Monday, December 31, 2007

A Catalyst For Change

Resolved: The Status Quo Is Never Good Enough

An End Piece Signals A New Beginning
By Tony Brita

As we begin to close the lid on 2007, it is appropriate to look back at the year in special taxing districts and review how the year unfolded.

January began with the inauguration of Eliot Spitzer and with it a new commitment from the Governor's office to reform government in New York. Governor Spitzer said, "We must embrace a progressive vision of government once more, a vision that upholds the values of individuality and community; of entrepreneurship and opportunity; of responsibility and fairness. No one any longer believes in government as a heavy hand that can cure all our ills, but rather we see it as a lean and responsive force that can make possible the pursuit of prosperity and opportunity for all."

While special taxing districts were not mentioned specifically, Governor Spitzer clearly set the tone that the status quo was no longer a viable option.

The Governor followed through on his promise a few months later in April when he signed an Executive Order creating the Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness. The purpose of the Commission was to identify opportunities for New York's 4,200+ local governments to reduce taxes by becoming more efficient through the sharing and consolidation of services. The Commission included Nassau County's own Comptroller Howard Weitzman and NY State Senator Craig Johnson.

RESD's Executive Director, Laura Mallay, testified as a panelist at the Commission's hearing held at Hofstra University in July as did RESD member Michael Uhl. Both Laura and Michael spoke eloquently about their first-hand experiences with the special taxing districts. Laura briefly summarized her campaign as a candidate for Commissioner in Sanitation District 2 and Michael opened eyes with his accounts as a Water Commissioner in West Hempstead.

Unfortunately, the advances of 2007 were offset by continuing abuses within the special taxing districts. Whether it was the Selden Fire District which was probed by a Grand Jury for violations of State law, or Sanitation District 1 which paid health insurance premiums for dead employees and issued no-bid contracts, or the Westbury Water District which paid excessive per diems to commissioners and compensated employees for undocumented meetings and work, it was clear that this level of abuse was more than just a “few bad apples.

The proverbial silver lining in the cloud was that this fleecing of the taxpayers was finally being brought to light.

As we look forward to 2008, RESD anticipates that special taxing districts will remain a hot button issue. The Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness is scheduled to release its report in April and hopefully provide a strategic plan for delivering public service more efficiently and cost effectively.

RESD believes there will be gradual progress in consolidating services in 2008, especially in the area of sewer and water. At the same time, RESD expects more waste, fraud and abuse within the special taxing districts to be revealed.

Residents of Long Island are slowly awakening to the impact that special taxing districts have on their bottom line. As public pressure creates a burning platform for our elected officials, more meaningful actions will be taken to address the issue of special taxing districts. It is RESD's intention to be a catalyst in building the case for change and advocating for taxpayers in 2008.

We look forward to your support and assistance in our efforts.

Have a safe and enjoyable New Year.

Tony Brita is Communications Director for Residents For Efficient Special Districts.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Its Beginning To Feel Alot Like. . .

. . .Fill In The Blank!

May the holidays be joyous,
the new year prosperous,
and all of your days filled with
the spirit of community!


See you in 2008!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Does It Pass "The Straight Face Test?"

"Then you will know the truth and the truth shall set you free."—Jesus, Gospel of John, verse 8:32

In political circles, as in life, we often hear and see things that just don't sit well with us. At first blush, what is said or heard may make sense -- or absolutely not -- but when we listen closely, or pay particular attention, there's something not quite right.

Sometimes, what is said, or done, especially in the very public realm of government, makes no sense at all. In fact, locally, much of what we see and hear from government, by way of word and deed, amounts to such utter nonsense that it does not pass what is often referred to as "the straight face test."

In other words, the speaker/actor is hard-pressed to keep a straight face (perhaps that's why Kate Murray is always smiling), and the listener/recipient can barely keep a straight face upon getting the news (not so much of a chuckle as it is a grimace, we suppose).

At The Community Alliance blog, we've endeavored -- and perhaps not always with a straight face ourselves -- to give you some insight into what's behind the masks of tragedy and comedy, and to serve as both conduit for debate and springboard to action.

Of course, action all too often lags behind the dialogue, sometimes appearing as a disconnect between the slap in the face and the expression of pain.

Trust us. The pain is real. The lag is catching up to the wag. Folks are reading, thinking. The wall is beginning not only to crumble, but to be dismantled, brick by brick. [Witness the small successes in the special taxing district elections of December 11th.]

And if there is progress to be made based on the sheer power of the written word, the notable designation of The Community Alliance blog as the 'highest rated" blog on is not only a feather in our cap, but a testament to the good people of Long Island -- in particular, the tortured and taxed souls of Hempstead Town -- who have been reading, thinking, talking, seeing the light, and now, taking the first steps, albeit little ones, toward bringing government back where it belongs -- with the people.

They always say you should go out while you're still on top -- as in a hit TV series, ala M*A*S*H* or Seinfeld. Not that there's anything wrong with that...

Along these lines, note -- to some, not sadly -- that this will be the last blogpost of 2007. What will be when we ring in the new year remains but a wistful vision; a hope for the continued revival of what is the very essence of community.

We're counting on YOU, advocates and activists of community all, for insight, input, and inspiration.

Let us hear from you at Write early and often.

We'd like to think that we've planted the seed, and told it, if not exactly as it may be, then with at least the best of intentions to tell it with a slightly askew, but nonetheless straight face.

Our objective -- other than, seemingly, to taunt "she whose name shall not be mentioned" -- has been to educate, inform, enlighten, and, yes, entertain. We've beat the drum, and, hopefully, called many a civic warrior to arms on behalf of this wonderful community we call Long Island.

Don't stop now, ladies and gents. Better days are yet to come!

We wish you a warm and wonderful season, filled with family, friends, and if not outright joy in these most troubled times, then certainly, the prospect of kinder, gentler times in 2008 and beyond.

Onward and upward!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Special "Pick Our Pockets" Districts Must Go!

Life Without Special District Fiefdoms Would Be Far Less Taxing

Imagine if special districts were no more, towns taking over the functions of these tax-dollar guzzling empires.

No more disparity in taxes from district to district, neighborhood to neighborhood, house to house.

No more "all in the family," with mom, dad, sister and brother on payroll, getting free health coverage and reaping in pension benefits.

No more commissioners sitting in front of 42' plasma TVs, collecting $100 per day to play golf, eating $700 steak dinners at Mortons, driving luxury SUVs.

No more ersatz "local control" where nobody is held accountable.

- - -
Editorial: Do something about expensive special districts

Would you like to live rent-free in a nice Syosset house? How about a clerk's job, requiring only a high school education, that pays $96,000 a year? Better still, there's employment on the family plan in the Great Neck North water district, where a father and son team bring home close to $280,000 - plus cars and benefits - for running the 7 1/2 mile water district. Need we mention their office, with its 42-inch plasma TV bought as part of the security system?

Life is easy on Long Island if you work for some of the special districts highlighted in last Sunday's Newsday. That report provided the evidence that some of these patronage-stuffed fiefdoms, operating with little oversight, waste taxpayer money. That is, unless you think paying water commissioners $100 a day to attend a golf outing, as happened in South Farmingdale, is a proper use of tax dollars.

Nassau Comptroller Howard Weitzman made much the same case this week, showing that some municipal services could be provided more economically. In the the Town of Hempstead, a cushy nest of special districts, Weitzman said households could save $168 a year if the town collected the garbage.

The case for eliminating wasteful special districts has been made over and over, but it might get some traction now, as a revolt against property taxes - driven by declines in home values - sweeps the nation with an intensity not seen since the late 1970s.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer appointed a Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness, which is due to report its findings in April. While that blueprint is necessary to tackle the problem comprehensively, Spitzer should consider taking a bold move now to stop the porkfest. The governor should introduce a bill eliminating compensation for elected commissioners, the same rule that already applies to fire districts. Next, the governor should support the recommendation by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli that towns take over municipal services when it's cheaper.

Special districts served an important purpose 50 and 100 years ago. Now they mostly serve the connected few.

Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Arrested Suburban Development

Has Suburbia, Like Levitt & Sons, Gone Bankrupt?

Nostalgia aside -- and we all love to dwell in the perceived wonders of the "good old days" -- the conclusion, that suburbia is a place of "affordable homes, good schools, nice parks and public safety," eludes us on Long Island.

Sure, there remain pockets of wholesome goodness still contained by the white picket fence, but gone are the days when the kids rode their bikes from home to anywhere until dinner (even after it got dark, and all without cell phones), and the chain link, adorned with barbed wire, has too often supplanted picket, white or otherwise.

Can we, as descendants of the first suburbanites, still lay claim to -- or perhaps reclaim -- "the best?"

