Thursday, June 28, 2007

Well, This Is An Election Year, After All?

Local GOP Councilman Bucks Al D'Amato's Big Bucs Plans For Condos In The Sand

Al D'Amato and his development partners are looking to buy up The Sands in Atlantic Beach, and turn this still somewhat pristine beachfront property into 100 condominium units.

Now comes Town of Hempstead Councilman, James Darcy, with a proposal that would effectively put an end to Al's grandiose -- not to mention lucrative -- plans: The County of Nassau should use monies from the $100 million dollar Environmental Bond to purchase the property, and thereafter, to preserve waht remains of The Sands as open space.

Not a bad idea, but just a wee bit late -- the deadline for proposals under the Bond Act having past in March -- and probably a tad too expensive, this 12-acre beachfront expanse presumably on the block for a pretty penny or two.

Still, give Jim Darcy credit -- yes, yes, he is up for re-election in the fall -- for an ingenious idea, although even he must realize, in his heart of hearts, that the likelihood of Environmental Bond monies going toward the purchase of The Sands is, well, about as likely as Town Supervisor Kate Murray not sending out another flyer with her photo on it between today and November 6th.

Well, nice try.

Wait. We have an idea. The Town can declare The Sands to be "blighted" under the Urban Renewal statute, move to condemn, then tear the place down (SEE Kate and Jim in hard hats, wielding the wrecking ball), constructing in its stead a municipal parking lot, complete with brick pavers, ornate benches, planters that will never be watered, and Victorian-style street lamps.

After all, Atlantic Beach is a beautiful place to live. We're certain the Town of Hempstead will to everything possible to make the village even better!
- - -
Nassau leader aims to undercut D'Amato's Sands plan
By Eden Laikin

A Hempstead town councilman has asked County Executive Thomas Suozzi to push Nassau to buy the Sands at Atlantic Beach so the property, where former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato has proposed building 100 condominiums, can be preserved as open space.

Councilman James Darcy (R-Valley Stream), who represents the Atlantic Beach community and is running for re-election in November, said he hoped Suozzi would consider acquiring the 12 acres with money from a $100 million environmental bond passed last year, and then turn it over to the town to supervise its conservation.

"It is my belief that this property is a perfect example of the type of open space preservation envisioned by the people of Nassau County when they voted to approve said bonds," Darcy said yesterday in a letter he faxed to the county executive's office. "Recognizing the unique and fragile nature of the oceanfront along the Atlantic Ocean on the western end of Long Beach Island, I would like to request that you give serious thought to acquiring the Sands," Darcy wrote.

County officials reached Wednesday said it was unlikely that the property would be considered for acquisition under the bond act because the deadline for nominating properties was March 15.

"The bond act advisory committee has a process it follows," said Thomas Maher, Nassau's director for environmental coordination. "Once you open the door to one, then you open the door to everybody."

Suozzi, who said he hadn't yet seen Darcy's letter, said "there are dozens of properties throughout the county that local municipalities and neighbors don't want to see developed. The county is not in the position to buy every one of them. That's why we have a process."

Last week, Newsday reported that D'Amato, who launched his political career in Republican-dominated Hempstead town, is the major investor in a plan to build 100 condos on the site of the Sands.

D'Amato's son Christopher, a partner in the proposed development with his father, and his brother Armand D'Amato, applied to the town May 30 to change the Sands' marine recreation zoning to multi-dwelling use so condos could be built. The special zoning was created 20 years ago this month, in order to prevent overdevelopment and to preserve the beachfront.

The application has to go through various reviews, and it could take a year before the town board votes on it.

Neither D'Amato nor his attorney for the zoning application, Al D'Agostino, returned calls for comment Wednesday. D'Agostino has said previously that the deal to buy and develop the property hinges on the zoning approval.

No one from the Sands returned calls for comment Wednesday.

D'Amato's proposal has upset residents of the approximately 200-home beach community of Atlantic Beach Estates. Many said the development would overcrowd the area and block their beach access. Several said they welcomed the councilman's alternative solution.

"Certainly, we would welcome any change that would keep it from going to housing," said long-time resident Ruth Radow.

Resident Stephen Silverstein, a dentist, said he also liked Darcy's solution."It sounds beautiful," said Silverstein. "It sounds in the best interest of everybody." Silverstein also is president of the Atlantic Beach Estates civic association, but said he was only speaking for himself.

Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Code Enforcement Comes To Hempstead Town?

Those Dirty Little Words: "Code Enforcement." Can Election Day Really Be That Far Behind?

There she goes again! Town of Hempstead Supervisor, Kate Murray, spewing forth the oft regurgitated catch phrases. "Hempstead Town is a beautiful and safe place in which to live," and Kate wants to keep it that way.

Of course, what she really wants is to keep her job as Town Supervisor for another two years, and for the GOP, which has singularly held court at Hempstead Town Hall for more than 100 years, to maintain its stranglehold over town taxpayers.

And so, those two little words, hidden away most of the time by town officials, but brought out of the broom closet every two years or so, dusted off for display at the town meeting pavilion and driven into homes from Elmont to Wantagh as part of Kate Murray's Mobile Campaign & Passport Office, are in the news again -- CODE ENFORCEMENT.

Code enforcement? In the Town of Hempstead? Yeah, right! As soon as they enforce the code provisions that ban illegal accessory apartments, excessive noise, and provide for the timely removal of nuisances and blight from our communities.

"Overgrown grass and rubbish on properties can present hazards to public health and safety," Ms. Murray tells us.

In Hempstead Town, overgrown grass and rubbish, which appear in abundance, particularly in the unincorporated areas (too bad they haven't found a way to tax them), are essentially the least of our problems.

As Kate sees it, "...the accumulation of other litter attracts pests and vermin."

Talk about pests and vermin. Maybe they need an exterminator to clean out the 4th floor at 1 Washington Street in Hempstead.

The campaign season has definitely begun at Hempstead Town Hall, and look for Supervisor Kate Murray to keep the presses rolling, and the "trash," by way of Murraygram, piling up in our mail boxes!

Meanwhile, back to Code enforcement, such as it never was...

New law? Hmmm. Hempstead Town has always -- or at least as far back as anyone here can recall (which dates back, for some of us, to when Hempstead Town Attorney, Joe Ra, was in dirty diapers) -- had code provisions prohibiting overgrown grass and rubbish strewn about the property, with the punch of summonses and imposition of fines, should the town choose to look rather than overlook.

Code enforcement, as a weapon in the arsenal to promote and restore our quality of life, would be a good thing.

Code enforcement, as bi-annual rhetoric signaling the coming of lawn signs and bumper stickers affixed to utility poles, but signifying little more, is decidedly not!
- - -
Hempstead code to get tough on violations
By Eden Laikin

Hempstead residents, if you let your grass grow higher than 8 inches or let too much garbage accumulate on your property, you could get a bill from the town if they have to clean it up for you.

According to a new law, adopted by the town board on June 19, homeowners are first issued a notice that such violations exist and are given 5 days to either mow the lawn or pick up the garbage.

If residents don't get the message, town code enforcement officers can issue summonses.

And if that doesn't get the attention of the homeowner to spruce up the property, town sanitation officials will do it for you and bill the homeowner - with interest.

"Overgrown grass and rubbish on properties can present hazards to public health and safety," said Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray in a news release. "Unattended lawns can be breeding grounds for mosquitoes and ticks while the accumulation of other litter attracts pests and vermin."

Murray said that the law, one of several new building codes adopted by the board this month, is the result of complaints from residents about unsightly and unsafe conditions in their neighborhoods.

"Hempstead Town is a beautiful and safe place in which to live," Murray added, "and I want to ensure that we keep it that way."

Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

NYS Senate Votes To Eliminate School Property Tax, 60-1

Action In Assembly Not Likely As Silver, Dems Offer Homeowners No Relief

Call it grandstanding or grand vision, the Republican-controlled State Senate now has the honor of being the progressive legislative body, at least on the property tax relief front.

The vote was 60-1. The legislation -- eliminating the school portion of the property tax over a consecutive five year period, replacing same with a State subsidy. Price tag: $9.5 billion per year.

Leave aside where the Legislature will come up with the money -- they always seem to find the bucks to fund favored projects -- and talk of projected growth in State revenues of $33 billion over the next five years is all the rage.

The State debt -- including that incurred by the Public Authorities -- will quickly gobble up any surplus, real or imagined (funny how no one, save the Comptroller, talks about that), and short of raising income taxes or imposing outlandish fees on commodities such as light and air, the likelihood of $9.5 billion (in today's dollars, we presume) laying around the State Capitol, is, well, about as likely as finding Alberto Gonzales reading the Constitution of the United States.

Yes, its all show. The Senate knows that a snowball has a better chance of staying clean in the gutters of Hempstead Town than does this watershed legislation mustering support in the Assembly.

Smoke and mirrors. And when that smoke clears, we're all left with that same ache in the belly, and empty feeling in the wallet.

Maybe Sheldon Silver and the Assembly Democrats will surprise us and pass this landmark measure. They'll do it on a lark, or on a dare. Or maybe no one will show up for roll call, and the bill will pass with nary a member in chambers.

