lack of anything resembling "affordable housing." Over the last few legislative sessions -- most recently, this year -- the NYS Assembly has passed legislation (the so-called DiNapoli bill, "Long Island Workforce Housing Initiative") which would require builders to set aside 10% of the units built (in developments consisting of five or more units) for affordable housing. Similar legislation has routinely died in the State Senate, this year failing to so much as make it out of committee. What's the Senate's problem with the Workforce Housing Initiative, and what legislation will you sponsor in the coming session to assure that affordable housing is in Long Island's future?

It's Been How Long?

4. You've been up in Albany now going on xx (fill in the blank) years. That's xxxx (fill in the blank) in dog years. During those years, while you've worked your way up the leadership ladder, the NYS Legislature has sputtered into virtual ineffectiveness, being categorized as "the most dysfunctional legislature in the nation?" One would think that after all these years in office, at least a few of the problems we face would have been resolved. Instead, it seems that the legislature has become not only a part of the problem, but a cause of it. Why should we send you back for another two years?

"Your Present Plans Are Going To Succeed... In Bed"

5. Like almost every fortune cookie -- where the words "in bed" must be added to the fortune to give it true meaning -- our legislators are constantly telling us what they've done or are going to do to improve our quality of life. More times than not, their benevolence -- and the member item dollars -- extend no further than the legislators' own backyards. You see the TV spots that show your local State Senator, for instance, on a playng field surrounded by young children, the voiceover proclaiming, "Senator (insert name here) has built parks, playgrounds, and recreational facilities. . ." Of course, you need to add "in (insert Senator's hometown here)" to give that statement validity. "Thank you, Senator. . ." So tell us, what exactly have you done for our community lately?

We're quite certain you could add at least half a dozen other questions to this list -- please do -- make your legislators' day!

And by the way, almost every State Legislator in the Long Island delegation reads The Community Alliance blog. So, if you, Assemblymember, State Senator, or candidate therefor, would like to respond directly to our inquiries, go ahead, make our day! Our e-mail address is info@thecommunityalliance.org

Ask questions. Insist on answers. Demand better!
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NYS Assemblymembers

NYS Senators

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Answer To Long Island's Growing Garbage Problem?

Vultures Circling Town Hall -- Not Necessarily A Bad Thing!

As garbage woes -- from overflowing landfills to the limitations and possible loss of resource recovery plants -- continue to mount on Long Island, officialdom considers alternatives to dumping, burning, barging, and carting.

One town's misery could be our town's saving grace. [It wouldn't be the first time that vultures gathered in the skies above the hallowed halls of government.] Maybe it would be okay if we feed the birds, lest we all be inclined to "eat garbage!"

Could there be a "Vulture Sanitary District No. 13" or a "Vulture Habitation District Tax" on the horizon?

Read on. . .

Vultures lay siege to Amazon jungle city

LIMA, Peru (Reuters) - Hundreds of vultures have swarmed the airport of the biggest city in Peru's Amazon jungle, putting planes at risk and threatening to cut off the city of more than 400,000 people from the rest of the country.

The birds already have forced the airport in Iquitos -- a popular tourist destination that can only be reached from the capital Lima by air – to shut down eight hours a day, said Aurelio Crovetto, head of Peru's state-run airport authority.

"One of these birds only has to bump into a plane and the effect could Be devastating," he said. "If one gets into an engine, it will destroy it, the motor will stop and the plane will come down."

Set on the banks of an Amazon River tributary, Iquitos is one of theworld's largest cities inaccessible by road. The vultures became a problem when migration swelled Iquitos' Population and extra trash pushed the edge of a garbage dump, which attracts the birds, closer to the airport.

The vultures have collided with planes at least 19 times since 2002, according to the airport authority. Photographs show engine parts and wing flaps mangled by avian encounters. The airport authority blames local officials, whom they say have ignored nearly a decade of complaints about the dump. But the city's mayor says airport operators should be better equipped to scare away the vultures. Peru's commerce and tourism minister has referred to the situation as"surreal" and promised action.

Copyright 2006 Reuters. All rights reserved.
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Coming up: Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray rolls out Town's Adopt-A-Vulture ~ Summer of Garbage program.

Said the Supervisor, excitedly, "Last year's 'Summer of Love' Pet Adoption Program was a remarkable success, with 122 dogs and 154 cats adopted, ... We hope that by extending this program to the adoption of vultures and waiving adoption fees, Hempstead Town will be able to continue helping residents experience the joy of pet ownership and giving these animals good homes with loving owners, while at the same time reducing garbage.”

Consider, too, this added benefit: Workers at the Town's Sanitary Districts will now be able to work even fewer hours for full-time pay!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Into The Blogosphere

The Community Alliance Blog Expands Horizons

Starting today, The Community Alliance blog -- the voice of quality of life advocacy (if not reason) on Long Island -- reaches beyond the south shore and the gold coast, broadcasting to greater New York (if not the world) via BlogNetNews.com.

Specifically, our blog is now linked with BlogNetNews.com/New_York, bringing the news of New York (at least as us bloggers see it), whether from Buffalo to Bohemia, direct to your computer monitor.

The idea behind BlogNetNews.com is simple -- to enable New Yorkers (and NY wannabes) to get the best of the New York web, all in one place!