We'd like to think so. But such wishful thinking -- along with how much for a ride on the LIRR? -- will not the legacy of Levittown rekindle.
- - -
From the Wall Street Journal:

Suburban Development

I didn't grow up in Levittown, N.Y., the iconic American suburb founded 60 years ago. But you could call North Woodmere, the Long Island town my parents moved to in 1957, a close relation.

In 1963, poet Richard Wilbur wrote "To an American Poet Just Dead": "In summer sunk and stupefied/ The suburbs deepen in their sleep of death." Many of us who were raised in these places would have agreed. Some might even have cheered the news announced a couple of weeks ago that the Levitt Co. has gone bankrupt.

The streets of our suburbs were often roughly paved at first; trees were slim sticks that provided little shade. Everyone was similarly aged and, for the most part, from one of the three major New York social food groups: Italians, Irish and Jews. Boredom could be relieved only by a train ride to Manhattan. In our innocence, we did not know why our parents moved to these pre-packaged wonderlands. The only times we got an inkling was when visiting relatives still back in Brooklyn. They lived in apartments on blocks with no yards and often attended dangerous schools.

Our parents, as we understood only when we got older, knew what they were doing. They were part of a nationwide revolution in expectations among middle- and working-class city dwellers for whom a move to suburbia meant the chance to flee the crime, crowding and other ills of urban America.

What made this revolution possible was in large part what made cars, refrigerators and TV sets luxury goods no longer: mass production. Like most geniuses, William Levitt, the founder of Levittown, worked on a simple premise. If you could build houses on an assembly line and remove cost-creating encumbrances (most famously, basements), you could make them affordable for average Americans. "Any damn fool can build homes," Mr. Levitt, who made the cover of Time in 1950, once noted. "What counts is how many you can sell for how little."

Previously, homeownership had been a prospect for only the affluent or people in the hinterlands. But Mr. Levitt, using production techniques he perfected in the Navy, offered amazingly cheap homes: The first Cape Cods went for $6,990 in 1947 (when median family income was $3,031). With the aid of mortgage financing from the GI Bill, buyers could get along with down payments as low as $100 and monthly installments of as little as $65.

By the time he was finished, 17,500 homes were completed in Levittown. This was not a singular achievement but one repeated by Mr. Levitt himself in Philadelphia's suburbs and by imitators from coast to coast. Indeed, by the mid-1980s America enjoyed a rate of homeownership -- roughly two-thirds of all families -- double that of Germany, Switzerland, France and Britain. Nearly three-quarters of AFL-CIO members and the vast majority of intact families owned their own homes.

New York planning czar Robert Moses, who constructed the road system that made developments like Levittown viable for commuters, understood the appeal of these new communities. "The little identical suburban boxes of average people, which differ only in color and planting, represent a measure of success unheard of by hundreds of millions on other continents," he said.

Suburbs absorbed a remarkable 84% of the nation's population increase during the 1950s. And the pattern has not much changed. We remain an increasingly suburban nation. Despite a strong uptick in residential growth in some core cities, during the first five years of the new millennium suburbs and exurbs accounted for slightly more than 92% of the total growth in our metropolitan areas.

But what of suburbanization's naysayers? Social critics have long denounced these neighborhoods as racist, and Levittown, like many suburbs, did once exclude African-Americans. Only a few trickled in after the Supreme Court rulings on segregation in the 1950s.

In 1970, nearly 95% of all suburbanites were white.

Traditional urbanists also have little love for suburbia. Lewis Mumford and Jane Jacobs agreed on little but this. Mr. Mumford identified the suburbs as the "anti-city," sucking the creative essence out of old urban areas and turning them into disregarded parcels of "a disordered and disintegrating urban mass." Ms. Jacobs was hostile both to suburbia and to its primary means of transportation. She identified the car as "the chief destroyer of American communities."

This assessment hasn't gotten better with time. The tradition of suburb-bashing among intellectuals like Richard Wilbur continues today in the writings of James Howard Kunstler and urban critic Paul Knox, who denounces suburbia as "vulgaria." Such hostility is based on everything from the aesthetics of the communities to claims that their car-dependent culture helps to expand the nation's waistlines. And now suburbs have come under fire from environmentalists, who hector them for their alleged contributions to global warming.

But places like Fort Bend County, Texas, and Walnut, Calif., are not your father's suburbs. They boast some of the most diverse populations in the nation. Today's Levittown, N.Y., is still only 10% nonwhite, but Willingboro, N.J., another Levittown development (in the Philadelphia suburbs), is now majority black. Indeed, more than one in four suburbanites nationwide is a minority-group member. Along with immigrants and their offspring, African-Americans have been consistently moving to the suburbs; the percentage of blacks living in the periphery has risen to well over one in three.

And although they are far from hotbeds of culture, many suburbs are not as boring and featureless as they seemed when I was a kid. Recently, Details magazine even published a guide to "the hippest 'burbs to live in." Foodies know that many of the best ethnic restaurants can now be found in suburban strip malls, operated by immigrants who have flocked to places like Los Angeles's San Gabriel Valley or Houston's Bellaire Road. Thriving performing-arts centers have risen in such unlikely locations as Cobb County, outside Atlanta, and Costa Mesa, Calif. Some newer suburbs also come complete with extensive park systems, bike trails and areas with restored natural habitats.

Yet despite these changes, no one will mistake contemporary Levittown, or the San Fernando Valley neighborhood where my family now resides, for New York's SoHo or San Francisco's North Beach. Instead, their success revolves around many of the basics that William Levitt recognized as critical -- affordable homes, good schools, nice parks and public safety. As long as suburbs continue to deliver them, the master developer's legacy is likely to live on for another 60 years.

Mr. Kotkin is a Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University in Orange, Calif. He is author of "The City: A Global History."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Who Listens To The Public At Public Hearings?

Did Anyone Say They Wanted Higher Fares/Tolls From The MTA, Or A Rate Hike From LIPA?

We must have missed the testimony offered by John Q. Public to the effect that the 4% increase in LIRR fares is a good thing, or that another 2% tacked on to our electric bills is fine by us.

Was there anyone who testified at the so-called public hearings held by the MTA, or before the LIPA Board of Trustees, who spoke in favor of these increases?

And tell us again what happened to the MTA's enormous surplus and LIPA's "massive reserve funds."

What's the point?

Forget that the hearings are held at inconvenient times and venues, at least for anyone who works for a living.

Nobody pays the least bit of attention to what the public has to say, anyway.

In fact, the public has all but been taken out of the equation when it comes to paying for the mismanagement at the MTA or the golden parachutes at LIPA.

When the State of New York held budget hearings recently, we were told that the opportunity to speak was already "closed out," this before anyone in the public arena knew that the State was holding hearings and town meetings in the first place. [And by the way, here's the testimony from the Long Island town meeting of November 30th -- You know, the one you weren't given the opportunity to speak at.]

They might as well have their fingers in their ears, humming incessently, for all the good our testimony will do.

Where's the oversight? Isn't anybody watching the pot?

Public hearings -- even the good old "town meeting," the bedrock of democracy -- have become no more than farce played out on the public stage, at the public's expense.

If you are fortunate enough to be among the favored few -- the special interests and the monied elite -- you're likely to get a word in edgewise.

As for anyone else who just may have something to say about budgets, taxes, fare hikes, and utility bill surcharges, you have no say here -- sit down, shut up, and just keep paying!

"Wheel Of Fortune" At Sanitary Districts

Nassau County Comptroller's Report Finds Town Takeover Would Save Taxpayers Big Time

Towns balk at idea. Must mean Howard Weitzman is onto something!

While there may not be a Democratic or Republican way to collect garbage, there certainly is one that's less taxing -- consolidate the many and varied sanitary districts with the town's sanitation departments, the former providing different levels of service at disparate rates, with the latter furnishing uniform service at a single rate, typically lower than that taxed by the commissioner-operated special districts.

Of course, that would make the towns accountable, and supervisors and their boards responsible to the public for efficient operations and costs that are both reasonable and contained.

And come election day -- in November, not August, October, or December -- John Q. Public would know exactly whom to praise and whom to punish.

Now THAT'S what we call "local control!"


Comptroller points to opportunities to save taxpayers millions without reducing quality of services Comptroller points to opportunities to save taxpayers millions without reducing quality of services.

Back door garbage pickup three times a week in Manhasset costs $371 a year per household, but over in Syosset, the cost is $913 for the same services.

In Westbury, water provided by the Westbury Water District costs about $330 a household, but a few short miles over in Jericho, the cost per household drops to $87.

