Wednesday, August 29, 2007

". . .And I Approve This Message"

Candidates For Public Office Urged To Stick In Their 2-Cents

Running for public office on Long Island -- or just running from Long Island? Either way, post your Guest Blogs here and be read by the masses. [Well, at least by so many of the masses who are most inclined to vote.]

In the weeks to come, The Community Alliance will make its endorsements of candidates in county and town races.

Impress us, and the electorate, with your views and positions on community issues that impact upon the quality of life of every Long Islander.

In short, speak now or forever hold your peace!

Statements, position papers, and Guest Blogs (from candidates and non-candidates alike) may be e-mailed to

Be sure to include your full name and daytime telephone number for verification on all submissions for publication.

Remember, at The Community Alliance blog, we give voice to community. [Or something like that...]
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ELECTION DAY IS TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 6th. Are you registered to vote?
NYS Board of Elections
Nassau County Board of Elections
Suffolk County Board of Elections


What's In Your Water?

From Toxic Plumes To MTBE Contamination, Groundwater Woes Come To The Surface

Unlike the City of New York, which gets its drinking water from the still somewhat pristine reservoirs of upstate, Long Islanders tap into underground aquifers as they sip, shower and swim in their backyard pools.

Seeping into those aquifers, and all too often, past the best of environmental controls, are all of those poisons we've been dumping into the ground for the better part of half a century. Fertilizers. Phosphates. Pesticides. Herbicides. Industrial and chemical waste. Gasoline and its hazardous additives.

Is it any wonder that there are Cancer "clusters" all over our island? Coincidence? We don't think so!

With all of the contaminants that flow into Long Island's groundwater and up through the water mains, we're surprised we haven't seen two-headed rabbits and gargantuan frogs with twelve legs and six eyes. Or have we?

Your toxic plumes are not just in Hempstead or Wyandanch, the problem of the poor. No, they are leeching beneath the playgrounds of the rich and famous -- as in Garden City.

No one is immune from this vast underground danger to health and life. No one.

And while officials tell us that the water is safe to drink, with no cause for alarm, how safe is our drinking water, really? Will that next glass of tap water be your last?

"The site and its underground plume - which is heading away from Garden City - are wholly contained within the Village of Hempstead," Garden City village spokesperson Brad O'Hearn said.

Phew, that's a relief. Let it be somebody else's problem.

"There is no risk of exposing people to potentially hazardous materials," Young assured residents.

Isn't that what they told folks who lived in Love Canal?

Who needs weapons of mass destruction? We have seen the enemy, and he is on tap in every home on Long Island.
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From Garden City Life:

Former Hempstead Gas PlantSpawns Groundwater Plume
Garden City Officials Assure Drinking Water Is Safe
By Carisa Giardino

Garden City and Hempstead residents questioned state officials who they say failed to alert them of a former utility gas plant site in Hempstead that has apparently produced a gigantic groundwater plume through the residential area.

KeySpan, owners of the site, along with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) officials, attempted to ease residents' concerns of possible vapor intrusion and water contamination during a meeting June 28 at Adelphi.

The Hempstead Intersection Street former manufactured gas plant site in Garden City/Hempstead.
According to Karen Young, a KeySpan representative, the former Hempstead Intersection Street manufactured gas plant (MGP) spawned a groundwater plume that is flowing generally south from the site and is approximately 600 feet wide and extends for about 3,800 feet. It starts at a depth of between approximately 24 feet and 30 feet beneath the ground surface -this depth provides some buffer between the ground surface and the surface of the groundwater, Young added.

Investigations and exposure assessments have indicated there are "no open pathways between the potentially harmful materials associated with the site and the people who live and work nearby. Any risk of health effects would be directly related to the presence of such open pathways."

Residents were not at ease, however, questioning why they weren't told of the plume and the ongoing efforts to clean it up. According to Young, KeySpan officials met with villages of Garden City and Hempstead and have since kept them informed about the status of the investigations and the site since entering into an Order on Consent with the NYSDEC back in 1999.

Further, approximately 400 property owners received a mailing with information about the site and a questionnaire to gather data to determine whether there were any private wells in the plume path. Only four active groundwater wells were identified as a result of the mailing. These four wells, however, are actually outside of the plume area, Young said, and are not used for drinking water but rather for irrigation or air conditioning.

The area of the site-related groundwater plume is bounded approximately within Second Street to the north, Sealy and Terrace Avenue to the east, Hilton Avenue, Kensington Court and Cathedral Avenue to the west and Front Street to the south.

The final remedial investigation report found the presence of BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene), PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and total cyanide, materials typically associated with gas manufacturing, in both soil and groundwater. According to the report, "most of the materials were found either in shallow soils in the upper 8 feet of the site near where the actual MGP operations were located and/or in a zone approximately 24-34 feet below grade both on and off-site."

The investigation also showed non-KeySpan related, off-site sources that are contributing chemicals to the plume path. The NYSDEC is responsible for ensuring that all responsible parties address these non-KeySpan related sources.

Despite these findings, chemical constituents from the site "have not adversely impacted the drinking water supply wells serving the nearby communities and are not expected to adversely affect those wells based on anticipated normal pumping rates," the report stated.

"There is no risk of exposing people to potentially hazardous materials," Young assured, adding that a cleanup could not be initiated on a complex site until the NYSDEC, New York State Department of Health and KeySpan fully understood the environmental conditions that needed to be addressed. Now that those conditions are fully defined, a feasibility study is currently being prepared to present the recommended remedial action plan and an interim remedial measure is planned for the fall.

This next phase of the project will attempt to differentiate the non-KeySpan contaminants to the off-site plume. A supplemental soil vapor investigation is also planned.

Routine water testing is being conducted in accordance with Nassau County Health Department oversight. As a precaution, property owners on the plume path should consult with their village's building department in the event they plan to dig more than 20 feet below the ground surface.

"The site and its underground plume - which is heading away from Garden City - are wholly contained within the Village of Hempstead," Garden City village spokesperson Brad O'Hearn said. "Because the site is adjacent to Garden City water wells on Hilton Avenue, the village retained water consultant H2M Group to investigate. It advised that there is no danger of contamination to village water supplies. The village will continue to monitor its water supplies and the activities of KeySpan and the State Department of Environmental Conservation to assure the safety of village residents."

The Site's History
The 7.5-acre Hempstead Intersection Street former MGP site is primarily located within the Village of Garden City. The site's border between Garden City and Hempstead is located "just within" the site's southern property boundary and only a small portion is located within Hempstead. Residential properties are located north of the site, along Second Street in Garden City.

The MGP began operations in the early 1900s, originally producing coal gas but was later converted to a carbureted water gas process after 1910, according to the NYSDEC. Following the arrival of natural gas, the site served as a "peak/emergency facility to ensure gas supply until all MGP operations ceased in the mid-1950s." Soon after, the plant was demolished.

LILCO acquired the site in the early 1930s. Later, in 1998, when LILCO merged with Brooklyn Union Gas, KeySpan Corporation was formed and became owners of the site. KeySpan entered into a Consent Order with the NYSDEC in 1998 to conduct a remedial investigation, which was completed in accordance with the scope of work presented in the investigation work plan, dated June 2000, and the Phase II investigation work plan, dated June 2001. In 2003, the NYSDEC accepted a remedial investigation report but then required supplemental remedial investigation work (which included more soil and water testing and further evaluation of public water supply wells and a private groundwater well survey), which is included in the final remedial investigation report the NYSDEC approved this year.

The final remedial investigation report, along with other documents regarding the Hempstead Intersection Street site are available for review at the Garden City Public Library (located at 60 Seventh Street) and the Hempstead Public Library (located at 115 Nichols Court). If residents have questions regarding possible vapor intrusion concerns, they are urged to contact Sharon McLelland of the NYSDEC at 631-444-0241.

Monday, August 27, 2007

As Elmont Goes, So Goes The Town Of Hempstead

A Call To Action For Elmont Residents -- Now Is The Time For All Good Citizens To Come To The Aid Of Their Community!

Elmont must participate in its future

The residents of Elmont have been demanding solutions to their economic decay for almost a decade.

