Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Setting The Record Straight On Reassessment

The Town Of Hempstead Admits It Doesn't Set The Assessment, But They Sure Spend Alot Of Time Talking About It And Pointing Fingers

The Chairman of the Nassau County Board of Assessors, Harvey Levinson, speaks out on misinformation, misunderstanding, and the blatant misrepresentations concerning reassessment and the assesment process

We've all read the Murraygrams, scanned the myriad press releases, heard the sound bytes out of Town Hall, and seen the TV spots and campaign ads -- all placing blame on the County Assessor for every imaginable ill, from the Assessment to the genocide in Darfur.

Now, the Assessor hits back -- about the Assessment, at least -- with a little piece we like to call, "The Truth."

Mineola, NY -- The New York State Office of Real Property Services (ORPS) calls it “common myths and misunderstandings” regarding the real impact of reassessment on property taxes.

The Town of Hempstead supervisor (Kate Murray) would have you believe that a majority of homeowners in her township saw higher school property taxes above what was expected because of court-ordered reassessment and Department of Assessment “policies.” The facts prove otherwise: When comparing the changes in school and library tax bills from 2005-06 to 2006-07 after deducting the STAR Rebates, 122,051 homeowners (or 70 percent) in Hempstead saw decreases in their tax bills that were less than the change in the school levy; only 6 percent (or 10,138) of homeowners saw their actual school tax obligation increase by $500 or more.

When one steps back from the politics being played with the issue, whether it is for purposes of deflecting taxpayer outrage for soaring budgets or simply using the lack of understanding to shamelessly promote a perennial candidate through half-truths, you cannot hide the facts. Even if reassessment did not take place, the property tax burdens imposed on homeowners by the Town of Hempstead, school districts and the other nearly 400 taxing jurisdictions throughout Nassau County would have increased each year. One only needs to look at towns in Suffolk County (that did not conduct residential reassessments for decades) to see that homeowners are facing the same property tax crisis as their neighbors in Nassau County.

For some elected officials in Hempstead town government, the repeated attacks aimed at the Department of Assessment and me is less about reality and more about politics. It is regrettable that taxpayers have to pay for the town’s repeated taxpayer-funded politically veiled mailings and TV ads that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to prepare, print and mail each year to deflect criticism and distort the truth. Fortunately for taxpayers, there are elected leaders who set politics aside in both counties and are willing to work honestly and cooperatively studying controversial topics: Such is the case of Suffolk County Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook) and Legislator Lynne Nowick (R-Smithtown) or in Nassau, Comptroller Howard Weitzman (D), Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto (R), and Assemblyman Joseph Saladino (R-12th AD) to name a few.

What is particularly disingenuous is that, in her 2007 budget message, the supervisor stated that the “18 percent average increase in assessed valuation” in the Town of Hempstead is a “result of ongoing assessment policies” that resulted in property tax increases. This is not so.

Unlike New York City, the increased assessed values on the tax roll in Nassau County are used to lower property tax rates. For example, a home within the Franklin Square school and library districts valued at $400,000 paid school and library taxes of $4,647 (with Basic STAR) in 2005-2006; in 2006-2007, the same valued home paid $3,848. After adding this year’s STAR rebate check of $227, the actual property tax bill was reduced to $3,621 for a total decrease in the school and library property tax obligation of $1,026 – a 22% decrease.

When the Town of Oyster Bay released its budget for 2007, town officials acknowledged the fact that increased taxable value resulted in a lower tax rate. While Oyster Bay’s adopted budget increased by 7 percent, the effective tax rate per hundred dollars of assessed value for the town’s general fund decreased 7.7 percent because of reassessment.

As Chairman of the Nassau County Board of Assessors, I am obligated to perform annual updates to ensure that the market value estimates upon which assessments are based will change each year in accordance with trends in the real estate market based on a specific point in time. The annual updates also permit the Department of Assessment to adjust assessments on future rolls to reflect any decreases in the real estate market.

The Department of Assessment does not set operating budgets or tax rates, mail out tax bills, or collect taxes. Its statutory function is to determine the assessed values of properties under a four-class system that is mandated under Article 18 of the New York State Real Property Tax Law. Under the class system, written in 1981 by Senator Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), residential property owners have benefited from a lower tax burden as compared to the other classes of property.

The supervisor does not understand that the Department of Assessment does not set the formula used to determine the percentage of the overall levy that will be paid by each tax class. The class share is mandated by the formula specified in §1803-a of the Real Property Tax Law and is not discretionary with theDepartment of Assessment. In addition, state lawmakers passed legislation throughout the court-ordered reassessment limiting the class shift (base proportion) for Class 1 (Residential) property owners to 2 percent in 2004-05 and 2005-06, and 1 percent in 2006-07. Shifts in the class share of property taxes have occurred prior to and throughout reassessment.

If the supervisor is calling for state law to be changed with regard to class system, the likely result is that property taxes paid by Hempstead homeowners will increase – not decrease.

When calculating the increase in school taxes paid, the supervisor conveniently ignored the fact that improvements and renovations (as reflected in building permits that are provided by the town to the Department of Assessment) and loss of exemptions, as required by law, will result in higher taxes. By including these properties in her analysis, she is deliberately distorting the truth. In addition, the supervisor also ignores the fact that as property tax exemptions are granted to some properties within a school district, the property tax rate is increased and other homeowners must makeup the shortfall.

Furthermore, not only did the STAR Rebate checks authorized by the state legislature for the 2006-07 school tax year not appear on the school tax bill, the amounts of the rebates were ignored or purposely omitted in the supervisor’s analysis of a homeowner’s actual school property tax obligation. A fair and objective analysis of the increases in school taxes paid requires that the amount of the STAR Rebate checks be deducted from the 2006-2007 school tax bill.

The byproduct of annual reassessment is to add taxable value to the rolls each year. The additional assessed value effectively lowers the school tax rates for every school district in the county. Actual tax rates for the 2005-2006 school tax year were based on a Level of Assessment of one-half of one percent of full market value. Since the Level of Assessment was lowered to one-quarter of one percent of full market value for 2006-2007, to determine the true percentage of increase or decrease in the tax rates, the 2005-2006 rates were doubled for factual comparison purposes to properly measure tax rates based on equal levels of assessment.

For example, the school property tax rate per hundred dollars of assessed value in East Meadow, when adjusted to equalize the level of assessment from 2005-2006 to 2006-2007, decreased from $654.426 to $581.232; Franklin Square decreased from $554.984 to $475.874; Wantagh decreased from $647.474 to $575.441; and so on. A complete list of effective school district tax rates are posted on the Department of Assessment Website at and follow the link to “News and Other Assessment Information.”

It should also be noted that, with the exception of a handful of school districts, homeowners are only presented with the percentage of increase in spending when budgets are submitted to voters in May. Homeowners only discover what the actual tax rate is several months after the budget is approved. School districts had all the information they needed to present a clearer picture of what the approved tax rates would be prior to the budget vote – but most chose not to.

Are there any examples of homeowners who received school and general tax bills with property tax increases far above the percentage increase in spending? The answer is – yes. In the first years of reassessment, some homes were undervalued compared to similar homes within the same neighborhood. The undervaluation was “corrected” on these homes in the 2006-2007 tax year to insure fairness and equity in the assessment process.

Instead of blaming school districts or municipal budgets for annual increases in spending, I have spent my time, since assuming office in January 2004, trying to offer real solutions to find ways to reduce the property tax burden.

Some of my suggestions have included: establishing a non-partisan statewide committee to study my proposal to abolish the school property tax and replace it with a modest income tax to be paid by renters and homeowners alike, while subsidizing poorer districts with state aid; sharing the commercial property tax base throughout each town; a complete overhaul of the STAR program and funding formulas; and, the dissolution of commissioner-operated special taxing districts and town-operated special districts such as garbage/sanitary and water districts.

Fire districts, while retaining their local identity, would no longer operate or be treated as separate taxing jurisdictions and would be required to submit their budgets to the town for review and approval.

