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.

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