In February 2005, after seeing the solid proof of how Sustainable Long Island can help bring the much needed change, I introduced and brought them to Elmont. Despite a heavy snow storm, about 14 Civic and Community leaders, such as Norma Debatolo and Sandra Smith, came out that evening to learn about the possibilities. In June 2005, I arranged a follow up meeting at the American Legion. It was participated by more than 60 residents and community activists. To assure the residents that we meant business Rev. Patrick Duggan - Deputy County Executive for the Economic Development also joined the Sustainable Long Island.

That night, Elmont learned how communities like New Cassel benefited from the concept of Comprehensive Economic Development through sustainable planning and progress. Over $100 million has been invested into the future of New Cassel by the County, Town of North Hempstead and others through this process.

On July 31, 2007 County Executive Tom Suozzi and the Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray held a press conference to kick off the visioning and planning process for Elmont.


Enough of just complaining and pointing fingers and "fighting with the problems". Let us be part of the solutions now! Enough of the fast-food restaurants and drug stores. The time to have a supermarket on Hempstead Turnpike in Elmont is now!

Let us do our civic duty and come in great numbers to the Elmont Public Library on Wednesday, September 5th at 7:00 pm. Let us take our future and destiny in our own hands. Let us decide how Hempstead Turnpike can be revitalized, let us shape the future of our communities.

Ali A. Mirza
Secretary - Elmont Coalition for Sustainable Development
337 Randall Avenue, Elmont, NY 11003
516-457-5839 (Day & Night)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Your Property Tax Rebate Check WON'T Be In The Mail. . .

. . .Unless You Actually Apply For It!

No automatic property tax (STAR) rebate check for 2007. This time around, you'll have to jump through a few hoops and take a proactive stance if you want to see that money -- taxable money -- back in your pocket.

Yes, you will have to apply for your rebate -- as in work to get your own money back -- following the procedures prescribed by the movers and shakers in Albany.

It goes something like this:

The New York State Department of Taxation & Finance (the folks who collect your income tax) will, in accordance with a schedule, presumably devised by someone who doesn't care much for Long Islanders, will send letters to homeowners informing them of the rebate process, and providing an all-important "STAR Code," as will appear on these letters. [Apparently, Lot, Block and Section numbers aren't good enough anymore. Now we need "STAR Codes."]

Once you have received your STAR Code, you may either apply for your rebate online, by mail, or -- and this is only for readers of this blog -- by cutting out 6 box tops from boxes of Cheerios, completing a simple Suduko puzzle, and sending same, together with $2.95 for shipping and handling, to REBATE, P.O. Box 2345, Young America, MN 55395-2345.

After your application has been received and processed, you may then stand fast at your mailbox, waiting for your rebate check to arrive.

When will you get your informational letter? Ah, sooner or later. Sooner, if you live in NYC (their letters were mailed on July 16) or counties such as Niagara (August 20), later if you reside in places like Nassau and Suffolk (dead last on the mailing list at September 24).

How much of a rebate will I get? Not nearly as much as you paid in property taxes! While the property tax paid by you is based on factors such as the market value of your house and your school district's tax rate, the amount of your rebate check will be dtermined, in large part, on your INCOME. In fact, your 2007 STAR rebate will be calculated based on the 2005 combined income of all property owners and their spouses.

Hmmm. How is it that you are taxed based on property value, not ability to pay (income), but your rebate, of a PROPERTY TAX, no less, is based on how much you earn (income), and not the value of the property upon which the tax was based in the first place? Go figure. [We did, and the answer is simple. A property TAX based on the market value of your home means the government gets more money (because you pay more), while a rebate based on income means the government gets to keep more of your money (because you get less).

Is the amount I receive as a rebate taxable as income? You bet! In effect, it reduces the amount of the property tax that you claim as a deduction. So, your check for, say, $490.82, is less in real dollars after the loss of the deduction is taken into account. Okay, its not technically a tax, its just a reduction of your deduction -- either way, you pay. [And if you failed to reduce the amount of your property tax deduction by the amount of your rebate on last year's tax return, pack your bags, you're going to jail!]

I'm an old geezer who receives the benefit of Enhanced STAR. What do I have to do to get a rebate? Relax, old timer. Enhanced STAR recipients do not have to apply for a rebate. Checks will be sent out automatically.

What is the deadline for filing the application for a STAR rebate? November 30, 2007. NO EXCEPTIONS!

Will I have to apply for a rebate every year? Nope. Apply in 2007, and you're covered for future rebates, if any. Assuming, of course, that the State Legislature doesn't change the rules.

Instead of this convoluted "rebate" process, putting a small amount of money (on which I've already paid income taxes) back into my pocket, for a huge amount of money I've previously paid in property taxes (with post-income tax dollars), and then taxing that money a second time (or is it a third?), why not reduced the school property tax in the first place? Excellent question! Of course, you're kidding, right? Reduce property taxes? The State Legislature makes no provision for that. Silly.

I STILL have questions. What should I do? You're an idiot. Click HERE.

Hey, I voted to elect Kate Murray as Town of Hempstead Supervisor in 2005, and plan to do so again this year. How much will my rebate check be for? NOTHING! You're a damn fool. Don't pass go. Don't collect $200. Go directly to jail (along with half of the Town of Hempstead Building Department).

Now, if you think this is complicated, just wait until next year, when the Legislature enacts a bigger, better bottle bill. In order to get you nickel deposit back, you will have to insert the bottle into your computer through a USB post while standing on one leg and repeating the phrase, "Joe Bruno can fly. Joe Bruno can fly. Joe Bruno can fly."

Your bottle deposit refund will, of course, be based on your income, and, yes, it will be taxable.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Just How "Sustainable" Is Your Community?

Sustainable Communities Require "Design On A Human Scale"

For the better part of half a century, planning to Long Island has been what landscaping is to the lunar surface -- non-existent.

Along the Main Streets of America's oldest suburb, a hodgepodge of oversized signs, disjointed storefronts, crumbling infrastructure, and downright ugly.

In most communities, "downtown," where there is one, is a conglomerate of vacant stores, disfigured facades, and ill-conceived notions of zoning, honoring sustainability, livability, and even shopability more in the breach than in the practice.

"Walkable?" Hardly. "Welcoming?" No way. A place where people live, work, shop, and recreate? Forget about it.

Today, we begin a look anew at what it takes to create and maintain a sustainable community. This is a continuation, actually, of the discussion begun on this blog years ago, and interspersed throughout for consideration of the masses and the movers alike.

Regional planning boards, county planning commissions, town and village zoning boards notwithstanding -- or, perhaps, as a result of their standing practices to largely ignore the valuable lessons of "smart growth" and "sustainable communities" -- we have borne witness not only to the urbanization of suburbia, but to the growing brownfield effect that threatens both sense of place and sense of well being.

If life on Long Island, as we knew it (or at least dreamed it would be), is to be "sustained" -- for us , let alone our children -- we need to start thinking outside that traditional box we've locked ourselves into, or, at the very least, to open up that box, letting in the cleansing light of day, and that breath of fresh air.
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Sustainable Community Practices

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Center for Communities by Design, as part of its continuing effort to enable a dialogue and the resources to support livable communities, introduces the first draft of a selection of prominent sustainability practices. The information outlined in this document offers a general overview of how-to guidelines, community indicators/benchmarks, and other similar sources as a reference starting point to understand the very broad and wide-ranging field of community sustainability. In particular, this selection is an approach to facilitate Benchmarking Models to Evaluate the Sustainability of a Community in their relationship to the AIA's 10 Principles for Livable Communities Including Benchmarking Models equipping both architects and their communities implementing sustainable practices.

The AIA's 10 Principles for Sustainable Communities

Design on a Human Scale: Compact, pedestrian-friendly communities allow residents to walk to shops, services, cultural resources, and jobs and can reduce traffic congestion and benefit people's health.

Provide Choices: People want variety in housing, shopping, recreation, transportation, and employment. Variety creates lively neighborhoods and accommodates residents in different stages of their lives.

Encourage Mixed-Use Development: Integrating different land uses and varied building types creates vibrant, pedestrian-friendly and diverse communities.

Preserve Urban Centers: Restoring, revitalizing, and infilling urban centers takes advantage of existing streets, services and buildings and avoids the need for new infrastructure. This helps to curb sprawl and promote stability for city neighborhoods.

Vary Transportation Options: Giving people the option of walking, biking and using public transit, in addition to driving, reduces traffic congestion, protects the environment and encourages physical activity.