As voters in Nassau County will recall, I was elected because of a property tax backlash that resulted after the first reassessment was conducted under the supervision and direction of New York State Supreme Court Justice F. Dana Winslow and administered by the former Republican Chairman of the Board of Assessors. The “tax shock” that was experienced by homeowners in their October 2003 school tax bill resulted when Nassau’s unfair and archaic 1938 construction-based assessment system was replaced with a valuation system that relied on establishing the fair market value of a home (the price a willing purchaser would pay for a property) at a specific point in time. Unfortunately for homeowners, when the previous administration agreed to reassess residential properties at a percentage of full market value in March 2000, little was done to petition the court for a gradual phase-in of values.

In 2004, I lobbied the state Senate and Assembly to enact legislation that would have moderated school tax increases in 2004-2005, 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 through a multi-year phase in. While my legislative initiative was supported by both parties and passed unanimously in the Assembly, it was left to die in a Senate Committee.

What is ignored by the Town of Hempstead supervisor is the fact that the residential reassessment has been under the jurisdiction of the New York State Supreme Court since the settlement of the class action suit in 2000. The 2007-2008 assessment roll will be the first roll under my total control and outside of the jurisdiction of the court. With residential real estate prices skyrocketing throughout the first three-years of reassessment, the Level of Assessment (the percentage of full market value at which properties are assessed) was reduced proportionately to capture the increases in values based on the new market-based assessment system. The change of the Level of Assessment was a court required component of the reassessment project that, in effect, set aside the law limiting assessment increases to six percent each year or 20 percent over five years.

In June 2005, I asked the Board of Assessors (and they unanimously agreed) to freeze the Level of Assessment for the 2007-2008 roll, so that the six percent cap was restored. Did the supervisor not think it was worthy to inform homeowners that the six percent cap was reinstated at my first opportunity to do so legally?

While the Hempstead town supervisor would have you believe that experts in the field of assessment in the private sector, government or the media are wrong to disagree with her self-serving analysis, she has clearly misrepresented the facts surrounding property assessments in Nassau County.

Mark Twain said it best when he stated that there are three types of lies: “Lies, damn lies, and statistics.” It appears that this motto that holds special significance with the Town of Hempstead’s chief executive.

This is unfortunate.

Hempstead 05-06 to 06-07 with Basic and Enhanced Rebates and Budgets

Town of Hempstead School District Class One Tax Rates
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And what say you, Madam Supervisor? The pulpit is yours. Blog away -- if you dare -- and you will be heard.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Warning To The Special Taxing Districts

The Eyes Of Community Are Upon You!

Whether you reside within a Sanitary District, have a friend or relative who resides within a Sanitary District, or have every thought about taking up residence within a Sanitary District, this blogpost is for YOU!

Residents for Efficient Special Districts, a non-partisan, not for profit civic organization devoted to advocating for the most efficient and effective provision of Fire, Sanitation, and Water services within the Town of Hempstead, is taking up the cause on your behalf, keeping a keen eye on the happenings of those pesky, costly, and outrageously inefficient Special Districts.

And now, with their community-oriented website up and running on the web -- -- you, the taxpayer, can stay informed as well as get involved.

Read the latest reports and audits. Get the inside track on how the Special Districts operate, how they tax, what they're spending your money on, and who's running the show for whose benefit.

Then, you can get involved -- actually participate in the process. This is your opportunity to not only "read all about it" -- from the financial abuses to the humorous anecdotes -- but to do something about it. Maybe some of you will even step up an run for Commissioner!

These invisible taxing jurisdictions continue to eat us out of house and home, picking pockets under guise of prudently providing essential services, for which we all are paying way to much. [In some districts, we pay more for garbage collection than we pay for police protection, and you already know how much we pay for the latter!]

The Special Districts -- and, in particluar, the Sanitary Districts -- have become the talk of the town of late (literally). Now is the time for you to join the debate, and to stick in your 2-cents.

This is your chance to fight back, folks. And fight back, you should. Take back your Town! Damn, at the very least, take back your garbage cans and recycling bins. . .
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For more on Residents for Efficient Special Districts, and how you can help yourself secure more efficient and less costly local services, send an e-mail to

Monday, January 29, 2007

Deja Vu, All Over Again!

New Survey Of Life On Long Island, Same Conclusions; Long Island Index Poll Long On Findings, Short On Remedies

If the news from the folks at the Rauch Foundation/Long Island Index rings a familiar bell -- that we Long Islanders love it but may be forced to leave it -- perhaps it is simply because the survey, and its results, pretty much follow along the lines of last's year's study, which itself echoed the study from the year before that. Click HERE to read the latest report from the Long Island Index.

Yeah, we love our island, but can't take the cost and expense, the congestion and the school tax burden, and some 50% of us anticipate having (or wanting) to move away within the next five years.

Billions of dollars in studies by a multitude of organizations over the years, but not near as much spent -- in real dollars or in actual initiative -- to find those practical solutions to our shared problems.

A little less in the way of studies, surveys, and reports, we think, and a whole lot more effort put into finding answers to the age old problems that plague not only our Long Island, but most of New York State.

We don't need another Blue Ribbon Panel to tell us that our property taxes are out of whack, or a committee of the legislature scheduling hearings to examine the gaps between platform and train on the LIRR.

And we certainly don't need yet another poll or survey to tell us what we think, how we feel, and what we already know -- let alone what we've known and experienced for years on end.

Simply put, we have the questions and the issues before us, as we've had for a good two decades or more. Now, we need the answers and the solutions, and creative, innovative, visionary activists at the helm to take us from idea to ideal.

A think tank is only as good as that which develops and ultimately implements a plan to effectively and efficiently deal with the problems at hand, and not a place for the storage of sediment and sludge.

We already know that our property taxes are too high; that too many of our schools are not making the grade; that our public transportation system is lacking, where it is not non-existent; that there is a dearth of affordable housing on Long Island (as in much of the rest of New York); that our children and grandchildren are moving away and our workforce is declining; that open space, let alone green space, is dwindling; that both debt and deficit are out of control; that America's first suburb is built out, its infrastructure aging, its Main Street dying.

We don't need another survey, poll, or study to tell us that.

What we do need is courageous and forward-thinking leadership -- in government and on the front lines of community -- to cull the ideas that have been put out there by the brain trusts, to set the wheels in motion, and, at long last, to put in play the long-term plans that will not only assure the survival of Long Island, but shall sustain its growth, its popularity, and its efficacy -- not to mention the very quality of life most Long Islanders long for, and are relentlessly polled about, and yet have never truly known.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Long Island's Photo of the Week

Maureen O'Connell, NO SHOW!

If Maureen won't show up BEFORE the election (Tuesday, February 6th), what can we expect from her AFTER the election?

Keep Maureen O'Connell in Mineola. Albany is cold enough without her!

The Nassau County Empire Zone -- Day 365

A Year After Its Creation, Little to Show For Nassau County's First Empire Zone

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could write, chapter and verse, about the accomplishments to date of the Nassau County Empire Zone, this a little more than one year after its creation.

Unfortunately, that page -- or at least this one -- would be more or less blank, as Nassau County has little, if anything, substantive to show by way of Empire Zone initiative, elaborate redevelopment plans and highly touted tax advantages -- all designed to spur growth in jobs and business development -- notwithstanding.

On Long Island's oft forgotten south shore, "economic development" are apparently naughty words -- they can be spoken, but do not dare to act them out! And in Hempstead Town? Fuggetaboutit! The words might as well be multisyllabic, well beyond the ken of those who make the decisions (milk or cream?) at Planning & Economic Development.

Whatever became of the County's "strategic plan," let alone its "strategic vision for economic development?" We've all taken the "bus tours." Now we're left with the feeling that we've simply been taken for a ride.

Why, as far as we can see, we haven't so much as added a single cricket pitch to the landscape, let alone create an environment or infrastructure conducive to attracting either viable businesses or sustainable jobs.

Whatever became of the Empire Zone team -- those up and coming hot shots who were going to breathe new life into Nassau's aging economy? Sure, they've held a few poorly publicized rap sessions around town, but that's about it.

Like just about every other initiative -- particularly those that involve either pork or political self indulgence (and there should be plenty of that to go around in the Empire Zones) -- there's been lots of talk (come to think of it, not all that much talk), but little action.