A Woodmere resident living in the Woodmere fire district pays about $592 in fire taxes, but a Woodmere resident living in the Woodmere fire protection district pays less than half of that at $214.

Back door garbage pickup three times a week in Manhasset costs $371 a year per household, but over in Syosset, the cost is $913 for the same services.

These are just some examples of the inequities in garbage collection, water and fire protection brought to light in a report by Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman’s office, a report that analyzed what residents pay for these services and identified millions of dollars in savings for taxpayers.

“Hundreds of thousands of Nassau County residents pay far too much for sanitation, water and fire service,” Comptroller Weitzman said. “It’s almost as if, depending on where you live, that you are spinning a Wheel of Fortune to see what you pay. Unfortunately, no one is aware of these costs when they move into their home.”

Many Nassau residents receive garbage collection, water and fire protection services from special districts, governmental units that serve residents who do not live in villages or cities. The over 200 special taxing districts in Nassau County levied over $491 million in property taxes in 2007, and collected additional funds in user fees, licenses and penalties.

According to Comptroller Weitzman’s report, if the Town of Hempstead were to provide garbage collection services in commissioner-run districts at the same cost per household as in the districts run by the town, taxpayers would save $18 million or about $168 per household.

The disparity study revealed that the cost of sanitation service has no relationship to its quality.

Garbage collection could be provided at a cost of $301 per household, yet THREE Nassau County special districts spent over $900 per household just to pick up and dispose of garbage. The Town of Hempstead District 6 spent the most at $974 per household. Almost every district run by commissioners spends more to provide services than districts run by towns.

“Governments need to take the necessary steps to cut expenses and to deliver the same service for less money. Costs to residents should not be determined by a ‘Wheel of Fortune’ mentality,” Comptroller Weitzman said.

Last December Comptroller Weitzman issued a report on Cost Savings Ideas for Special Districts in Nassau County*, which identified between $23.8 and $35.7 million in potential tax savings if all districts followed the suggestions.

The special district disparity report also showed that water provided by private water companies is significantly more expensive for Nassau County residents than water provided by governmental entities such as special districts or authorities. Private water costs are inflated by the water companies’ own property tax bill. In effect, residents in areas served by water
companies pay for their water usage and pay additional property taxes to the school districts, special districts, villages, towns and county where the water companies’ real property is located.
The tiny community of Cathedral Gardens is served by its own water district, but essentially only performs the service of moving water from the West Hempstead Water District to its own. The Cathedral Gardens water district has no employees, yet pays a salary to three water commissioners.

“Perhaps, residents would be better served if they just allowed West Hempstead to run their operations,” suggests Comptroller Weitzman.

The report also found that when the towns contract with fire departments for services for a fire protection district, the cost is generally cheaper.

The report’s findings revealed that the amount of commercial property in a district mattered less than district spending, except in a few extreme cases, such as in Glenwood where the LIPA plant pays much of the special district tax levies.

“When districts were well run but had only an average amount of commercial property residential homeowners still paid less for services than residents living in inefficiently-run districts with more commercial tax money.’

For example, in the Albertson-Searingtown-Herricks Sanitation District, where homeowners paid $272 in 2006, commercial taxpayers contributed only 21.6% to the tax levy, while homeowners in the Syosset Sanitation District, where commercial taxpayers contributed 44.7% of the tax levy, paid $541 in 2006.

The analysis also showed that the town-run districts are more effective at keeping residential charges lower than the commissioner-run districts, at least in the towns of Hempstead and Oyster Bay.

“Town-run districts are run more efficiently and are held to a higher level of accountability than commissioner-run districts,” said Weitzman. “As we look for any way to reduce the property tax burden of our residents, we must look to reduce the levels of government and allowing the towns to service garbage collection, is a big step in that direction.”

*Howard S. Weitzman Cost Savings Ideas for Special Districts in Nassau County (December 13, 2006)

Click HERE to read the Comptroller's Disparity Report

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

More Ways To Slash Big Bucks From State Budget

Medicaid, Fringe Benefits, Economic Development Programs Should Top List

We've already made several recommendations to the folks in Albany on cutting into that anticipated $4.3 billion budget gap. Among them, eliminating most public authorities and paring down the member item giveaways.

Now, the Citizens Budget Commission has a few more ideas to save the State big bucks, mostly sound and prudent advice.

Do you think anyone in Albany is listening?

What's this? Our local property tax burden is the second highest in the nation? Come on, folks. You're not trying hard enough. According to our shrinking wallets, by all rights, we should be number 1!

And to say that the Empire Zones drain more from the local economy than they bring in terms of re-energized business districts is an understatement.

Nassau County's Econonic Development Zone has been a bust, from all accounts, with nothing tangible to show for it but the continuing decline of Main Street.

The Magical Mystery Bus Tour has run out of gas, and with it, the notion that we can revitalize downtown by throwing money at failed and faltering programs.

Just who is getting those tax breaks, anyway, and where is the cash really going?

We have no doubt that there are billions of dollars that can be slashed from Albany's budget, without having to increase income taxes, cut school funding, or eliminate programs that serve New York's neediest.

If your State Legislator tells you otherwise, don't you believe it. There's gold in them thar marble slabs up the hill along Albany's State Street.
- - -
From The New York Times Op-Ed Page:

An Easy Trim

THE State of New York has begun preparing its annual budget using a quick start process that the governor and the Legislature approved last January. Starting three months earlier than normal, the process allows for longer and more open deliberations. The new procedures are intended to bring greater accountability to the practice of secretive last-minute negotiations over how to spend more than $120 billion of taxpayers’ money.

As part of the process, at the start of November, the governor released estimates of projected revenues and budget gaps. They present quite a challenge. A slowed economy and salary increases recently negotiated with employee unions have driven budget gaps to $4.3 billion in the coming year and $6.2 billion and $7.9 billion in the next two years. Legislators subsequently completed their version of the arithmetic. They concur that budget gaps are likely to be of this magnitude.

If state leaders want to avoid tax increases in what is already one of the most heavily taxed states in the nation, they will need to find savings of about $6 billion to $7 billion per year over the next three years.

The good news is that at least $5 billion in annual savings can be generated without reducing state services. Some of these proposals will face strong political opposition from special interests. But in the end, elected officials will have to choose whether to sustain inefficient services by raising taxes and relying on fiscal gimmicks, or to exercise political leadership to limit spending to programs that serve the public effectively.

The three largest areas of savings involve Medicaid ($2 billion in annual savings), fringe benefits for state employees ($1.1 billion) and ineffective economic development programs ($800 million).

MEDICAID New York spends far beyond national norms for its Medicaid program in total and per beneficiary. The state’s spending per beneficiary, $7,910, is 69 percent above the national average. Yet the quality of care New Yorkers get is no better and is in some areas markedly worse.

New York could save money by reducing non-competitive institutional rates like those paid to nursing homes, which are higher than national norms even after adjusting for differences in the cost of living and the health of patients. The state could also close eligibility loopholes for individuals with significant personal assets, particularly those with enough money to defray the cost of their own care. And limiting how many hours of “personal care services” (like housekeeping services by home health attendants) the state’s Medicaid program will cover would be a huge savings.

FRINGE BENEFITS Many state workers are now paid more than their private-sector counterparts; the generous health insurance and retirement packages developed to attract them to work in the public sector are, therefore, no longer necessary.

The state should restructure its health insurance to bring it in line with other public-sector employers. This means that an additional 4 percent contribution toward family plan premiums from current workers should be required. For retirees, New York should insist on a larger contribution toward premiums and eliminate repayment for Medicare Part B premiums, which cover doctors’ services, outpatient hospital care, X-rays, laboratory services and other diagnostic tests. Only six states pay any part of their employees’ Medicare premiums; New York pays the full cost.

The state should also restructure pensions. Its employees and retirees have unusually generous pension benefits compared to other public and private-sector workers (with state-required contributions now costing $1.1 billion per year). The most practical approach would be to change the pension benefits for future employees by creating a new tier for them.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS New York’s Empire Zones and Centers of Excellence, two large economic development programs, are not working. Empire Zones should be cut from the budget and the money set aside for Centers of Excellence should be reduced.
The tax credits given away through the Empire Zone program will amount to $558 million this year. And yet, a 2004 audit by the state comptroller found that only 30 percent of recipients of these tax credits met or exceeded their employment targets, 23 percent reduced employment and the remainder fell short of their goal. Efforts to improve this program have failed, and it should, therefore, be ended.

As for Centers of Excellence, the state has committed $586 million to this program. Of that, $342 million is intended for the State University of New York at Albany, while the remainder will be spread around less successful centers, which have not attracted essential private investment. The state should scale back the program to cover only SUNY/Albany.