In their own words, BlogNetNews.com provides:

- The day's top news based solely on what news stories New York bloggers are linking to -- no matter what mainstream news source they're in;
- A micro search engine that will only search the New York blogosphere;
- A quick guide to the hottest blog comment sections in New York;
- A quick index of the day's most active New York blogs;
- A guide to the blog posts most linked to by other New York bloggers.


The goal here at The Community Alliance blog is to reach as many Long Islanders -- New Yorkers, one and all -- as possible, enlightening, educating, and, from time to time, entertaining.

If its about community, for community, or concerning community, you'll find it right here at The Community Alliance blog. And when that community encompasses what's happening west of Elmont -- and north to Albany -- you'll find it at BlogNetNews.com/New_York.

Make sure YOUR voice is heard, on Long Island and around the State, by adding your comments to our blogposts.

We'll continue to give voice to the issues and problems -- from out-of-control property taxes to fiscal inequity in our public schools to paying more for garbage collection than for police protection -- as long as you agree to be a part of the solution!
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Today's blog sites of interest from BlogNetNews.com/New_York -- ALBANYSINSANITY and REFORMNY.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Monday, August 21, 2006

Register To Vote, New York

You Gotta Be In It To Win It!

We've all heard it before -- "If you don't vote, don't complain!"

Democracy is not a spectator sport, and effective community advocacy requires that every resident participate in the processes that impact upon the quality of life of our families, our neighbors, and our society.

Are you registered to vote?

If you are, then, by all mean, do exercise that privilege in every election -- from Presidential to the vote for Sanitary District Commissioners.

In New York, Primary Day (2006) is Tuesday, September 12th.

Election Day is Tuesday, November 7th.

If you are NOT registered to vote, its time to get with the program.

In New York, qualifications to vote are as follows:

- be a United States citizen;
- be 18 years old by December 31 of the year in which you file this form (note: you must be 18 years old by the date of the general, primary or other election in which you want to vote);
- live at your present address at least 30 days before an election;
- not be in jail or on parole for a felony conviction and;
- not claim the right to vote elsewhere.

You can register to vote by any of the following means:

- at your local Board of Elections;
- at an agency-based registration center;
- by calling the NYS Board of Elections hotline 1-800-FOR-VOTE hotline to request a voter application;
- by downloading a registration form for completion and submission to your local Board of Elections (either in person or by mail), or;
- by completing and submitting an online registration form (this form can be completed online, but must thereafter be printed out and mailed in to your local Board of Elections).

Short of us filling out the forms for you, registering to vote couldn't be easier.

So, what are you waiting for? REGISTER TO VOTE today, and put democracy in action!

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Universe Favors Chaos

Can Long Island Be Far Behind?

Will Rogers had it right when he said, "I'm not a member of any organized political party, I'm a Democrat."

Nowhere is the disorganization, disarray, and all too frequently, disconnect, more apparent than in our own backyard of Nassau County.

Face it, when Joe Mondello, the Republican Party chief, says "Jump," the response from the faithful is a swift and unequivocal, "How high?"

On the other hand, when Jay Jacobs, Nassau's Democratic Party Chair, says "Jump," there is an almost deafening silence, followed by a couple of octagenarians waking out of a stooper, scratching their heads, and quietly whispering to one another, "Did you hear something?" [Nassau County Dems even have trouble getting a decent website up and running!]

Not to take anything away from Jay, or to give Joe more than his due (lest it go to his head), but that's just the way it is. The nature of the beast.

Where the GOPers march in lock-step -- good soldiers to the last -- Dems typically can't put one foot in front of the other without tripping all over themselves. You would never see the likes of a Corbin/Altmann rebellion in the Nassau GOP, where dissent is discouraged, and those who would rock the boat or, heaven forbid, "clean house," are routinely put in their place.

Where Republicans follow party line without question, or even thought, their compatriots across the aisle can barely draw a straight line. Where the GOP faithful respond to the call to rally, to vote, to steal lawn signs, Democrats are loathe to get out from under the bed covers and open the blinds.

The Republicans in these parts, if not elsewhere around the nation, have developed an intricate network, where orders flow from the top down, where disobedience is not only frowned upon, but duly punished.

Democrats, on the other hand, rarely seem to even speak with one another, let alone effectively communicate with either other registered Dems or the masses, and while the GOP seeks to maintain and reinforce the fiefdoms and political infrastructure that literally feeds into the near-perfect (to the public eye) monolithic mechanism it has built, the Democrats, even if for the benefit of the whole, look, at every turn, to dismantle the time-worn machine -- using a cotton swab as their only tool.

If the GOP regulars are likened to soldiers, taking direction from their Lieutenants, who in turn follow orders from the Generals above them, the Democrats must be viewed as campers engaged in a perpetual tug of war with both their counselors and each other.

Even Jay Jacobs, quite familiar with summer camp Color Wars and other such sport, has to wonder how he can bring these boys and girls together for the closing ceremonies! [Sorry, Jay. Unlike the camp season, the political season never ends, no one wants to pick up the dust bunnies under the beds, and you can't send the bad kids home for breaking the rules or being bad sports...]

