Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Community: It's What's For Dinner

What's On Your Plate?

At this time of year, we tend to become reflective, pondering, as we re-read this blog from the first post (think of it as a catharsis for the new year), what strides have we made, and what remains to be accomplished, on this journey to bring a fresh, new vision to America's oldest suburb.

At the same time, as we ask ourselves, "what more can we do to improve the quality of life here on Long Island?," we also ask you to consider your involvement (or is it your lack thereof?) in your own community.

What have you done this past year to make your hometown a better place to live, to work, to raise a family? What have you added to the quality of life of that place you hang your hat?

Moreover, we ask you to ask yourself, "what can I do in the year ahead to improve the lot of my neighbors, my friends, and, yes, my family?"

Involvement, to be sure, is a matter of degree. To many, its as simple as joining a civic association, Kiwanis, Rotary, the PTA, and paying those dues. To others -- far too few, we lament -- it is immersing oneself in the lifeblood of community; breathing, eating, sleeping, and, yes, perchance, dreaming of ways we can make great hometowns even better.

The issues we've addressed in these blogposts, and the questions raised -- by us and by you -- help to foster, in this online "think tank" of sorts, an atmosphere where, in terms of community growth and revitalization, all things are possible.

We hope, that through these blogposts, we have created a wave of enthusiasm, if not on the Avenue, then at least on your block, inspiring just a few more of you to action.

We know that for some, the community-building process has taken on new meaning, for better, we hope. And for still others, the "think and suggest" approach of this blog, and our incessant (did you say, annoying?) call to action, has brought to light a new found vision.

Blame it all on us (or thank us later). We can't help it. Community, after all, is our passion. We hope you make it yours.

From all of us at The Community Alliance, happy holidays, and the very best for a healthy and peaceful new year!
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Thoughts, comments, suggestions? Issues to discuss? Ideas to share with your neighbors?

Hey, it's your community! Write us (or submit a Guest Blog, if the mood should strike) at thecommunityalliance@yahoo.com.
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From The Community Alliance Blog:

Friday, November 02, 2007

Our Passion Is Community
What's Yours?

Rarely a day passes that someone doesn't ask, "Why do you guys keep on writing? Where do you find the energy? Does any of this really make a difference?"

The answer to "why" is simple. We write because we care about community -- its people, its prospects, its potential. We write to explore the issues, to examine the solutions, and to ponder the seemingly imponderable. We write to illuminate, to enlighten, and, yes, to provoke your reaction -- whether that reaction is a grin, a grimace, or a rush over to the Board of Elections to register to vote.

We write, because that's what we do. It is a trumpet call to action; a boistrous prayer for relief; a curse at that darned candle that burns our hand as we stumble our way in the darkness.

Where do we find the energy? Well, some of us sleep at night. Others, blog. Besides, it takes a lot more energy to frown than it does to smile, and just sitting there, taking it, is not our style.

Does any of this make a difference? Perhaps not, in the overall scheme of things. After all, the same issues we railed about on Day One continue to confound us. [And no one is rushing to nominate us for the Town's Make A Difference Award.] And yet, clearly, we are making a difference, if only one person, one mind, one perspective, one vote, at a time.

One more person thinking. One more person questioning. One more person getting involved in community.

We are reminded of the story of the little girl standing on a beach amidst hundreds of washed up starfish. A passerby sees her throwing one of the starfish back into the sea and asks, "What are you doing?"

"I'm saving the life of this starfish," replied the little girl.

"But there are so many starfish washed up on the sand," retorted the passerby. "Surely, tossing one of them back in the water won't make a difference."

Picking up another starfish and gently lofting it into the waves, the little girl responded, "Well, it made a difference to that one!"

Yes. we're irreverant -- downright over-the-top, at times -- but would you be paying attention otherwise?

No, this isn't journalism (not even yellow). We are more National Lampoon than Wall Street Journal. Want news -- or at least editorial passing itself off as objective reporting? Pick up your local paper (or all of them, as we do). Want to make a difference in your hometown? Then start by reading these blog posts, and pass the message along that each of us, in his or her own way, can contribute to the many causes of community.