Of course, there are a number of other moves the state could undertake: shrinking the size of the prison system to reflect the 11 percent drop in the number of inmates since 1999, increasing the work week for state employees to 40 hours from 37.5, and streamlining the judiciary system, as recommended by Chief Judge Judith Kaye.

Even seemingly obvious changes, like going to a 40-hour work week (already the standard in most public-sector jobs) will meet fierce opposition. But New York’s economy and its ability to provide jobs, depends on better fiscal discipline.

New Yorkers shouldn’t have to pay higher taxes, lose jobs and put up with substandard services to please the special interests, and getting a handle on the state’s budget is the best place to start.

Diana Fortuna is the president of the Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan civic organization.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A 60% Raise For Suozzi?

Not That The Job Doesn't Merit The Pay, But...

...In times of economic upheaval on Long Island, where inflation rears its ugly head (from gas pump to grocery store), and that feared recession has already hit, and hit hard, who is getting a 60% increase in salary?

Where is the money for all of these raises coming from? More property taxes? Increased fees? The dwindling sales tax?

Is the County going to borrow more money, putting us even deeper in the hole?

Who among us in Nassau County can afford to bear the burden?

From property taxes to the housing slump, an increasing cost of living along with diminishing returns on our money, Long Islanders are feeling the pain, and particularly so this time of year.

Our leaders, be they at Town Hall or the County Seat, should, at the very least, share our pain, not revel in and/or exploit it.

Increases to elected officials, beyond the cost of living, while perhaps merited, should not be in the offing at this time.

As the employer out of whose pockets and bank accounts such raises must come, Nassau County residents can simply not afford to be so generous with money they do not have!
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Lawmakers vote raises for Suozzi, other officials

Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi will get a 60 percent raise Jan. 1 after the legislature on Monday approved pay increases for the five officials elected countywide.The raises will bring Suozzi's 2008 salary to $174,614, compared to the $109,394 he earned this year.

The comptroller, district attorney, clerk and chairman of the board of assessors will each make $166,300.

Each position will see its salary increase by about 4 percent annually beginning in 2009.

The raises passed on an 11-8 vote, with Legis. Denise Ford (R-Long Beach) breaking with Republicans to support the measure. All 10 Democrats voted for the raises, with the other eight Republicans opposing them.

Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.

The Tiger Woods Of The Water Districts

Getting Paid To Play Golf

And they even cheat at that!

Its enough to tee off even the most indifferent taxpayer.

Imagine. Paid for steak dinners at Mortons. Paid for vacations in the Bahamas. Paid for watching television. And now, paid for playing golf.

Dream jobs at the special districts.

We pay, they play!
- - -
Water district officials are paid for golf outing

On a sunny autumn morning last September, a number of water district commissioners, superintendents, engineers and others gathered for a breakfast meeting followed by several hours of golf at the Timber Point Golf Course in Great River.

A Newsday reporter and photographer observed the gathering, which by all appearances had no official agenda or purpose, other than to play golf. The players appeared convivial and relaxed - at least five players who hit their balls into the rough picked them up and threw them back on the fairway.

Because the meeting was hosted by the Long Island Water Conference, a professional group of water suppliers, some of the representatives from the water districts playing golf also got paid for the day, records show. The outing was not listed in the group's schedule of monthly meetings.The chairman of the water conference, Ken Claus, said in a prepared statement e-mailed to a reporter late Friday that the golf outing was about "building relationships."

"In addition to the numerous educational seminars and programs the Long Island Water Conference provides throughout the year, we hold an annual golf outing," he said. "The outing provides members with a relaxed environment to discuss concerns and issues, as well as share thoughts and ideas facing water providers throughout the Island. Building relationships and lasting partnerships is a crucial step in developing much needed inter-municipal cooperation between the various providers."

South Farmingdale Water Commissioners John Hirt and Kurt Ludwig charged their district $100 per diem for attending the golf outing. Ludwig and Hirt declined to comment for this story.

Karl Schweitzer, president of the Nassau-Suffolk Water Commissioners Association, said pay for commissioners is justified when they attend certain dinner meetings, such as the monthly meetings hosted by his organization. But getting paid for participating in golf outings, he said, was another matter.

"It has been going on, and it's a practice that should be discontinued," he said. "What kind of business are you covering?"

Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman, whose office has released several audits critical of special districts, said commissioners should not be paid at all.

"They get paid for whatever they deem to be a meeting, and in many cases, a meeting is any place they get together to discuss business," he said, adding, "The system should be eliminated."

Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.

Great Work If You Can Get It!

Water District Meter Reader Rakes In $93,000+

Front page news in Sunday's Newsday. The continuing rape of the taxpayer by the robber barons of the special districts.

Those are our words, not Newsday's, but we all know what they mean -- Jane & John Q. Public are being taken to the proverbial cleaners by the special taxing districts, be they water, sewer, fire, sanitation, lighting, parking, whatever.

The outrageous salaries and benefits are not aberrations, folks, but rather, your so-called "neighbors" -- over whom you are said to exert "local control" -- are ripping the shirts off of your backs.

Oh, if we didn't enjoy paying the price -- the wholesale looting of the public's storehouse -- we would do something about it, like, say, vote.

Truth is, the intelligent, thinking LIer, with the financial wherewithal, is voting, with his or her feet. That leaves the rest of us to deal with the ignorant and the arrogant; the long on promises, short on action wiseguys at Town Hall, the County Seat, and in Albany who profess, "we have no control over the special districts."

What to do with the special districts? Flush them!

Eliminate the water districts, consolidating services under a regional water authority, ala Suffolk County.

Consolidate the remaining special districts -- in particular, sanitation and fire -- providing uniform rates and services, cutting the waste and abuses, and making accountability the mantra of Town, County and State.

We may not see an immediate savings on that bottom line, but at least everyone will bear the burden equally, and someone will be responsible for watching that guy who's watching his VCR in the back of that luxury SUV paid for with tax dollars.

And how many elected officials does it take to finally pull the plug?

As many special districts as there are -- all autonomous fiefdoms serving themselves generous helpings of your tax money -- there are nearly as many folks "studying" the problem.

State Comptroller. County Comptroller. NYS Commission on Local Government Efficiency & Competitiveness. County Executive. Anyone else care to join in?

There are panels, committees, commissions. Blue Ribbon, black label, red letter. Private conclaves, public hearings, community forums. Its enough to make the Exorcist's head spin.

For goodness sake! It doesn't take an Einstein to figure out that in the special taxing districts, there are dead guys on payroll receiving full health benefits and collecting pensions, and the living leaches who run roughshod at water, fire, sanitation, etcetera, are sucking the lifeblood out of every Long Islander.

It simply has to stop, and the time to put an end to the great special district rip-off is now!
- - -
From The New York Times:

Special District Elections Raise Concerns

VOTERS went to the polls Tuesday to cast ballots in 154 special taxing districts on Long Island that approve budgets that total hundreds of millions of dollars for services like firefighting, water, sanitation and parks.

But despite a get-out-the-vote effort by Thomas R. Suozzi, the Nassau County executive, turnout for the elections remained relatively low.

The districts run the elections themselves and have 72 hours to report the results to their towns. A spokeswoman for Mr. Suozzi said on Wednesday that a spot check of districts found “a higher turnout in some districts, but others continued to be of concern.”

In the Hicksville Fire District, for instance, fewer voters went to the polls than last year, even though there was a contested race for fire commissioner. Only 1,335 votes were cast, compared with 1,812 votes last year; the district has about 25,000 registered voters.

But in the Plainview Water District, where there was also a contested race, 480 votes were cast compared with fewer than 100 last year. The district has 11,688 registered voters.

In the week before Tuesday’s voting, Mr. Suozzi held a news conference to call attention to the elections and point out that turnout in the past had been as low as 1.8 percent. He said he realized it was difficult to keep up with special district elections because they are held 11 months a year in Nassau.

Nassau has 140 special districts and Suffolk 200, and together they are responsible for half of the $1.3 billion in property tax revenue raised by special districts throughout the state — about one-fourth of all town property tax revenue in 2004, according to Thomas P. DiNapoli, the state comptroller.

He said special district taxes cost each Nassau homeowner an average of $946 — the highest in the state — and Suffolk homeowners an average of $512.

Laura K. Mallay, executive director of Residents for Efficient Special Districts, a nonpartisan group dedicated to the most efficient water, fire and sanitation services, said taxes for the same service vary greatly depending on where one lives. For instance, she said that her sanitation taxes in South Hempstead Sanitation District No. 2 are about double those of her neighbors who live east of the Meadowbrook Parkway in the Town of Hempstead’s own sanitation district.