As in most of America, where the divide between red and blue grows wider by the hour, there is a sense here on Long Island that, where Republicans are on message, the Democrats have no message; where the GOP is steadfast and strong-willed (often to the point of straining credulity and suspending all belief, if not constitutional rights and privileges), the Dems falter, stumble, and get lost in their own words; where Republicans seem practical and united, their Democratic rivals too often wax philosophical, appearing disjointed and without direction.

Long Islanders, not unlike the majority of the electorate, aren't much enamored with change. Change frightens most folks, really. Even when things aren't so good, why take a chance that they could be a heck of a lot worse? [Truth be told, were it in the hands of LIers, the colonies would still be a part of the British Empire!]

We, the stalwarts of Long Island, concede, in poll after poll, survey after survey, that life on our island -- from property taxes to housing, education to street cleaning -- leaves much to be desired. We are, as a lot, generally dissatisfied. And yet, with minor aberration when things get really bad, we are reluctant to do anything other than to stay the course -- icebergs on the horizon be damned.

Indeed, we often stand defiant in the face of change, insistent on paying more while getting less, just so we can preserve the sameness we have become accustomed to.

Historically, and we can see no real deviation here on Long Island, the Democrats have represented change, a break from that "same Schmitt, different day," while the Republicans have stood firmly for keeping things as they are -- or, as many believe, the way they were at a time when there were more potato fields in Nassau County than there were housing tracts.

Perhaps the difference between Democrats and Republicans can be summed up this way (keeping in mind that it is often perception of reality that counts most, and not reality itself): The Republicans are resolute and decisive, of one mind, speaking with a single voice. The Democrats, on the other hand, are more ambivalent and circumspective, of less certain mind, speaking with a thousand voices. One is absolute, almost totalitarian order; the other, a somewhat less calculated, laissez-faire approach, sometimes resembling bedlam.

Which of these divergent scenarios best embodies democracy (with a small "d") -- that fragile political system that America seeks to both monopolize and internationalize -- is, we suppose, for you to decide.

We'll leave it at this. The universe, as we know, favors chaos. So too, in a practical sense, does democracy.
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For more discussion on the differences between Democrats and Republicans, take a look at the following sites:

On The Issues -- Democrats vs. Republicans: What Do They Believe?

"Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holidays"

The Justice Caucus (a Democratic perspective)

The American Voice Pocket Guide

You Tube (a decidedly Liberal Perspective)

The Veiled Chameleon (a decidedly Right Wing perspective)

The Democratic Party

The Republican Party

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Peter Schmitt To Nassau's Parks: "Drop Dead!"

The Belligerent Nassau County Legislator Holds Up $$ Allocated For Park Projects

We all remember the Nassau County Environmental Bond Act -- that $50 million package passed overwhelmingly by Nassau voters back in 2004 designed to preserve open space, remediate brownfields, and to improve the condition of the County's public parks. [Okay. So some of us don't even remember 2004. :-)]

Anyway, the Environmental Bond Act Advisory Committee, back in March of this year, issued a report detailing recommended properties and projects for funding.

The report, together with the Committee's recommendations -- based, largely, on nominations and proposals submitted by County residents -- was presented to the Nassau County Legislature, which, to the amazement of many (including this blogger), acted responsibly and relatively quickly in approving the bonding.

In fact, Newsday, in a recent editorial, reports: "the county legislature has approved the bonding for $32.5 million out of the $38 million allocated for open space purchases, while deals to use the remaining funds for two other parcels are moving well along. Of the remaining $12 million, all but $205,000 is committed to specific projects, including 15 parks, two brownfields and various water-quality improvement projects. " [SEE, Take two on bond act.]

All well and good, up to this point.

Unfortunately, well enough is rarely left alone, even when it is accomplished admirably by our venerable County Legislature.

Sadly, Newsday also reports, in the very same editorial, that the bonding for park improvements -- to the tune of $12 million -- is being held up, and unduly so, by Mr. congeniality himself, Peter Schmitt.

"Minority Leader Peter Schmitt (R-Seaford) is objecting to approving the $12 million in bonds, saying some of the park proposals include new dugouts, backstops and gazebos, which should be covered instead by the county's capital budget. The GOP position, however, ignores language in the act that specifically allocates money for parks. "

"Mischief-making" is what Newsday call's Schmitt's ploy to delay funding and derail monies necessary and lawfully to be appropriated for the improvement of local parks.

"Holy Schmitt" is what we say. Stop with the arrogant, politically motivated upstaging and grandstanding. Show Nassau County residents the money that they have earmarked for our parks and open spaces.
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Nassau County residents are urged to contact Peter Schmitt to demand the release of some $12 million dollars in bond money for the improvement of our parks. In addition to the online contact form, Legislator Schmitt's office can be reached by telephone at 516-571-6212.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Yet Another Front Opens In War Against Illegal Apartments

The New York Times reports on new initiative in Farmingdale to tackle same old problem: Illegal Accessory Apartments

Village Moves to Deter Illegal Housing

By LINDA SASLOW

The signs that a house was being used by more than one family were clear to officials of the Village of Farmingdale: more than one doorbell, more than one electric or water meter, more than one mailbox or welcome mat. Now those signs mean the village can pursue the landlords for illegal occupancy.