Build Vibrant Public Spaces: Citizens need welcoming, well-defined public places to stimulate face-to-face interaction, collectively celebrate and mourn, encourage civic participation, admire public art, and gather for public events.

Create a Neighborhood Identity: A ''sense of place'' gives neighborhoods a unique character, enhances the walking environment, and creates pride in the community.
Protect Environmental Resources: A well-designed balance of nature and development preserves natural systems, protects waterways from pollution, reduces air pollution, and protects property values.

Conserve Landscapes: Open space, farms, and wildlife habitat are essential for environmental, recreational, and cultural reasons.

Design Matters: Design excellence is the foundation of successful and healthy communities.
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How many of the AIA's principles are applied by the zoning/planning officials in the community where you reside?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What The Town Giveth, The Town Can Take Away

Special Taxing Districts, Creatures Of The State, Were Given Life By The Townships

A look behind the establishment of Sanitary District 14 in the Town of Hempstead removes all uncertainty and doubt -- the special taxing district is to the Town as the Frankenstein monster was to, ah, Dr. Frankenstein.

The District, which is located in Nassau County, "was established by the Town of Hempstead pursuant to chapter 516 of the Laws of 1928. Its general and legal authority to operate is described in the Nassau County Civil Divisions Act (L 1939, ch 273). The District is governed by five Commissioners, each of whom is elected for a five-year term and is eligible to become a member of the NYSLERS. In 2005, the District had nine employees consisting of the five Commissioners and four sanitation workers, with a total payroll of $135,000." [Emphasis added.]

Hmmm. Five Commissioners, and four sanitation workers. And how many Commissioners does it take to empty a garbage can?

If the Town of Hempstead established the sanitary districts -- among other special fiefdoms serving more the interests of the Town than the interests of the taxpayers -- then surely, with the enabling powers of both State and County, the Town can move to dissolve the sanitary districts.

The powers that be, at Town Hall and elsewhere, will tell you that its not so simple. You just cant eliminate special districts and consolidate their services with existing departments (in the case of Sanitary District 14, the Town of Hempstead Department of Sanitation).

Truth be told, it really is just that simple. If only our elected officials had the gumption to do right by the people who elected them to represent the interests of the taxpayer.

"Yes, we have no bananas" in Hempstead Town, as in "yes, we have no control over the special districts," simply doesn't fly. The facts, and the law, say otherwise. Yet another myth dispelled.
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January 11, 2007

Ms. Anne M. Cox, Commissioner
And Members of the Board of Commissioners of the
Town of Hempstead Sanitary District Number Fourteen
P.O. Box 106
Atlantic Beach, NY 11509
Re: Retirement Reporting
Report 2006-S-15

Dear Ms. Cox and Members of the Board of Commissioners:

One of the Office of the State Comptroller’s primary objectives is to identify areas where local governments and sanitary districts can improve operations and provide guidance and services that will assist local officials in making those improvements. Our goals are to develop and promote short-term and longterm strategies to enable and encourage local government and sanitary district officials to reduce costs, improve service delivery, and to account for and protect their entity’s assets.

In accordance with these goals, we conducted audits of five Nassau County sanitary districts to determine whether sanitary district officials have established appropriate internal controls over the reporting of retirement service credits to the New York State and Local Employees’ Retirement System (NYSLERS). We included the Town of Hempstead Sanitary District Number Fourteen (District) in our audits. Within the scope of this audit, we reviewed the District’s efforts to ensure proper accounting for, and reporting of, employee salaries and service credits in accordance with criteria set forth by the NYSLERS. The audit period was January 1, 2003 through November 30, 2005.

This report contains our findings and recommendations specific to the District. We discussed the findings and recommendations with District officials and considered their comments in preparing this report.

A. Summary of Findings
Our audit found the District is not consistently applying the appropriate policies and procedures that govern reporting employee retirement service credits as stipulated by NYSLERS guidelines. Specifically, we found that one full-time employee was not a NYSLERS member, as required. We also found the District had incorrectly reported to NYSLERS lump sum payments made to two employees, thereby overstating their salaries and service credits. Furthermore, our audit found the elected officials are not maintaining documentation that can support the number of work days being reported to NYSLERS on their behalf.

B. Background and Methodology
The District is located in Nassau County and was established by the Town of Hempstead pursuant to chapter 516 of the Laws of 1928. Its general and legal authority to operate is described in the Nassau County Civil Divisions Act (L 1939, ch 273). The District is governed by five Commissioners, each of whom is elected for a five-year term and is eligible to become a member of the NYSLERS. In 2005, the District had nine employees consisting of the five Commissioners and four sanitation workers, with a total payroll of $135,000.

To accomplish our audit objectives, we reviewed the District’s processes for recording and
reporting employee data to the NYSLERS. We met with District officials and compared their reported practices with requirements included in the Employer Guide published by the NYSLERS. Our audit included tests of the monthly reports the District filed with the NYSLERS, as well as the supporting documents that evidenced the District’s method of accounting for employee time in terms of retirement service credits. We also verified that all employees were either enrolled as a NYSLERS member or had appropriately opted not to join as authorized because of their individual employment circumstances.

We conducted our audit in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.

Such standards require that we plan and conduct our audit to assess adequately those District operations within our audit scope. Further, those standards require that we understand the District’s internal controls and its compliance with those laws, rules, and regulations that are relevant to its operations included in our scope. An audit includes examining, on a test basis, evidence that supports the transactions recorded in the accounting and operating records and applying such other auditing procedures, as we consider necessary in the circumstances. We believe that our audit provides a reasonable basis for our findings, conclusions, and recommendations contained in this report.

C. Audit Results
The NYSLERS requires each full-time employee to be a member of the system. For employees hired after July 27, 1976, membership is optional if one of the following circumstances is met:

· The position is considered temporary or provisional;

· The employee works less than 30 hours per week, or less than the standard number of hours for fulltime positions established by the employer;

· The employee is employed for less than one year, or for less than 12 months a year; or

· Annual compensation is less than the State’s minimum wage multiplied by 2,000 hours.

For each employee who elects not to join the system, the District is required to keep on file a signed copy of the employee's acknowledgement of their right to membership into the NYSLERS and their decision not to join. Maintaining the required documentation preserves evidence of the employee’s decision. In the event that the appropriate documentation is not maintained, the District is potentially at risk of future recourse should the employee invoke his/her right to become a member.

To determine whether the District is properly reporting all applicable employees to NYSLERS, we compared the District’s payroll and daily attendance sheets for a selected two-week period to a listing of District retirement system members provided by the NYSLERS for the same period. Our audit found that three District employees (two Commissioners and one sanitation worker) have not been reported to the NYSLERS. Further review determined that the two Commissioners are part-time employees who had not provided the District with a signed acknowledgement of their right to NYSLERS membership and their decision not to join. The full-time sanitation worker, who was hired on July 19, 2004 and has earned $34,350 in salary during the scope period, is not eligible to decline NYSLERS membership.

According to District officials, they were not aware of the requirement to document employees’ membership decisions. They indicated that the appropriate form would be completed for the two Commissioners identified in the audit. Subsequently, officials told us they were able to contact each individual we identified and that the forms had been completed and filed with the District.

According to NYSLERS guidelines, employers are required to collect data on the salaries paid and days worked for all members of the retirement system during each month and report them to the NYSLERS. Certain lump sum payments (e.g., buy back of unused vacation, personal, or sick leave credits) are not to be reported to NYSLERS. To test the District’s compliance with reporting requirements, we judgmentally selected a total of 12 months (four months in each of the calendar years audited) that represented peak and non-peak garbage collection times throughout the 35-month audit period. For each sanitation worker, we compared the days reported on the monthly retirement reports the District had filed for each of these employees to the days they had reportedly worked, as indicated on their District attendance records. We also verified the salaries paid to the amounts reported to NYSLERS.

Our test revealed that two employees’ retirement service credits and salaries had been reported incorrectly to the NYSLERS. According to District officials, it is their practice to compensate employees who work their scheduled vacations with lump sum payments, in addition to their regularly-earned pay. We noted that in September 2004 two employees received lump sum payments for working during their vacations. The District incorrectly reported the lump sum payments to the NYSLERS and also reported the related vacation days as additional days worked. One worker was over-reported for five days and the other for ten days.