Imagine what a difference we all could make if only we were all engaged in the day-to-day life of community.

An elected official, upon reading one of our more lighthearted (if not off-the-wall) missives, commented, "You have way too much time on your hands!"

As we see it, we have way too little time.

As our quality of life slips into the abyss, taxes continue to stream into the stratosphere, our children move away because they can no longer afford to live here, we wonder just what legacy, if any, we, as community advocates and activists, will leave for the next generation of Long Islanders.

At The Community Alliance, we believe that, despite the drawbacks of inefficient and ineffective government -- local and otherwise -- and the apparent malaise of the populace, the outlook for the future is bright, and the promise of tomorrow remains for us to fulfill.

When the last blog is written and posted, left to the annals of cyberspace should some Googler of tomorrow chance upon it, let them say that those who saw community as their mission -- who embraced it as their passion -- made a difference; that our suburban way of life is just a little bit better, and that much sweeter, because of those who dared to speak out, take a stand, and stay involved.

Yes, community is our passion. Dare to make it yours!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Now Is The Time For The "Haves" To Come To The Aid Of The "Have-Nots"

New York State Is Now Among The Neediest

For as long as this blogger can remember, The New York Times Helping The Neediest campaign has offered a generous and altruistic hand up to the young, the old, the hungry, the infirm, and the downright down-on-their luck.

These days, there are more in need than ever, with millions jobless, thousands homeless, and the staggering economy on the veritable brink of the fiscal abyss.

In tough times -- and these certainly can count among the toughest -- the "haves" (who, truth be told, have a heck of a lot less than they did just a year ago), are still reaching deep down into their hearts, and into their pockets -- to help the "have-nots" (those with even less than the little or nothing they had before).

Not a hand out. The kind disingenuously sought -- and unfortunately given to -- the heretofore greed-miesters of Wall Street and Detroit. Rather, a helping hand, to see children, families, the elderly, and the truly destitute through some of the darkest financial days we have seen since the Great Depression.

Of course, its not only the individual need that comes to the fore these days, but governments, as well. Yes, those entities "of the people" are suffering [by their own hand, true, but not through waste, excess and mismanagement alone], with deficits growing and debt mounting.

Here in New York, that gap, by the latest measure, is somewhere around $15.5 billion. Yes, we said BILLION!

And who, dare we ask, would be called upon to close the gap that too few in government had been watching o'er these many decades?

Not the "haves," who, through various loopholes and favorable tax treatment, have not borne the extraordinary weight of this economic downturn as have the "have nots." No, its the "have nots" -- also known as the vanishing middle class -- who have carried upon their backs the brunt of the burden, and who are now being called upon, yet again, to pay more in fees and taxes to keep government afloat.

Should the "haves" pay more? Perhaps. Or maybe, just maybe, the "haves" should now pay their fair share. Yes, a fair share of the tax burden to aid our children, our families, our seniors. A fair share to allay the drastic cuts in health care, in aid to education, in public transportation, in social services. And a fair share of the tax revenues returned by Albany, not only to New York's cities, but to its suburbs, as well.

Raising taxes on the wealthy, rather than cutting expenditures to the bone and upping the ante on the middle class, would not only stimulate the economy, it would help to ease the burden of those who do not, at present, have the means to make ends meet, let alone bail out state government.

We believe that fair share tax reform is an idea whose day has come, and that Governor Paterson and the members of New York's State Legislature should embrace a tax system that requires every New Yorker to share the burden, not as a “last resort,” but as a matter of fairness and equity.

All right. We can hear the cries of "Socialism" and "spreading the wealth," the "haves" bemoaning the loss of a first-class ticket to the Caribbean while the "have-nots" struggle to put food on the table and pay the mortgage. Get over it.

When the middle class flourishes, and government is solvent, the wealthy thrive. Then again, at the moment, this rationale is beside the point. Our nation, our state, are in need, and it behooves the "haves" of our great society to come to the aid of the "have-nots."