Officials in Farmingdale estimated that their village of 8,500 was home to more than 100 illegally occupied houses, and they decided to clamp down. Last month, the trustees passed an illegal occupancy law that carries fines of up to $3,500 for landlords who disregard the village zoning code.

The law identified characteristics, like multiple doorbells or utility meters, that would allow officials to presume that a home was occupied by more than one family. If those characteristics are found, it is now the owner’s responsibility to explain why it looks as if more than one family lives there.

“This stiff penalty is necessary in order to take the profit out of the illegal use of the property,” said the village administrator, Dave Smollett. “Fines of a few hundred dollars didn’t deter the violators who have been draining the village with renters who are using our community services without paying property or school taxes.”

The Farmingdale law was modeled after a similar “presumption code” in Lynbrook that went into effect in 2004. Mike Ryder, the superintendent of buildings in Lynbrook, said that 45 cases had been prosecuted under the law, resulting in fines and changes by landlords to make houses comply with the village code.

The problem of illegal housing is not unique to these two small villages; it is a problem across Long Island, which has a shortage of affordable rental units. There are no accurate figures for the number of illegal apartments, but it has been estimated at tens of thousands.

Illegal occupancy falls into two main categories: accessory apartments, in which owners rent out part of their home to generate extra income, and overcrowded rentals, where a landlord packs many tenants — often illegal immigrants — into small spaces with unsafe conditions in what was designed as a single-family home.

Enforcement of illegal housing is up to individual towns and villages. Across the Island, efforts to restrict illegal living arrangements have included raids on homes, like those in Farmingville last summer, and new codes that forbid more than two or three unrelated people to live in the same house.

In the Town of Huntington, 10,000 families live in illegal apartments, said Susan Lagville, the executive director of Housing Help, a housing counseling agency.

Although Huntington has put a program in place to help homeowners comply with legal requirements for accessory apartments, it is often an expensive process, Ms. Lagville said.

“To create legal accessory apartments in some of the town’s older homes, owners have to make changes in their entire house to bring it up to date with all codes,” she said.

In Nassau County, former District Attorney Denis Dillon deemed the problem of illegal housing critical enough to commission a grand jury to conduct a study on the issue. Its report has not yet been released.

And Suffolk County recently enacted a measure to provide seed money to municipalities that agreed to adopt stricter codes on illegal housing, similar to those in Farmingdale and Lynbrook. The Town of Islip and the Villages of Patchogue and Brightwaters have inquired about adopting such a measure, said Steve Levy, the Suffolk County executive.

The county measure “allows the burden to be shifted from the town to the landlord where there are obvious curbside indications of multifamily use,” Mr. Levy said.

“Since it’s often difficult for a municipality to get a search warrant, the policy relies on outside indicators without being necessary to get inside the premises,” he said. “Then it is up to the landlord to prove that he is in compliance with the law. We’re not saying that there shouldn’t be accessory apartments — just that they should be legal, with proper maintenance and repairs.”

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
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The problem -- illegal accessory apartments in single-family homes -- has been with us for decades. Compounded by escalating housing costs, fewer housing starts, little in the way of "affordable" housing, and a major influx of new residents to Long Island (many of whom are themselves illegal), the crisis has reached epidemic proportions, threatening not only basic community services such as fire, water, sanitation and schools, but the very property tax base that is our island's lifeline.

Various solutions put into play -- including the enactment of local laws making it easier for municipalities to enforce the code and imposing stiffer penalties -- have done little to stem the tide.

Ordinances, similar to the law adopted in the Village of Farmingdale, have been on the books for some time in places like the villages of Lynbrook and New Hyde Park, and have become part of broader programs -- as in the Towns of Huntington and North Hempstead -- to both eradicate illegal housing and increase the availability of legal, affordable housing.

The impact of such Ordinances has been nominal, at best.

The Town of Hempstead, which probably has more illegal apartments per capita than anywhere on Long Island, upped the ante on fines and penalties, and gave Building Inspectors additional weapons to add to their arsenal, more than a year ago. Still, illegal accessory apartments -- many in basements and cellars -- continue to proliferate virtually at will, often posing a danger to their occupants, and a burden to the neighboring community and its taxpayers.


There has even been an attempt, ongoing as far as we know, to reclassify single family homes known to harbor illegal accessory apartments as commercial properties for property tax assessment purposes. While a good idea, in theory, the plan has yielded little result in practice, and the invasion of illegal rental apartments continues.

Clearly, whatever it is that our towns and villages are doing (or not doing) -- leaving aside very real issues of enforcement procedures and practices, the shortcomings of the courts, and the indifference of the general population -- the battle to stem the tide of illegal accessory apartments has officials and homeowners alike bogged down in the bunkers.

So what are our options? Continue to beef up local laws, imposing hefty fines, and hope against hope that illegal rentals will simply go away? Even all-out assaults have failed dismally in terms of remediation.

What is necessary is a comprehensive affordable housing plan for our Long Island, one that takes into consideration the full spectrum of issues that manifest themselves in the illegal apartment dilemma.