--Albany speaks of property tax reform, and yet, the bottom line remains more or less unchanged for New York's besieged homeowners.

--Nassau borrows $100 million in bonds for parks, brownfields and the environment, with little evidence that it has spent more than a half pence from the earlier-approved $50 million dollar bond initiative.

--The Towns and villages talk of curbing illegal accessory apartments, improving the vistas of our downtowns, and revitalizing the very essence of our communities, but, for the most part, our Main Streets remain firmly frozen in the icy grasp of economic depression.

Even the talk, and talk alone, isn't cheap, disproving the old adage. The interest payments on those bonds alone is way up there, and how many millions did we squander sending out those paltry property tax rebate checks last fall?

Our elected officials, from then-Governor George Pataki, to State Senator Dean Skelos, to Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi were more than eager to get in the zone, and to tout its many prospective benefits.

And yet, here we are, another year older, and still falling for the same old lines, the same reconstituted photos, the same balderdash that our grandparents would have heard -- had they been listening two generations ago. Meanwhile, the elected have moved on to other promises, and perhaps more potentially fertile fields of pipe dreams.

Millions for "visioning," we suppose, but not a penny toward action!

"The more things change..." Actually, they don't. And, apparently, we don't, resigned to stay the course and embrace the status quo.

We say, its time to get our island moving forward again (moving forward, in our opinion, always a heck of alot better than standing still), Empire Zone or not. Anyone wishing to join us in getting on with it is more than welcome!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

One New York

Democrats and Republicans, Working Together, Changing Albany. . . Now Wouldn't That Be Nice?

Every once in a long, long while, an elected official comes our way who actually represents the needs of the people he serves. Someone who is in tune with the issues, from that which impacts upon the life of a single constituent, to the big picture, that which impacts upon us all.

Yes, every once in a long, long while, along comes someone like Thomas W. Alfano, an Assemblyman representing the 21st AD on Long Island, who embodies the very spirit of community, serving all of the people with compassion, concern, and, something we rarely see in Albany, a sense of responsibility.

Tom Alfano blurs the line between political parties. In fact, he often crosses it, recognizing that the significant issues which shape our future and define our quality of life defy both political designation and partisan dogma.

Realizing that our children shall one day soon lead us and the communities we live in, Tom Alfano has stood in the forefront (long before "Leave No Child Behind" was so much as a glimmer in Dubya's eye) of the ongoing challenge to bring home to his constituents quality education, assuring that our schools and have the money and our teachers the resources to give those leaders of tomorrow the skills they need to succeed.

There aren't too many true "fiscal conservatives" in Albany -- or in Washington, judging by the defecit and debt -- but looking at the record (including where the Assemblyman appropriates his member-item money), we can safely call Tom Alfano one of the most fiscally prudent men in office.

And shed the label of either Liberal or Conservative, please. If ever there was a progressive in Albany, tempered by thoughtful moderation, it would be Assemblyman Tom Alfano.

Democrats may sneer at the praise we lavish, and his Republican colleagues (at least those who are of the ilk that go around stealing the opposition's lawn signs) will no doubt snicker and grimace at the Assemblyman's genuine embrace of One New York, let alone of his good friend, Eliot Spitzer. And that's too bad, because Tom Alfano not only represents us well in Albany, he represents all that is good, and decent, and fair in government. You can't say that very often these days. We should not miss the opportunity to shout it from the hilltops when we can.

Shame that the GOP faithful haven't cloned Tom Alfano. Then again, he's one of a kind. We still lament that he didn't get the well-deserved nod for Town of Hempstead Supervisor when Rich Guardino resigned to take an academic post at Hofstra. What a different Town, and a far different community, it could have been. . .
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Alfano Teams with Spitzer in “One New York”

Assemblyman Tom Alfano applauded Governor Spitzer’s first “State of the State Address” that called for “One New York.” Alfano, who serves as Assistant Leader of the Assembly, called the speech inspiring and one that he termed “a blueprint for hope, growth and opportunity.” Alfano met with Spitzer after the speech and congratulated him on the address and the initiatives he looks to put forward in the coming weeks and months. “It’s an ambitious agenda and I like it. This Governor wants to change the tone of government and how it works and I’m going to support it,” Alfano said.

The evening before, Alfano participated in strategy sessions with Assemblymembers throughout the State in calling for support of the new Governor’s package of reform and tax relief measures. Alfano also spoke to Governor Spitzer’s Economic Development Czar Pat Foye in an effort to build some immediate consensus on legislation in the coming weeks.

“The Governor’s speech was progressive, thoughtful and inspiring. He’s set out a plan that will make a difference to everyone. It talks about investing in education, taking an active part in the global economy, tax relief and reform. That’s a plan that people throughout the communities I represent said loud and clear in the election. More importantly, it’s what needs to be done to make our State work again. I look forward to being a partner with the new Governor to achieve it,” said Assemblyman Alfano.

According to Alfano, Governor Spitzer outlined a clear agenda that should be easy to get bipartisan consensus. “A lot of the reforms the Governor is talking about are fundamental. Whether the impact is tax relief or more efficient ways of providing services we have a unique opportunity to think outside the box and make fundamental change” Alfano said adding, “I will partner with the Governor to make that happen.”

Alfano pointed to a passage of the Governor’s “State of the State Address” that now adorns a wall in his Albany office as the theme that should motivate everyone in the weeks and months ahead. It reads: “It is tempting and even natural for us to focus on our own problems and our challenges. But the truth is, we rise and fall together.” Alfano said, “That passage is a call to get things done and to work together. That’s always been my way of doing my work and I’m glad that’s what we’re going to do with the Governor as we move forward. These are indeed exciting times.”

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

"We Don't Need Another Yes Man In Albany!"

A Yes Woman, Perhaps, But Not Another Yes Man

As the race to fill Mike Balboni's still warm State Senate seat heats up, GOP stand-in, Maureen O'connell (late of the NYS Assembly, and currently Nassau County Clerk), tells potential voters that "we don't need another yes man (referring to her opponent's -- Craig Johnson -- support from Governor Eliot Spitzer) in Albany."

Would you believe, "yes woman?"

Indeed, once we stopped laughing, we were able to count -- and recount -- the number of times Maureen O'Connell said "yes" -- for Party and, er, ah, well, for Party.

Let's see how the "yeses" have panned out over the years:

Maureen, run for the Assembly -- Yes, Mr. Mondello.

Maureen, run for County Clerk -- Yes, Mr. Mondello.

Maureen, run for State Senate -- Yes, Mr. Mondello.

One wonders exactly who Maureen will be saying "yes" to if she is elected to the Senate on February 6th?

Maureen, run to get a Band-Aid for my bleeding control over the Senate-- Yes, Mr. Bruno.

Maureen, run to kill any bill that might try to sneak out of Social Services -- Yes, Mr. Bruno.

Maureen, run over to the FBI's office and tell them YOU made shady deals with contractors -- Yes, Mr. Bruno.

One thing we can say for sure -- Maureen O'Connell won't be saying "yes" to change, to reform, or anything more than the status quo if she is elected to the Senate in the 7th.

Will Craig Johnson say "yes" to Governor Spitzer? Well, we certainly hope so.

The voters of New York State said a resounding "YES" to Eliot Spitzer last November, and one of the few roadblocks to reform and change in Albany comes in the form of Joe Bruno & Company and their stranglehold on the NYS Senate.

Craig Johnson represents change in Albany -- a change for the better, we believe -- and the voters of New York's 7th SD should look to give change a chance by saying "YES" to Craig Johnson on Tuesday, February 6th.
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Gotta love that Maureen O'Connel TV spot. You know, the one that blames Craig Johnson for raising County taxes and fees, as the Nassau County Legislature was forced to do in the wake of the fiscal collapse precipitated by years of Tom Gulotta borrow and spend.

Sure, she's going to "hold them accountable" up in Albany. And how are you going to do that, Maureen, when no one in your Party has ever fessed up to the mess your team created in Nassau County under the GOP's long and less than vigilant watch?

Meanwhile, O'Connell's radio spots hail, "she means what she says, and she'll do it?" That's what we, and every voter in the 7th SD, should be afraid of!

