Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Its Taxing Just Thinking About Special Districts

Imagine What Would Happen If We Actually Moved To Consolidate/Eliminate Them

Take a look at your 2006 Statement of Taxes/General Levy. By God, its enough to make an exorcist's head spin!

Sure, you've got your special taxing jurisdictions that everyone's been complaining about -- fire districts, water districts, sanitary districts. Those are the big "nuts" -- or so you thought.

Take a closer look.

In the unincorporated area of the Town of Hempstead served by Sanitary District 6, for instance, the total 2006 tax levy for that district was $21,587,424.49.

The total tax levy for the Town Refuse Disposal District -- paid by SD6 residents in addition to the SD6 levy -- was more than double the SD6 levy, topping $46 million.

If you live within garbage can throwing range of SD6, you're not only paying four times the going rate for collection, you're paying an additional $46 mil for the Town of Hempstead to dispose of what SD6 has collected.

That's some expensive trash you've got!

But that's not all.

Look at your tax bill again.

The Town Park District is costing taxpayers $32.8 million. Town Lighting District, $8.7 million. Town Parking District, a mere $43,000 -- no wonder you can't find a parking space!

And let's not forget the County Sewage Disposal District coming in at $39.2 mil.

Considering that all of these districts have, in one incarnation or another, their own strata of governance (be they designated as "commissioners" or otherwise), as well as their own rules of doing business (or not), the true cost to the taxpayer -- above and beyong what you see on your tax statement -- is staggering.

Do we really need a seperate Lighting District within the township, or a seperate Parking District in each unincorporated hamlet?

Over the decades, these special taxing districts have taken on lives of their own (beyond the "control" of even the governmental entities under whose name they operate and levy taxes), and, like cancer cells, have found their pervasive way into almost every aspect of our communal lives.

With limited oversight by Town, County and State, few internal constraints, and little if any effective input from the folks who foot the bills (that would be us), the special taxing districts have evolved into tax levy-sustaining fiefdoms, no longer serving the greater good, but merely perpetuating a system where the few serve themselves at the taxpayers' expense.

And so, the panels and commissions convene and opine -- all reaching similar conclusions, more or less: that most of the operations of the so-called special districts can and should be consolidated, and that many can and should be eliminated outright.

The potential savings to the taxpayers like the number of customers served by McDonalds -- billions and billions!

If only we could get past the "can and should" and reach the "are being and have been!"

Of course, there is a downside to consolidating and eliminating the special taxing districts. Imagine the hundreds if not thousands of special district workers -- those who thank the party for their patronage -- who would join the ranks of Long Island's unemployed.

Not to worry. We're confident that no show jobs with attendant six-figure salaries can be found for the disposed and the displaced at the County Seat or in Town Hall.
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LI's 'special' districts draw scrutiny
By Michaek Rothfeld

Nassau and Suffolk counties account for half of all revenue collected in New York State by special districts -- the small and relatively unknown government entities that operate in local towns with little oversight -- a new report by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has found.

In Nassau, the $400 million collected by special districts -- for sanitation, lighting, water and other services -- represented 31 percent of the $1.3 billion statewide total in 2004, the year DiNapoli studied. The $240 million collected in Suffolk was 19 percent of the total that year.

In addition, tax-weary homeowners in Nassau paid an average of $946 for special districts, the most in the state in 2004 and more than 31/2 times the $257 average. Suffolk homeowners paid $512.

Nassau also had the distinction of being home to 15 percent of the state's garbage districts. And those 24 districts collected $181.1 million a year, 14 percent of all special district revenue in New York, the report said.

Special districts first began sprouting up around 1930 and have become more common over the last 50 years as suburban and rural areas have grown. They were put into place to provide services and bill taxpayers within small geographic areas.

But the districts, which now number 6,927, have become so ubiquitous and overlapping -- and often, secretive -- that they are coming under intense scrutiny. DiNapoli cited media reports about wasteful spending, such as a Newsday series in 2005 about spending practices in Long Island fire districts.

"While special districts give towns the flexibility they need to provide critical services to residents, they don't always operate as efficiently and equitably for all taxpayers," DiNapoli said.

In Nassau, nearly 52 percent of all town revenue is collected in special districts, adding hundreds of dollars to tax bills. In some cases, districts are independent of towns and have their own commissioners. In most cases, DiNapoli said, they are simply units of town government which collect revenue, either through property taxes or user fees, and operate on their own for a specific purpose. The cost of government has become a hot-button political issue. DiNapoli said New York has the third highest property taxes in the nation.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer has created a Commission on Local Government Efficiency to study consolidation. Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi is examining a potential consolidation of local taxing authorities. Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy is looking at sharing resources among school districts. And Nassau Comptroller Howard Weitzman has audited several special districts and highlighted poor accounting and spending practices.

"It is a much bigger problem here on Long Island than it is in the rest of the state," Suozzi said.

"This time next year, I'll have a solid, tangible result regarding what should be consolidated and how much money it will save."

DiNapoli, without taking a position on the issue, said the state could pass legislation requiring towns to undertake a consolidation study if, for instance, 65 percent of its population lived in an area serviced by more than one district with the same purpose.

Long Island is definitely at the epicenter of special districts in terms of revenue, but in quantity, the upstate counties of Erie, Onondaga and Monroe contain 34 percent of all state special districts, DiNapoli said. Suffolk has 200 and Nassau has 140 -- a combined 5 percent of the state total.

Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.
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Locally, Long Islanders can check out -- and become actively involved with -- a homegrown, grassroots effort to gain much needed control over the special taxing districts -- Residents for Efficient Special Districts. [Yes, a misnomer, as in, "the only efficient special district is an eliminated special district!"]

For more information on RESD, fill out and submit their online form, or send an e-mail to

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