Imagine if such legislation found its way to the Governor's desk. Prudence, if not fiscal realities, may well dictate a veto. The overwhelming sentiment of the people, on the other hand, to reign in that school property tax, may prove too compelling for even this strong-will chief executive.

So, why not? The Senate has done its part, with a smirk and a nod to P.T. Barnum. The Assembly should take up the cause -- a double-dare, if you will -- and allow this measure to sail through.

Let this Legislature belie the notion that dysfunction triumphs over the will of the people. New Yorkers want real property tax reform NOW -- and not more commissions or Blue Ribbon panels to study the problem.

Instead of debating how to lower the property tax and bantering about the next generation of school financing, why not put that cart before the horse -- eliminating the school property tax over the next five years, then, of abnsolute necessity, figuring out a way to pay for it.

It wouldn't be the first time our State Legislators -- or government in general -- did a topsy-turvy (the old "bass akwards"). Who knows? It might just work!
- - -
Press Release from Senator Joseph Bruno, Majority Leader:

Reform Plan Would Empower Local Districts to Eliminate Property Taxes, Freeze Assessments for Seniors, & Provide Mandate Relief

The New York State Senate today passed major property tax reform legislation that could result in the complete elimination of residential school property taxes in school districts that vote to phase out property taxes over five years, with revenue replaced with additional State funding.

"The Senate Majority has fought for increased property tax rebates and historic increases in school aid, yet property taxes keep rising and people need more relief," Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno said. "This legislation represents a dramatic step forward to reform our system of property taxes that continues to be an enormous burden to homeowners. With our NY-STOP Property Tax Reform package, we will put more money back into the pockets of hardworking homeowners, help thousands of seniors remain in their homes, and encourage young New Yorkers to stay, work and raise a family right here in New York State."

The New York "Stop Taxing Our Property" Reform Plan (NY-STOP) would: give school districts the authority to eliminate residential property taxes over five years, with revenue replaced by additional State funding; impose an immediate freeze on property tax assessments for seniors; create a Blue Ribbon Commission on Property Tax Reform and enact comprehensive mandate relief measures to help lower costs for school districts and municipalities.

"This omnibus bill contains measures which I have introduced and fought for in response to taxpayers who have been calling for relief from the crushing burden of property taxes," said Senator Stephen Saland (R,I,C, Poughkeepsie, Chairman of the Senate Education Committee. "Reforming our property tax system, especially school property taxes, is a necessity. It is critical to virtually all property owners, and especially our seniors, in order for them to remain in the homes where they have lived for years and for our young people to afford to live in the communities where they were raised."

"Overburdening property taxes is the single most pressing issue facing New Yorkers in the Hudson Valley. Too many seniors have to decide whether or not to buy groceries or pay their taxes. Not too long ago, I was one of a few lone voices in the Legislature talking about property tax reform; now it is a rallying cry around the State," stated Senator John J. Bonacic (R/I/C - Mount Hope). "Yet, the Assembly leadership, year after year, remains silent on this issue and refuses to offer their own constituents relief. How many more foreclosures have to occur? How many more young people trying to realize the American dream have to be turned down for a mortgage because the payment is too high due to the property taxes? The Senate Majority's property tax reform package is a solution to the property tax crisis. The Assembly should follow the Senate's lead."

Under the provisions of the bill (S.6119), every school district would be authorized to take a public vote to determine if real property taxes on primary residences (STAR eligible properties only) would be phased out over five years and be replaced with additional State funding. This vote would be held on the third Tuesday in May (school district budget vote day).

The proposition would be placed on the ballot only after the submission of a petition which contained at least 25 percent of the persons who voted in the previous school budget vote (or in the previous general election in the Big Five cities). Districts which enter into this system would be required to reduce residential real property taxes on primary homes by 20 percent annually until such tax was eliminated after five years.

A new state aid formula would be created to fully reimburse districts for this reduction in local tax collections. After five years, the formula would provide districts with an annual school aid cost-of-living increase.

In 2006, primary residential homeowners paid approximately $9.5 billion in school property taxes. If every school district entered the optional system, the 20 percent reduction in residential tax levies would reduce school property taxes by $1.9 billion annually. Eventually, if every school district were under this new system, State funding would fully replace the $9.5 billion paid by homeowners in school taxes. This amount is equal to the $9.5 billion in proposed school aid increases and property tax relief proposed by Governor Spitzer in his Executive Budget this year.

Under the new system, property taxes on other properties (i.e. second homes, apartments and businesses) would continue under the current taxing system. Districts which do not enter into this financing system would continue under the existing property tax structure.

Under the Senate bill, school districts would be authorized to freeze the school tax rate for seniors over the age of 65. The Senate's proposal would provide immediate tax relief to hundreds of thousands of seniors across the State by freezing the real property assessed value of their homes at a fixed rate, while also providing state reimbursement to municipalities for lost real property tax revenue.

The legislation would establish a fixed real property assessed value for persons sixty five years of age or older who own a primary residence. Eligible seniors must have an income of less than $100,000. Individuals would apply annually with their assessor to participate in this program by completing a form developed by the Office of Real Property Services.

Under the terms of the bill, the local assessor would be charged with notifying all local real property owners about the program, and would have to provide a statement on tax bills stating, "Your tax savings this year resulting from the fixed real property assessed value is $__." Assessors would also be responsible for applying to the State for reimbursement for the loss in property tax revenue.

In addition, the Senate's proposal will enable school districts to freeze property tax rates on senior citizens over 65 who currently qualify for the senior STAR enhancement.

The plan would also establish a Blue Ribbon Property Tax Reform Commission. The eleven-member commission, which would include experts in the fields of education, municipal finance and assessment administration, would examine the property tax system and offer reforms to relieve homeowners and other property owners of their increasing tax burdens. The Governor, the Temporary Leader of the Senate and the Speaker of the Assembly would each appoint three commission members. The Minority Leaders of the Assembly and Senate would each make one appointment.

The commission would report at the end of calendar year 2007 on a reform plan for schools and local governments to lower local tax burdens with a focus on enhanced accountability, alternative financing methods, governance options, property assessment plans, and tax containment policies. The commission also would be charged with examining possible alternatives to the real property tax for funding schools and changes to the property assessment system.

A stand-alone version of this legislation, which was sponsored by Senator Betty Little (R,C,I-Queensbury), was approved by the State Senate on May 9 (S. 1052).

"Nothing is more important to my constituents than property tax relief," said Senator Betty Little. "And I know this is a priority for many of my colleagues throughout New York State. While we have many proposals to reform the property tax system, we've not succeeded in reaching a consensus. The commission would examine this complex issue statewide and, after a thorough review, offer reforms that lead to substantive, long-term relief. The goal is to propose solutions that help property taxpayers throughout New York State. I'm looking for reforms that make sense in the North Country, as well for those living in Central and Western New York, the Southern Tier and Hudson Valley, and on Long Island."

The Senate's reform plan also includes a comprehensive mandate relief plan in order to help reduce costs to school districts, municipalities and local taxpayers. The measure would require the State to pick up the cost of any state mandated program imposed on municipalities or school districts.

"State mandates place an unfair burden on our taxpayers and this legislation will help to fix the inequity," Senator John Flanagan (R-C, East Northport), said. "This entire package is aimed at relieving the pressure that school taxes place on the homeowners of our state and is a true overhauling of our current system. The time has come to stop taking small steps in providing piecemeal relief. This Senate proposal provides critically needed broad sweeping changes that protect our taxpayers while maintaining educational excellence."

"Ask any resident of the Hudson Valley what is the greatest problem that they face and almost all will immediately answer property taxes," Senator Vincent Leibell (R-C-I, Patterson), said.
"This tax has become a burden that New Yorkers around the State can no longer afford to bear. If not immediately controlled and reduced, it will create a mass exodus of businesses and people from the Empire State."

The bill was sent to the Assembly.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Toward A Leaner, More Responsive Local Government

Government Lite: Where Desired Services Are Contracted Out, And The Unnecessary Eliminated, Taxpayers Save

We've seen how local government works in New York -- or, more aptly, how it doesn't work, at least not in favor of the taxpayers and homeowners.

When asked to trim taxes by consolidating or, heaven forbid, eliminating duplicative and/or wasteful services and practices, the response from local government (i.e., the township) is typically, "Residents will never stand for that," or, "We have no control over those services/taxes/duplication/waste."

Well, local government officials, try it -- residents may actually like it!

Today, we take a look at look government not only as seen through the eyes of others -- the residents of Sandy Springs, GA, where not only has local government been trimmed to the bare minimum, meaning big bucks back in the pockets of taxpayers, but, through the magic of contracting services out to the private sector -- a taboo at Town Hall, unless that privateer is well-connected and someone is getting a kickback or a seatheart deal -- residents are enjoying better quality, quicker response time, and government that, to paraphrase that light beer commercial, gives them the same "great services" while at the same time being "less taxing."

Call it, Government Lite!