Howard S. Weitzman, the Nassau comptroller, said a report he plans to issue this week will say that while there are some legitimate reasons for the differences in the cost of services, the “overwhelming conclusion” is that the quality of management is the primary factor. The report will recommend consolidating garbage districts.

“There is no reason for special garbage districts when the town is providing it to some residents at a lower cost,” he said. “We believe it would save $16 million to $20 million for 70,000 homeowners.”

But Mr. Suozzi said “no elected official” knows whether consolidating districts would both save money and be as efficient. He said he had commissioned studies to learn by spring whether consolidation is feasible for school business functions, libraries, parks, road maintenance, sanitation and solid waste disposal, water supply and sewers.

Karl Schweitzer, a commissioner in the Hicksville Water District, said low voter turnout is actually a good sign because if residents “were up in arms, they would come out and exercise their right to vote.”

Mr. Schweitzer said he had heard of a proposal to consolidate all water districts in Nassau and opposed it because response time for service calls would suffer and infrastructure improvements would be delayed.

“Right now the money generated from taxes goes into infrastructure and capital improvements within the town where the money was generated,” he said. “If there is a merger, it all goes into one big bucket.”

Mr. DiNapoli said he and Mr. Suozzi had jointly proposed establishing a uniform budget hearing day in the fall for special districts, as well as posting on town Web sites all financial information for districts.

In addition, Mr. DiNapoli said, special districts should all vote on the same day — perhaps when village elections are held — to give them greater visibility.

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

Friday, December 14, 2007

Beautiful Downtown Baldwin

Will It Look As Good On Grand Avenue As It Does On Paper?

You know, we can't beat up on Hempstead Town all the time. [Well, actually, we can, but if we say something nice, it just may catch them off guard.]

Town Supervisor Kate Marray, along with Councilmembers Dorothy Goosby and Tony Santino, recently unveiled the plans and drawings for a revitalized and rejuvenated Baldwin business district, and we must say, it looks fantastic.

The typical boilerplate "best is yet to come" of the press release aside -- and what would Town Hall be without it -- the planned redevelopment, actually promulgated in cooperation with the Baldwin business community and local residents, offers a whole lot more than the usual sidewalk planters and Victorian-style street lamps.

Indeed, the plans are impressive, in-line with smart growth initiatives, and spot on in creating a walkable, shopable, inviting downtown, sans sprawl and that big box store wall that cuts the community off from its residential, suburban roots.

True, we've seen renderings before -- in places like Elmont, West Hempstead, and points east -- with little to show for them on Main Street but for that Facade Improvement sign hailing Murray and the Town Board. Still, if the plans lay out as advertised -- along the very avenue of thinking we've envisioned and called for of our town's planners -- Grand Avenue could be grand, indeed.

Time will tell, of course, and all of us understand that even the best laid plans of Hempstead Town have a habit of going astray. But let's not kill the goose before the egg is laid.

"The remake of downtown Baldwin will be a victory for everyone," concluded Murray. "Shoppers will enjoy a great destination, workers will benefit from construction jobs and long-term employment, and neighbors will see home values enhanced by a more vibrant and attractive downtown."

We certainly hope so!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

If Only We Could Vote Ourselves Raises. . .

Hempstead Town Supervisor, Board, Pad Wallets, And No One Says "Boo"

Amazing to think that not a single voice was raised on the issue of raises in Hempstead Town?

At least as concerns that big, fat $10,000 increase for Supervisor Kate Murray, one would think someone, somewhere, would say something?

Are Town of Hempstead residents contented as cows, or simply cowering in the corner in fear of retribution? What has become of democracy in Hempstead Town?

Did you see the white smoke emanating from Town Hall after John Rottkamp was anointed as the new Building Commish? Around the world in 270 days, and safely returned to Levittown.

Or maybe that was the carbon dioxide-laden smoke coming out of the incinerator overlooking Archstone, Meadowbrook Pointe, and The Source, where the Town looks to seal a 25-year, property tax free, deal with Covanta.

And do you really mean to tell us that the Town Board couldn't come to a decision on West Hempstead's notorious Courtesy hotel? [Or is it that they couldn't make that decision publicly, in front of a hostile audience, at least not with a straight face.]

Which part of "pay attention to what the community has been telling you for the last umpteen years" don't these people understand?

Newsday reports that eight civics outside of West Hempstead registered opposition to the community-preferred Trammell-Crow proposal?

Is that so?

What's their gripe, or should we ask, what is the quid pro quo?

And who rose from the dead politico pile to speak on behalf of the Town's Urban Renewal Plan?

Why, none other than former Town Supervisor/failed County Exec contender Greg Peterson.

This guy must have nine lives. Or at least nine lines on the Town of Hempstead/Nassau GOP payroll!

Hey Greg? You did nothing to shutter the Courtesy when you were Supervisor. Now you're going to say something?

While neighboring (or, in this instance, the not-so neighboring) civic organizations often come out in support of one another, it is a rarity that a group from, say, North Bellmore, would come out in opposition to a multitude of community organizations in West Hempstead, particularly where the impact on the former community is nominal, at best.

Just who is Stu Weinstein, one of those voices in opposition, other than the Second VP of the North Bellmore Civic Association, and what is his angle here? Did they move North Bellmore closer to West Hempstead?

Imagine the unmitigated gall when Robert Zaponte, identifying himself only as the president of the East Meadow Civic Association, rose in opposition. [In the interest of full disclosure, Robert, don't you think that you should have publicly divulged your status as Deputy Chief Investigator for the Town Attorney's office? (2005 salary: $93,461. We're sure Bobby's gotten a few nice raises since.)]

Civic leaders occasionally playing footsie with the Town folk is one thing. Playing Benedict Arnold on the significant causes of a community that is not your own, is quite another.

And Town employees who position themselves as civic leaders, bringing the political clubhouse to Main Street, postulating before the Town Board as if they were independent, objective observers? Priceless!

Too many questions, very few answers. And absolutely nothing that even remotely resembles government by the people in Hempstead Town.
- - -
Hempstead Town board OKs $55,000 in raises

Town of Hempstead board members yesterday unanimously approved a total of $55,000 in raises for themselves and other elected officials but did not reach a decision on the fate of the much-criticized Courtesy Hotel after a seven-hour board meeting.

None of the about 200 residents in attendance commented on the resolution increasing the annual salaries of the town supervisor by $10,000; the tax receiver and town clerk by $7,500 each; and the six part-time board members by $5,000 each.

About 25 West Hempstead residents did speak out in support of developer Trammell Crow, whose private sale by the hotel's owner was interrupted last year by the town's urban renewal plan for the entire blighted area, including the Courtesy. A decision to adopt the town's renewal plan was reserved.

Trammell Crow, under the name West Hempstead Development Llc, scaled back its original proposal of 220 rental units for the 2.7 acre hotel site after town officials said it was too densely populated.

Yesterday, the firm proposed 176 units, or 65 per acre, down from 80 per acre. Rents for one-, two and three-bedroom apartments would be between $1,900 and $2,700 per month, it said.

The plan does not include any affordable units for low-income families.

The town's renewal plan calls for 45 units per acre.

Residents who support Trammell Crow's plan said it would immediately close the drug and crime-ridden hotel and provide a vibrant site for the area.

"Progress is more important than density," said West Hempstead resident and real estate agent Nikki Stamatas Thaw. "Rentals are needed here. We need this to happen today."

The supporters say the town's plan to condemn and acquire the hotel and surrounding businesses could take many years and millions of dollars.

One resident presented the board with an opposition letter from eight civic groups outside of West Hempstead against Trammell Crow's proposal.

The town board also approved the hiring of a company to provide sensitivity training to town workers in the wake of noose incidents earlier this year.

The board amended its deal with the newly-constructed Meadowbrook Pointe condo complex in Westbury, to lower the age requirement from 55 to 48 to allow more people the opportunity to relocate from nearby Archstone development because of mold infestation there.

The board, lastly, unanimously approved the appointment of John Rottkamp as the new building commissioner.

Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.

In The Special District Elections, Your Vote Really Did Matter

Whether It will Make A Difference, Is Another Story Altogether

A few upsets in the special district elections, at least where commissioner races were being contested.

Bravo to Uniondale residents who came out to vote. Not in droves, certainly, but at least in numbers sufficient to defeat the incumbents, and to send the message that they've had enough.

Okay, it was no coup d'etat. In fact, it was most likely a case of disgruntled volunteer firefighters voting with their hoses, more than it was unhappy taxpayers beating their chests. Anyway, it was a start. . .
- - -
Water doesn't necessarily follow fire, as the results in the water districts demonstrate, but the challengers did defeat the incumbents in 2 of the 6 Nassau County water districts where elections were contested.
- - -
Incumbents swept out of Uniondale fire district

The old guard was swept out last night in the Uniondale Fire District, where three commissioners' seats were won by newcomers supported by a large number of the district's volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians.