Believe us, once prosperity is at hand -- as it will be -- the "have-nots" will once again return the favor.
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From the Op Ed pages of The New York Times:

Hard Times, a Helping Hand

Canton, Ohio

IN the weeks just before Christmas of 1933 — 75 years ago — a mysterious offer appeared in The Repository, the daily newspaper here. It was addressed to all who were suffering in that other winter of discontent known as the Great Depression. The bleakest of holiday seasons was upon them, and the offer promised modest relief to those willing to write in and speak of their struggles. In return, the donor, a “Mr. B. Virdot,” pledged to provide a check to the neediest to tide them over the holidays.

Not surprisingly, hundreds of letters for Mr. B. Virdot poured into general delivery in Canton — even though there was no person of that name in the city of 105,000. A week later, checks, most for as little as $5, started to arrive at homes around Canton. They were signed by “B. Virdot.”

The gift made The Repository’s front page on Dec. 18, 1933. The headline read: “Man Who Felt Depression’s Sting to Help 75 Unfortunate Families: Anonymous Giver, Known Only as ‘B. Virdot,’ Posts $750 to Spread Christmas Cheer.”

The story said the faceless donor was “a Canton man who was toppled from a large fortune to practically nothing” but who had returned to prosperity and now wanted to give a Christmas present to “75 deserving fellow townsmen.” The gifts were to go to men and women who might otherwise “hesitate to knock at charity’s door for aid.”

Whether the paper spoke to Mr. B. Virdot directly or through an intermediary or whether it received something in writing from him is not known.

Down through the decades, the identity of the benefactor remained a mystery. Three prosperous generations later, the whole affair was consigned to a footnote in Canton’s history.

But to me, the story had always served as an example of how selfless Americans reach out to one another in hard times. I can’t even remember the first time I heard about Mr. B. Virdot, but I knew the tale well.

Then, this past summer, my mother handed me a battered old black suitcase that had been gathering dust in her attic. I flipped open the twin latches and found a mass of letters, all dated December 1933. There were also 150 canceled checks signed by “B. Virdot,” and a tiny black bank book with $760 in deposits.

My mother, Virginia, had always known the secret: the donor was her father, Samuel J. Stone.

The fictitious moniker was a blend of his daughters’ names — Barbara, Virginia and Dorothy. But Mother had never told me, and when she handed me the suitcase she had no idea what was in it — “some old papers,” she said. The suitcase had passed into her possession shortly after the death of my grandmother Minna in 2005.

I took the suitcase with me to our log cabin in the woods of Maine, and there, one night, began to read letter after letter. They had come from all over Canton, from out-of-work upholsterers, painters, bricklayers, day laborers, insurance salesmen and, yes, former executives — some of whom, I later learned, my grandfather had known personally.

One, written Dec. 19, 1933, begins, “I hate to write this letter ... it seems too much like begging. Anyway, here goes. I will be honest, my husband doesn’t know I’m writing this letter... . He is working but not making enough to hardly feed his family. We are going to do everything in our power to hold on to our house.” Three years behind in taxes and out of credit at the grocery store, the writer closed with, “Even if you don’t think we’re worthy of help, I hope you receive a great blessing for your kindness.”

Another letter came from a 38-year-old steel worker, out of a job and stricken with tuberculosis, who wrote of his inability to pay the hospital bills for his son, whose skull had been fractured after he was struck by a car.

One man wrote: “For one like me who for a lifetime has earned a fine living, charity by force of distressed circumstances is an abomination and a headache. However, your offer carries with it a spirit so far removed from those who offer help for their own glorification, you remove so much of the sting and pain of forced charity that I venture to tell you my story.”

The writer, once a prominent businessman, was now 65 and destitute, his life insurance policy cashed in and gone, his furniture “mortgaged,” his clothes threadbare, his hope of paying the electric and gas bills pinned to the intervention of his children.

A mother of four wrote, “My husband hasn’t had steady work in four years ... . The people who are lucky enough to have no worry where the next meal is coming from don’t realize how it is to be like we are and a lot of others... . I only wish I could do what you are doing.”