Perhaps local governments -- or our State Legislature -- here in New York can learn a lesson or two from the Sandy Springs experiment. Sure, that old dog may not want to learn to tricks (Summer of Love and Adopt-A-Pet programs aside :-) -- and all those patronage hacks may well swell the unemployment line -- but wouldn't it be nice, at long last, to have local government whose motto is "GREAT SERVICES, LESS TAXING?"

All we can say is, if they can do it in Sandy Springs, Georgia, they can do it in New York!
- - -
Georgia City Shows Florida How To Cut Costs
By Geoffrey F. Segal

With the Florida Legislature now seemingly intent on mandating lower property taxes, some local officials are warning of libraries shutting down, your 911 call going unanswered, or your local jail turning inmates loose.

Yet if those same officials would only turn their gaze a bit farther north, they could observe a Georgia city that demonstrates how Florida's local governments not only could survive but could thrive, with big savings for taxpayers.

Indeed, the experiment in Sandy Springs, Ga., has proved that local governments don't need hundreds of public employees to function. Sandy Springs, a fast-growing town of more than 80,000 residents, has only four public employees who are not involved with public safety.

Except for police and fire, virtually every government function has been contracted out.
In its two years under private management, Sandy Springs hasn't needed a tax hike or a fee increase, the government has become more responsive, the service quality has improved, and so has customer satisfaction. The residents love it.

In fact, this model has worked so well that two other Atlanta-area communities adopted it last year, and several others are considering a similar approach.

How could Florida's communities follow suit? First, they could take a page from management guru Peter Drucker and require that every "traditional" service or function prove that it's a proper role of government.

Second, they could apply to local government Drucker's famous test for business: "If we weren't doing this yesterday, would we do it today?" Some services may well be discontinued rather than contracted out.

Indeed, certain services that some other cities provide won't necessarily be provided by Sandy Springs - either because they've outgrown their purpose, they're no longer effective, or they're outside the proper scope of government.

Florida's local officials can determine on a case-by-case basis whether it makes more sense for their community to "make" or "buy" public services. If they decide to buy, there are numerous functions that are readily available on the marketplace and could be easily contracted out to the private sector.

Criticism of the way Florida's state government handled contracts for the outsourcing of selected government services shouldn't deter local officials from experimenting. At the state level, the problem arguably wasn't in the game plan but in the execution.

While the Sandy Springs model isn't necessarily a good fit for every city, it does teach us an important lesson: that "business as usual" isn't the only operational model for local governments. Local governments need not adopt the entire model; rather; they can choose some services or entire departments to outsource to achieve savings.

For too many years local governments have been on auto-pilot when it comes to budgeting. They generally tend to spend more than they did the year before, with little real consideration of how sustainable that spending trend would be over the long term.

By breaking the mold and encouraging the kind of innovation and creativity that Sandy Springs exemplifies, Florida's local governments could become more efficient and effective. In Florida, rethinking how local governments operate can be the key to providing real property-tax relief.

Geoffrey F. Segal is an adjunct scholar of The James Madison Institute, a non-partisan policy center based in Tallahassee, and the director of government reform at Reason Foundation.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Where Does Long Island Go From Here?

Revisiting The Issues That Shape And Shift Suburbia

Ask many a Long Islander, "Where do we go from here?," and the response is often, "the Carolinas, Florida, or anywhere I can afford a house."

Studies and commissions abound on quality of life issues -- from property taxes to education, affordable housing to zoning -- as we continually hold our vision of America's first suburb up to the light and under the microscope.

The latest query comes via Newsday,which asks, "Can we talk?"

Sure,we can talk. Seems that's all we do. Talk. Talk. Talk.

Even Newsday concedes that, a generation ago, it asked its readers the same or similar questions about Long Island's future, seeking to cull our thoughts on what it would take to keep Long Island the bastion of open space, quality education, and affordable single-family homes that lured us to the suburbs in the first place.

Of course, Newsday asks us to speak our piece in "150 words or less," as if the concerns of Long Islanders, and the problems that face, and sometimes seem to consume our island, can be encapsulated and regurgitated somewhere in between Joye Brown's column and a full page ad for P.C. Richards.

Long Islanders have much to say -- or at least they should -- about the good, the bad and the downright ugly on Long Island, whether its the illegal accessory apartment mess or local government run amuck.

We've been postulating, here at The Community Alliance blog, for more than two years now (seems like one hundred) on that which matters -- or at least that which should -- to our neighbors in pursuit of the suburban dream, and yet, are we any closer to finding -- let alone implementing -- the solutions which would bring back our parks, reclaim those brownfields, reign in the high cost of providing a first rate education, or ease congestion along the LIE? Not really.

We do welcome the discussion, though. For while talk may be the only thing that's cheap here on Long Island -- and they're looking for a way to assess and tax even that, as we speak -- it at least proposes to keep the burning issues of the day (the very stuff that keeps the hardy here on Long Island) in the forefront, and on the table.

True, the folks in Albany need to talk more -- and do more -- about what matters to Long Islanders (New Yorkers, one and all). So do our County Legislators and Town/Village boards.

Lest we begin to act in the best interest of our island, and the next generation -- many of whom have already fled for what they perceive as greener, less taxing, pastures -- in twenty-five years, Newsday, should it survive to write another Long Island story, will be asking the same or similar questions of a whole new crop of LIers.

Maybe it will be as if they're hearing those questions for the first time. Or, English being a second, third, or fourth language, if it is spoken at all, with few able to understand the questions, maybe it will be as if they had never been asked in the first place.

One thing is certain: If we don't start asking the tough questions, and demanding some straight answers, those of us who aren't holed up in illegal basement apartments in Elmont, mortgaging our great grandchildren's futures just to pay property taxes, or hoping against hope that life on Long Island can be saved, or at least salvaged, through some sort of drawn out, "tell us what you want", visioning process, will have long since dug up our Long Island roots, fleeing to more idyllic climes.

Some of us will head to points south or vistas north. Others may return to the land of their ancestors -- Brooklyn, Queens, or the Bronx -- the great city to the west, its neighborhoods and sense of community, enjoying a noble renaissance.

As for us, well, we hear that Osh Kosh is simply lovely this time of year!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Broader Solutions To Broadwater

Floating Gas Barge Is Not The Answer

From our friends at Citizens Campaign for the Environment:

Broadwater Alternatives on the Horizon

New report indicates alternative options are available

Farmingdale, NY—Environmentalists are optimistic on preliminarily findings of a new independent report that focuses on alternatives to Broadwater. The report looks into the possible and feasible alternatives to site the Broadwater facility outside of Long Island Sound as well as explores feasible, less intrusive alternative technology.

“This report is immensely encouraging. It confirms that there are real options that provide Long Island with energy, as well as protect our beloved waterways. Broadwater and FERC need to seriously re-evaluate the original proposal,” stated Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director, Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

The report researches wave activity throughout three locations in the Atlantic Ocean to see if a Floating Storage and Re-gasification Unit (FSRU) or a sub sea pipeline, known as subsea regasification vessel (SRV) can be located in that area. The report finds that wave conditions in 2 of the 3 areas are similar to wave conditions found in Massachusetts where they are building 2 SRV pipelines. CCE has been advocating for SRV pipelines in place of Broadwater.

“This report clearly confirms what we have saying, SRV pipelines are feasible, and can be built in a true offshore location,” Esposito stated, “Members of the Public do not have to give up what we love about Long Island, our estuaries. There are alternatives and NYS should send Broadwater back to the drawing board to find one.”

Friday, June 08, 2007

The STAR Rebate Check May Not Be In The Mail

Seniors To Get Checks Automatically; Others Must Apply For Rebate

In 2006, shortly before the November elections, most New York homeowners checked their mailboxes, and found a check -- not a big check, but some pocket change nonetheless -- from Albany. Not manna from heaven, but rather, a "rebate" of a portion, albeit small, of their real property taxes.

True, some of those STAR rebates were misdirected. Others were made out to previous homeowners. And the State spent millions -- of your tax dollars -- to administer the rebate program and to mail those checks.

That said, the process was brainless, if not painless, for homeowners, who simply had to wait at the mailbox for the rebate check, then carry it all the way to the bank -- where the check could be cashed and used to pay for a cell phone bill or a family outing to the local cinema (popcorn not included), maybe.

In 2007, there will be STAR rebates -- in somewhat larger dollar amounts than in the prior year -- but getting your hands on that check may require some action on your part.

According to the New York State Department of Taxation & Finance, "property owners who receive a basic STAR exemption on their 2007-2008 school tax bills will have to apply for the rebate check. Senior citizens who are property owners and receive an enhanced STAR exemption on their 2007-2008 tax bill will receive a rebate check automatically. For seniors with enhanced STAR, no application is required."

The application process is "in development," and Basic STAR recipients are encouraged to visit the Department's website in or about August for more details.

Presumably, application instructions will be mailed to property owners -- yet another expense taxpayers will have to bear -- with application and income verification to follow. "Income verification?" Yes, your rebate will be tied to your income (as in, "certain limitations will apply"). As for "verification," damn, they're the Department of Taxation & Finance, for goodness sake. Don't they already have our income tax records?