A wild ride in the 7th! Voters in Mike Balboni's Senate District shouldn't be hoodwinked into going along for it. . .

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Taken To The Cleaners By The Sanitary Districts

Town Supervisor Concedes Need For Oversight; Hempstead To Review Special District Budgets

Its pretty much passe to report that the Special Districts in America's largest township -- Hempstead Town -- were stealing from John Q. Public to lavish luxuries upon Commissioners, Superintendents, the District Accountant, and Counsel.

In fact, in the beleagured Town of Hempstead Sanitary District 1 -- where Counsel for the District, Nat "Pick Up The Extra Bread At Passover" Swergold, admitted only to "a few errors" -- the money flowed like sludge leaching through the landfill.

"A few errors," eh?

Yeah. Like using the public's tax dollars to pay for life insurance premiums for the lifetime of the Commissioners, Superintendent, and part-time Treasurer in the face amount of $300,000, and premiums for lifetime coverage of $200,000 for the District's attorney -- you got it, Nat Swergold.

The Sanitary District's Accountant, Salvatore Evola (sounds like "Ebola," but is far more invasive), held four (count 'em, 4 government jobs at the same time -- 2 full-time and 2 part-time) [see, we told you they clone 'em in the Town of Hempstead], for which he received (we won't insult your intelligence by saying, "earned") $178,000 in taxpayer money.

And Nat Swergold himself, he of many, many, many learned years (rumor has it he was counsel to Moses at the time the ten commandments were handed down at Mount Sinai), commanded a base salary of $40,000, plus some $17,000 in benefits. In addition, he billed -- although kept no time or performance records (who needs 'em?) --SD 1 $200 per hour for work allegedly perfomed for the District, biting the public's dime for more than $80,000 in 2005 alone.

"Plenty of law makes it absolutely clear that the arrangement I have with the district for 34 years is quite common," Mr. Swergold told the press.

"Plenty of law..." Must be a term of art. We call it, "Good & Plenty." Good for Nat Swergold and his cronies. Plenty of tax dollars being drained from the public coffers with no evidence of work having ever been performed.

"The arrangement (is)... quite common." True enough. That does not, however, make it prudent, practical, right, or, for that matter, legal. Larcenies are, we suppose, "quite common" on Long Island. That doesn't mean the perpetrators should be allowed to get away with them!

We at The Community Alliance blog are certain that Nat Swergold and his patronage buds at Town of Hempstead Sanitary District 1 are quite comfortable with the "arrangements" they've made for themselves. And even former employees, now deceased, whose paid health insurance premiums followed them into the graves, must be smiling down from above. [Or is it "up from below?"]

Yes, the Town of Hempstead, where Supervisor Kate Murray has made staying the course of the Bush era (error?) look like child's play, will now begin to review the budgets of the Special Districts. Better late than never, we suppose, but one is left to wonder, given that very special relationship between Town, Special District and political party, whether the review process will be anything more than a rubber stamp, and the Supervisor's critique -- assuming any is offered -- amounting to anything more than "sound and fury, signifying nothing."

And what say you, Madam District Attorney? Certainly, the "few errors" conceded by Mr. Swergold -- even the "few" we've referenced here -- warrant, at the very least, a thorough criminal investigation.

The public has, by clear and convincing evidence, been fleeced by those entrusted with dollars but little sense at Sanitary District 1. That the misdoings of the vulchers hovering over one of too many Town of Hempstead garbage dumps should not go unpunished, and that those who pick through the trash and our pockets for our tax dollars, must be brought to justice, is, we believe, beyond a reasonable doubt!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Day Twenty-Two

Well, Not EVERYTHING Changes On Day One. . .

Just keeping count, for those without benefit of calendars...

Check out what's changing in Albany. Keep up to date by reading Governor Spitzer's press releases.

Stay tuned for Day Twenty-three. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.

Friday, January 19, 2007

"They let me stay up all night!"

Stockholm Syndrome Traced To Long Island Electorate

There's been much discussion of the so-called Stockholm Syndrome surrounding the two kidnapped teens from Missouri, particularly in Nancy Grace circles.

Yes, history is replete of instances where those held against their will become sympathetic -- in some cases befriending and even defending -- those who had taken them hostage in the first place. There's Patti Hearst. Natascha Kampusch. And, of course, Homer Simpson.

The most pronounced, and certainly most prolific, case of Stockholm Syndrome -- though, apparently, little research has been done on this [alert the Rauch Foundation so they can fund a study by the Long Island Index] -- is that which has been unwittingly embraced over the years by Long Island voters. We call it, The Gulotta Syndrome.

The Gulotta Syndrome, named for former Nassau County Executive Tom Gulotta, is, simply put, the voters' knee-jerk response to bad -- or, at best, ineffective -- government: If they tax you to the hilt, ignore your every request, nail you to the proverbial cross, and otherwise screw you royally -- year in and year out -- send them back to office for another term.

Be it Albany, Mineola, or Hempstead, let them stick bamboo shoots under our nails and tell us that we're enjoying it, and we'll give them our votes, our money, and, if called upon, our first born.

We won't be naming names here -- we've done that and have been there on these many blog posts over the years -- but you know full well exactly what we're talking about.

The guy in the State Senate whose presence there pre-dated Rip Van Winkle's repose. The party in power at Hempstead Town Hall, where democracy hasn't seen the light of day since this time, last century. The County Seat in Mineola, where it took a free fall into the abyss of financial ruin to shake us out of the Stockholm (Gulotta) Syndrome, and, even then, we sympathized, patronized, and, at least among the GOP faithful, pined for a return to the "good old days" (ala the intended resurrection of Greg Peterson).

What are we thinking when we re-elect those to whom we have entrusted responsibility, accountability and transparency (not to mention our tax dollars), and who demonstrate anything but?

Where are our heads when we look at our school tax bills -- STAR relief notwithstanding -- and lay blame at the feet of our children by defeating school budgets, while letting our State Legislators (who fund and mandate -- without funds) off the hook on election day?

Our captors here on Long Island -- and up in Westchester, Monroe and Niagara -- taunt us with promises of freedom, whether in the form of a "rebate" check or a redeveloped downtown, and yet, having heard the unfulfilled promises -- year in and year out -- we yield to the empty messages delivered by way of Murraygram, campaign flyer, or Madison Avenue TV spot.

"We'd pay twice as much," they tell us, for corrupt fiefdoms, redundant services, and government inefficiency, and darned if they aren't right. We DO pay twice as much -- if we're lucky, four times -- and still, the local papers endorse, and we cast our votes.

"Go back to Albany for another 2 years -- or 20!"

The Gulotta Syndrome is not a malady confined to the individual voter, we fear. Indeed, it has spread like wildfire to community groups, far and wide.

Why, just attend a meeting of the local Rotary, Lions Club, Chamber of Commerce or Civic Association, and, between bites into the Sweedish meatballs at pasta night, you'll hear nothing but praise for our elected officials.

Yes, we publicly pat them on the backs for simply doing the jobs they were elected to do. Worse still, we've been known to pat them on the backs in the vain hope that they might one day actually do the jobs we elected them to do!

Forget allusions to Stockholm or Gulotta Syndromes -- or even to the China Syndrome, as those tax bills leach their way through our wallets and the lining of our pockets [why, we would drink Strontium-laden water from the Hudson River if they told us it was safe] -- our adherence to the status quo, at our own expense, is nothing short of mass insanity.

Psychologists note several factors that may lead the hostage to embrace -- sometimes even join with -- the hostage taker:

-Perceived threat to survival and the belief that one's captor is willing to act on that threat ["We'll cut garbage collection back to SIX days per week if you eliminate special districts"];

-The captive's perception of small kindnesses from the captor within a context of terror ["Look how much we do for you with your tax money? See those three bricks in the sidewalk, and that Victorian-style lamp post across the street? Nice, right? You owe it all to us!" NOTE: In certain cases (notably, GOP Committeemen), the phrase "small kindnesses" is to be interpreted as "a job at Town Hall, as a supervisor at the Sanitary District, or checking meters for the Water District"];

-Isolation from perspectives other than those of the captor ["If you don't do as we say, we'll make you move to Elmont -- or worse, spend your winters commuting to and from Albany!"];

-Perceived inability to escape [Face it. The folks on Lost have a better chance of getting off their island than we do ours!]