Another letter was from the wife of an out-of-work bricklayer. “Mr. Virdot, we are in desperate circumstances,” she wrote. They had taken in her husband’s mother and father and a 10-year-old boy. Now the landlord had given them three days to pay up. “It is awful,” she wrote. “No one knows, only those who go through it. It does seem so much like begging. ”

Children, too, wrote in. The youngest was 12-year-old Mary Uebing. “There are six in our family,” she wrote, “and my father is dead ... my baby sister is sick. Last Christmas our dinner was slim and this Christmas it will be slimmer... . Any way you could help us would be appreciated in this fatherless and worrisome home.”

The wife of an out-of-work insurance salesman added a postscript to her letter, one not intended for her husband’s eyes: She had just pawned her engagement ring for $5.

Also in the suitcase were thank-you letters from people who had received Mr. Virdot’s checks. A father wrote: “It was put to good use paying for two pairs of shoes for my girls and other little necessities. I hope some day I have the pleasure of knowing to whom we are indebted for this very generous gift.”

That was from George W. Monnot, who had once owned a successful Ford dealership but whose reluctance to lay off his salesmen hastened his own financial collapse, his granddaughter told me.

Of course, the checks could not reverse the fortunes of an entire family, much less a community. A few months after one man, Roy Teis, wrote to B. Virdot, his family splintered apart. His eight children, including a 4-year-old daughter, were scattered among nearly as many foster homes, and there they remained for years to come.

So why had my grandfather done this? Because he had known what it was to be down and out. In 1902, when he was 15, he and his family had fled Romania, where they had been persecuted and stripped of the right to work because they were Jews. They settled into an immigrant ghetto in Pittsburgh. His father forced him to roll cigars with his six other siblings in the attic, hiding his shoes so he could not go to school.

My grandfather later worked on a barge and in a coal mine, swabbed out dirty soda bottles until the acid ate at his fingers and was even duped into being a strike breaker, an episode that left him bloodied by nightsticks. He had been robbed at night and swindled in daylight. Midlife, he had been driven to the brink of bankruptcy, almost losing his clothing store and his home.

By the time the Depression hit, he had worked his way out of poverty, owning a small chain of clothing stores and living in comfort. But his good fortune carried with it a weight when so many around him had so little.

His yuletide gift was not to be his only such gesture. In the same black suitcase were receipts hinting at other anonymous acts of kindness. The year before the United States entered World War II, for instance, he sent hundreds of wool overcoats to British soldiers. In the pocket of each was a handwritten note, unsigned, urging them not to give in to despair and expressing America’s support.

Like many in his generation, my grandfather believed in hard work, and disdained handouts. In 1981, at age 93, he died driving himself to the office, crashing while trying to beat a rising drawbridge. But he could never ignore the brutal reality of times when work was simply not to be had and self-reliance reached its limits. He sought no credit for acts of conscience. He saw them as the debt we owe one another and ourselves.

For many Americans, this Christmas will be grim. Here, in Ohio, food banks and shelters are trying to cope with the fallout from plant closings, layoffs, foreclosures and bankruptcies. The family across the street lost their home. From our breakfast table, we look out on their house, dark and vacant. Multibillion-dollar bailouts to banks and Wall Street have yet to bring relief to those humbled by need and overwhelmed by debt. Already, the B. Virdot in me — in each of us — can hear the words of our neighbors.

Ted Gup, a professor of journalism at Case Western Reserve University, is the author of “Nation of Secrets.”

2008 The New York Times Company

Update on Nassau County Parks from PARCnassau

Will Nassau's Parks -- Active and Passive -- Weather The Fiscal Storm?

Our friend, Bruce Piel of Park Advocacy & Recreational Council of Nassau brings us up-to-date on the year-end state of the public parks in America's oldest suburbs.

Nassau County Closing Parks

In an economic climate that makes accessible and low cost public parks more important than ever, Nassau County has decided to close its parks, ranging from 2 days a week for North Woodmere , Garvies Point, Grant Park, Old Bethpage Restoration Village, Cow Meadow, and Tackapushka, to monthly closures for Inwood, Reverend Makey, and Battle Row, among others. Other parks will have their hours reduced.

This will have two effects. First, those that need these facilities the most, the unemployed, under-employed, young families with children and fixed income seniors will lose recreation opportunities that would ease their burdens. Secondly, the only people that will enter the closed parks would be the ones we least want to see there, youths abusing alcohol and drugs, homeless and mentally disturbed who need help, drag racers, etc., etc.