Anyway, the rebate process appears doomed to become more complicated, and certainly more ccostly. Pretty soon, they'll have to increase your property taxes just to pay for your rebate check.

Hold onto your wallets, folks!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Throw Another Log On The Fire. . .

. . .And Add Another Study On Local Government

In 2005, the Nassau County Assessor, Harvey Levinson, exhaustively studied the inefficiency of local government in Nassau County, and in particular, the waste and cost-disparity of the special taxing jurisdictions.

Shortly thereafter, the Nassau County Comptroller, Howard Weitzman, followed suit with several audits of the Sanitary Districts, exposing not only inefficiency, lack of transparency, and little if any accountability, but outright corruption as well.

The County Comptroller also issued several relevant and detailed reports on the special districts, including, Nassau County Special Districts: The Case For Reform, and Cost-Saving Ideas For Special Districts In Nassau County.

Then came the audits of the State Comptroller, with similar findings.

Not long after Eliot Spitzer took office as Governor, he formed a Commission to study the efficiency of local government, whose work is in progress.

And now, Nassau County Executive, Tom Suozzi -- who's been talking consolidation and cost-saving since before he won a second term -- has joined forces with State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (call 'em the T-N-T team) to study our very special "districts," both leaders calling for such "reforms" as the election of commissioners on a single day, and putting district budgets before the voters (ala school district budgets, we suppose -- and you know how much "control" the public really has over those).


The problems aren't new. The solutions, many of them obvious (such as consolidating districts that do not operate at full capacity; centralizing the budget process for all districts, which process must be entirely public and transparent; having all special district commissioners serve on a voluntary basis -- without pay -- as do school board trustees, thus taking the punch out of patronage; and standardizing the costs/taxes for like services, while eliminating services that duplicate or overlap), aren't new.

All the commissions and studies in the world won't amount to a hill of beans unless and until the State Legislature -- which adjourns in a couple of weeks, and is not likely to return to Albany until January, 2008 -- decides they're going to actually reign in these wooly mammouths of a bygone era.

Fat chance, given that these are the folks who gave us the hundreds of public authorities that no one -- not even the Legislature -- has control over. These are the guys who spend days eulogizing deceased members from the floor of chambers, but can't seem to find the time to tackle the issues that impact upon the living.

And so, study we must, it would seem.

From Albany to Mineola, the talk of taming the special taxing jurisdictions is often loud and always media-friendly. On the one hand, we are told that "taxpayers don't know alot about these districts", on the other, that there's "a reason this issue has resonance for residents." Hmm. Do we know too much, or not nearly enough?

And so we begin again, like that old children's song about Michael Finnegan.

One wonders, though, whether we will ever see the finish line, or this issue too, like so many matters of consequence before it, will simply fade from the foreground, fodder for future generations of Governors, State Legislators, County Executives, State and County Comptrollers, Assessors, and, no doubt, bloggers.
- - -
Doubting Thomases? No, a team this time
Joye Brown

Thomas DiNapoli, the state comptroller, and Thomas Suozzi, the Nassau County executive, smiled and gave each other a hug yesterday.

But now should come a confession: They hugged after I muttered aloud what I had been thinking.

Tom and Tom, who for too long couldn't, er, abide each other, are working together.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Or so the saying goes. And the enemy, this day, is the myriad special districts that feed hundreds of dollars each into high property taxes in New York State, and especially on Long Island.

Tom and Tom's camaraderie - and zeal for change - seemed genuine; and that, for someone who covered the contentious 2001 primary race for county executive that embittered their relationship and split the county Democratic party, was genuinely a good thing to see.

Yesterday, Suozzi and DiNapoli walked together down a hallway and into a news conference in Mineola to make a case for modest reforms that could spark significant change.Tom had ventured from New York City to stand on Tom's turf. Their shared podium, however, bore the higher-ranking comptroller's seal.Together they suggested new state laws that would designate a single day for electing commissioners and voting on some special district budgets and also would mandate that districts post budgets, agendas and other essential information online.

Tom, the comptroller, took to the podium first."There's a reason this issue has resonance for residents," DiNapoli demonstrated, with the help of a few pie charts.Long Islanders pony up property taxes to 240 special districts, which account for less than 5 percent of such districts statewide - but half of the $1.3 billion in revenue collected by all of those districts statewide.

Tom, the county executive, then joined in to drive the point home.

"Taxpayers don't know a lot about these districts," Suozzi said. "The point is to shed light. It will take years to consolidate or do whatever, but the first step has to be to shed light."

The graphs in DiNapoli's presentation came from a report his office issued in March, which cited recent school and special district scandals on Long Island as justification for determining whether districts statewide are transparent and accountable enough to taxpayers.Suozzi, meanwhile, has been floating the idea of consolidating sewer districts and school district business functions.

He also is working with the Horace Hagedorn Foundation and earlier this week began soliciting bids for a study that would - for for the first time ever - consider various special district and other government consolidation scenarios and how much taxpayer money they could save.

During the news conference, a reporter asked DiNapoli and Suozzi whether they could have predicted, six years ago, during that fateful primary fight, that they would come to work so closely together.I didn't hear the answer. I was too busy watching them trying to discern, from their body language, whether this newfound, and welcome, camaraderie was real.

But I did see Tom Suozzi and Tom DiNapoli laugh. And heard both of them repeat that tax relief would remain high on their shared agenda.They acknowledged that nothing would come of their proposals so late in this state legislative session. But, Tom and Tom said, they wanted to focus attention on their proposals, early.

Hopefully, the hug helped.

Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Commission On Local Government Efficiency Goes Public

Hearing Dates Set; Public Invited For Input

The Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness will hold a series of public hearings throughout New York State.

The dates and locations are:

June 13 – Saratoga Springs

July 25 – Long Island

October 24 – Buffalo

November 28 – Hudson Valley

The first hearing will be held at the Saratoga Springs Public Library from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM on Wednesday, June 13.

The hearing will open with a presentation from nationally renowned scholar David Rusk, author of Cities without Suburbs, and will include both scheduled testimony and testimony from the audience (as time permits).

If you are interested in testifying at the hearing, please fill out the form found on the Commission website under the heading “News and Events” and submit the requested information by e-mail, mail, or fax.

Additional details about the Saratoga Springs hearing are posted on the Commission website under the heading “News and Events.”

The Community Alliance will keep you updated, via this blog, as to future hearing dates, times, locations, and agenda.

A suggestion to the Commission: Public Hearings are wonderful, but fair hearings require the scheduling of forums in the evening, as well as during the business day. Give the poor working stiff -- the fella who pays all those taxes to the plethora of inefficient local governments -- the opportunity to be heard.
- - -
Law & Order: SPU -- Click HERE for an overview of the approximately 9500 Special Purpose Units of local government in New York State.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

No Poet Laureate For Nassau County

Legislative Committee Votes Down Nominee For Honorary Post; Schmitt, Yatauro Substitute Lunacy For Literary Acclaim

Even in what should be apolitical -- the appointment of a Poet Laureate (an unpaid honorarium which essentially promotes the art) -- the Nassau County Legislature rebuffed the nomination of Maxwell Corydon Wheat Jr., a poet of worldwide repute residing in Freeport, as Nassau County's first Poet Laureate.

There was something in Wheat's poems that the Legislature's Minority Leader, Peter Schmitt -- who, we suppose, spends much of his time in literary pursuits, reading novellas and waxing poetic -- found offensive to our troops.

Gee. We didn't realize that Peter Schmitt could even read. The other dumkopfs on the Committee who voted against Wheat's honorary appointment (including its Chair, Diane Yatauro, who, according to Newsday, felt "uncomfortable" with someone who wrote about an elected official), must have read the poems to him.

We took a look at Wheat's poems at issue -- which condemn war, not those who bear its burdens on the front lines -- and could find nothing offensive, demeaning, or, as Heir Schmitt puts it, that which "condemn(s) the troops fighting for America in Afghanistan and Iraq. . ."

In the online "Comments" section to the Newsday article on this story (as republished below) was the following, expressing, we hope, the sentiment of the literate, the reasoned, the free-thinking, and the right-minded:

During today’s meeting legislators will get much ink for impassioned emotional behavior -- the kind of behavior some may consider grossly impolite. Screaming at a would-be Poet Laureate and then being asked by the chairwoman to stop interrupting the poet is a most strange way to treat an invited guest.

This time it was poetry and perhaps another chance to grandstand that ignited some of the legislators. Isn’t that part of what "good" poetry does? It is a field of communications. It brings on a reaction and allows us to look again at the world. In other words it challenges the closed minded.

Max Cordon Wheat Jr., acted with impassioned grace even as one of his many books of poetry became a hot topic of the legislation meeting. Anyone who has served knows, "War is hell". The political poetry he wrote is lesser known than his many volums about nature. The poem in question was based on headlines ripped from the newspapers. Those who spoke on behalf of Mr. Wheat noted him as gentle-person, a nature and history lover, who encourages all to appreciate what we experience and then write about it. He has given 40+ years to education. He wanted as Poet Laureate to further the concept of elevating Nassau County as an open classroom for poetry and encourages the youth to write guided by their teachers.

