Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"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

1 comment:

  1. Is there a meeting about the water district tonight?