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.
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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.