Unlike the regular District employees, elected officials do not usually have preset work hours, making it difficult to determine the number of days worked for retirement credit purposes. Therefore, the NYSLERS Employer Guide provides the following guidance for the governing board to determine days worked for such positions:

· Establish by board resolution the standard workday for the elected positions.

· Direct the elected officials to maintain a record of activities for a period of one month. This record must contain daily details of hours worked and duties performed that are directly related to the elected position. As part of this record, elected officials should also document the amount of time they actually spend performing official activities outside of normal business hours.

· Review the activities record submitted by the elected officials to determine the total number of hours per month a person in that elected position should work. If more than one elected official is serving in the same position, and all of their duties are similar, an average should be used to determine that number.

· To determine how many working days should be reported for an elected official, the total number of hours worked during the month should be divided by the number in the established, standard workday.

District officials indicated to us that the Commissioners serve on a part-time basis, and that a total of ten days of retirement service credit is reported for three of them every month. However, the District could not document that it is reporting those officials’ retirement service credits correctly. We determined that the District’s board has not passed a resolution establishing a standard workday for its elected officials. Nor does the District have a record of typical activities that elected officials might be expected to engage in during a one-month period and the related work hours.

District officials indicated that they were unaware of the requirement to maintain a sample monthly schedule for each elected position. They agreed that, without the required documentation, there is no evidence supporting an elected official’s claim of days worked or District reports of corresponding retirement service credits. District officials told us they would implement this requirement, thus complying with the NYSLERS guidelines.


1. For each employee who elects not to join the NYSLERS, keep on file a signed copy of the employee's acknowledgement of their right to membership into the NYSLERS and their decision not to join.

2. Ensure that full-time employees become NYSLERS members. Regarding the full-time District employee identified in this report who was not a member, upon enrollment, file an adjustment with NYSLERS that will accurately reflect retirement service credits earned and arrears owed since the date of hire.

3. Identify all employees whose retirement service credits and salaries have been reported incorrectly to NYSLERS as a result of a lump sum payment and file an adjustment with NYSLERS.

4. Follow NYSLERS guidance for determining retirement service credits for elected positions.

In responding to the discussion draft of this report, District officials indicated that they agree with the findings and recommendations. They also indicated that they have taken action to implement our recommendations.

The Board of Commissioners of Sanitary District Number Fourteen has the responsibility to initiate corrective action. Pursuant to Section 35 of the General Municipal Law, the Board should prepare a plan of action that addresses the recommendations in this report and forward the plan to our office within 90 days.

Major contributors to this report were John Buyce, Myron Goldmeer, Kevin Kissane, and Chris Morris.

We wish to thank the management and staff of Sanitary District Number Fourteen for the courtesies and cooperation extended to our auditors during this audit.

Very truly yours,
Frank J. Houston
Audit Director

Monday, August 20, 2007

Proposal To Freeze Assessment Nothing More Than Smoke And Mirrors

Nassau County Assessor Responds to Legislator's Plan to Freeze County's Assessment Rolls

Some county legislators believe that freezing the assessed values of homes for five years will result in lower property taxes being paid by homeowners. Freezing assessments does not and will not freeze taxes. What the legislators fail to recognize is that taxes are driven by municipal and school district spending. Cut spending and you reduce taxes. Assessment only tells a taxing jurisdiction how much value there is to formulate a tax rate to raise the money it needs to fund their budgets.

When one steps back from the politics being played with the issue to deflect taxpayer outrage for soaring budgets and high property taxes, you cannot hide the facts. Even if reassessment did not take place, the property tax burdens imposed on homeowners by the school districts and the other nearly 400 taxing jurisdictions throughout Nassau County would have increased each year. One only needs to look at towns in Suffolk County (that did not conduct residential reassessments for decades) to see that homeowners are facing the same property tax crisis as their neighbors in Nassau County.

It should also be noted that, with the exception of a handful of school districts, homeowners are only presented with the percentage of increase in spending when budgets are submitted to voters in May. Homeowners only discover what the actual tax rate is several months after the budget is approved. School districts had all the information they needed to present a clearer picture of what the approved tax rates would be prior to the budget vote - but most chose not to.

When reviewing the increase in school taxes paid by homeowners, some legislators conveniently ignore the fact that home improvements and renovations (as reflected in building permits) and loss of exemptions, as required by law, will result in higher taxes paid by certain properties. In addition, the legislators also ignore the fact that as property tax exemptions are granted to some properties within a school district, the property tax rate increases and other homeowners must make up the shortfall in the tax levy.

Despite what some elected officials would have you believe, the Department of Assessment does not collect taxes, set budgets, tax rates or tax levies, yet it is blamed for higher property taxes to divert taxpayer anger from tax increases that are being imposed each year by municipal, school and special districts.

In addition, the Department of Assessment does not set the formula used to determine the percentage of the overall levy that will be paid by each tax class. The class share is mandated by the formula specified in §1803-a of the Real Property Tax Law (RPTL) and is not discretionary.

In addition, state lawmakers passed legislation throughout the court-ordered reassessment limiting the class shift (base proportion) for Class 1 (Residential) property owners to two percent in 2004-2005 and 2005-2006, and 1 percent in 2006-2007. Shifts in the class share of property taxes have occurred prior to and throughout reassessment.

If the assessment roll was frozen for a period of five years and only decreases in values were recorded, Nassau County would end up having an assessment roll that is inaccurate, inequitable and will be in violation of the spirit of the settlement that was agreed to in NYS Supreme Court in 2000.

To assess only properties with decreasing values is inconsistent with the requirements of Sections 301 and 305 of the NYS Real Property Tax Law that all properties be assessed at a uniform percentage of market value each year. Furthermore, the county legislature has no authority to usurp the statutory powers of the state legislature to mandate such assessments in light of the RPTL.

Under the proposed five-year assessment freeze, the values of high end waterfront/luxury properties that sell for considerably more than modest middle-class homes in the same school district would never be fully captured - shifting the greater portion of the property tax burden to homes with lower increases in value and leading to a new round of litigation against the county. The only thing that this plan guarantees is full employment for tax certiorari attorneys.

The Republican lawmakers would have you believe that their "smoke and mirrors" proposal is a legislative cure for high property taxes: it clearly is not. No political party has a monopoly on wanting to reduce the property tax burden on residents and businesses in Nassau County. It's time to put aside partisan attacks and misinformation campaigns and work together to address the real cause of higher taxes - municipal, school and special district spending.

Harvey Levinson
Chairman, Nassau County Board of Assessors

Friday, August 17, 2007

Voice Of The People: George Rand

“I Voted Against The Reassessment…”

. . .And Other Lies My Legislator Told Me

Franklin Square resident and longtime critic of school spending, George Rand, adds his two cents to the property tax dilemma, and calls upon legislators to address the issues rather than to belie the truth with popular, yet still disingenuous, propaganda.

The reasons for high property taxes in New York are many. The annual reassessment of properties at market value is not one of them!

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Property taxes in Nassau County are among the highest in the nation and our politicians are now blaming that on the county’s property reassessment. But the chief force driving property taxes higher is soaring school spending which is rising at nearly three times the rate of inflation. While reassessment may shift school taxes within a district, in reality it has no effect on the total school tax burden.

In recent mailings to constituents in West Hempstead and Franklin Square, Nassau County Legislator Vincent Muscarella (R-West Hempstead) wrote, “I voted against reassessment and have been a strong opponent of this process since the beginning.”

Sadly, Legislator Muscarella has forgotten that Nassau County’s previous property assessment system discriminated against minority and other homeowners who were paying a higher share of taxes than those in more affluent areas because taxes were based on 1938 building costs and 1965 land values.

The county had no choice but to update assessments because the late Supreme Court Justice Leo McGinity ruled that the county’s property tax system was unconstitutional. Legislator Muscarella’s vote against reassessment had little significance: Charles O’Shea, who headed the Board of Assessors at the time, was ordered by the court to institute a market-based assessment.

It was O’Shea, a Republican, who selected the contractor and issued the specific rules for reassessing all real property.

Reassessment can change the distribution of taxes within a district, particularly for residents who expanded their homes without permits and thus had been underpaying their share of taxes. But only school boards have the direct responsibility for increasing school spending which absorbs nearly 65 percent of a homeowner’s property tax payments.