Maybe Mr. Wheat was not conferred because poetry can be electrifying as the water leaking from the legislative roof too near the lights hanging above of the room on the fifth floor.

Wayne Wink stated, "Poetry is about art, feeling, literature and expression…This is not a popularity contest."

Perhaps, as Mr. Wink continued, the (other) legislators wanted a "jingle writing competition".

And this:

The poet laureate honor is awarded for great achievements, not bowing to the political right. Max Wheat has worked hard to promote poetry in this county. His warm manner has encouraged people of all ages to write and express themselves. His kindness is theraputic for many.

Like the majority of Americans, he hurts when American serviceman are killed or maimed. Unlike some of our legislators, Max Wheat is a true patriot who believes in our freedoms!

And so, Legislator Peter Schmitt and his ill-conceived ilk of "follow me into the abyss" legislators have managed to derail the nomination of Nassau County's first Poet Laureate, not unlike the way they derail much that would serve the public good.

They must be very proud of themselves.

On Monday, the ideology of ignorance, arrogance, and a rush to judgment that flies in the face of literacy, legitimacy, and the art form itself -- not to mention the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States -- won the day at the Nassau County Legislature.

We may not have a Poet Laureate in Nassau County, but if ever anyone warranted the nomination and appointment by acclamation as County Idiot, it would have to be Heir Peter Schmitt!

It would be, indeed, poetic justice if residents in his legislative district would vote this brain dead bozo out of office come November. As for Diane Yatauro, she is living proof that neither ignorance nor sheer stupidity is confined to one side of the political aisle.

Unless we, the good people of Nassau County, come to our senses -- whether on the appointment of Poet Laureates or how we repair potholes -- we will be left with but listless limerick, and far too little in the way of poetry.
- - -
No vote for Nassau poet laureate candidate
By Sid Cassese and Reid J. Epstein

A Nassau legislative committee Monday voted down a proposal to name the county's first poet laureate, saying some of the nominee's writings were offensive to service members fighting overseas.

Before the 6-1 vote against the nomination of Maxwell Corydon Wheat Jr., Minority Leader Peter Schmitt said the Freeport poet's writings "condemn the troops fighting for America in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that's absolutely tragic... I don't care what his politics are, but you don't condemn the men and women who answer this nation's call and put on the uniform," Schmitt said.

Only Legis. Wayne Wink (D-Roslyn) voted for Wheat.

"I would be hard-pressed to imagine anyone in their right mind putting themselves through this again to be the poet laureate of Nassau County," Wink said. It was unclear Monday whether another nominee for the unpaid position will be put forward.

Wheat, 80, an award-winning member of the Long Island poetry community for about 40 years, was selected by a six-person committee. The poet laureate would serve for two years and would be charged with promoting and ecouraging poetry within the county and with giving two public readings each year.Wheat, whose work as a freelance writer has appeared in Newsday, is best known for his writing about nature.

The controversy surrounding his possible appointment stemmed primarily from his 2004 book of poems, "Iraq and Other Killing Fields: Poetry for Peace."

Defending his nomination before the committee, Wheat, who said he served in the Marines, read from the book:

"At dusk of evening/at checkpoint in southern Baghdad/American soldiers remember suicide bombers/killing four soldiers at another checkpoint./They aim at vehicles approaching on Highway1,/running up slipway toward overpass.

"The 22-year-old Corporal from Chicago,/Gunner aboard tank bearing barrel legend 'Bush & Co,'/ fires cannon shells/sees two men in silver gray Toyota Camry die/ 'in an explosion of blood and steel.'"

Later in the committee meeting, Wheat said: "Don't let concerns for the meaning of the poems stop you from enjoying the poems."

But Diane Yatauro (D-Glen Cove), who chaired the seven-member Government Services Committee, said that "Once I saw that he had picked an elected official -- the president -- to write about, it made me uncomfortable."

George Wallace, Suffolk County's first poet laureate, who served in 2003 and 2004, said that, "for a political body to have a position of poet laureate, they must consider what their purposes are -- whether it's to have somebody who agrees with their politics or to have a person in the poetry scene and willing to promote it.

"... And you'll have to ask that person, can they put their politics or religion or social point of view aside to play the public role," Wallace said.

Wheat said he was saddened by the vote. "I was looking forward to it very much. I wanted to make Nassau County accessible to poetry enthusiasts."

Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.
- - -
American Mourning Poem
by Maxwell Corydon Wheat, Jr.

American Service Men and Women Dead -
1355"Coming Home"

"Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."
--George W. Bush, President of the United States
State of the Union Address, January 28, 2003

In catacombs of military transports
destined for Dover Air Force Base,
loves, beliefs, ideals, plans:
Hancock Community College,
University of Miami,
New York Police Academy,
weddings, children,
barbeques, baseball, bass fishing-
All lidded down inside caskets
carefully, caringly covered with The American Flag

25-year-old Marine Corps Corporal
St. George, Maine.
Sailor, rock climber, stargazer.
On dance floor, ". . . like a magnet."
Loves lobsters, mussels-
All lidded down inside casket
carefully, caringly covered with The American Flag

30-year-old Army Private First Class Tuba City, Arizona.
". . . young, a single mother and capable."
Her boy, 4 - her girl, 3.
Woman proud of her Hopi heritage-
All lidded down inside casket
carefully, caringly covered with The American Flag

20-year-old Marine Corps Corporal
La Harpe, Illinois.
High school football, basketball player,
lifeguard at health club pool,
lifts weights,
going to be a physical trainer.
Joins Marine Corps Reserve
to pay for studies at Southern Illinois University-
All lidded down inside casket
carefully, caringly covered with The American Flag

21-year-old Marine Corps Corporal
Gallatin, Tennessee.
Nurses dying mother with his humor,
dresses in clown costume for nieces' birthdays.
History buff, reads fat books about generals,
presidents, the Revolutionary War-
All lidded down inside casket
carefully, caringly covered with The American Flag

24-year-old Coast Guard Petty Officer
Northport, New York.
Wife, three months pregnant.
Wants to be a policeman like his father."
. . . the kind of person that you fall in love with
the minute that you meet him," a friend says-
All lidded down inside casket
carefully, caringly covered with The American Flag

A father, a mother grieve for their only son, an Army Specialist.
"He wanted to be an engineer," the father remembers.
"He wanted to set up his own business when he got out.
And I say, 'Amigo, I'm waiting for you to get out
so we can put up our own business.'
And all that, well, you know, is history."

The Major General carefully, caringly folds The American Flag,
places the nation's ensign into the mother's hands

Maxwell Corydon Wheat, Jr. ©

This poem appears as "Coming Home" in the paperback, "Iraq and Other Killing Fields: Poetry for Peace," (Cow Meadow Promotions, 2004), by Maxwell Corydon Wheat, Jr., of Freeport, New York.

Throwing Caution To The Wind

Wind Farms Take Heat And Warrant Review, Regulation, And Reasoned Restraint

Are they the saviors of the environment, or the windmills that Quioxtic environmentalists should be tilting at? Energy savers, or just a fanciful diversion? A reliable power source, or simply a stop gap measure on the way to cleaner, more efficient, less costly forms of energy.

As we consume more and more fossil fuels, creating a climate of hydrocarbons and holding us hostage to foreign potentates, the debate about wind power blows through the halls of legislatures throughout the nation.

Is it an ill wind that blows, or the brightest idea since Edison gave us the incandescent bulb?

A recent Op-Ed piece in The New York Times brings to the fore just a few of the issues and concerns, warning us to take a good, long look before we leap, or, more aptly, to air all sides fully before we throw caution to the wind.
- - -
Idiot Wind
By Henry S. F. Cooper, Jr.
Cooperstown, N.Y.

MUCH of upstate New York, from north of Albany to Buffalo, from the Catskills to the Adirondacks, is in danger of being transformed beyond recognition by industrial wind parks.

Some 50 of these wind parks are being planned and even built.

All of this is being done in the name of clean energy and saving the planet. But it isn’t clear that wind power is such a panacea in the battle against global warming that developers of these wind parks should be allowed to run roughshod over some of our loveliest land. What we need are statewide siting guidelines that take other environmental factors, including visual impacts, into consideration.

One upstate project, 70 miles west of Albany, is the Jordanville Wind Power Project proposed by Community Energy, a subsidiary of the Spanish conglomerate Iberdrola. The project is not far from where I live in Cooperstown. About 70 turbines, as tall as 40-story buildings, are proposed near the top of a ridge where they will be visible far across the Mohawk Valley to the north and to the south down the length of Otsego Lake, the centerpiece of the Glimmerglass National Historic District. There are six national historic districts and sites eligible or listed, in the area, covering some 40,000 acres. One that is eligible but not listed is the Holy Trinity Monastery, the spiritual center of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. Another, Glimmerglass, includes the landscape that inspired the artists of the Hudson River School and novelists like James Fenimore Cooper (an ancestor of mine).

The effects nearer the turbines will be even more devastating. The towers loom all around; their blades, 150 feet long, cause the sunlight to flicker; the nacelles — the hub of the blades — make a high-pitched whine.