Of course, that's all psychobabel. It is the elected who should feel threatened, not the electors. The future existence of any of our elected "representatives" rests entirely in our hands. Our survival requires decisive and determined action on our part, not acquiesence nor apathy.

Those "small kindnesses" cost you plenty, and those BIG "kindnesses" -- the ones that bear the name of your State or local legislator) -- cost you even more! We need to look beyond the promises, the bread crumbs and chicken-feed, the hamburger helper doled out in member item grants, and neighborhood "improvements" that go no deeper than the facade. EXPECT BETTER! DEMAND MORE!

We are not alone, and opposing viewpoints offering reasonable alternatives (inclusive of this blog) are out there, all around us. All we have to do is to open our ears, our eyes, and our minds. EMBRACE CHANGE!

As for the "perceived inability to escape," well, they may have us on that one. Have you ever gotten on to the LIE, the Northern State, or the Southern State during rush hour, or attempted to traverse the Meadowbrook, on summer's hottest day, en route to Jones Beach?

Maybe we can't get away. Well, then, it is high time we made a stand. Right here. On our Long Island.

Yes, as Homer Simpson said of his captors, "They let me stay up all night!"

Let's not Blame it on Rio -- or even Ra, for that matter. Let's take stock in our strength as Long Islanders, in our courage as New Yorkers, in our ability to punch our own ticket to freedom as voters, and plan, not our escape, but our retaking of representative government.

From the State House to Town Hall, do not accept either flippant platitudes or vacant promises as solutions, and never allow yourself to be held hostage by ineptitude, inefficiency, or a government that has simply given up on every one of us.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Three Men, One Of Them With A Broom

New York's New Governor, Eliot Spitzer, Needs To Make A Clean Sweep Of Albany's Reckless "Borrow & Spend" Ways

"Who gets what and how much" has been in the hands of three powerful New York politicians since the early 90s -- the Governor, the Senate Majority Leader, and the Assembly Speaker.

The balance of elected officialdom in Albany -- namely, the members of the New York State Legislature -- have been a more or less docile bunch, content to follow the leaders into the fiscal abyss of spend, borrow, and spend some more.

We've progressed in New York's State Legislature from the time-honored tradition of literally stopping the clock in the Assembly chamber so that the State budget wouldn't be "late" -- technically -- to abrogating representative government to the whim and will of three men, two of whom have never been elected by a state-wide constituency.

Seymour Lackman, a former New York State Senator, and his partner in exposing these crimes, Robert Polner -- authors of the Albany tell-all, Three Men in A Room, posit -- in an Op-Ed piece published in The New York Times, that the time has come to break the cycle of governance by Tripartite, and reign in the divying up of spoils (read as, "our tax dollars") by what has been, for more than a decade, the New York State equivalent of a totalitarian Triumvirate.

If representative government is to return to New York State -- let alone trust and transparency -- Governor Spitzer must broom clean that room (perhaps whacking Mssrs. Bruno and Silver over the head with it from time to time), lifting the shades to let in the cleansing light of day, and opening the door -- or at least unlocking it -- so that our State Legislators may step in and participate in the process that, at one time, was known as democracy.
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Breaking the Power Brokers


ALBANY is infamous for its disdain for democracy. In fact, what’s been going on for years in the capital would be better called a triocracy because all important decisions that affect the third-largest state in the country are made by three people: the governor, the Senate majority leader and the Assembly speaker.

To those of us who believe in democracy, this situation should be embarrassing and unacceptable. For example, there are virtually no hearings in Albany on bills headed for passage, and the public, like 210 of their 212 elected representatives, has little access to information about legislative decision-making and even less chance for meaningful input.

Formal dissent, too, is rare, as voting within each party in Albany is almost always unanimous.

Practically no bill becomes law without the approval of both Sheldon Silver, speaker of the Assembly, and Joseph Bruno, the Senate majority leader, reflecting a subservience by lawmakers that has no peer in the United States Congress nor in many American statehouses.
New York’s legislative committees are just as lifeless. Only bills blessed by the leaders are released to the floor for a vote — a vote whose outcome is almost always a foregone conclusion.

The reward for lawmakers’ compliance includes party assistance and taxpayer-financed pork barrel morsels for community organizations in election years. Those who play by the rules of the leadership also benefit by having their names appended from time to time to bills of importance.

They receive committee assignments that can earn them as much as $40,000 on top of their $79,000 yearly salary, and their district lines are rigged in their favor for lifetime job security. Is it any wonder that while Democrats won big across the country this November, in Albany just one Republican seat in the state Senate went Democratic?

If little about the top-down decision-making structure in Albany has changed in recent decades,
Gov. Eliot Spitzer, with a nearly 70 percent mandate from voters, has promised to create a more open executive and Legislature. We believe he means what he has proposed so far and wants to fashion a democratic arena where policies and budgets are debated in an atmosphere of transparency, and fingerprints of accountability are left behind when decisions are made.

The new governor should indeed start with an overhauled budget process that for the first time in years reveals the details of how public money is to be raised and spent, along with the creation of a general accounting office to provide oversight that is independent of the executive and legislative branches. He should demand a revitalized legislative committee system whose chairmen and staffs will be chosen by their members, not by the house leaders, and who will be free to mark up bills and send them out to the floor for debate and amendment.

Mr. Spitzer also must make good on his avowal that he will end gerrymandering, which protects the party majorities and their entrenched leaders, and hand the task of redrawing district lines every decade to an impartial, nonpartisan, census-driven redistricting commission, as exists most prominently in Iowa.

Just as important, he should appoint a panel of distinguished New Yorkers to scrutinize and slash a symbol of unanswerable state government: the hundreds of public authorities, of which no one, including the state comptroller’s office, seems to know exactly how many exist. The authorities have amassed a huge amount of debt they will not be able to repay without one day turning to a new generation of taxpayers for a bailout.

Forcing change on Mr. Silver and Mr. Bruno will be tough, even in a moment that seems unusually conducive to change. The top legislative leaders, who prefer to operate secretively and are unwilling to cede meaningful power to the other 210 legislators, are deeply invested in the tactics of defense and delay. Mr. Spitzer will require strong public backing and relentless persistence to hammer out at least the semblance of democratic rule in Albany. It won’t be easy, but for the sake of democracy, it’s worth a try.

Seymour P. Lachman, a former state senator, is a professor of government at Wagner College. Robert Polner is the director of public affairs at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service. They are the authors of “Three Men in a Room: The Inside Story of Power and Betrayal in an American Statehouse.”

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Town of Hempstead Sanitary Districts By The Numbers

"Challenging Your Assessment Shouldn't Be A Mystery. . ."

So says Town of Hempstead Supervisor, Kate Murray, in a recent Murraygram to Town residents.

Once again, as in years past, the Supervisor chimes in on that over which the Town of Hempstead clearly has neither "control" nor jurisdiction -- the setting of assessments in Nassau County.

"We don't set assessments..." says the Supervisor, but that doesn't stop her from sticking in her two-cents on a process that falls squarely within the purview of Nassau County government.

At the same time, Murray & Company remain strangely silent -- continuing to assert that they have "no control" -- with respect to the shenanigans at the Town of Hempstead Sanitary Districts, and, in particular, the conduct bordering on criminal (perhaps that border has been crossed) at the Town's Sanitary District 1 -- where even the dead have their health care premiums paid with taxpayer dollars. [Yes, we know. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the living and the dead at the Town and its myriad fiefdoms. But still. . .]

"The Sanitary Districts are seperate legal entitites....," says Murray. Oddly, at least in the minds of Hempstead Town Hallers, the County of Nassau is somehow not.

Trucks riding the streets of Hempstead Town with the name and logo of the Town of Hempstead emblazened on them. Interlocking personnel -- from counsel to supervisors to administrators to the rank-and-file -- among Town, Special Districts, and the County GOP. [Think of it as a cost-saving measure. Interchangeable parts!] Town Board rubber stamping Sanitary District budgets.