This includes, necessarily, if far from the suburban ideal, the legalization of such accessory apartments that meet or exceed local code provisions, and whose owners and/or occupants contribute, in real dollars, to the local tax burden; the elimination, through vigorous enforcement and the imposition of both civil and criminal penalties, of cellar apartments, which are illegal under almost every town/village code; the creation of "affordable" housing units -- including rental -- located in or in close proximity to the "downtown" business areas of towns, villages and hamlets (both incorporated and unincorporated), this as part and parcel of an overall, comprehensive strategic plan to revitalize these areas, many of which are now economically depressed and on the verge of becoming Long Island's next brownfields.

The ideas floating about in the perilous waters that surround the illegal rental/affordable housing debate are many and varied. Too often, these waters are muddied by side bars and nonsequitors that have little if anything to do with either the problem or the solution.

Now is the time to bring at least some of these ideas -- more than a handful of which have validity -- to the shore.

The Community Alliance calls upon community leaders and elected officials both to put practical, workable, and all-embracing solutions to the illegal rental/affordable housing crisis on the table.

Today is the time to take action. There simply is no tomorrow for any of us here on our Long Island!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

And The Unopposed Shall Inherit The Earth. . .

. . . Or At Least The Town Of Hempstead

Sanitary District 6 Commish Coasts To Win With No Opponent

Its all over at Sanitary District 6 but for the sweepers (operated by the Town of Hempstead Sanitation Department, not the "autonomous" Town of Hempstead Sanitary District) scooping up the confetti.

Frances Kayne, the incumbent Commish, garnered 368 votes, running unopposed in last night's SD 6 "election."

In reality, there were more SD 6 personnel "working" at the polls than there were voters -- whether they punched the time clock at District HQ remains to be seen -- but then again, other than the few diehards who come out to vote no matter what, the only folks who likely cast ballots yesterday were District employees.

As to the outcome -- which was never in doubt, notwithstanding a last minute write-in campaign on behalf of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran -- the incumbent had this one sewn up before the deadline passed to file Petitions. [ As a relevant aside, there were, according to SD 6 officials, "a number of write-in votes." As of 8:50 this morning, District administrators (as in, "how many supervisors does it take to pick up a Hefty bag?") were still "waiting to find out" who those write-ins were for. (We suppose they're trying to find someone at the Sanitary District who can actually read!).]

Yes, in a special district where the prevailing view is that it is not only acceptable, but preferable, to pay more for garbage collection than for police protection, tacit acceptance of the status quo was the order of the day.

Clearly, had a district resident (any district resident) challenged Ms. Kayne in this charade of an election, and had residents in the Sanitary District -- which can boast the highest per household/business sanitary district tax payments in the Town of Hempstead -- given a hoot about the ever-increasing tug upon their wallets, the numbers would have been starkly different. [Kayne would have garnered more than 1000 votes, every Town employee and registered Republican (that's a redundancy, of course), coming out of the woodwork to pull the only functioning lever in the voting booth. Patronage does have its privileges!]

You can't say that residents in Sanitary District 6 are indifferent or apathetic. Well, you can say that, but then again, they wouldn't care. They enjoy having no less than 8 collection days per week, and paying full-time wages for part-time work. Indeed, not only would they "pay twice as much" for sanitation services as residents in neighboring districts pay, they do!

We have to assume, for purposes of this blogspot, that all is well in Elmont, Franklin Square, Garden City South, Lakeview, Malverne Park, South Floral Park, and West Hempstead, the communities serviced by Sanitary District 6. After all, the garbage is being picked up at the curb -- even where trash, litter, and abandoned shopping carts line the streets; recyclables are being picked up weekly -- even where brownfields dot the commercial landscape; and the sanitation trucks roll, at great taxpayer expense, on to the dump and the resource recovery plant -- even if they do so over roads that haven't seen a penny of that Town of Hempstead Highway Improvement bond money.

It all gives new meaning to the one word we've come to associate with the way our government does business, "waste!"
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This Means War!

Perhaps we're just not looking at the bigger picture.

Take the latest crisis in the Middle East, for instance. It is painfully obvious that the conflicts between Israel and its neighbor states can never be worked out over there.

So here's the solution: Let Israel, Hezbollah, and the Palestinians work out their problems OVER HERE!

Yes, turn control of the Town of Hempstead over to the Lebanese, with Tony Mohammed Al Santino presiding as Prime Minister. Hezbollah can fire off rockets onto the Hempstead Plain from The Heights in Hempstead Village, while the Palestinians can occupy the Town's west bank -- or West Hempstead, presuming the transplanted Israelis can be resettled in Franklin Square.

Israeli forces, acting under the command of General Harvey "Ben Moshe" Levinson, will commence aerial strikes, leveling that much of the township that doesn't already resemble downtown Beirut.

In steps the County Legislature, where Peter "Kadafi" Schmitt and Roger "Hosani" Corbin form yet another unholy alliance, orchestrating a truce whereby Hezbollah gets to run the printing press in the basement of Hempstead Town Hall for another century, the Palestinians get a homeland of their very own -- in Elmont -- and the Israelis, now secure and at peace with their neighbors (but for the falafel-haters over in Garden City), can wander the desert we call the Hempstead Plain for the next forty years.

As an added bonus, the Congress of the United States shall appropriate $300 billion to rebuild the infrastructure of war-torn Hempstead Town. New schools. New roads. Potable water. And a special district for every man, woman and child in the township.

God bless America!
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Don't Forget The Sunscreen!

