Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Waters Get Murkier As Special Districts Foul Financials

Nassau Comptroller Reports Fiscal Irregularities In Franklin Square, Hicksville

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, Howard Weitzman, the Nassau County Comptroller, issued a couple of Audit Reports that cast some very ominous clouds over how the water districts in Franklin Square and Hicksville handle the taxpayers' money.

If the themes sound familiar -- commissioners paid for undocumented meetings; unbridled nepotism; little or no fiscal oversight or independent review -- well, it must be something in the water.

“Although water bills are probably not homeowners’ largest monthly payments,” Comptroller Weitzman said, “Long Island water districts are multi-million dollar operations run with public tax dollars, and they should be operated efficiently and with proper oversight. These audits provide further evidence that some special districts in Nassau County are being operated as local government fiefdoms where unchecked spending is often for the benefit of the commissioners and other insiders.”

While commissioners in both Franklin Square and Hicksville could not be reached for comment, The Community Alliance was fortunate enough to touch base with Michael Uhl, a former Commissioner of the West Hempstead Water District.

Mr. Uhl expressed no surpise to the Comptroller's findings. After all, he had exposed many of the same shortcomings during his tenure as Water Commissioner in West Hempstead.

"This is but the tip of the slowly melting iceberg," said Uhl. “With little independent oversight and no one watching the pot, is it any wonder that financial abuses abound?”

In July, Mr. Uhl testified before the NYS Commission on Local Government Efficiency & Competitveness as to his experiences as Water Commissioner, detailing but a few of the abuses of the public trust.

Mr. Uhl, who is now a candidate for Nassau County Legislature in the 8th Legislative District, told The Community Alliance, “If they’re not watching the books, do you really think they’re keeping tabs on the quality of our water?”

Guess what? They're not watching the books. . .
- - -
Water officials slammed by Nassau comptroller
By Carl Macgowan

Water district commissioners in Franklin Square rang up tens of thousands of dollars for attending undocumented meetings, and the district is riddled with nepotism, Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman said Tuesday.

Hicksville water commissioners, meanwhile, raked in thousands of dollars worth of compensation for going to conferences in Florida and California, Weitzman said in releasing audits of both districts.

Weitzman said the districts' spending habits were symptomatic of abuses practiced by many special districts throughout the county.

"They're self-perpetuating fiefdoms. They operate with very little transparency," he said.

"Clearly all these districts are set up for a few under the guise of benefitting the communities."

Franklin Square and Hicksville officials said they have changed their ways and adopted new policies since the audits were conducted in 2004 and 2005. In most cases, county auditors agreed with the changes, according to copies of the audits.

Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.

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