And yet, the Town has "no control" over the operations at Sanitary District 1 or otherwise.

Thank goodness for them that we're dumb enough to actually believe this bunk!

Anyway, the reports of the State Comptroller's office -- the mockery and absurdity of Nat Swergold, SD1 counsel, aside -- speak for themselves.

Take a gander -- or more than that, a good read -- then contact Kate Murray and tell her to exert some of that "control" she claims to lack over the Town of Hempstead's Sanitary Districts.

At least stop trying to control that which you have no say over, and get a handle on that which, if nothing more, is ostensibly done in the Town's name, and under color, title and insignia of the great Town of Hempstead.
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Press release

Audit links

Sanitary District Number Fourteen: Retirement Reporting [Issued 1/11/07] AGENCY: Town of Hempstead

Sanitary District Number Seven: Retirement Reporting [Issued 1/11/07] AGENCY: Town of Hempstead

Sanitary District Number Six: Retirement Reporting [Issued 1/11/07] AGENCY: Town of Hempstead

Sanitary District Number Two: Retirement Reporting [Issued 1/11/07] AGENCY: Town of Hempstead

Sanitary District Number One: Internal Controls Over Financial Operations [Issued 1/11/07]
AGENCY: Town of Hempstead

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

They're Not Only Grabbing Your Tax Dollars In Albany. . .

. . .They're Borrowing Against Your Future!

It was bad enough when the New York State Legislature was secretly doling out cash for pet projects through unregulated -- and too often unaccounted for -- member item grants. Now we learn that the folks in Albany have not only been clandestinely converting your tax dollars into pork, but worse still, they've been borrowing money to fund projects, some of which bear little if any semblance of a benefit to the general public.

As Danny Hakim writes for The New York Times, our future has been mortgaged by our State Legislators -- lock, stock, and pork-barrel -- meaning the taxpayer will continue to pay, and pay, and pay, many times over, for monies (and interest) spent for the likes of paving driveways at a Long Island house of worship ($50,000), or fixing bathrooms at a local arts center and renovating a private theater in former Governor Pataki's hometown of Peekskill ($12.6 million).

In 2006, a record $1.9 billion was borrowed by the NYS Legislature, with the Governor's blessing. A banner year in adding to New York's burgeoning debt burden, estimated to cost us taxpayers a staggering $7 billion annually by 2010.

Hey, its your money (or it was, at one time). It is also money that will be coming out of the pockets of your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, assuming any of them are left in New York. Isn't it time that we, the people, took more of an interest (let alone stewardship of the principal) of how and where our money is being spent?
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New High in ’06 on Borrowing for Pet Projects

ALBANY, Jan. 13 — For months, the state capital has been consumed by talk of state and federal investigations into the legislative pet projects known as member items.

But it turns out that those items, which cost about $200 million a year, are just the tip of the iceberg.

In 2006, an election year, Gov. George E. Pataki and the Legislature committed to borrowing $1.9 billion for an array of initiatives similar to member items, only costing nearly 10 times as much. Many of those grants went to politically connected companies and nonprofit organizations in lawmakers’ districts.

The little-noticed practice of using borrowed money to pay for what critics consider pork barrel projects began in the late 1990s, when the Legislature authorized debt to finance improvements to the Buffalo Bills’ football stadium, a move that was denounced by the state comptroller, H. Carl McCall, in part because it did not involve voter approval.

But the practice reached its apex last year, as Mr. Pataki was leaving office. The projects approved in the last nine months of 2006 exceeded the total amount of borrowed money disbursed over the previous eight years. According to a report published last year by a nonprofit group, the Center for Government Research, the previous borrowing totaled $1.7 billion.

Even before last year, New York had one of the highest levels of per capita debt in the nation. Budget watchdog groups assert that the recent borrowing for capital initiatives will sharply increase the state’s debt burden, projected to cost $7 billion annually by 2010. Some people also say it raises new questions about Mr. Pataki’s fiscal stewardship of the state.

The full details of the 2006 election-year borrowing spree became available only after Gov. Eliot Spitzer took office this month, because the Pataki administration had prevented the Empire State Development Corporation, the quasi-public authority that handles much of the state’s borrowing, from releasing a master list of its projects.

These projects differ from other types of state economic development aid because they are financed at the request of individual legislators or the governor, forgoing more rigorous and competitive application processes by state agencies.

Like member items, these capital projects are, for the most part, not listed in the state budget and therefore are generally not subject to legislative debate or public scrutiny. And as with member items, legislative leaders allocate the borrowed funds based on the seniority, loyalty or political vulnerability of a lawmaker.

But unlike member items, which are paid for out of the annual budget, the capital projects are financed with borrowed money that is repaid over many years.

The borrowed money went to all manner of projects, including construction costs, equipment purchasing and occasionally operating expenses.

A $2,521.83 grant was used to repave streets in Plattsburgh, for instance, and $50,000 went to build a new driveway for a Long Island church. Senator Joseph L. Bruno, the Republican majority leader, was co-sponsor of a $650 million grant to lure an Advanced Micro Devices semiconductor plant to his district. Another Republican, Senator William J. Larkin Jr., directed $75,000 toward the purchase of new lights at a Little League field in his Hudson Valley district.

Assembly Democrats used much of their money to offset education cuts or assist colleges, including by borrowing $26 million to help the State University of New York buy a supercomputer.

Over the last decade, lawmakers have used the money to finance a number of failed economic development projects, including a now-defunct high-speed ferry between Rochester and Canada that cost the state millions of dollars.

Among the projects on his voluminous list, Mr. Pataki directed $12.6 million to the small city of Peekskill — where he was once mayor — to fix bathrooms at a local arts center and to renovate a historic theater and a train station. He sent an additional $7.3 million to build new wings at Hudson Valley Hospital, where he had an emergency appendectomy last year.

Assistants to Mr. Pataki and Senate Republicans said the borrowing was used mostly for economic development projects that brought jobs to the state, and they asserted that there was adequate oversight.

“Whether it’s the A.M.D. fab in Malta, the Adirondack Museum in Tupper Lake or Cornell’s nanofabrication initiative in Ithaca, making smart capital investments in New York’s economic, intellectual and transportation infrastructure is essential to transforming New York’s economy,” said David Catalfamo, a spokesman for Mr. Pataki.

“Governor Pataki believes these investments are especially crucial to upstate communities as we continue to transition from a traditional industry-based economy to an economy based in knowledge and innovation,” Mr. Catalfamo said.

Governor Spitzer has said he will end the practice of borrowing for pet projects, a move legislative leaders say they support. Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo has said he will investigate whether such projects fulfill a legitimate public purpose and has vowed to recover funds that he determines were misspent.

Mr. Spitzer and his staff also say they will take their first major borrowing proposal, a stem cell research fund, to the voters.

Doing so would “allow the public to make a choice as to whether this is a long-term investment worth making,” said Paul Francis, Mr. Spitzer’s budget director.

Mr. Francis also said that the governor would send a signal in his first budget address in the coming weeks “that we’re going to have a much more analytical process that evaluates the cost and benefits based on objective criteria.”

Budget experts on both sides of the political aisle criticized borrowing for pet projects.

“It’s one of the worst examples of a very flawed and very poor fiscal practice that we’re going to pay for in the long run,” Mr. McCall, a Democrat, said.

Edmund J. McMahon, executive director of the Empire Center for New York State Policy, an affiliate of the Manhattan Institute, a nonprofit conservative policy group, said last year was “the triple witching hour of pork.”

“They’ve been building up towards this; every pot of money they have surges in an election year and especially with a change in power,” he said.

Like many other conservatives who once supported Mr. Pataki, Mr. McMahon found fault with his fiscal policies.

“It was something that he enabled and enthusiastically participated in,” he said, adding, “I’m sure they’ll say the Legislature made them do it. Baloney!”

Untangling these projects is difficult. The Legislature and Mr. Pataki have created almost a dozen pots of borrowed money to finance their initiatives. And most of the projects are never delineated in the budget; the grant to A.M.D. for a manufacturing plant near Albany was one of the exceptions.