During the past five years, school taxes have gone up 35%, on average, driven by teachers’ salaries that are 60% higher than the average pay of public school teachers in the U.S.

Even if property reassessment values remained unchanged, the average homeowner would still be hit with huge school tax hikes each year due to the fact that Nassau County teachers and school administrators receive pay and benefit increases of more than 6 percent per year. Typically, one-third of the staff in public school districts have salaries of more than $100,000 for a ten month school year.

Freezing assessment does not translate into freezing taxes. This only confuses taxpayers and takes attention away from the real issue of reducing spending. Newsday has called the Republican proposal to freeze property assessment “stupid public policy,” and added that “it will only lead to a less accurate tax role.”

Legislator Muscarella and his colleagues on the County Legislature should find an “intellectually honest” issue, as Newsday suggested, and concentrate their efforts on capping property taxes to ease the burden on homeowners who are being crushed by school property taxes.

George Rand
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The writer is a resident of Franklin Square.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Voice Of The People: Tony Brita

Its All About Taxes

Tony Brita of West Hempstead speaks before the NYS Commission on Local Government Competitiveness and Efficiency:

Good afternoon, my name is Tony Brita and I am a member of the West Hempstead school board. Before I begin, I would like to state for the record that my opinions expressed here today do not represent the views of either the West Hempstead School Board or the West Hempstead Union Free School District. I commend Governor Spitzer and the Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness for sponsoring today’s forum and I am encouraged to see that the Governor has brought the issue of school taxes to the forefront. I hope that some of the ideas discussed here today will lead to potential solutions in the near future and that someday soon these types of forums become a relic of the past.

As you can probably tell from the lack of a browbeaten and stressed expression on my face, I am a brand new school board member. I was elected in West Hempstead this past May. On Election Day, I went to the polls at 6:00 a.m. and made a sincere effort to shake everyone’s hand I could before they went into vote. Of course, this being Long Island, the handshake was often quickly followed by a litany of opinions regarding pretty much everything under the sun pertaining to public education. Unsurprisingly, the most common concern was school taxes. And this was not confined to any particular demographic. Senior citizens, single men and women, married couples with families and so on all voiced their grave dismay at the seemingly inexorable annual increases in school taxes. I can not think of any other single issue on Long Island that generates such a consensus of opinion.

Our politicians in Albany arguably face no greater challenge than finding a fair and equitable solution to school funding. The progress made to date has left many questioning whether the current membership in the State Assembly and Senate is up for this difficult and complex task. There will be much talk today of consolidating school districts and centralizing “back office” functions. While I believe, on the surface at least, that some level of consolidation appears appropriate and reasonable, it is an option that needs to be carefully analyzed and assessed before being implemented. In this case, the devil is truly in the details. Yet consolidation alone will not remedy all of the problems regarding high school taxes. Of equal if not more importance, our elected officials must identify a solution that shares the burden of school funding more equitably between local taxpayers, who bear the brunt through their property taxes, and the State which bears a much lower burden in comparison with other states.

A company I used to work for had a marketing slogan that said “It’s not how many ideas you have, it’s how many you make happen.” Now, the only reason I remember this slogan is because it’s on the back of a t-shirt I wear all the time and my wife keeps henpecking me to throw it out. The point is, many good ideas already exist today, some of which we will hear shortly. It is incumbent upon our politicians to begin making these good ideas happen. If they fail to rise to this challenge, we as citizens living in a democracy have a right, and, for the sake of our children, a moral imperative to elect public officials who will.

I thank Governor Spitzer and the Commission for allowing me this opportunity to speak and I look forward to the panel discussion to follow. Thank you.
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Mr. Brita is a founding member of Residents for Efficient Special Districts (RESD), and was recently elected to the Board of Education in West Hempstead.

Voice of the People: Gina Previte

Gordon Heights Resident Give Low Down On Local Fire District

Gina Previte's testimony before the New York State Commission on Local Government Efficiency & Competitiveness -- Hofstra University, July 25, 2007

Good Morning Distinguished Commission Members:

My name is Gina Previte. I am a Suffolk County homeowner from Medford NY, and I am serviced by the Gordon Heights Fire District. My fire taxes alone were over $2,500.00 this year. This is almost $2,000 more than what a similar house paid around the corner because it is part of a different fire district.

The Gordon Heights Fire District has an incredible tax rate of $64.00 per $100 of home value, compared to the local average of $15.00 and a national average of $11.00. Ironically, Gordon Heights is a community that has one of the greatest foreclosure rates, a median income well under the County average and where 10% of the residents are living below poverty level.

The average fire district size in our Town of Brookhaven is approximately 10 square miles and is comprised of an average of 4,200 homes and 130 commercial entities to financially support it. On the other hand, The Gordon Heights Fire District is only 1.7 square miles, has less than 900 homes and has no commercial property. This is why our fire taxes are so out of line. Our tax base is simply too small to sustain it’s own fire district and things will only grow more disproportionate, since we have no future tax base left to absorb the rising costs and mandates.

Our Town Council, in an attempt to solve this issue, has explored the following options, which
all failed to address the problem on a meaningful or long term basis:

1. Rezone and develop any empty land;
2. Annex tax base from surrounding fire districts;
3. Budget Reduction;
4. Apply for grants.

Many people do not know that Gordon Heights is not a hamlet but a housing development name that spreads out among sections of four zip codes (Coram, Middle Island, Medford and Yaphank) who each have their own fire district, and which are currently servicing 50% of the Gordon Heights residents at a much lower fire tax rate.

Therefore, not everyone who lives in the area referred to as Gordon Heights pays their taxes to - nor belongs to the Gordon Heights fire district. However, there are some Gordon Heights residents from outside the fire district, who feel we should continue to financially support this district while they don’t have to.

Please note that this is not about the volunteer firemen. We love our firemen, but the community as a whole just cannot afford to support a district. Because we have 5 fire districts serving 4 townships, the most common sense solution would be for the State to empower the Town or the County to dissolve our fire district based on it’s excessively high tax rate, and merge the remaining Gordon Heights Fire District residents into these surrounding fire districts for protection. Perhaps based on their respective zip code or on the proximity of the fire district.

This would accomplish several positive things:

1. It would give neighboring fire districts additional tax base, possibly lowering their taxes;
2. It would eliminate duplicated and wasteful spending of our hard-earned tax dollars;
3. It would increase the number of volunteers in these districts;
4. It would finally create the tax relief we are desperately seeking and not continue the legacy of this burden unto future generations of home owners in this district.

For the Commission’s review, we have compiled a binder for each of you, which is full of facts and FOILED information. One example of what we learned is that the Gordon Heights Fire District generates an average of only one call per day. These calls are mostly EMS related, and are serviced by salaried technicians. Yet, this tiny “so-called” volunteer fire district requires a stunning budget of $1.5 million dollars a year to operate.

That might not seem like a lot of money compared to other figures we have heard today, but it is to a working class community of 900 families. This is nearly $30,000 of squandered, sacrificed
tax dollars per week, which could be better used to revitalize the community instead.

In closing, I just want to say we are a group of ordinary citizens, who despite our busy, brain drain lives and despite experiencing much adversity, felt we had no choice but to spend countless hours doing the enormous, self-help job of researching the facts, and through the support of RESD bringing to light just how much special district inefficiency can ail us.

The reality is that the Gordon Heights Fire District, generates taxes that have become unreasonable, unsustainable, unjustified and unnecessary. There are people who have, or who will lose their homes to these outrageous, out of control taxes! Therefore, we believe we are the model and candidate for a merger or consolidation. We cannot afford to wait until the fire system as a whole is reformed. We need relief from this tax burden now. It is our hope that through this grass roots effort, laws will be updated to better address our current needs and circumstances, which will benefit many now and it the future; and that no other taxpayers will have to endure the unnecessary emotional and financial suffering that we have.

Thank you Governor Spitzer for having the political will to create this much needed Commission.
We believe it is the first step in the right direction for saving our homes, our community and our quality of life here on Long Island.
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Gina Previte is one of approximately 900 residents served by the Gordon Heights Fire District.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Voice of the People: Michael Uhl

A Citizen And Former Water Commissioner Speaks Out

The "Death Of Democracy," Right Here In Hempstead Town

From a presentation to the NYS Commission on Local Government Competitiveness and Efficiency, Hofstra University, July 25, 2007:

Good morning, my name is Michael Uhl and I have titled my paper, Undermine Democracy and Government’s Efficiency and Competitiveness Will Follow.

