Friday, March 23, 2007

Yes Virginia, There IS Too Much Local Government On Long Island

Yet Another Study Concludes, LIers Pay More, Get Less


A new study, entitled A Tale of Two Suburbs, conducted by the Center for Government Research, finds that Long Islanders believe we have too much local government [Duh! Ya think?], and we aren't getting the bang for the buck that the folks in fire districts, water districts, sanitary districts (to name a few) tell us we're getting.

In fact, we're paying way too much, and getting far too little.

When the study, prepared by Long Island Index, compares Nassau and Suffolk to counties in Northern Virginia, the difference between what is paid and what taxpayers get becomes most glaring.

Nothing most of us don't already know.

Indeed, this should be the kind of report that hammers the final nails into the coffins of the hundreds of special taxing districts that have a stranglehold on Long Island's taxpayers.

Unfortunately, where we should be demanding consolidation and elimination, all we are likely to see, at least any time in the near future, are more studies, surveys, reports, commissions, and blueprints.
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Study: LI getting short-end on services
By Reid J. Epstein

The hundreds of units of local government on Long Island lead directly to higher taxes, but not better services, according to a study being released Thursday by the Long Island Index.

The study, which examined government services and attitudes toward government on Long Island and in two Northern Virginia counties, found Long Islanders pay more than 50 percent more in property taxes, yet are far less satisfied with their local public officials than people in suburban Northern Virginia.

The reason, according to the study, lies in Long Island's 439 units of local government, school districts and special districts. In Fairfax and Loudoun counties -- Washington, D.C., suburbs with about half Long Island's population -- there are 17 such districts.

"People have to stand up and say ... 'You don't get better service,'" said Charles Zettek, of the Center for Government Research, which did the study.

The two Northern Virginia counties -- Fairfax and Loudoun -- are similar to Long Island in size, cost of living and status as a commuter region adjacent to a major East Coast city. But unlike Long Island, where open space is scarce, Northern Virginia is a rapidly expanding region where new home construction continues at a rapid pace.Like Long Island, Northern Virginia is affluent and suburban. But while Long Island evolved as a hodgepodge of local governments, Fairfax and Loudoun Counties operate with centralized control of local government, schools and fire departments.

For instance, while there are 127 school districts for Long Island's 2.8 million people, the two Northern Virginia counties, with 1.3 million people, have but three -- one run by each county and one in the city of Falls Church. Long Island school districts employ more administrative staff per student and spend about 70 percent more per student for transportation.

Long Island school districts even spend more per student on construction costs, even though the Virginia districts are in the midst of a building boom that will see Loudoun County break ground on six new schools within a year, the study found. It also found Long Island schools pay far more in teacher salaries than their Virginia counterparts.

The Virginia counties each have their own centralized professional fire department. Accordingly, there are only 58 fire stations in the two counties, compared with 381 on Long Island, an area 1.3 times larger. Even with Long Island's largely volunteer fire departments, residents pay more for equipment and operating costs for fire service than Virginia counterparts. Excluding personnel, Long Islanders pay more than twice as much.

Long Islanders have historically resisted consolidation of taxing districts, preferring instead to maintain smaller units that they believe are more responsive to local needs. However, the survey found that Northern Virginians are far more satisfied with their schools and local government than are Long Islanders.

On Long Island, 36 percent of people feel it's "very or somewhat easy to get help from an elected official." In Northern Virginia, 45 percent of people felt that way.

More than 70 percent of Northern Virginians rated the value they get from property taxes as excellent, compared with fewer than 50 percent of Long Islanders.

Thomas Suozzi and Steve Levy, the Nassau and Suffolk county executives, both said the study validates their efforts to eliminate some of the more than 400 governmental districts on Long Island.

"If you talk to anyone at a family barbecue or at lunch, they're going to say that common-sensically, we have too many governments," Suozzi said. "The problem is, it's very complex to figure out how to unravel it."

Suozzi has made reducing the layers of government in Nassau a signature issue and is pushing for a $750,000 study of how to do so.

Levy said the region should take small steps toward consolidating functions first, rather than eliminating districts, a process he said would prove very difficult politically.

"It's not going to be realistic to expect that districts will consolidate," Levy said. "But we can consolidate functions between districts. Security, buildings and grounds, borrowing, health insurance, transportation, those are things that can be shared."

Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.

1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately, where we should be demanding consolidation and elimination, all we are likely to see, at least any time in the near future, are more studies, surveys, reports, commissions, and blueprints.

    To be drowned out by the cacophonous wailing and gnashing of teeth of LI residents who can't see the forest for the trees, who will man the barricades on the borders of their tiny districts, ready to fight to the death the "outsiders" whose only intent is the Queensification of their little piece of turf. Meanwhile, their taxes go up, their children move out and they've burned the village in order to save it.