"They had something to say, and they spoke loud and clear," said longtime Commissioner Russ Rinchiuso, who was not up for re-election. "You have to take care of them. They are the ones who save lives."

Noel Thomas won a five-year seat with 234 votes, beating incumbent James Russell (188 votes) and Richard Glass (143). Richard Troy Harris defeated Eaton Pitter, 347-200, for a three-year seat and Samantha Dias defeated newly appointed commissioner Milton Allen, 319-217, for a one-year seat.

Rinchiuso said the Uniondale Fire Department's Brookside Company 2 actively campaigned for the three winners. Volunteer Milton Bowe, a supporter of the winners, said the board in its present state did not respect the firefighters and EMTs. Allen, a deacon, had said he hoped to stay on the board to help mend the rift.

Across Long Island yesterday, voters in 125 fire districts chose commissioners who oversee more than $300 million in property tax revenues.

Unlike fire departments - whose volunteers drag hoses and douse flames - fire districts elect commissioners who levy taxes, buy equipment and set policy.

Here are some results of yesterday's voting:
In Oceanside, volunteer Joe Murello beat out incumbent Paul Napoli, 428-321. Napoli was one of the commissioners named in a sexual harassment lawsuit claiming the board failed to discipline a male volunteer for making sexually explicit comments to a female member.

The top two vote-getters for a three-year seat were Dennis McGlynn (343 votes) and Peter Strahl (332), but a winner could not be determined as there are 13 sealed affidavit votes to be opened today. Frances Bacon, who also ran for the seat, received 150 votes.

In Selden, department veteran George Bopp unseated current district treasurer Jeffrey Bailes, 422-79.

In what Cold Spring Harbor fire officials said was heavy turnout, a $6.95-million bond proposition for the renovation of the firehouse was defeated by a huge margin: 564 to 41 votes. Residents voted 464-113 against lowering the age a firefighter can receive a pension from 65 to 60 years of age.

In the commissioners' race, volunteer Kevin O'Brien defeated builder Jack Palatella, 289-245. For a three-year seat, Bruce Hafner beat out Vincent Papa, 276-268.

In Coram, newcomer Deborah Mantell, 42, lost her bid to become the district's first female commissioner to incumbent Tim Heidrich, 218-150. "It was a rough race," she said. "I really wanted to get in there and make a big change."

In South Farmingdale, incumbent Richard Bylicki won with 315 votes over Anthony Magnifico (201) and Alan Jacoby (28).

In West Islip, Sal Celeste won a one-year seat with 207 votes, beating Robert Coppola (115 votes), Darren Drinkwater (189) and Steven Faisst (118).

In Terryville, Eileen Antignano beat Edward Peiliker, 350-90.In Syosset, Roy Brouillard defeated Don Russo, 595-255, and Christian Peiper beat Robert Manfredonia, 519-170.

Staff writer Reid Epstein contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.

Money Trumps All At Jones Beach

The Donald, As Spoiled Brat, Rubs Sand In The Eyes Of LI Taxpayers; The Biggest "Losers" In Trump Deal Are Nassau County Residents

Talk about a cry baby!

Donald Trump, who is building his playground for the wealthy on the site of what was once the humble Boardwalk Restaurant at Jones Beach State Park, doesn't want to waste time getting permits.

He doesn't want to pay property taxes, either.

In fact, he feels that, in hindsight, he could have invested his $40 million in pocket change elsewhere.

So, it comes as no surprise that the Donald would throw a tantrum at the beach -- and sand in the faces of Long Islanders -- in typical spoiled little boy fashion.

Sure, everybody loves to blame Harvey the Assessor. But when you behave like a rotten little rich kid who has to have his way on everything, and engage in petty name calling, we don't care how much you made with your father's money, you are the loser.

This may be a "small job" for the Donald, but its a big deal to us. We have no problem with Donald Trump making a buck, just not on the backs of Long Island taxpayers.

Yes, he of the coiffed locks is clearly in love with himself, seperated from the fact that not everyone on our island is similarly impressed with either his act or his antics.

Donald Trump may come to the beach for the money, and his ilk for the glitz and glitter. The rest of us find refuge on the sands in search of an ephemeral peace, an afternoon's serenity, and that escape from the day-to-day grind that the sand and surf -- not to mention a reasonable priced burger or hot dog -- offer.

The State of New York should stick to its guns on every issue, from permits to aesthetics, and the County Assessor -- who has been called worse by better -- should be applauded for making every effort to see that local taxpayers don't get ripped off.

You tell the Donald where he can put it, Harvey. And Donny, when you come out to Nassau County, you act like a gentleman, or don't bother coming at all!
- - -
Trump Irate Over Rules for Restaurant on Ocean

WANTAGH, N.Y., Dec. 6 — Donald J. Trump exercises his usual restraint in describing Trump on the Ocean, the 100,000-square-foot restaurant and catering hall he is building at Jones Beach State Park. It exists at “the best corner of Jones Beach,” or, for the more citified, at the “57th and Fifth of Jones Beach.”

That may be, though there are complaints that Mr. Trump has come up with an odd mixture of Palm Beach aesthetic and Atlantic City commercialization.

For right now, the building is simply waiting.

Mr. Trump began planning the restaurant, his first project on state land, in 2006. During the last year, the undertaking has been marked by wrangling over such things as the size of his name on the facade and environmental permits. And the wrangling has led to sporadic outbursts: Mr. Trump has railed against government bureaucracy, traded insults with local officials and endured “Dump Trump” demonstrations by nearby residents who say his glossy marketing campaign cheapens an iconic public amenity.

No sooner did Mr. Trump begin the foundation for the restaurant, on the site of the old 49,800-square-foot Boardwalk Restaurant, than he had to stop work. Officials told him he needed additional variances and permits from the state to build a basement.

“It’s just ridiculous — I’ve been waiting for three weeks to build,” he said in an interview on Wednesday. “You don’t let us start a construction job and then tell us later, ‘By the way, we need more permits.’ My pile driver gave up three other jobs to start this and now he’s calling me asking why he can’t start.”

But Eileen Larrabee, a spokeswoman for the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, said Mr. Trump was aware of the necessary permits and that the contract required him to comply at his own expense.

“The Trump Organization does have lawyers, contractors and engineers that are familiar with these types of permits,” Ms. Larrabee said. “This was all in the contract, that they’re responsible for all permits.”

The vast new hall, which Mr. Trump says will cost more than $30 million, is to include a formal 350-seat restaurant as well as space for catered events accommodating 2,000 people, officials at the Trump Organization said. Valet parking and concierge service will also be provided.

Not everyone is enthralled. The chairman of the Nassau County Board of Assessors, Harvey B. Levinson, called Mr. Trump’s project at the renowned oceanfront park, created by Robert Moses in 1929, a “raping of the beach.”

As Mr. Levinson put it, state officials “got blinded by his hairdo” and celebrity status and handed Mr. Trump a sweetheart deal that will shortchange local municipalities about $1 million and indulge the wealthy over the middle class.

“A place that offers $250-a-plate events does not serve the public purpose,” he said.

In turn, Mr. Trump has repeatedly proclaimed Mr. Levinson a self-promoting “loser.”

There is also the clash of the notoriously glittery Trump aesthetic with the public mission and traditional Art Deco style of the park’s two bathhouses and landmark water tower. Mr. Trump agreed to use limestone for the restaurant, but his choice of a polished variety, critics say, does not conform to the general rough-hewn look of other park buildings. “It has a more luxurious look, a softer finish,” Mr. Trump said. “I want it to be gorgeous and they don’t want it to be gorgeous.”

Then there is the clash over the Trump name, which the developer envisioned writ large on the 28-foot-tall building. In one rendering, the name seemed to glisten in letters that were four feet tall. But state officials said the size violated the beach’s longstanding sign limitations and moved to reduce them to less than two feet in height, which enraged Mr. Trump.

“My name adds tremendous value,” he said. “If it didn’t have my name up there, the project wouldn’t even work and wouldn’t be the success it is. We’re signing people up right and left, for weddings, bar mitzvahs and other events.”

Mr. Trump’s deal was negotiated during the administration of Gov. George E. Pataki, whose parks commissioner, Bernadette Castro, is a friend of Mr. Trump’s and who called the project “a gift from God” for her agency.

But Ms. Castro’s successor, Carol Ash, has been less effusive and more stringent in holding Mr. Trump to particulars, including incorporating environmental elements into the design, and redesigning the hall so that restaurant patrons as well as catering clients can enjoy the ocean views. Mr. Trump lamented that Mr. Moses, the imperious master builder, never faced such problems.