The money is allocated to two major authorities with politically appointed boards. The governor and the Republican-controlled Senate typically have channeled projects through the Empire State Development Corporation, while the Democratic-controlled Assembly has financed its projects out of the Dormitory Authority.

Many of the private companies that have received aid had political connections to lawmakers or the governor.

More than $200,000, for instance, was directed last year to the New York, Susquehanna and Western Rail Corporation. (The rail line has received millions more in similar state aid over the years.) The railroad is headed by a prominent donor to Mr. Pataki and other Republicans, Walter Rich, who is being investigated by the state Lobbying Commission over his fund-raising activities.

The commission recently rejected an attempt by the company to be co-hosts to scores of legislators and their spouses on a private rail trip from Saratoga Springs, N.Y., to Canada.

“Rehabilitating rail tracks in the Adirondacks will help draw visitors and boost economic opportunities throughout the region,” Mr. Pataki said in one of his last public statements, which announced millions of dollars of new grants to Mr. Rich’s company and other rail lines.
Lawmakers from both parties also directed nearly $1 million to SuperPower Inc. of Schenectady, a maker of superconducting cables. Political action committees connected to SuperPower had contributed to Mr. Pataki, Mr. Spitzer, Mr. Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Mr. Bruno also directed $195,000 to Autotask and another $195,000 to e.nfrastructure (now called nfrastructure), two small companies in his district. Officials with the two technology firms said they had requested aid from Mr. Bruno to help their expanding operations stay in the capital region.

Federal authorities have been investigating Mr. Bruno’s outside consulting business for several months and have issued subpoenas to at least one business that received member item money from him. Executives at Autotask and nfrastructure said they had not received subpoenas in that investigation and had never been clients of Mr. Bruno’s consulting firm.

Dan Moran, vice president of human resources at nfrastructure, said that the application process for the state money was “extensive,” adding, “we had to show every single penny we spent.” He said that Mr. Bruno’s staff played an important role in helping his company win the grant.
Richard Frederick, the president of Autotask, said he had recently been told his grant was “on hold,” though it was approved last month.

Jessica Copen, a spokeswoman for the Empire State Development Corporation, said that “some of these grants require public hearings, so that’s why some have been held up, and the new administration just received signature power yesterday, and that means they can actually sign the grant disbursement agreements.”

John McArdle, a spokesman for Mr. Bruno, said that, like Mr. Spitzer, the Senate Republicans supported putting all future spending on initiatives, whether member items or capital projects, in the state budget.

But he defended the spending. “The projects that we fund are principally geared to create jobs and attract business and employers to the state,” he said.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Monday, January 15, 2007

"Smart Growth" Comes To New York

Governor Spitzer To Incorporate "Smart Growth" Strategies In Plan For One New York

New York, a State which has, over the past 12 years, significantly "dumbed down" in areas of zoning, land preservation, affordable housing, and downtown redevelopment, now becomes the focus if "smart growth" ideas and ideals as envisioned by the new Governor, Eliot Spitzer.

On Long Island, where "smart growth" too often translates to a sidewalk of brick pavers and some Victorian-style street lamps, under the euphamistic guise of "facade improvement," the call by the Governor form reforms and initiatives is most welcome.

Clearly, change is in order with respect to local Ordinances, which often deter and hinder beneficial redevelopment, and the application and enforcement of local codes which, at best, is haphazard, and at worst, nonexistent.

The Governor has his work cut out for him, what with all the "entrenched special intersts" (not to mention entrenched special districts) at play, and the resistance to change not only bt government, but by the governed as well.

The time has come to look anew at "smart growth," and to approach the problems of an aging infrastructure, a maturing suburbia, and stagnant economic growth with a fresh and positive perspective.

We at The Community Alliance support Governor Spitzer in his lofty endeavors, and look forward to moving ahead to a better New York as One New York.
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Smart Growth Planning Part of Gov. Spitzer's Goal for Cleaner, Greener New York

New Yorkers voted for change last November and the legislative stalemate in Albany must end, said newly-elected Democratic Governor Eliot Spitzer in his first State of the State speech, ready for multi-prong state and local reforms, property tax relief, revitalization of distressed municipalities and neighborhoods, and investment in needy school districts, affordable housing, transportation and other infrastructure, but also in the environment, clean energy and land protection. The transportation investments, the governor emphasized, must be ''accompanied by smart-growth planning, which will alleviate environmental degradation, instead of contributing to it, and will make our communities more vibrant places to live, work and raise a family.''

Aware that the new path of ''pragmatic politics instead of partisan politics, results instead of empty press releases, action instead of gridlock'' won't be easy, as many ''entrenched interests'' will try to keep the status quo, Governor Spitzer pledged efforts to transform the state government ''from one that is designed to resist change to one that is designed to embrace it.'' He also promised to appoint a Commission on Local Government Efficiency, which will find ways to consolidate the state's 4,200 taxing jurisdictions ''that cost taxpayers millions each year in duplicative services,'' and to present a budget, with ''the first installment of a three-year, $6 billion property tax cut -- cuts that are focused on those middle class homeowners whose property taxes are rising too fast for their incomes to catch up.''

Stressing the need to ''reverse the decline of our Upstate economy; sustain the economic expansion Downstate; and develop new ways for communities which have been left behind to share in prosperity,'' the governor focused on the knowledge-based economy -- or the Innovation Economy -- as the ''driving force of job creation'' in this century, on urban revitalization, and on targeted investments.

''In New York, we face the twin challenges of high home prices Downstate and deteriorating housing stock Upstate,'' he said. ''On Long Island, our young workforce has little choice but to move away from their older communities. And in many of our Upstate cities and towns, once-vibrant neighborhoods are declining as their housing stock decays.''

To change the situation, he continued, we must use ''every tool at our disposal: land -- by calling for an inventory of our significant public land holdings to determine which parcels can be used for housing; capital -- by exploring ways to partner with business on employer-assisted housing programs; zoning -- by rewarding localities that reform zoning laws to allow for increased construction of affordable homes.'' Turning to energy and the environment, he said the state ''must implement an aggressive conservation strategy'' and expand its ''clean generation capacity,'' with Lieutenant Governor David Paterson leading efforts to make renewable energy production cover 25 percent of state needs and the governor continuing talks with his counterparts in nearby states to follow their regional compact on climate change with other such joint initiatives.

And elaborating on his key themes of cooperation and unity, Governor Spitzer told lawmakers, ''One New York means a state where a child can breathe our air without triggering asthma, and swim and fish in our waters without getting sick. That is why we must expand the Environmental Protection Fund and revive our Department of Environmental Conservation.'' He also said, ''One New York means a state that preserves its land, while allowing for growth. That is why our policy in the Adirondack and Catskills must recognize that these two goals are not mutually exclusive.''

"Free At Last. . ."

Martin Luther King, Jr. Remembered; The Dream Revisited

When the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his historic "I have a dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, the 34 year old minister and civil rights leader knew that words alone could not transform vision into reality.

To realize the dream -- a world in which we judge a person not by the color of his skin, his sexual orientation, his religious indoctrination, or, for that matter, his political affiliation, but rather, "by the content of his character" -- we would have to work at it.

We would have to "will" the dream to make it so, dedicating and rededicating ourselves to its power to shape and reshape human thought and human kindness.

No work worth doing comes easy. Nothing of great significance on this good earth can be given either form or substance overnight, or without sweat, toil, and great sacrifice. It takes resolve, fortitude, and, yes, the will of the people -- the will of community -- to forge those dreams into a tangible reality.

It is good to dream. Beneficial and healing. Indeed, it is said that those who do not dream cease, in a very real sense, to exist at all.

To dream alone, however, without a determined effort to live the dream, to will the dream, to work the dream -- for ourselves, our neighbors, for every citizen of the world -- is to abandon hope, to loose faith, to give up on the inherent decency that is mankind.

As we remember Dr. King, on this, what would have been his 78th Birthday, we revisit his dream, and rededicate ourselves to bringing that dream -- and ours -- to fruition.
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I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Friday, January 12, 2007

What A Long, Strange Trip It Is

Making our world -- and Nassau County -- safe for democracy!