Of course, the administration will blame the economy and the need to reduce costs when that same economy would argue for more open parks and recreation programs.

County Parks Losing 90 Annual Employees to Public Works

Effective January 2, 2009, all remaining maintenance employees will be transferred from the park system to DPW reducing the remaining employees to approximately 163 to report to the 12 or so Deputy Commissioners or equivalents giving them a “span of control” of about 14 to 1. That ratio can usually be found between workers and first line supervisors everywhere else.

Though the county insists the transferees will still be handling park tasks, the reality will be, parks will be at the “bottom of the food chain” when requesting their services. This is what happened when the rangers were renamed public safety transferred to the police department and when the Parks electrical, plumbing and carpentry shops were transferred to DPW.

County Hiring Part Time & Seasonal Cashiers To Work In Parks

These new positions will not report to Park Directors but be responsible to the County Treasurer ’s Office. Thus they can’t be used when not collecting money. Why aren’t they continuing to use current part time and seasonal employees? Allegedly, because they do not have the necessary skills. Before hiring a part timer or seasonal employee why doesn't the county test them for cashier skills (its called arithmetic) giving parks capable workers that can be used for other tasks as well?


While our county executive campaigns for an appointment to State or Federal Office our County parks continue their downward spiral with no end in sight. Had enough? Email, call or write to your county legislator and demand adequate personnel, equipment and supplies to keep our county parks alive. Our parks need this and we need our parks.

Bruce Piel
Park Advocacy & Recreation Council of Nassau (PARCnassau)
246 Twin Lane East
Wantagh , NY 11793
(516) 783-8378
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While the views expressed by Mr. Piel on behalf of PARCnassau are his own, we cannot help but wonder why Nassau County's parks, in good financial times and bad, appear to be the step-child of the county.

Back in the day when the county's coffers were overflowing (read as, the county was borrowing far beyond its means to repay), the parks were neglected. And when the bottom fell out of the county's finances? Well, we all see the results -- parks that lack adequate, if any, maintenance, rapidly decaying infrastructure, and former open/green spaces that have literally gone to seed, our tax dollars paid toward Parks & Recreation (or so it says on that tax statement), notwithstanding.

And by the way, whatever happened to the rehab and revitalization work that was to be done in our county parks -- active and passive -- with monies from the two multi-million dollar environmental bond acts? Just where did that bond money go?

Now is not the time to abandon our public parks, or, for that matter, to forgo public works projects which can create jobs and stimulate the economy. Indeed, now, more than ever, America's first suburb needs to reinvest in itself, using its vast resources, from the nature of its once magnificent parks to the nurture of its always high-spirited people, to reinvent suburbia.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Chock Full of Cuts (Loaded with Fees and Taxes)

A Budget Only A Millionaire's Money Could Buy

But not to worry, millionaires of New York, Governor Paterson has no designs on your money, and no proposal in his 2009-10 budget to raise income taxes on those earning the big bucks to help close a record $15 billion deficit.

No, rather than to tax the high and mighty, those who could actually afford to hold the line and bear just a bit more of the economic burden in these difficult times -- the Guv has raised the ante on everything from gasoline and clothing to tuition at the already cash-strapped State University, looking, yet again, to the beleagured middle class (whoever they were, and wherever they have disappeared to) to shoulder the burden.

Cuts to health care, public transit, and state aid to public schools. Taxes on health care and haircuts. Increased fees on movies and motor vehicles.

"Hey, Governor Paterson. How'd you like a nice Hawaiian Punch?" Opps. There'll be a tax on that, too!

One Long Island Assemblyman, Tom Alfano of the 21st AD, takes a hard look at how the Governor's proposed budget will impact on John Q. New Yorker. Alfano likens the Governor's cut and tax assault to "declaring war on middle class families," and calls the proposed budget "an economic apocalypse."

It isn't pretty, folks. And it certainly isn't fair to the vast majority of New Yorkers, already suffering one of the highest tax burdens in the nation, let alone to Long Islanders, who, if they're lucky, see only 25 cents of every tax dollar paid to Albany returned to the island -- and that's in good times.