Real estate values, certainly for second and retirement homes, but also primary residences, would likely plummet, damaging the local tax base. The carnage among birds and bats is considerable.

The Jordanville project would be built on an unstable soluble layer of karst limestone riddled with cracks, fissures and caverns. It could affect local wells and fish hatcheries; springs in this area are the source not only of Otsego Lake but of the Susquehanna River, which starts there.

Of course, the sacrifice of much of upstate New York in the name of saving the planet would be admirable and noble if it was clear that wind power would play a major role in combating global warming. But a recent study by the National Academy of Sciences casts doubt on this theory.

Wind is an iffy resource. It blows hard enough to generate electricity about 30 percent of the time. When wind-power companies talk of a project supplying electricity to, say, 60,000 houses, which is what the Jordanville project claims, those homes are dark and powerless 70 percent of the time. Or they would be, if it wasn’t for conventional power sources, which need to be kept on line to take over when the wind drops. Realistically, Jordanville will power about 18,000 houses or less. In the trade-offs between wind power and other environmental considerations, the less wind contributes to reducing global warming, the more important other environmental factors — including visual impact — become.

So why then are we destroying large tracts of upstate New York in the name of an uncertain energy source? In part, it is because the Spitzer administration, even more than the Pataki administration did, is increasing subsidies and tax credits for these alternative energy companies. Indeed most wind companies concede that if it weren’t for government support, they wouldn’t be in business.

The Spitzer administration has introduced wording to the Clean Economic Power Supply Act that would revamp utility siting law. Its Article X would speed approval for industrial wind parks, in particular by circumventing home rule and the State Environmental Quality Review Act, the cornerstone of the state’s environmental laws, which is responsible for determining whether local ordinances conform with state environmental law when a town or municipality accepts or rejects a project.

But what we need to do is strengthen the siting provisions in the Clean Economic Power Supply Act. Three bills that are before the State Senate would impose moratoriums on wind projects while siting guidelines are established and the effects of a project on neighboring areas are assessed. One of the bills would give New York’s commissioner of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation a veto on approving turbine siting. All these bills are steps in the right direction; they have critical elements that are worth incorporating into the new Article X legislation, to assure burdened upstate towns that community character and historic and scenic resources will be protected.

Wind has a role to play, but perhaps not as strong a one as other clean energy sources, especially those like safer nuclear energy and cleaner coal, which provide not erratic but constant energy. We need to think carefully about where we place wind farms and whether the benefits outweigh the losses. But more important, we can’t let wind power, and projects like the Jordanville one, distract our attention and financial resources from better solutions for saving our planet. Wind may be something of a red herring hidden inside a pork barrel.

Henry S. F. Cooper Jr., the author of several books about space exploration, is the president of Otsego 2000, a local environmental group.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Monday, June 04, 2007

If You Think Education Is Expensive. . .

. . .It Is!

The New York Times reports that the median compensation package for school Superintendents on Long Island for the 2007-08 school year will be $248,250.00.

With 124 districts, that comes to a ballbark figure of $30,783,000.00. That's nearly $31 million, just to cover the costs of Superintendents!

The most highly compensated Superintendent, Carole Hankin in Syosset, will rake in some $440,000.00 next year.

Nice work if you can get it!

Leaving aside the pros and cons of compensation to school Superintentents -- and the multitude of Assistant Superintendents (where the median pay package is $190, 750.00, with each district having one or more such deputies) -- we have to ask (and so should you), when is enough too much? Isn't $30,783,000.00 paid to 124 school chiefs (more than some school districts' entire annual budgets) too much to pay for Superintendents alone?

The answer lies, we suppose, in the politics of "more" and "mine." The theories go, "spend more and you'll get better," and, "sure, consolidate school districts, but not mine!"

If more is better, then clearly Long Island takes top spot when it comes not only to school districts, but to local government and special taxing districts of every kind.

In Nassau County alone there are 56 school districts and 54 library districts. There are 70 sewer and sewage related districts. More than 41 fire districts, each with multiple "elected" Commissioners, 31 fire protection districts, 24 village fire departments, 2 city fire departments, and 1 fire hydrant rental district (in case you ever need a spare on a Saturday night). 26 Commissioner-run water districts (which both tax homeowners and charge them quarterly for the water they use), 9 Town water districts, 7 village water districts, 2 city water districts, 3 water pollution control districts, and 1 water supply district.

And who could forget those sanitary districts -- some 74 of them in Nassau County.

There are, at last count, 54 other special districts in Nassau, including 1 sidewalk improvement district and -- believe it or not -- a Memorial Day Parade district.

Come on. Where's the "Get Out Of Bed In The Morining" district and the "Brush After Every Meal" district? Surely, someone could tax for these things as well -- Long Islanders would be glad to foot the bill -- and get a cushy patronage job or two for a friend or relative in the process.

With all of the districts, of virtually every kind and nature (some of which defy description), on our Long Island, is it any wonder that our property taxes are so high?

Then again, we enjoy paying two, three, four times the going rate for duplicative, wasteful services that can be furnished more efficiently and with far less attendant costs. After all, its worth it. Look at all the "local control" we have -- over toxins in our water, frivilous spending by our fire districts, full-time pay for part-time work in garbage collection, to name but a few -- and those fabulous "local contacts" -- our neighbors (and their son-in-laws) at the special districts -- who keep us so well informed, of everything from MTBE leaks to millions in highway bond money that never finds its way to our streets, you'd hardly know they were there!

Ah, what fun P.T. Barnum, to whom is credited the expression, "There's a sucker born every minute," would have on our Long Island!
- - -
Click HERE to find the 2007-08 salary for the Superintendent in your school district.
- - -
Demand for School Chiefs Pushes Salaries Up
By Ford Fessenden

SALARIES for school superintendents rose at a rate well above inflation on Long Island last year, according to new state figures, as school board officials say it is increasingly difficult to find the leadership needed to meet the high expectations of suburban parents and homeowners.

In Bay Shore, for example, Superintendent Evelyn Blose Holman negotiated a new contract in 2006 under which she received a 15 percent increase in salary and benefits in the first year, and an 8 percent increase in 2007-8. Including 15 days of vacation she can opt to take in cash, her pay and benefits will be worth slightly more than $355,000 next year.

School board members in Bay Shore, which ranks in the bottom third on Long Island in average income of residents per pupil, say they were happy to provide it.

“Knowing what’s out there and who you can hire, we know we have an excellent superintendent, and we have kept her for another five years,” said Gregory Nardone, the school board president.

For 2007-8, the median pay package for the top job in the Island’s 124 districts is $248,250, including salary and benefits, up 5.3 percent from 2006-7, according to data the districts reported to the state. Seventeen superintendents will make more than $300,000 in total compensation next year; 11 did so in 2006-7.

Carole G. Hankin, the Syosset superintendent, continues to be the highest-paid public school executive in the state, with salary and benefits worth nearly $440,000.

Superintendents’ pay has been rising about 5 or 6 percent a year for the last three years, mirroring other costs in school districts, which have also been advancing more sharply than the inflation rate of 3 percent.

The median pay package for assistant superintendents rose 6.1 percent, to $190,750. Eighty-five assistant superintendents on Long Island make more than $200,000, up from 50 in 2006. And teacher salaries go up 4 percent to 6 percent a year, district officials say.

At a time when residents are complaining about high property taxes, and the state is sending millions of new dollars to suburban school districts, Long Island districts now pay about $30 million, an increase of 16 percent since 2004-5, for the superintendents who oversee the education of 469,000 students.

School board officials say they see little alternative to the continued advance of salaries but also say they have little difficulty justifying the cost to voters. “Any place you live, people will complain,” Mr. Nardone said.

“People here are either for her or against her,” he said, referring to Dr. Holman.

The Bay Shore school board gave Dr. Holman a salary increase of 15 percent in 2006, to $240,000. This year, she is to get a raise of about 8 percent, according to the district’s assistant superintendent for business, Maureen Dutcher. Dr. Holman also has the right to cash in 15 days of vacation, worth an additional $17,591.

With an annuity, and insurance and pension payments, Dr. Holman’s $355,315 pay package will be the fifth highest on Long Island, and in the state, next year. In 2005, her total pay of $279,777 was 11th highest among the Island’s superintendents.

School board members say residents may express alarm at the compensation levels, yet they also demand that their school districts maintain reputations for high quality and achievement.

“The problem is you can’t get superintendents — nobody wants the job anymore, so you have to pay the freight,” said Allenby R. Lyson, the school board president in Oceanside. “Think about it. Half of the value of your house is based on your school district. You lose your good district reputation, you lose your house value. We’re aware of that.”

State law requires school districts to report the salaries of their top administrators, and any principals who make more than $110,000. Most districts comply, but some do not, and state officials say they have no authority to compel them.

In some districts where there appeared to be a large increase in pay, school board members said they were actually disclosing for the first time perks or benefits that superintendents had already been getting. A law passed in the wake of the embezzlement scandal in the Roslyn district in 2004 required the state comptroller to audit all districts by 2010, and some boards are bending over backward to disclose payments to school leaders.