I would like to thank Governor Spitzer for initiating this Commission, which empowers the citizens of New York to come together to lead this great State into a new age of efficient, competitive government.

I served 3 years as a water commissioner for a special district in Nassau County, New York from 2001 to 2003. The board I served on had three commissioners and the hamlet of West Hempstead has a total of six water commissioners. By design all of them serve the same political party.

The idea that local government is more democratic because it is closer to the people sounds like it should be true but in the case of the special district system in the Town of Hempstead it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Here the system has been intentionally used to undermine our local democracy in a quiet and insidious way.

The original political leaders decided to trade our public jobs for forced political loyalties throughout the town. This practice has created an insurmountable advantage over any opposing party or individual seeking to serve. Controlling this practice over the last 80+ years has created what has existed to this day, an ironclad one party rule.

Being one of the only public servants to break into this secluded fiefdom, while not serving any political party, I have much to offer this commission. For the record I’m registered blank.

The political bosses once required that all workers they gave our jobs to must kick back 1% of their salaries, for life, to finance one (party) rule. Now they require 100% of their votes, their service to the party and their democratic soul for life. This is nothing short of democracy held hostage, and it must end.

During my experience I found the energy of my fellow commissioners toward bettering the water district was close to nonexistent, but were able to fight vigorously to squash my creative energy to improve the district. I am very proud and pleased to say they failed miserably.

Recently a Newsday reporter told me they wanted to interview me on this subject because I was one of the only commissioners they had investigated on this subject that opposed his board.

Now I would like to share 5 of my most alarming personal experiences as commissioner, which proves change is needed, and we the people can do it and must do more together.

1. Pertaining to transparency and community contact, I had to initiate a newsletter, obtain the first commissioner’s computer, start a website, begin a water education program, and put a telephone on the previously bare commissioner’s desk.

2. Pertaining to infrastructure, I had to initiate work on a new water tower that the district’s engineers stated 8 years prior needed replacement and at that time raised a multi-project bond to build it but didn’t. Meanwhile, when I arrived there was one million dollars in the bank.

3. Pertaining to accountability, I had to request the commissioners to summarize or bullet the work they accomplished for the district every day they signed in and got paid. They refused. I bulleted my work.

4. Pertaining to public health and property values, I worked for a year to make the case to my board for being proactive by tracking toxic spills in relationship to their location, ground water flow and the districts well field. If a toxic plume got close to the public well a monitoring well would detect it and we could remediate it before it hit the public supply. This would protect the public’s confidence, public health and property values.

There’s a limit to how many times your town’s name can be on the front page for shutting down the water supply due to contamination before it negatively effects property values. After the board again claimed “it doesn’t make sense to do anything until a contaminant shows up in the water supply,” I had to threaten the commissioners with going to Newsday before I got them to agree.

We obtained data on spills in places that could pose a risk to the water supply in the future. Once my term was completed, the board stopped the monitoring and three years later the West Hempstead Water District was on the front page of Newsday for having to tell the people they could not drink, bathe or use their water for any reason due to MTBE contamination. The very same chemical we were tracking.

The board’s quote that appeared in Newsday on July 22, 2006 was the same unsound logic given to me “If it doesn't show up in your water, there's no sense in doing anything about it.”

5. Pertaining to maintaining one party rule through ill will hiring practices. I had to vote against my board when a board member wanted to hire his daughter. I asked if we were interviewing anyone else besides his daughter for the job. He said no. I voted against the hire and lost the vote 2 to 1.

To my great surprise, at the next board meeting I was told his daughter's name was pulled and no one else was being hired. A year later this same story unfolded exactly to the detail of no one being hired. Why did 1 beat 2 twice? The threat of exposure, which I only had to use once, during the toxic tracking issue. The reason someone else wasn’t hired is because new personnel wasn’t needed, and 75+% of the entire staff are immediate family members of a commissioner.

The first month I was off the board, and the new party guy was in there, they hired the daughter, and for good measure the commissioners bought a vehicle for themselves.

This form of democracy fears change and new ways to do business. It fears transparency, oversight, standardization, result measurement and exposure. It has led to the highest taxes, reduced services, and Long Islanders getting kicked off the island like on the TV show Survivor.

When campaigning, few residents knew they had a Water Commissioner, or for that matter a total of six in the hamlet. The more part-time commissioners and supervisors that receive a salary for non-documented work, health insurance for themselves and their families, bi-monthly dinners, yearly trips, and guaranteed jobs for family and party members for life, the stronger and tighter the hold on our democracy becomes.

The Town of Hempstead may have shaped one (party) rule into an art form, but we know it is going on in many different ways, to different degrees, in the many different places where voter turnout is low and chronic incumbency is high.

So the big question is, how do we free our democracy so efficient and competitive government can follow?

The most effective means for achieving the Commission’s goals is to reduce or replace the commissioners and supervisors with a central professional management group headed by a county czar in each discipline reporting upwards. Also, developing specific standards to hold our officials accountable for their duties by measuring their results.

Result measurement will legitimize the effort of creating efficient and competitive government in the eyes of the people currently not participating in the process, the 70+% silent majority. Once they see measured results they will begin to believe things are getting done and they will start to return to the polls.

Unlike religion, in government seeing is believing. Americans are can-do people by nature and they respond when good things get done.

Before major restructuring begins, the state must require commissioners and supervisors to document their work accomplished per day they sign in to get paid. They must require commissioners to document the interview and hiring process and send it up to the state or county for review.

At your first hearing, one knowledgeable presenter said with conviction to accomplish this commission’s goals the Governor and Legislature will have to serve one term.

Another was a Mayor serving out a 26-year term who said now that I’m in my last year I can speak candidly about abolishing the whole layer of town government in Nassau County without the fear of not getting re-elected.

Once we shore up our democracy the rest will follow. The new public servant must self impose term limits and measure results so that they will be able to lead without becoming part of the problem or wasting time and energy fearing reelection. The new voters will come to the polls once they see the differences and the rest will follow.

Now that’s a big bold idea that’s not so new when we remember President George Washington’s lesson on how critical it is for the true public servant to voluntarily step down.

I consider myself a good judge of character, and the reason I am inspired to participate with this commission is because I believe in Eliot Spitzer. Our Governor has what It takes to move this New York size logjam down stream. You can see the determination in his face and hear it in his words and feel it in his actions.

Now it’s up to all of us to back him up and raise the political will, to help pull him through the tight entanglement of the status quo, for the good of everyone, including the ones squeezing the tightest.

Thank you for your time and like-minded intent.
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Michael Uhl is a resident of West Hempstead. He is the Democratic candidate for Nassau County Legislature in the 8th Legislative District.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Voice of the People: Laura Mallay

Testimony to the New York State Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness

A Small Group Of Citizens Changing The World. . .

Submitted by Laura K. Mallay, Panel Member & Executive Director, Residents for Efficient Special Districts (RESD) -- July 25, 2007 Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY

On June 8 of ‘06 I delivered a speech about Special Districts that focused on Sanitation District number two and my experiences before, during, and after my bid for a seat on the Board of Sanitation Commissioners. It has come to my attention through my experiences this passed year that in order to enact changes for the betterment of our future, we must always look to the experiences of our past.

It was the 31st day of March in 2005, when Harvey Levinson held a town hall meeting to discuss Special District Taxes. This forum is where unaware residents of South Hempstead, Baldwin Oaks, and North Rockville Centre were informed that we have the highest Fire Tax rate in the county as well as the title of second highest taxed community when it comes to Sanitation. This meeting—intended to be informative—was derailed from its cause when it escalated into a protest by SH Fire Fighters and uniformed officers from surrounding communities, changing a seemingly serene symposium to an angered anti-consolidation rally.

This is where my journey began. I focused on the Sanitation District, contacted my elected 0fficials and attended meetings—a place where on one such occasion I and several others were told by a Hempstead Town Official that the residents of Sanitation District number two “don’t mind paying twice as much to have [their] garbage picked up.” We were also informed by certain Town officials that because they wielded no power over Special Districts, our only course of action to enact change would be to run for commissioner ourselves. And that is exactly what I did.