It was announced this week that every cruiser in the Nassau County Police Department's fleet will be equipped with a GPS system, making it much easier for the cop on the beat to find the nearest Dunkin Donuts!

The Town of Hempstead's in the news again. . . Not a great week for Kate & Company.

First it was that scathing report from the Comptroller's office lambasting those pesky Sanitation Districts. [We know, Kate, we know. You "have no control" over those entitites, Town moniker and required passage of the district's budgets by the Town Board notwithstanding...]

Then, it was Governor Spitzer, vowing to take on the Special Districts, bloated with patronage and costing the taxpayer far in excess of their intrinsic worth.

And now, its the attack of the clones. A plot to seed the earth with dopplegangers from the world according to GOP.

Where will it lead? Where will it end? Did you remember to put the recycling bin at the curb last night?

Only The Community Alliance blog knows -- and maybe we'll tell you, or maybe we won't. . .

THIS JUST IN: Former president Gerald Ford is still dead. The only man to serve as president not to have been elected as either president or vice president, is also the only president to have memorial and funeral services that lasted longer than his actual term of office. Think about it!

Monday is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Make the dream a reality. Become involved in your community, and help build a better world. [Should that fail, just put in a call for more troops. . .]

May the farce, and the spirit of community, be with you!

Send In The Clones

NYS GOP Chair Authorizes Cloning Of Key Committeemen; Can Cloned Kates Be Far Behind?

"Clones to the left of me, jokers to the right..." You REALLY have to click on ALL the links in this blogspot. How many clones can YOU find?

We knew this was going to happen. It was only a matter of time. First it was sheep. Then it was pigs and cows. Now, with the green light from the FDA, its people. Not just any people, mind you, but committee-people. And GOP committee-people, at that.

And so it was, in a news conference craftily staged in front of the Western Beef in Mineola, that Joe Mondello (so, he really is a living legend!), State and still Nassau County Chair of the Republican Party, announced that the first (that we know of) human cloning would take place in New York, under the auspices of the Genome Oversight Project -- or GOP, for short.

GOP spokesman, Tony "You're-in-the-Navy-Now" Santino, said that cloning would be an invaluable tool in assuring the preservation and future dominance of the party.

"Imagine, if you will," postured Santino, "that rather than having Joe Ra [Oh no! Another Joe Ra, already...] wear many hats -- as in committeeman, Town Attorney, counsel for Sanitary District 6 (did I miss any?) -- we can actually clone Joe so he really could be ten places at once -- collecting, of course, all ten salaries and all ten pensions."

"Sweet," said Joe Ra, reached for comment simultanously at his Town Hall office, at Sanitary District 6 HQ on Cherry Valley Avenue in West Hempstead, and from a beach chair on the sands of Fort Lauderdale. "Maybe they'll let one of my clones take back my old job as Councilman... Damn you, Joe Kearney. You ruined it for all of us!"

Emi Endo, a reporter for Newsday who routinely covers Hempstead Town Hall, suspects that cloning within the Nassau County GOP may have been going on for quite some time, even preceding FDA approval.

"I began to wonder," Endo said, "when the Town's press releases had Tony Santino appearing in Westbury wearing his GOP spokesman hat, while at the same moment, attending a GOP fundraiser and the Sand Castle in Franklin Square in his position as GOP Committeeman. To top that, he was also at a civic meeting -- same hour, same minute -- in Oceanside. It was kinda bizarre!"

Ms. Endo denied being a clone herself. "I am not a clone," the ace reporter protested. "I'm Asian-American. We all look alike to you guys!"

"We were scratching our heads, too," quipped a frustrated Jay Jacobs, Chair of the Nassau County Democratic Party. "Clearly, there's enough of Tony (Santino) to go around, so no one would ever question some DNA missing here, or a bit of protoplasm missing there. Cloning! How do you think Maureen O'Connell got all those flyers in the mail -- and to folks who don't even live in the 7th Senatorial District? They're all 'cut and paste' on that side of the aisle."

"Yeah, I got one of those O'Connell flyers, too," chimed Pat Nicolosi, President of the Elmont East End Civic Club. "And my house in Elmont is nowhere near Mike Balboni's old district. Must be that old GOP magic at work."

Concerns over mutations and other genetic defects as a side effect of the cloning process were poo-pooed by Santino (a certified expert at poo-pooing), who assured the media that "years of selective inbreeding within the GOP" meant that only those with the coveted patronage gene would survive. "Not to worry," declared a jubilant Santino. "We're all of the same mold, here."

For their part, the Democrats, fearing what Dorothy Goosby called the "body snatcher effect," rejected the idea of genetic cloning as a political tool. "There's only one Dot Goosby on the Hempstead Town Board," said the lone Democratic Councilwoman, "and what appears at every vote to be six Kate Murray clones. Talk about a 'herd mentality!'"

According to reports leaked out of Nassau County Republican Headquarters, approximately 15% of the Town of Hempstead's workforce has already been cloned. "Looks to me like a good third of the supervisors at the Town's Sanitary Districts are clones," so stated Nassau County Comptroller, Howard Weitzman, waving the reports over his head. "I dare to guesstimate that the Town's payroll is bloated by some $50 million a year just to carry these clones. Its unconscionable."

Hindsight being 20-20, other GOP clone sightings come quickly to the mind of Harvey Levinson, the Nassau County Assessor, who, in 2005, ran unsuccessfully against Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray. "I always knew there was something fishy about a hundred or so GOP operatives showing up during the campaign at the Franklin Square Library to protest my Assessment forum," said Levinson. "Come to think of it, they all had the same blank expressions on their faces, as if they'd been stripped of both emotion and intellect."

Levinson vigorously denied that he himself was a clone, a charge once levied against him by Don Clavin (Ooops! Wrong Clavin), Receiver of Taxes for the Town of Hempstead. [Clavin denied having made the accusation. "I said he was a 'drone,'" Clavin retorted, "not a 'clone!'"]

In related news, the Albany Times Union reported that reliable sources in the NYS Senate have uncovered a secret Member-Item stash, traced to Majority Leader Joe Bruno, clandestinely appropriating more that $13 million over the last six years to the Genome Oversight Project.

"Geez," cried Bruno. "How did they find out about that one?" [Could it be, Joe, that as a condition for getting the dough, they had to name it "The Joseph L. Bruno Genome Oversight Project"?] "Aw, heck," stomped Bruno. "I shoulda let Dean Skelos take that one. . ."

Meanwhile, deep in the bowels of Hempstead Town Hall, where printing presses hum day and night, churning out Murraygram after Murraygram, scientists are working feverishly to perfect the cloning process, Supervisor Kate Murray always close at hand, supervising. [In fact, there's a sign, right there in the basement of Hempstead Town Hall, that reads, Improving The Human Condition, One Republican Clone At A Time! The Joseph L. Bruno Genome Oversight Project. Kate Murray, Supervisor.] Font size should probably be reversed...

And as yet another glorious day dawns in the west over Town Hall (no mistake -- the sun rises in the west over there), a lone Town of Hempstead Safety Officer moseys past, insiduously -- if not unwittingly -- singing, "send in the clones. . ."
Ah, don't bother, they're here!
- - -
THIS JUST IN: President George W. Bush announced this morning that he would send an additional 20,000 troops into Town of Hempstead Sanitary District 6. "We must free the good people of the Five Towns from the evils of the fundamentalist trash collectors," said the president. "If the good people of Hempstead Town aren't strong enough or smart enough to free themselves from the abuses of these self-serving taxing jurisdictions, we'll just have to do it for them."
Meanwhile, it was rumored today that Nathaniel "Let Them Eat Bread On Passover" Swergold, Counsel to Sanitary District 1 and curator at the Five Town's Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum, will be replaced in his post at SD1 by Nouri Maliki, the current Prime Minister of Iraq. "I know garbage when I see it," exclaimed Maliki. "And who better to run a dysfunctional fiefdom itself defined by waste, corruption, and ineptitude, eh?"
And where's Kate Murray in all of this? Apparently, waiting for her "mandate" from the people, and, as is too often the case, way out of control.