“In the days of Moses, you didn’t have all these environmental impact statements and community boards,” he said. “Getting something approved was 500 percent quicker. If you wanted to build Jones Beach today, they’d have you arrested for interfering with the sand movement.

“Listen, it’s a very small job for me, and I have other places to invest $40 million,” he said.

Mr. Trump began marketing the Jones Beach restaurant this summer at Hamptons polo matches, and has already booked events on the assumption that building will be finished by March 2009, though now, he said, he has had to cancel some.

“The state is building up damages,” he warned. “We’re canceling weddings for every day they’re delaying us.”

Ms. Larrabee said the contract “clearly came from a prior administration, and where the new commissioner could get improvements — like making sure it is green-certified or ensure that the public customers will have views of the ocean and not the parking lot — she will make sure they adhere to the contract, on behalf of the public.”

Mr. Trump and his partner in the project, Steven Carl, a Long Island caterer, are leasing the property from the state for 40 years, and must pay an annual rent of $200,000 and a percentage of gross receipts after it has been operating three years.

Mr. Levinson said they were not required to pay local property taxes because they are building on state land, so the local school district and the fire department charged with responding to emergencies at the park will not benefit. Mr. Levinson sees this as unjust and is calling for the state and Mr. Trump to make a payment in lieu of taxes to the village of Wantagh.

Asked about the claims, Mr. Trump said, “He’s an idiot — why didn’t this loser come forward earlier with his complaints?”

For his part, Mr. Levinson responded, “I’d expect to hear that from an 11-year-old, not a sophisticated developer.

“Jones Beach is meant for the middle class and Donald Trump is commercializing Jones Beach,” he said. “I’m sure Robert Moses is turning over in his grave.”
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company
- - -
UPDATE: State denies Trump on the Ocean variance

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

There's More Democracy In Putin's Russia. . .

. . .Than There Is In Murray's Hempstead Town

Post-election raises. You expected otherwise?

A 25-year, property tax free, lease with Covanta for that lovely incinerator. Breathe it all in, folks. That all-encompassing carbon footprint belching forth over the Archstone mausoleum. Money for them. Garbage for you!

Taxpayers picking up the tab to defend the Town Hall plumber accused of wrongdoing while on the Town's payroll.

Who will the Town hire to conduct sensitivity training? Don Rickles? Nah. He doesn't hail from Levittown.

But wait. Who said the Town of Hempstead isn't responsive to the needs of the people? Four (count 'em, 4) new affordable homes to be built in Roosevelt. Wow!

Is that Courtesy hotel still open in West Hempstead? Gosh, Kate, what's going down on the fourth floor?

And yet another patronage anointment -- the latest in a long line -- from Kate Murray's home town.

Its all fun and games at Levittown Hall. Enjoy the show. After all, you're paying for it!
- - -
Raises on tap in Hempstead

Town of Hempstead board members will consider Tuesday a host of items that include a $10,000 raise for Supervisor Kate Murray and the closing and redevelopment of the Courtesy Hotel in West Hempstead.

Residents will also have a chance to question board members about the Franklin Square Water District's $6.5 million plan to rehabilitate its water tanks and wells.

The town board will meet to vote on these items and more during the public hearing section of Tuesday's regularly scheduled board meeting.

The seven-member panel will hear developer Trammel Crow's condo proposal for the Courtesy property, should it be awarded the right to buy the site and build there.

Board members are expected to vote on whether to adopt the town's urban renewal plan for the blighted area around the hotel, which would allow them to proceed with condemning and acquiring the hotel and then selecting a developer.

The part-time board members will also vote on $45,000 in pay raises for themselves, the tax receiver and the town clerk -- increases proposed by Murray just weeks after last month's election.

The Board is expected to approve a new 25-year lease with incinerator operator Covanta.

Officials said the deal will save millions of dollars in reduced tipping fees and increased host fees for the hundreds of thousands of tons of waste the town disposes of each year.

Covanta would also assume disposal of the waste ash under the new deal, a job that had been left to the town since the 1980s.

The town is also expected to approve the purchase of a parcel of land in Roosevelt and construct four affordable homes and sell a piece of property in Roosevelt to a developer who plans to put in a sorely-needed bank.

Lawmakers are also expected to hire a company to provide sensitivity training to town workers in the wake of multiple noose incidents earlier this year. The board is expected to amend the deal with the Meadowbrook Pointe condo complex, to lower the age requirement from 55 to 48 in order to allow more people the opportunity to relocate from the nearby Archstone development.

Hundreds are being forced to leave their Archstone apartments because of mold infestation.

The board is also expected to approve the appointment of John Rottkamp as the new building commissioner. He will replace John Loeffel, who left in February after it was reported that he renovated his Levittown home without required permits.

Lawmakers are expected to approve payment to an outside attorney to defend former plumbing board examiner Anthony DiSabato in the lawsuit filed by Baldwin homeowner Janice Crippen.

Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.

Tyranny By Indifference

The Unwatched Pot Boils Over

No surprises as to what goes on -- right under our noses, and with our money as bankroll -- at Long Island's special taxing districts.

Of course, we all still shake our heads in disbelief when we read about the over-the-top shenanigans of special district commissioners playing fast and loose with the taxpayer dime.

Notwithstanding all of the publicity -- most of it negative -- the special districts have received, especially since 2005, when Harvey Levinson began the crusade to curb abuses while making the public painfully aware of them, the public remains (at least according to the latest Newsday online poll) in the dark about what the special districts do, how they operate, and where our tax dollars are going.

Apathy and indifference among the rank-and-file of John Q. Public -- not voting, not watching, not participating in the process -- has allowed local yokel fiefdoms masquarading as government to run amuck.

In short, we've ceded all control to the few, who take for themselves at our expense.

When we began our work at The Community Alliance, it was with a view to be a quality of life watchdog, marching under the banner of taking back our town in the name of the people who pay the bills.

Some followed. Most yawned and went back to sleep. And the charade passes by.

In today's special district elections -- where most sitting commissioners are running unopposed -- doubtful much will change.

We are, in all likelihood, staying away from the polls -- where we could write our own names in as a protest -- content, or at least resigned -- to the continuing tyranny by indifference.

As Newsday put it in an editorial, "Voting is one way of letting these districts know that someone is watching to see who is naughty or nice."

The choice is yours, folks. Vote -- today, next month, and every time there is an election -- and restore democracy to local government, or sit back and watch that charade along Main Street, as your voice, along with your money, fades away.
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For more on the special taxing districts, check out Residents for Efficient Special Districts and the NYS Commission on Local Government Efficiency & Competitiveness.

For more on today's elections, click HERE and HERE for Newsday's reports.

Also, read Joye Brown's column in Newsday, Why your special district vote is essential on LI.
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LI special districts spend millions of tax dollars
Largely out of public view, agencies collect $473M a year and use some of it for vehicles, insurance and lifetime pensions, records show


Across Long Island, at scores of special districts that collect $473 million a year to pick up trash, distribute water and maintain community parks, critics say officials have all but kept out of the public spotlight, conducting their business as if they were members of a private club.

A Newsday review of records kept by these districts shows that indeed they have spent millions without close public scrutiny. For example, the records show, nearly all district superintendents have a car to take home, plus gas and insurance paid by the district. Some districts have more vehicles than employees. In the Plainview water district, which has 30 vehicles and 20 employees, a white 2005 Dodge Durango is set aside for the exclusive use of the commissioners, who are elected to oversee spending.

Commissioners who run these water, park, garbage and sewer districts work part-time and are paid -- unlike school board members, for example. They receive per-diem payments, typically ranging from $80 to $100, for attending meetings several times a month and doing paperwork, among other things. Many receive lifetime health benefits and pensions. Records show that a number of them have spent thousands of dollars traveling to conferences, often with their spouses, to places like Orlando, San Francisco and Toronto.

These and other issues lie behind an effort that is building steam to shine a brighter spotlight on these districts. Both Nassau County and state auditors have uncovered problems in some districts. On Tuesday, 151 fire, water, park and sewer districts are holding elections across the Island.At stake in the election is nearly $400 million in tax dollars, according to town budgets reviewed by Newsday. (A number of other districts will hold elections next year.) The cost of these special districts adds hundreds of dollars to individual tax bills. But because districts are so small and provide services most people don't think about until there is a problem, many residents, critics say, don't know whether they live in a special district and rarely vote in their elections.

Last week, Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi urged residents to vote.