It was anything but a smooth ride. I was campaigned against by the Commissioners as well as the workforce. Tax dollars were used to pay for the printing and delivery of flyers denouncing me and my ideas. Workers were told by supervisors that should I win, they would all lose their jobs. I was stopped on the street by angry workers and my family and I were harassed by numerous threatening phone calls.

While you keep this in mind, I ask that you also remember that the majority of these firefighters and sanitation workers are the same overtaxed residents as we ourselves are.

There are long-standing political forces in Nassau County that perpetuate fear in these very workers, though it is indeed the upper management positions in these districts that stand to have the most to lose should consolidation occur.

During this same speech I also spoke of a newly-formed organization dedicated to the achievement of more proficient and well-organized Special Districts. RESD has since flourished into a network of concerned citizens banded together for the sake of community education, in an on-going effort to save ourselves from this Death by Government.

This campaign was an uphill battle to reach a sensible yet seemingly lofty goal. I continued on though—all the while trying to avoid the many rocks and boulders that were continually being hurled at me. It was a difficult time in my life, and though I did not know it at the time, I was not alone in my struggle. Besides my many compatriots, there were—unbeknownst to me—many a citizen alike who had to persevere against the continual intimidation of these Special District Club Houses.

At a meeting before a county legislator in Levittown, an elderly man and his wife recounted the story of their local fire department’s fund raiser. The department solicited donations in a previous year in exchange for stenciling the residents’ house number on their curb. The following year the elderly couple found themselves living on as little as 30,000 dollars a year in fixed income and ever-rising taxes. They had to decline making a contribution to the fire department due to depleted family finances. As a result, the firemen came around and blocked out the house number previously painted on the couple’s curb. When the elderly man protested he was told that he had better make a contribution in order to preserve his curb number. He made a small contribution, the firefighters returned and repainted the house number, but before leaving they warned the elderly gentleman that his contribution next year should be larger—or the same thing would happen again.

Pettiness at the local sanitation districts and their respective commissioners is no better as it has reached new levels of paranoia. A RESD F.O.I.L request to a southshore special sanitation district was met with a local politician calling a family member of a RESD founder and demanding that said FOIL request be rescinded by fax in less than 10 minutes. The RESD founder complied by rescinding the request. However, the implied threat of political, financial and personal retribution to this day remains a constant source of concern and quite frankly, a borderline case of intimidation tactics reminiscent of the days of RICO charges being brought by US attorneys on a daily basis.

It is apparent to us that many of our local level politicians are neither willing nor able to stand up against the special taxing districts that have for far too long been the economic engine that drives local politics. We want one Town sanitation district with one tax rate for all the residents.

We want the Fire Districts to adhere to a higher authority that will reign in the outlandish expenditures and help to organize a body that will successfully and competently safeguard our community. We long for a new generation of 21st century politicians who hear us when we cry efficiency and we want it to start here, with this Commission.

Governor Spitzer has charged you with finding solutions to this archaic tax-system, and so we implore you to take our words under consideration. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has,” because when the people lead, the leaders will follow.
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Laura Mallay is a resident of South Hempstead.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Freezing The Assessment Leaves Homeowners Out In Cold

GOP Call For Five-Year Assessment Freeze Misplaced, Ill-Conceived, And Wouldn't Save Taxpayers One Thin Dime

As reported online and in various local newspapers, the Republican delegation in the Nassau County Legislature is stirring the waters, pre-election, this in the hope that voters will buy into their fairy tale -- a freeze in the assessment of residential properties will lead to a reduction in property taxes.

If you believe the convoluted logic behind this plan, we at The Community Alliance blog have a bridge to sell you -- in Minneapolis.

Of course, we all know that a freeze on annual assessments of residential properties won’t reduce property taxes. Even if the assessments remained the same – or declined, for that matter – when the taxing authorities (County, Towns, School Districts, Special Districts) need more money, they will simply raise the TAX RATES.

Your property taxes will increase, freeze or no freeze.

Besides the fool-hearty rhetoric – obviously designed to sway, or at least confuse, the voter in a year when every member of the Nassau County Legislature is up for election – in a housing market where the prices of homes are going DOWN, why in the name of Peter Schmitt would you want to put off an assessment for five years?


Real property tax relief can only be afforded to New York homeowners through action of that other legislature – the one that meets from time to time, and too often goes around in circles chasing its own tail, in Albany.

The assessment is what the market will bear – no better, no worse. It is, as it should be, a reflection of actual value.

The way we fund everything from our schools to garbage collection, is, on the other hand, within the purview of the State Legislature, and somthing that can be changed or modified (without smoke, mirrors, or rebate checks) so as to achieve the desired result -- lower property taxes.

The Nassau County Legislature should stick to that which it knows best – like banning rollerblading on the campus of Nassau Community College and attending ribbon-cutting ceremonies (or was that dissing would-be Poet Laureates). Whatever!

Yes, every Republican in the County Legislator took a photo before the same blown-up chart, issuing, nearly word-for-word (only the names were changed) the very same press release. That, in and of itself, was rather humorous. [The Dems often do the same, to be fair, but the Republicans, with so many years of practice, do it so very well.]

Lock step, figuring if they say it loud enough -- and in unison -- someone might actually believe it!

If simply saying it could reduce property taxes, or make myth into reality, it would be wonderful. In the case of the Nassau County Legislature's Republican Caucus, its same old, same old.

All talk, no substance.
- - -
Read the press release of Nassau County Legislator John Ciotti

Read the press release of Nassau County Legislator Francis X. Becker

Read the press release of Nassau County Legislator Vincent T. Muscarella

Read the press release of Nassau County Legislator Richard Nicolello

Read the press release of Nassau County Legislator Peter Schmitt [The original proponent, back in April, 2007, along with Legislator Denise Ford]

Read the press release of Nassau County Legislator Norma L. Gonsalves

Read the press release of Nassau County Legislator Edward P. Mangano

Read the press release of Nassau County Legislator Denise Ford [Of March, 2007. Ms. Ford did not join in the most recent GOP release. Perhaps it was her new found cross-endorsement.]

Thursday, August 09, 2007

How Are New York's Empire Zones Doing?

Not All That Well, It Would Seem

Missing the goals, yet reaping the benefits, New York's coveted Empire Zones are apparently not all that the State of New York made them out to be.

View as the great panacea for crumbling economic infrastructures throughout New York, and, in particular, the economically depressed towns, villages and hamlets long in need of economic revival, recent reports detail a boon for the businesses that partake in the tax breaks and other financial incentives, but more of a boondoggle for the localities that have become all too dependent on these zones to kick-start the economy.

The Syracuse Post-Standard fills us in on the state of the Empire Zones, and the apparent failure of many of such zones to live up to either potential or promise.

How is Nassau County's Empire Zone fairing amidst the allegations and audits? Too soon to tell, perhaps. And yet, one senses that they're no closer to target here on Long Island than they are in Syracuse.
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Empire Zone letters
Posted by Brian Cubbison July 30, 2007 6:16PM

New York state's economic development agency put 3,000 warning letters in the mail to businesses it said did not meet at least 60 percent of their promises to create jobs and invest money in exchange for Empire Zone tax breaks. The state used the companies' applications and 2005 Business Annual Reports to make the list. Next, the state plans to look at the 2006 annual reports to see if the companies made any progress in the next year. If not, state officials may notify the companies that they will try to revoke their Empire Zone membership. The companies will have time to appeal.

Read the story by Michelle Breidenbach of The Post-Standard.

Download the Excel file of 3,000 businesses.

Download a sample letter (Word document) or read the html version.

Previous special reports from The Post-Standard: "The Great Empire Zone Giveaway"

Dear Responsible Officer:

We have recently completed an audit of empire zone certified businesses based on information provided in the 2005 Business Annual Reports (BAR).

In the audit, we examined companies that failed to meet at least 60% of their job or investment goals as projected at the time they submitted their applications for empire zone certification.

The results of the audit indicate that Business Name has not met at least 60% of its job or investment goals.

The purpose of this letter is to alert you to the importance of meeting these goals in order to maintain your status as an empire zone certified business. However, if you believe our records are not an accurate reflection of job creation and capital investments made by your business, please feel free to provide additional information.