Last year, The Community Alliance gave Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray a great big raspberry for handing out campaign literature at Town beaches disguised as summer sun prevention tips.

Not to be outdone, members of the Nassau County Legislature are now mailing postcards to constituents warning of the dangers of melanoma, an often deadly form of skin cancer.

We would be remiss if we did not chide our county legislators for this thinly veiled ploy to use public tax dollars to pay for what is nothing more than self-laudatory campaign literature.

Ah, but this is August, after all. Can the November elections be far behind?

Friday, August 11, 2006

We Won't Get Fooled Again! Yeah, Right. . .

Property Tax "Rebates" Treat Symptoms, Trick Homeowners

The Albany Times-Union reports on "rebate" checks to be in mail by Halloween -- a week before the general elections. As The Community Alliance previously reported on this blog [SEE, What's In Your Wallet? ], the property tax "savings" aren't all the State Legislature would have you believe them to be!

Treats on way in rebate checks
State's homeowners to get some money back by Halloween, but critics see election year ploy that won't ease property taxes

By ELIZABETH BENJAMIN,
Capitol bureau

ALBANY -- Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno wants you to know the check really is in the mail.

The Brunswick Republican has released information on the amount of money homeowners will receive in school property tax rebate checks expected to arrive in mailboxes statewide by Oct. 31 -- exactly one week before Election Day.

The checks build on the existing School Tax Relief program known as "STAR," and will provide $970 million in savings to taxpayers, according to the state Division of the Budget. The checks are worth an estimated $1.6 billion over two years.

"We promised property tax relief in this year's budget, and soon that relief will be delivered directly to New Yorkers' mailboxes," Bruno said.

The checks will be sent to homeowners currently enrolled in the STAR program. Those not enrolled, but eligible, can apply at their local assessor's office to receive the rebate this fall and will be fully enrolled in STAR next year.

The Senate Republicans, who are fighting to retain their four-seat majority this November, made property tax relief in the form of the rebate checks a top priority in this year's budget negotiations.

Critics call the checks an election year gift that does nothing to address the root causes of the state's spiking property taxes. But Bruno and his fellow Senate Republicans say they only want to help taxpayers and insist their motives are not political.

Gov. George Pataki, presiding over his last round of budget talks this spring, initially vetoed the rebates and declared them unconstitutional. But as the session drew to a close in June, Pataki reached a deal with the Legislature on the checks and a host of other initiatives that added more than $1 billion in new spending to the budget, bringing it $113.4 billion.

The largest rebate checks will go to regions with the highest property taxes, which also tend to be key suburban swing districts with competitive Senate races.

In addition, homeowners who are 65 or older -- who historically have voted in high numbers -- will receive bigger rebate checks as they already benefit from a higher STAR exemption.

Residents of Westchester County, where state Sen. Nicholas Spano, R-Yonkers, is facing the same Democratic candidate who came within 18 votes of unseating him in 2004, will see the most significant rebates. Homeowners under 65 who live in the affluent village of Briarcliff Manor, for example, will see an average rebate of $555.42, and seniors will get a whopping $927.56.

In Albany County, where there are no competitive Senate races, homeowners in Green Island would see the biggest checks -- $223.83, with $373.80 going to seniors.

Homeowners in Bruno's district, which includes Rensselaer County and part of Saratoga County, do slightly better on average than those in Albany County, who are represented by Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Delmar.

Homeowners in the Troy school district fare the best among Rensselaer County residents -- $233.55 for regular STAR recipients and $390.03 for seniors. In Saratoga County, those who own property in the Schuylerville school district will receive the biggest windfall -- $237.78 and $397.09, for regular STAR recipients and enhanced STAR recipients, respectively.

Since Pataki is not seeking re-election this fall, New York is poised to have a new governor for the first time since 1995. Under the agreement reached this year by Pataki and the Legislature, if next year's budget does not include money for rebate checks, an amount equal to the rebate homeowners would have received must be offered in the form of tax credits.

In order to change that, the next governor would need the cooperation of both houses of the Legislature, which at this point seems uncertain.

"That's not something we plan on doing," said Bruno spokesman Mark Hansen.

All Times Union materials copyright 1996-2006, Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y.
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Postscript: Excerpted from A Stitch In Haste - -

Gov. George E. Pataki and the Legislature agreed Friday to send property tax rebate checks to New York homeowners and add more than $1 billion to the state budget in a final round of deal making as the Legislature's regular session came to a close.

The larger checks would go to regions with the highest property taxes, with Westchester County residents getting $373 on average, or $613 for those 65 or older. By contrast, residents of Hamilton County in the Adirondacks would get $76 on average, or $127 for seniors. In New York City, which uses income taxes to finance education, an average homeowner would receive $58, or $97 for seniors, and a credit averaging $70 that would be phased in by the 2007 tax year.

Is it really necessary to crank up the entire state taxation administrative contraption -- determining the correct rebate amounts, printing checks, mailing them, forwarding them if people move, re-issuing them if they are lost, etc. -- to send out checks for $58, or even less? Couldn't they just lower next year's taxes instead, or incorporate the rebate into the income tax return?