In Jericho the board reported for the first time the value of payments made on behalf of Superintendent Henry L. Grishman to the teacher retirement system, which showed that his compensation package next year, $378,039, was 14 percent higher than it appeared to be this year.

“We had not been reporting that, and we have auditors coming,” said Barbara Krieger, the school board president. “It is our effort to be more transparent.”

Dr. Grishman is the fourth highest paid superintendent on Long Island, up from seventh last year.

A few districts replaced superintendents and reported lower compensation packages. In Plainedge, where an assistant superintendent, Christine P’Simer, will replace the outgoing superintendent, John A. Richman, next year, the salary and benefits package will drop 14 percent. She will make more than $245,000 in pay and benefits in her first year.

“We don’t think superintendents are paid too much,” said Patricia Zinke, the Plainedge board president. “The pool of experienced people is not big enough, and it’s a 24/7 job.”

The salaries of Long Island school administrators are not out of line with other school costs. At 1.85 percent of total budgets, on average, the Island’s administrative costs are below the median for the state, which was 2 percent, according to state calculations from 2004. But other costs on the Island are also high.

Census figures released last week show that Long Island districts rank at the very top among more than 10,000 school districts across the nation in spending per pupil, except for a few in sparsely populated areas that must hire more teachers to reach students. Among districts with more than 250 students, 13 of the top 24 in spending per pupil were on Long Island or in Westchester, with the rest in Alaska and Wyoming, according to the census.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Friday, June 01, 2007

Gary Carlton For Hempstead Town Supervisor

"I'll Moidah Da Bum," Says Carlton, Accepting The Democratic Nod

It came as kind of a shock to us outsiders when Nassau County Democratic Chair, Jay Jacobs (not related to either Judy or Norma, my wife's first cousin twice removed), announced that a virtual unkonwn, Gary Carlton, would be the party's nominee to run against Town of Hempstead Supervisor, Kate Murray (R-Levittown).

Truth be told, our first reaction at The Community Alliance was, "who the *&^%$@! is Gary Carlton?"

Then, upon further reflection, the choice made perfect sense.

Our staffers, Lulu and Buck, began to do some research on Gary Carlton. Frankly, not much on the Nassau County scene but for a failed run for Nassau County Legislature in 1999.

Then, with the help of a former reporter for the Hard Times Picayune, we discovered -- and are pleased to have the exclusive on this story -- that its not Gary Carlton of Valley Stream who hopes to conquer Kate at the polls, but rather, Gary Carlton, a/k/a Carlton Gary, the infamous Stocking Strangler -- who will face Kate in the fall classic.

The GOP, which hailed Murray as "the salvation of the Republican party" (she may not be able to walk on water, but she sure knows how to tax you for it), scoffed at Carlton's bid, calling him a "lightweight without a record."


The move to nominate Gary Carlton was one of sheer brilliance on the part of Jay Jacobs.

No record? What are you talking about?

Gary Carlton has a record as long as the list containing the names of each and every patronage hack on the payroll at Hempstead Town Hall.

In fact, let the record reflect that Gary Carlton is a man of strong convictions -- mostly for a string of serial killings -- and a record that includes arrests for robbery, arson, and assault, all before his 18th birthday!

True, Gary Carlton has never beaten a woman before -- strangled and sexually assaulted, yes, but never beaten -- though his handlers (on Georgia's Death Row) expressed every confidence that their man can take on Murray and whip her -- with her own underwear, no less.

"He's got grit, and a whole drawer full of ladies undergarments," said Euriah Butts, Deputy Warden at the Georgia State Penitentiary. "He's simply unflappable. Even a lethal injection couldn't take him down!"

Facing the prospect of a weapon of mass murder on the November ballot, Kate Murray, speaking from the Levittown middle school from which she graduated (back when social promotion was all the rage), the sitting Supervisor appeared unfazed.

"I absolutely look forward to a challenge by Gary Carlton," said Murray, downing a corned beef sandwich from the Coliseum Deli.

Asked if she was concerned about Carlton's reputation for killing the competition -- literally -- Murray scoffed, "Don't be ridiculous. No man has ever gotten my panties off, or into them, come to think of it, and no man ever will!"

The Community Alliance attempted to reach Gary Carlton in his prison cell, only to be told that he is permitted just one phone call per week, and ten minutes of fresh air a day. He had previously used this week's telephone call to get some campaign pointers from America's favorite hatchet man, Bob Dole.

We did manage to get ahold of Carlton's campaign manager, Ted Bundy (no relation to Al), who had this to say: "Kate may pull this one out at the polls, but with Gary in the race, its political suicide for her -- literally -- no matter the outcome in November."

Talk about a death match, folks. The race for Hempstead Town Supervisor is shaping up to be the one to watch, and you can be certain we'll be watching -- and reporting.
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In related news, Nassau County Democrats nominated convicted cult murderer Charles Manson to take on Nassau County Legislator Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa). This one, clearly, is a toss up.
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NEXT UP ON THE BLOG: The Community Alliance profiles Town of Hempstead Supervisor, Kate Murray.

LIFERsuction And The Dismantling Of Public Education

A Report On the Recent Forum Held By Long Islanders For Educational Reform (LIFER) -- Or, If Frank Russo Only Knew That Thomas Jefferson Was An Ardent Advocate Of The Seperation Of Church And State, And, Arguably, An Agnostic

Brian Brennan of reports (republished below) on the May 7th meeting of LIFER.

LIFER supports an expansion of the charter schools in New York, as well as tax credits/rebates for private school parents, tantamount to the wholesale diversion of tax dollars from our public schools.

They haven't formally come out with a whitepaper denying evolution, calling for the teaching of creationism in our public schools, and banning homosexuals from the classroom, but something tells us LIFER is working on it.

LIFER's goals, at least on the surface, may appear lofty, but lurking just below in the muddy waters of the school finance debate, is one Frank Russo, Director of the New York Chapter of the American Family Association -- the folks who dissed the American Girl doll and urged us all to boycott businesses that refuse to endorse Christmas.

Yes, the same hate-spewing, ignorant, arrogant nut jobs -- the holy rollers who, following the Virginia Tech Massacre on April 16, 2007, released a video in which "God" tells a student that those killed on campus were not saved because God isn't allowed in schools anymore [the video claims that the shootings at Virginia Tech, Columbine, and elsewhere, are the result of, among other things, no spankings, no prayer in schools, condoms, and a woman's right to choose] -- are now in the business of "reforming" the education system on Long Island.

Yes, the followers of Falwell, Dobson (the guy who "outed" Sponge Bob), and George W. Bush's Leave Every Child Behind dogma, are now at the schoolhouse gate.

God help us all!

With the likes of LIFER taking up the cause, can the dismantling of our public schools, the very foundation of free-thinking and the backbone of democracy, in the name of "family values" and "moral decency" -- let alone as a tax-saving measure -- be far behind?
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School Daze: Funding Education
By Brian Brennan

A panel of minds met at the Hilton Long Island in Melville last Monday evening to discuss Long Island’s school taxes. The five-member panel took turns addressing the crowd and then fielded questions. First to speak was conservative Newsday columnist Raymond Keating. He was followed by Dr. Charles Murphy, superintendent of the Sachem Central School District (which has a tax levy decrease in its proposed 2007-08 operating budget). The third speaker was Edmund J. McMahon, director of the Empire Center for New York State Policy, followed by Suffolk County Legislator Lynne Nowick (R-Smithtown), and Nassau County Conservative Party Chairman and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Roger Bogsted. Moderating was Peter Kohler, editorial services vice president for Cablevision Systems Corp.

With school budget votes looming, the panel was assembled by Long Islanders For Educational Reform, or LIFER. LIFER’s website has the banner statement “Educational Excellence and Fiscal Responsibility” and describes the organization as “Long Islanders dedicated to improving educational quality while getting better control of our runaway school costs.”

In a nutshell, these people feel that Long Island’s property taxes are too high and that irresponsible spending on the part of school districts is at the root of it. And while it was a very rightward leaning panel, the criticism they expressed was bipartisan. “We have a state legislature that is absolutely addicted to spending,” Roger Bogsted said. He added that legislators lose sight of their priorities while negotiating over pork barrel member items. And he agreed with Raymond Keating that New York’s Republicans have failed to live up to conservative fiscal principles.

Mr. Keating actually praised the frugality – as he did in a recent column – of Suffolk County’s Democrat county executive, Steve Levy. And it was former Governor George Pataki’s bending to pressure from his fellow Republicans, Edmund McMahon said, that allowed for the implementation of a watered down STAR local property tax relief program in 1997.

The body that received the most criticism from the panel was NYSUT, the New York State Union of Teachers. At least some on the panel felt that it is disproportionate influence wielded by the union at state and local levels that has stifled tax reform. Roger Bogsted called NYSUT “the 500-pound gorilla of New York State”.

