Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Man Who Exposed The Special Taxing Districts. . .

. . .Has His Say Beford The State Commission On Local Government Efficiency

When all is said, if certainly far from done, with respect to attempts to reign in the excesses of local government, the successes will no doubt have many fathers, and the failures will produce much finger-pointing in every direction.

We should not forget, amidst the glory and the gamesmanship, the man who started us thinking, and got the ball rolling, Nassau County Assessor, Harvey B. Levinson.

His ideas may not be universally accepted, but his insight and candid observations underscore the notion that local government is anything but efficient, and matters cannot be left to the devices of special district commissioners and their ilk, lest residents be taxed out of their homes, and off of our Long Island.

Thank you, Harvey, for the courage and tenacity in telling it like it is, even if some of us simply don't want to hear the painful -- and costly -- truth!
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I want to thank the members of the commission for extending an invitation to have me offer some insights on the many special taxing districts that exist in Nassau County. For over 3 ½ years I often felt like the lone voice in the wilderness trying to expose the problems that are now being studied by this committee. I am pleased that my repeated calls for the creation of a statewide committee to study ways to consolidate these districts and to help reduce the overall local property tax burden has finally been realized. I also want to especially thank Governor Spitzer for his leadership on this issue and recognition that our current system is broken and needs to be improved.

While I understand that my time is limited, I will try to be brief and discuss what I feel should be done to change the very fabric of the way that public services have been delivered at the local level and assigned to these “invisible governments.”

When this commission reveals its final recommendations to the public, it is my hope that three things will be accomplished:

  • The commission will endorse my plan calling for the dissolution of commissioner-operated and town-operated special districts.
  • Support my suggestion that fire districts, while retaining their local identities, would no longer be permitted to operate or be treated as separate taxing jurisdictions and that their budgets be submitted to the towns for review and approval.
  • Support the concept of establishing a Nassau County Water Authority, similar to Suffolk County.

One need only to look at the way incorporated villages operate to see that they are a model of efficiency by the way that they deliver public services and the way that the tax burdens for these services are divided. In a village, one tax rate is imposed on all residents for the services that are provided. Under the current multi-layered special taxing district system operating within each town, homeowners on one side of the street may be paying significantly higher tax bills for the same services as their neighbors on the other side of the street. This inequity exists only because of accident of geography.

The advantages of adopting my proposals would be significant.

-Eliminates assessment disparities and widely different tax rates imposed on homeowners throughout the unincorporated areas of the towns.

-Allows the commercial tax base to be shared within each town.

-Reduces the confusing multitude of special district taxing jurisdictions.

-Utilities would not be able to avoid paying their fair share of the cost of services. (The Court of Appeals has ruled that utilities do not have to pay special district payments [ad valorem levies] unless they are directly benefited by the districts.)

The time of the status quo has passed. We have to be visionaries not obstructionists. Every tax savings idea must be on the table with the realization that we must do what is best for the taxpayer.

Fire & Garbage District Comparison (pdf file)

Foxhurst Road Comparison (pdf file)

Commercial Properties (pdf file)

Port Washington Police vs County Police (pdf file)

Low Income Senior Exemption (pdf file)

Click Here to see a summary of Mr. Levinson's presentation about the "Unfair School Property Tax System"

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