FOLLOWING STATE AUDIT, WEITZMAN CALLS ON HEMPSTEAD SUPERVISOR TO CURB SPENDING BY SANITARY DISTRICT
In the wake of a scathing State Comptroller’s audit of the Town of Hempstead’s Sanitary District covering the Five Towns area, Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman today called on Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray to assert her authority to review the sanitary district’s annual budget and operations.
The state audit, prompted by a 2005 analysis of the district by Comptroller Weitzman, found that Sanitary District One wastes large sums of taxpayer money by lavishing benefits on its Board of Commissioners and top management that are far more generous than those of neighboring sanitary districts, by failing to procure goods and services competitively, and by lax internal financial controls that contribute to “uneconomical and inefficient” operations.
“The State Comptroller’s Office has found that the commissioners of this garbage collection district treat themselves and their friends very well indeed – on the taxpayers’ dime,” Comptroller Weitzman said. “In their outrageous response to the audit, the commissioners claim that they have the power to spend as much as they want on themselves because ‘there are no more legal limits.’ Meanwhile, District 1 imposes one of the highest taxes on homeowners of any sanitary district in Nassau County ($579 in 2006).
“Too many special districts have operated for decades as private clubhouses where nothing is too good for friends of the commissioners – while Town government looks the other way,” Weitzman said. “I have repeatedly urged Supervisor Murray to join the Towns of Oyster Bay and North Hempstead in their practice of reviewing special district budgets in their towns line by line, just as they review the budgets of districts and departments under direct town management.
New York’s Town Law clearly authorizes these reviews, but Supervisor Murray disagrees. Why wouldn’t the Town of Hempstead want to help taxpayers by exercising the town’s legal right to review the spending and practices of an errant district within its borders?”
Among the wasteful practices exposed in the state’s report on District One, auditors cite benefit packages including lifetime health and dental benefits and outsized life insurance policies. The district provides such benefits not only for commissioners serving as little as one five-year term, but also for its attorney and accountant, whom the district treats as “employees” but are really independent contractors, according to the audit. It also regularly awards contracts over $10,000 with no competitive bidding, contrary to the General Municipal Law, and makes no effort to seek competitive proposals for such professional services as legal services, insurance brokers, and engineering services.
In his State of the State message last week, Governor Eliot Spitzer said he will appoint a Commission on Local Government Efficiency to devise a plan to consolidate some of the 4200 independent taxing districts statewide and to make the remaining districts more cost-efficient.
“Governor Spitzer is right on the money,” Comptroller Weitzman said. “I don't remember any previous governor identifying the proliferation of these shadow governments as a cause of high property taxes. We’ve been saying for the past two years that much can be done on both the state and local level to make these districts more transparent and accountable. On the local level, the most important thing we can do is to get these districts under town budget oversight, as envisioned by New York state law."
Sanitary District One, located in Lawrence, has approximately 16,500 customers and employs approximately 110 people with an annual budget of over $15 million. The District is responsible for collecting and disposing of residential and commercial trash and rubbish in the Cedarhurst, Hewlett, Inwood, Lawrence, Woodmere, Green Acres, and Valley Stream South communities, as well as the incorporated villages of Hewlett Harbor, Hewlett Neck, Woodsburgh, Hewlett Bay Park, Meadowmere Park and the unincorporated area of Lynbrook, in the Town of Hempstead, in Nassau County.
The complete state audit may be read or downloaded by clicking HERE.
The Nassau Comptroller’s September 2005 report on the sanitary district can be found by clicking HERE.