"People need to pay attention to what's going on. All the local governments were set up under the idyllic vision of the New England town hall meeting, which was that your neighbors would run the government," Suozzi said in an interview. "The problem is that your neighbors may be watching the governments, but nobody knows what they're doing."

Where the money goes

Documents reviewed by Newsday raise questions about just what some districts do with their tax dollars. In West Hempstead, for example, officials delayed replacing an aging water tower for 10 years, even after an engineer recommended it and after securing the money for the project in 1994. Before eventually replacing the tower, the district spent $32,000 in 2000 for an artificial waterfall and landscaping on district grounds, district officials confirmed.

"There was one there before, and it looked terrible," said Commissioner Emedio Torre. "When you came into [the] district, we wanted nice grounds."

Bob York, the district's superintendent, said the delay in replacing the water tank occurred because the district completed other capital projects first. But former district Commissioner Michael Uhl, who served from 2000 to 2003, said he was appalled to learn that the district had installed the waterfall and not replaced the water tower, especially since residents had complained about it.

Work to replace the tower was done in 2004 and 2005, York said. That was four years after the landscaping project.

Increased tax burden

Critics say such spending decisions contribute to Long Island's heavy tax burden, and to the perception that hundreds of millions of dollars are spent without adequate public review. The debate has reverberated throughout local government, as civic groups have mobilized and the state has convened a special commission to study these special districts. But district supporters say they provide better service and preserve local control.

"It's a political witch hunt," said John Ingram, superintendent of the Westbury Water and Fire District, which was the subject of a recent critical audit by the Nassau County comptroller. The audit found Westbury to be the "most mismanaged" of the water districts the comptroller has audited.

A Newsday review of records obtained through the Freedom of Information Law shows that while some districts recently have cut costs -- by eliminating cell phones for commissioners, for example -- officials have continued spending on extras that other municipal governments have reduced or eliminated.

Even as both counties have reduced the number of employees allowed to take home county vehicles, the same is not true in some special districts. For example, most special district superintendents have a car for business and commuting. Many managers have them, as well.

Some districts pay for gas and insurance.Michael Petrocelli, general supervisor of Sanitary District No. 6 in West Hempstead, has a 2008 Ford Escape, a hybrid sport utility vehicle, to take home, officials said. His boss, Superintendent Martin Carroll, said supervisors need vehicles to follow garbage trucks and to drop off containers.

Douglas Augenthaler, commissioner of the Port Washington garbage district, which does not provide vehicles to employees, scoffed at the need to follow trucks. "If there's a problem, I hear about it," he said, adding, "I'm not aware of any company out there that pays for people's commutes."

Records show roughly 411 vehicles registered to 21 commissioner-run water districts and two water authorities in Nassau. Combined, they service an area of approximately 180 square miles.
By comparison, the Suffolk County Water Authority has 120 vehicles to cover roughly 900 square miles -- less than a third of the vehicles for five times the area.

Under Suffolk County Water Authority policy, personal use of vehicles is not allowed. Some special districts, like Sanitary District No. 6, bar personal use of cars. Others do not. In the Great Neck Park District, for example, Superintendent Neil Marrin's contract specifically allows him personal use of a sports utility vehicle provided by the district, records show. Officials have said he got that in lieu of a larger raise.

At the Plainview water district, commissioners drive a 2005 Dodge Durango, set aside for their use, about once a month to attend a water officials' dinner meeting, officials said. Commissioner Kevin Langberg said it was justified because they use it only for district business. West Hempstead Water Commissioner John Sparacio, who is running unopposed for re-election Tuesday, said he had a 2005 Chevrolet Tahoe supplied by the district for about a year.

"It was justified because of where I was going and what I was doing," he said. "I don't think it was unique."

Sparacio gave up the car earlier this year, around the time Newsday requested district records. He said he felt he no longer needed it.

Suozzi said such problems concerned him."It doesn't mean that every special district is breaking the rules," he said. "But enough are breaking the rules to make it cause for serious concern."

Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Is Waterboarding Torture?

Only When The Water Board Consists Of Special District Commissioners

Tomorrow, Tuesday, December 11, is election day (yes, yet another election day here on Long Island) in most of the water and fire districts.

Polling places and times vary from district to district.

Call your local water district (check your water bill for the phone number) and fire department for election times and locations.

Even if a water or fire district commissioner is running unopposed, YOUR VOTE IS IMPORTANT! [Yes, you do have the right to write in your own name, or that of anyone otherwise eligible for the post.]

A strong showing at the polls lets the commissioners know that you are watching, and tells our elected officials that we are concerned about how -- and in some cases, why -- these special taxing districts are being operated.

Remember, torture by water board (among others) will continue, until you show that you care!
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Newsday Editorial:

Special districts vote
Let them know you are watching

Yes, Virginia, there are elections in December. But don't expect any presents. 'Tis the season when taxpayers are reminded that it is better to give - and keep on giving - to the expensive-to-operate and often unnecessary special districts. But passing up a visit to the ballot box because of the holiday rush would send the wrong message.

Tomorrow there are 64 special elections in Nassau County for those hidden municipal governments that deliver fire, water, park, pollution control and sanitary services. In Suffolk, there are about 90 special elections, mostly fire district contests, along with a handful involving ambulance and water districts. Combined, these districts have budgets of several hundred million dollars, but the turnout is usually so pitiful that only a handful of voters select the people who will spend their money. Chunks of it are spent on duplicate administrative costs and designer benefits packages for usually well-connected officers and employees. A few audits in Nassau have shown mismanagement and other reports conclude that the same services could be provided at lower cost through consolidation.

Voting is one way of letting these districts know that someone is watching to see who is naughty or nice.

Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.

Full Employment In Levittown

Nationwide Search For Building Commish Comes Full Circle

At first glance, we thought our eyes deceived us.

Then we thought, "well, maybe Eden Laikin has taken to writing a humor column for Newsday."

Could it be true? After a 9-month, nationwide search for a new Building Commissioner, the best man for the job -- a Nassau GOP Committeeman, a Levittown Fire Commissioner, a regular Joe (as in Mondello) already on the Town of Hempstead payroll, no less -- is found, if not exactly on Knoll Lane, then certainly, close enough.

Ladies and gentlemen, your new Town of Hempstead Building Commissioner, John Rottkamp of -- where else -- LEVITTOWN!

This has to be a joke, right? Even Kate Murray, at her worst, couldn't be this brazen.

Sorry, folks. The fix was in from the beginning. Yup, they looked high and low, coast to coast, and neary a soul could be found who knew building codes -- or is it the way to circumvent them -- like a party loyalist from Kate's hometown.

Need a job? Register Republican. Swear your allegiance to "she who must be obeyed." Then, move to Levittown.

And what do we make of Dorothy Goosby, the lone Democrat on the Hempstead Town Board, offering high praise for the latest patronage appointment at Town Hall?

Well, Kate did have Dot arm-in-arm, singing We Shall Overcome, a few weeks back, didn't she? Either the Town's sensitivity training is working, or some of the people can ,indeed, be fooled all of the time.
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Officials: Hempstead building commish chosen

John Rottkamp is expected to be named commissioner of Hempstead Town's scandal-plagued building department, almost a year after the former commissioner was forced to resign for making illegal renovations to his Levittown home.

Rottkamp, also of Levittown, would join four other commissioners working for the town to hail from Republican Supervisor Kate Murray's neighborhood if approved at Tuesday's board meeting.

Rottkamp is also a Republican committeeman in Levittown, the community that serves as the political base of state and Nassau GOP chairman Joseph Mondello. The new commissioner, who would earn $109,000 a year, would join eight other Republican committeemen who head various town departments.

"It ended up coming home," Murray said of the lengthy interview process to pick a commissioner. "We were trying to get the best and brightest and we did. It was a bipartisan committee that chose ."

Rottkamp was hired in 1998 as a deputy commissioner in the general services department. A licensed electrician, he moved to the building department as a deputy commissioner last December.

He is also a commissioner in the Levittown Fire Department and was fire chief there from 2002 to 2003.

In February, former building commissioner John Loeffel -- who lives on the same street as Murray -- was forced to resign after it was reported that he had added a second story and apartment to his home without permits or paying proper taxes.

When Loeffel resigned, Rottkamp took over supervising the troubled building department.His proposed appointment comes after a nationwide search town officials launched in March. Of the 19 applicants, nine were from outside the town and three of those nine were from out of state, officials said.

Sixteen interviews were conducted by a committee that included Hempstead's lone Democratic councilwoman, Dorothy Goosby.

"What we need is someone who really cares, is innovative, has an administrative background, understands the codes and regulations in the town and is willing to put that extra effort in for the residents," Goosby said. "I think we found that. I'm just sorry he lives in Levittown."

Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.