Oh right, I forgot, it's not about lowering taxes, it's about buying votes -- which requires something tangible in voters' hands, like a envelope containing a check...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Accountability Comes To The Firehouse

Volunteer fire laws for public good

AT ISSUE: Accountability raises the bar for all departments

Bills signed into law this week that govern the operation of volunteer fire companies should not be considered a reflection on the good men and women who give of themselves to make sure their communities are protected.

The new rules simply take that protection a step further.

The laws will:
* Require volunteer fire companies to undergo annual fiscal audits.
* Hold public hearings on their budgets before they are submitted to the local government.
* Develop a code of ethics and disclose financial interests of members.
* Require fire commissioners to undergo mandatory training. The measure also provides added benefits and training funds.

The financial oversight is a good idea since volunteer departments operate with public funds. Departments receive a generous amount of tax dollars — grants as well as local funding — to purchase equipment, pay for training, maintain buildings, etc. In most cases, departments would cease to exist without this financial assistance, which is a good public investment.

Maintaining the public trust is critical to the effective operation of any government.

"Requiring annual audits of fire districts and companies will ensure additional financial oversight of taxpayer monies without imposing additional burdens on volunteers," according to the memorandum supporting the bill.

A code of ethics, meanwhile, will ensure that all members of fire districts are held to the same high standard of accountability. And providing training for fire commissioners to keep them current on an ever-changing business is just good sense.

Volunteer fire departments are the backbones of our communities. Their outreach goes far beyond fire protection, and the volunteers who give up precious personal time in service to others already are held in high regard. These new laws will provide the public accountability that can raise the standards even higher.
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Reprinted from the Utica Observer Dispatch

SEE Newsday, Pataki signs firehouse bills into law

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Your Tax Dollars + Public Schools = Mediocrity?

New Study Shows NYers Not Getting Bang For Bucks In Public Education

From HighTaxesNew York.com:

The Public Policy Institute has released a new compilation of data that lists various measurements of how much money New York taxpayers give to schools and what kind of academic return they get for that investment.

From the story by John Milgrim of the Ottaway News Service:

Guess where government is spending an extraordinary amount of money and getting mediocre results?

Did somebody say New York state's public schools?

Notably, the New York State Education Department, which responded by citing important improvements in school performance in recent years, also expressed reservations about how taxpayers' dollars are spent in schools.

"More students are graduating from high school each year, and more are getting Regents diplomas. But too few dollars still go to the students and the schools with the greatest need, and class sizes are bigger there," said Tom Dunn, spokesman for the state Department of Education.

The Public Policy Institute's data is available by clicking HERE.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

"Pave Paradise, Put Up A Parking Lot..."

Beauty Is In The Eyes Of... The Town?

Okay. So a municipal parking field is a heck of a lot better than an eyesore no-tell motel. Still, when was the last time you heard anyone refer to a parking lot as, "beautiful?"

The Town of Hempstead, which rightfully condemned and demolished the Oceanside Motel, found a "higher use" for the property in the form of more parking -- this in a part of Oceanside that lacks much in the way of anything anybody would need to park for.

Truly, a parking lot -- replete with Victorian style lampposts, brick pavers, etc., etc. -- is nice, but does it make Oceanside, as the Town proudly proclaims, "a better place to live?"

Surely, such a valuable parcel, situated along a busy commercial thoroghfare, could have been put to an even "higher," if not much more aesthetically pleasing and commercially inducive use. And perhaps it would have been, had not political expediency and the urge to place "stylized benches" and "distinctive fencing" not trumped practical considerations, such as creating a vialble business environment in this part of the Oceanside community as may warrant the plentiful parking as is now afforded.

On the other hand, if the Town of Hempstead subscribes to the "Build it and they will come" philosophy, could be that, in Oceanside at least, prosperity is just around the corner -- at the former Foodtown that burned to the ground, or, perhaps, at the now defunct (and always funky) Oceanside Twin movie theatre.

Anyway, with nearly half a million dollars in taxpayer money going toward the "improvements" now officially known as parking lot O-14 (at least it wasn't a bridge to nowhere), we can only hope. . .

The following press release was issued by the Town of Hempstead on July 25, 2006:

From Blight to Beautiful:Hempstead Town Completes New Oceanside Parking Lot

Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray and Senior Councilman Anthony Santino are proud to announce the completion of parking lot O-14 on the site of the former Oceanside Motel.

"The town moved aggressively to shut down the Oceanside Motel, and it's very gratifying to be able to open this parking lot in its place," said Murray. "Councilman Santino and I worked hand-in-hand with neighbors to make Oceanside an even better place to live, and this parking field is a useful and attractive community addition for residents and local businesses."

Murray and Santino spearheaded condemnation action against the motel and demolished it in October 2005. The building was the location of frequent police activity, including drug related arrests. In April of 2004, the officials directed the town attorney's office to move forward with a plan to seize the property under eminent domain law and convert the site to a public benefit use. In May of 2005 the court signed an order clearing the last major hurdle in the condemnation process.

The public use that the town found to be most needed was a new parking area. The lot, which was completed this summer, includes a decorative "Welcome to Oceanside" sign, brick-paved walkways, Victorian lampposts, attractive plantings, stylized benches, distinctive fencing and accent lighting. The construction of parking lot O-14 was done by Stasi Brothers Asphalt and the improvements cost $440,000.