We will soon be examining the 2006 Business Annual Reports to determine if additional progress by your company has been made towards your job and investment goals. If not, we may notify you of the intent to revoke your certification pursuant to Title 5 of the New York Rules and Regulations, Part 11.9 (5 NYCRR 11.9). If we send you a notification, you will have a right to appeal the decision and will be provided instructions on how to request a hearing.

We understand that in the competitive and ever changing business environment in which you operate that failure to reach your goals may be for reasons beyond your control. And, we hope that your 2006 Business Annual Report will reflect the growth and expansion of your business that you expected and had hoped for as well so that you can continue enjoying the benefits of the empire zones program.

Randal Coburn
Director, Empire Zones

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Keep Your Friends Close. . .

. . .And Your Potential Political Rivals Closer

Politics as usual masquerading as community development? We'll have to study it, to be sure. . .

In this dirty old heart of the city
Where the sun refused to shine
People tell me, there ain't no use in tryin'

-- The Animals, We've Got To Get Out Of This Place

Its no state secret that, barring a fall from grace or that long overdue regime change at Hempstead Town Hall, the GOP nominee in the next election for Nassau County Executive will be Kate Murray, presently the Supervisor of the Town of Hempstead.

And it would surprise no one, certainly not Tom Suozzi, if the current County Exec decided to recant his declaration that he will not run for a third term, taking on the challenge to his new Nassau, this by someone who, not unlike Greg Peterson before her, would have no problem returning us all to the old Nassau.

So, why is the Nassau County Exec now "partnering" with his likely political nemesis, and handing money over to Hempstead Town for a redevelopment study in Elmont?

Well, its that vision thing -- or should we say, that "visioning" thing.

After all, if what Elmontonians want never comes to pass [as, in all likelihood, will be the case, Town Hall's history and Nassau County's slow but not always steady pace toward revitalization and redevelopment providing substantial guidance], Ms. Murray won't be able to blame Mr. Suozzi for doing nothing, and Mr. Suozzi can stand up and say, "We gave Kate Murray and the Town of Hempstead thousands of dollars to revitalize Elmont, and look what they've done with it. Nothing!"

Not to be a Debbie Downer here, but haven't we been doing that "visioning" in Elmont for years now?

And what, exactly, has that visioning process wrought? More meetings, forums, discussions, studies, surveys, and, uh, visioning, than Carter has little pills.

There's been so much visioning in Elmont of late that many residents and community advocates have been blinded to the fact that, talk of redevelopment aside, absolutely nothing has changed on the street -- save a Victorian-style street lamp, or two.

Mr. Suozzi, for his part, envisions "some sprucing up," and maybe even a supermarket for Elmont. Ya think?

Ms. Murray, true to form, tells us, "...we'd love to see exactly what all our residents want to see along this downtown business corridor."

Hasn't anyone been listening to what the people of Elmont have been saying all these years.

Has no one at Town Hall, or at the County Executive's office, taken a look at the plans, drawings, and artists' renderings shown to Elmont residents by the likes of past Town Supervisors (going back as far as Joe Mondello -- or was it Al D'Amato?), and County Executive Tom Gulotta?

Whatever became of the $1 million in County funds the Town of Hempstead was to receive and use back in February of 2006 as "seed" money to develop "visions" in such places as Baldwin, Roosevelt, Elmont and Inwood?

What has Nassau County's Empire Zone been up to in terms of "downtown" redevelopment?

And whatever happened to the Community Development programs envisioned during the infancy of the Suozzi administration, that "New Suburbia" the County Executive so boldly laid out for us in January, 2005?

Yes, much of that vision -- including the redevlopment of Nassau's "Hub" -- lies in wait before Hempstead Town's Board of Zoning Appeals, but face it, there's plenty of blame, for the foot-dragging and malignant neglect, to lay at the feet of both County and Town.

Not for nothing but... Sustainable Long Island, the facilitators in this visioning process, have been at this game in Elmont for over two years now. Other than talk -- and there's been plenty of it -- there has been little progress -- with the exception of those pavers and the occasional street lamp -- toward actual redevelopment of Elmont's commercial strips, be it along Hempstead Turnpike, or otherwise.

And who, at the Town's behest, gets the nod, along with Sustainable Long Island, to spearhead the Elmont revitalization process? None other than Saccardi & Schiff -- among the most favored of the perennial consultants retained by the Town of Hempstead to "study" and "advise," whose services, some might recall, were engaged in such fundamentally short-changed and short-lived projects as Operation Downtown (it went bust without much of a boom in Nassau)-- which gave our business districts, what else? Victorian-style street lamps, stylized benches, and brick pavers galore.

So, as Mr. Suozzi and Ms. Murray stand shoulder-to-shoulder, arm-in-arm, swaying to the spiritual refrains of Kumbaya, many in Elmont, and elsewhere along Nassau County's forgotten South Shore (deep in the heart of America's largest township), recall the County Exec's magical mystery bus tours at the beginning of his first term, and the Town Supervisor's promises of yesteryear to rebuild and revitalize Elmont (as well as other unincorporated areas of the township), and find ourselves singing that old Animals ballad, "We've got to get out of this place..."

And who could blame any of us, this new found will to work together, to rebuild, to develop a "vision" notwithstanding, for being just a wee bit skeptical that all we'll see from the talk are a few more brick pavers, and a dimly lit Victorian-style street lamp, along the walk -- if we're lucky!
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Suozzi, Murray Envision Economic Development for Turnpike Plan to Include Hempstead Turnpike Within Elmont Borders
By Joe Rizza

In a joint press conference held on the southwest corner of Elmont Road and Hempstead Turnpike, Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi and Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray announced that $80,000 in county and town grants will pay for a community visioning project for Hempstead Turnpike, from the Franklin Square border to Belmont Park.

The two firms that have been selected for the project are Sustainable Long Island and Saccardi & Schiff, which will target Hempstead Turnpike and, with community input, devise ways to improve the turnpike.

"Elmont is a solid community with good housing and schools," Suozzi said. "It surrounds Belmont Park and sits right on the city line, but it's clear that this community's commercial strip could use some sprucing up and revitalization."

Murray also sees the potential the Elmont community has. "That potential includes a more vibrant commercial district, a more attractive downtown, the development of more skilled job opportunities as well as the promotion and enhancement of sports and entertainment," she said.

Elmont, which is known as the gateway to Nassau County, does have potential as witnessed by the community, which banded together to turn the dilapidated Alva T. Stanforth Junior High School into a state-of-the-art public library complete with a theater.

Co-chair of the Elmont Coalition for Sustainable Long Island Sandra Smith said she is looking forward to working with the county and the town and hearing the voices of the community for the new formulation of Elmont.

"I'm very happy that this is happening," said Joyce Stowe, president of the Elmont Community Coalition Council.

Suozzi said the purpose of the process would be to take all the different ideas from community members and try to build a community consensus around a common vision that makes sense economically and fits in with the quality of life of the community.

While the redevelopment of Hempstead Turnpike may sound like an attractive idea to the residents of Elmont, whether an area that is already densely developed can undergo major changes remains to be seen.

"The key is to take these existing properties and recycle them and re-use them in a way that they're more economically productive where the owners and developers can make more money. We're not opposed to people making money but do so in a way that makes the community better," said Suozzi.

The county said that taking properties by eminent domain is not part of the plan. "You let the private sector know what the community wants and if the community sector's wishes mesh with an economic vision for them, that's when you have a big success. I guarantee a supermarket would love to locate in Elmont. They just don't know where to go," Suozzi said.

Murray said the whole visioning process is to see what the community wants. She mentioned a supermarket. "Beyond that, bottom line we'd love to see exactly what all our residents want to see along this downtown business corridor," she said.

Three community education workshops have been scheduled for the Elmont Memorial Library from 7 to 9 p.m. on Sept. 5, 10 and 18. The firms' visions will be presented to the Elmont community in mid to late October.

Assemblyman Tom Alfano, who was not at the press conference, supports the process of revitalization. "I'm looking forward to hearing what the residents want to see and what their hopes and dreams are about the turnpike and greater community. We need residents to take an active role and share their thoughts on what we need to do. All the stake holders are at the table and now comes the hard part - we have to make it happen," he said.
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What will become of the "vision" for Elmont?

It will be "presented to the Elmont community in mid to late October." Just before Election Day, of course. . .