Asked why there hasn’t been a cap on annual state tax levies, Edmund McMahon said, “In a word – NYSUT.” Superintendent Murphy said that school boards have too often put the desires of teachers ahead of the needs of a community. Teachers, he said, have a powerful and well-financed union looking out for them; it is students, parents and taxpayers first who need the school boards to be thinking of them.

Raymond Keating said that school boards need to be tougher when it comes to negotiating teachers’ salaries and benefits, and that the union’s “monopoly” needs to be broken.

Keating’s Big Four
Mr. Keating then went on to outline what he says are four myths that hinder reform in education spending and funding in New York State.

The first is that “you get what you pay for”. “You get what you pay for in the private sector. You don’t get what you pay for in government,” he said. The private sector is consumer-driven, with payment based on performance. Mr. Keating said that the government pattern is all too often to throw more money at underperforming schools, and that teachers’ pay scales are not based on performance.

The second myth, he said, is that aid from the state is great for taxpayers. He reiterated an analogy made in a recent column saying that elected officials have too often regarded state aid as “manna from heaven”. The reality, he said, is that the government simply recoups tax relief by raising other taxes. He argued that Long Islanders should not expect to pay smaller taxes if aid from Albany causes them to see their property taxes reduced. He added that looking at the rise in both school aid and tax revenue from 1994 to 2004 illustrates this.

Mr. Keating’s third myth is that district consolidation would provide tax relief. “Is bigger government really going to save you money?” he asked. He and Edmund McMahon addressed the issue again when the panel was asked by an audience member why consolidation wouldn’t weaken unions’ power. Mr. Keating said that there would still be competing elements in government to contend with. Mr. McMahon pointed to New York City public schools, which make up the largest district in the United States and have a powerful teachers union. The biggest fans of regional consolidation are unions, Mr. McMahon claimed.

The fourth myth prevalent in the public’s mind, Mr. Keating said, is that schools should be funded in some way other than property taxes. There are those who advocate funding schools through income taxes rather than property taxes. Mr. Keating said that this would create at least as many problems as the current system, and probably more. According to him, income taxes have historically acted as fuel to government spending, and increased income taxes would hurt the state by scaring away prospective residents, businesses and investment. STAR,

McMahon’s Missing Link and Proposition 2½
The State Senate this week passed a bill – which has yet to be voted on by the Assembly – to increase STAR rebates for lower- and middle-income seniors. Governor Eliot Spitzer opposed the bill, which otherwise received wide bipartisan support. Governor Spitzer feels that the state can’t afford the reforms.

Edmund McMahon feels that the state couldn’t afford the STAR program to begin with. According to him, STAR was dead in the water after the four percent cap on annual levy increases authored into it by Governor Pataki were filtered out of it during pre-vote budget negotiations in 1997. He faults the Republicans then in the legislature with failing to support the cap, and the former governor with only half-heartedly trying to save it from being struck.

Since then, Mr. McMahon insists, STAR has only treated some of the symptoms of high taxes, but none of the causes. By 2010, he claims, $6 billion will have been spent on the program, though taxes and spending have continued to rise. The “missing link” in school policy, according to him, is that policymakers have yet to realize that the “surefire” way to control spending is to cap the rate at which property tax levies can increase from one year to the next.

As evidence of this, he points to the experience of Massachusetts. In 1980, Massachusetts had the second highest state and local property tax burden in the country, with New York State occupying first place. But that year, Massachusetts implemented Proposition 2 ½, which decreed that municipalities could raise property taxes no more than 2 ½ percent each year (barring several types of exclusions, or a majority of a municipality’s voters opting for an “optional override”). In 1982, Massachusetts’ tax burden ranked 13th in the nation, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and it has continued to drop ever since. It is currently 28th in the nation, and has dropped as low as 35th. Meanwhile, the state has remained – with New York – among the nation’s top per-pupil spenders.

Mr. McMahon asserted that Massachusetts’ income tax rate is lower than it was in 1980. He did not mention, however, that the state remains among the highest in terms of its personal and corporate income tax rates.

As NYSUT sees it “If schools were supposed to be lowering taxes, LIFER would be the in the right place. But if schools are supposed to be educating, then I’m confident NYSUT is in the right place,” NYSUT president Richard Iannuzzi said over the phone.

“I guess it’s the lens you look through,” Mr. Iannuzzi said. As he sees it, education necessarily costs money, and there’s no getting around that the money required is increasing. He attributes this in part to the number of special needs children in schools, the number of students who are not fluent in English, and to government mandates such as President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, which outlines various testing and monitoring initiatives that schools must fund themselves.

Mr. Iannuzzi believes the majority of Long Islanders are looking through the same lens he is. “The difficulty here is that you have an organization and a panel that assumes that property-tax-payers are looking for one thing only and that is how to cut property taxes, and looking to use the school system as the vehicle to do so,” he said. “The reality is that many of those taxpayers…are also parents and grandparents and progressively-minded community members who understand the value of a quality education.”

NYSUT strongly advocates against both charter schools and private school tuition tax rebates, which LIFER supports. LIFER’s belief is that the competition would spur school districts to improve on both their academics and their cost-effectiveness, and would also help alleviate their burden.

“If they were really interested in lowering taxes and that truly was their only issue, then it fascinates me that they’re okay with charter schools that drain money and cause increases in local taxes,” Mr. Iannuzzi said.

In addition to diverting much-needed resources from public schools, NYSUT argues, charter schools often have under-enrollment of special needs students and students who are not fluent in English. The union claims that private school tax rebates are a stepping stone to private school vouchers (which it also opposes) and use public money for institutions that are often exclusionary. LIFER also supports reducing tenure and coming down harder on teacher salaries.
Mr. Iannuzzi said that NYSUT supports Governor Spitzer’s objective of tightening tenure guidelines, and that salary increases reward teachers for hard work. He also noted, “The salaries on LI that always make the paper are the ones that come with thirty years of teaching and Masters degrees, plus 60 or 75 credits.”

The superintendent speaks
Dr. Charles Murphy’s presence on the panel was owing to the Sachem School Board’s proposed budget including a decreased tax levy. This is Dr. Murphy’s second year in his position. Last year, the Sachem budget included a 1.5 percent levy increase.

A successful (i.e. reduced) budget, according to Dr. Murphy, requires a clearly-defined, long-term plan; transparency with the public; tax sensitivity; and a good relationship between the school board and the superintendent. “They gave me the tools to do my job,” he said of the board he worked with. The board was strong, he said, in the face of opposition from parents and teachers to program cuts.

Other keys to smart budgeting he highlighted were realism, frugality and a savvy bargaining ability. Nothing was done simply because it always had been. The budget was started over from scratch and programs cut that had been in place for 30 years. Dr. Murphy stressed several times that a board’s objective is to do what is “appropriate” rather than do what is “best”, and that it is important to remember that the words are not synonyms. As an example, he said the district should refuse to pay for alternative schooling for a special needs child when the district offers the child an education that is good, if not the best.

Dr. Murphy said that boards should look closely at what they spend on special ed, making one of the few references to that costly and contentious topic during the event. He personally approves every purchase made by the district, and said that furniture and technology are two major sources of waste. Technology soon becomes obsolete, he said, and faculty requests things such as computerized “smart boards” – or “glorified chalk boards”, as he called them – that they can just as well do without.

Dr. Murphy points to the deal struck over one software program – it was initially offered to the district for $300,000 and was eventually obtained for $60,000 – as proof that boards should always be prepared to haggle and to walk away from a prospective deal after the first offer. A key thing to remember about state aid, he said, is that there is no knowing that it will be around from one year to the next, and should be handled cautiously.

A few more suggestions
The panel indicated that a key to reforming school funding and spending is to get the message out. All too often, they complained, school budget votes are not adequately publicized and a disproportionate number of voters are parents. Raymond Keating said that parents of children who attend private schools should be reaching out to each other more and uniting in their effort to obtain tax rebates.

As it stands now, school districts whose proposed budgets are rejected by districts must fall back on contingency budgets with automatic 3.6 percent increases. Roger Bogsted wants to see the increase done away with.

Legislator Lynne Nowick was on the panel in her capacity as founder and co-chair of the 17-member Suffolk Homeowners Tax Reform Commission. The exploratory commission examined numerous methods of reforming taxes. Some – such as funding schools through additional income taxes and sales taxes – were deemed unfeasible. Others are still being kicked around.

Among these are increasing state aid to 50 percent (it can be assumed others on the panel weren’t thrilled to hear this put forward), raising caps on the amount of money districts are allowed to have in reserve, creating a one-percent luxury tax on purchases of homes valued at over $1 million, and introducing VLTs (video lottery terminals), which Ms. Nowick says reaps hundreds of millions of dollars annually for Yonkers.

Ms. Nowick said that although she has no jurisdiction over school policy, she and the other commission members felt obligated to explore ways to raise money that could be earmarked for education. NYSUT’s Richard Iannuzzi might think it would be better for everyone if they hadn’t bothered. “We’re in a time where the Governor and the [state] legislature have made historic commitments to education and they’re looking for a system where those resources drive reforms and results,” he said. “NYSUT supports that and it’s not going to help achieve those goals if we’re going to be distracted by charter schools, tax credits and LIFER.”