"We worked forcefully to beautify streets and storefronts along Long Beach Road," stated Santino. "This new parking area is attractive, useful and continues the town's efforts to make Oceanside's downtown even more inviting and vibrant."Murray concluded, "We have come a long way in Oceanside in the last few years and the future looks bright for this community."
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Reports out of Oceanside forsee redevelopment of the former Foodtown site as a health food supermarket. [SEE Oceanside Herald, Oceanside Gone 'Wild'.] Geez. Now the Town will have to build ANOTHER parking lot!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Dangers Of Illegal Basement Apartments

Fire In Basement Apartment Causes Critical Injuries

From the pages of Newsday, a story of an all too frequent occurence -- fire in an illegal basement apartment. Read on...

Gas line cited in blast

BY CHRISTINE ARMARIO
Newsday Staff Writer

A faulty gas line leading to a stove in an illegal basement apartment caused an explosion at a Lake Grove house that injured seven people, two of them critically, authorities said.

Neighbors said some of the victims ran from the Sarah Drive home when the blast occurred about 11 p.m. Monday, knocking on doors for help as smoke filled the sky. Some were brought out on stretchers, while others sat moaning on the side of the road, they said.

"We were so frightened," said Joanne Perrino, who lives across the street. "I saw flames in the basement. You didn't know what was going on."

Suffolk police said the blast occurred when gas leaking from a crack in a flexible metal pipe was ignited. The source of the ignition has yet to be determined. Fire then spread through the gray one-story home, burning the basement tenant and six of his guests.Rescuers transported the seven injured people to Stony Brook University Hospital. Yesterday, two were in critical condition and five in serious condition. Their names were not released, pending notification of family. Village records indicate Michael Gerenstein had rented the basement apartment in October 2005 for $9,600 for the calendar year; Gerenstein was listed in critical condition at the hospital.

For the past seven months, Sarah Drive residents and the Village of Lake Grove have been trying to get homeowner Farry Sharif to evict a young man who was renting the illegal basement apartment, a village official said yesterday.

Det. Sgt. George White of the Suffolk Arson Squad said the explosion could have happened in any home with an old stove and that the fire was not considered suspicious. The village fire marshal found that the apartment had numerous violations of state and village building codes, including no emergency exit or egress windows and poor ventilation, village attorney Gerald Lotto said yesterday.

Lotto said Sharif had repeatedly been asked to comply with the village code, which forbids single-family homes being divided into multifamily apartments. In a letter to Sharif in January, the village said that conversations with her tenant confirmed the building violations to be true. She was given 30 days to expel him.

Sharif, who was not home at the time of the fire, could not be reached for comment.

Lotto said Sharif said she was trying to evict the tenant but couldn't without proving there were violations. She could have done that by letting the building inspector in, Lotto said, but she refused his attempts."It was sort of a catch-22 for her," Lotto said. "And it was certainly a catch-22 for the village." He said the village is awaiting a hearing on a new law that would allow the town to sue individuals whose houses have signs of illegal apartments -- such as more than one mailbox, added partitions or more than one kitchen.

"It's just a sad thing that it happened before the law took place," Lotto said. "If we gained access to the house, there wouldn't have been those seven people in there. We would have found the violation."

Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.
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Well, at least the Village of Lake Grove was trying!

Of interest -- a number of townships across Long Island, including the Town of Hempstead, America's largest township, already have laws on the books that allow the township to take appropriate action where single family houses have "indicia" of illegal apartments, such as more than one mailbox or multiple utility meters (try 6 electric meters on one such house located in Elmont).

Have such laws decreased the number of illegal rental apartments, particularly within the unincorpoated areas of Long Island's townships? It appears not.

In fact, there has been no apparent diminution of the problem -- described by community leaders as "epidemic," and by several Nassau County and Town of Hempstead elected officials as "a scourge" -- in the nearly 3 years that we (as The Community Alliance and its predecessor The Tri-Community Alliance) have been battling Town Hall to take up the cause.

It's all about enforcement, really. Or should we say, the continuing lack thereof?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Gone Fishing!


Those Crazy, Hazy, Lazy Days. . .

Democracy is not something that you believe in, or something that you hang your hat on. It's something that you do, you participate. Without participation, democracy crumbles and fails. If you participate, you win, and the future is yours.
--Abbie Hoffman

Well, here we are. August in the Town of Hempstead, America's largest township. Waiting for YOU to participate.

As promised, the entire month of August is YOURS -- a free-for-all for civic activists, community leaders, and involved residents to posit and post. Aspiring bloggers and advocates of comminity, the mouse is yours!

Tis the season for Guest Blogs at The Community Alliance, and for you --- yes, YOU --- to take up the causes of community.

Participation. Being involved and outspoken, in your backyard and well beyond. That's what its all about.

We've been shouting from the rooftops for some time. Now, its your turn.

We're just gonna kick back for a while, put our heels up, hands clasped behind our heads, and chill. As for you, well, looking around our town, our county, our country, clearly, you've got your work cut out for you!

E-mail us with your Guest Blogs for posting at info@thecommunityalliance.org. Thoughts, commenantaries, and opinion pieces on community strife and community life are most welcome. All submissions to be considered for publication on this blog.

Bring on the Dog Days. . .