So go ahead, Governor Paterson. Hike the tax on our cable bill and soda pop. Shortchange our children and our seniors through cuts to education and health care. Increase those local property taxes through the backdoor (while localities do likewise through the front) by reducing STAR benefits and state aid to public schools.

After all, we're New Yorkers. We can take it. Though rest assured, Governor Paterson, we will not take it lying down!
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New Yorkers are urged to contact their State lawmakers in Albany (who will take up Governor Paterson's executive budget in January) to express their outrage over the Governor's proposed cuts, fees, and taxes.

NY State Senate

NY State Assembly
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Says the 137 tax and fee increases in Governor Paterson’s budget are like “declaring war” on New York’s middle class families

Characterizing it as a “gut punch” to Long Island’s middle class already hurting from a terrible economy, home foreclosures and loss of real wages, Assemblyman Tom Alfano today warned that the 137 tax and fee increases within Governor Paterson’s 2009-10 Executive Budget will cost the average New York family an extra $3,875.48 annually.

The analysis found that Governor Paterson’s 137 tax and fee increases – imposed on everything from digital music downloads to soda – could potentially lead to the loss of one-in-ten jobs. That impact to the local economy has legislators like Assemblyman Tom Alfano calling for the Governor to redouble his efforts toward economic development and to stop the outrageous tax and fee plans that will further damage the local economy.

“These 137 tax and fee increases sought by the Governor means he is digging even deeper into the pockets of middle class families, many of whom are suffering from lay-offs, foreclosures and businesses closing. His tax and fee hikes send absolutely the worst possible message for middle class families who are losing their jobs, losing their houses and seeing their incomes and home values decline,” Alfano said.

“Families are cutting back, making sacrifices and now the Governor would take even more. The bottom line is that this budget will only prolong the recession. All these tax and fee hikes are like declaring war on seniors and families,” Alfano stated.

The following are some of the products and services Governor Paterson’s Executive Budget would raise taxes or fees on: cable and satellite television; pay per view movies; cigars; discount coupons; haircuts; beauty salons; health clubs; weight loss programs; fishing; camping; malt-flavored beverages; digital music downloads; drinks from non-diet soda to Gatorade, Hawaiian Punch and Hi-C; beer; wine; car rentals; limousine services; taxis; movies; health insurance; seed dealers; parents of children with special needs; boilers; explosives; horse entrance fees; sporting events; gasoline; clothing; jewelry; footwear; automobile purchases; registration and driving fees.

According to Stephen Kagann, former state chief economist, every $100 million in new taxes imposed during a recession leads to a loss of 11,400 private sector jobs. Governor Paterson’s tax and fee hikes total $6 billion, meaning a loss of 600,000 jobs. When added to the administration’s forecast of 180,000 jobs expected to be lost in 2009, it is a very real possibility that one-in-ten jobs in New York State could be threatened. “When you look at these statistics, and the impact of this budget, you come to the easy conclusion that this budget isn’t just doomsday – it’s an economic apocalypse,” Alfano concluded.
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2009-10 Executive Budget Impact on a Family of Four
Proposed Initiative Family Impact

Environmental Protection
Groceries - Expanded Bottle Bill $73.00

Health, Department
Covered Lives Assessment $73.00

Higher Education
Tuition Increase at SUNY and Campus fees $720.00
Loss of TAP eligibility due to new minimum 15 credit per semester requirement $755.00

Motor Vehicles
Increased registration, plate, document and photo fees $130.00
New requirement - Drivers Education Class before permit $450.00 Personal Income Tax

Tax filers (paper filers) $20.00

Parks and Recreation
Golfing Fee $25.00
Park Admissions Fee Increase $20.00

Real Property Tax
Increase of property taxes as a result of reductions in school aid & AIM and 5-yr average property tax increase (7.99%). $558.00
Elimination of Middle Class STAR Rebate Checks $386.00 Increase Traditional STAR "floor" from 11 to 18 percent $40.00

Sales and Use Taxes
Cable and Satellite Sales Tax (Cable and On-Demand Movies) $88.23
Tobacco & Cigar Reclassification $5.00
Discount Coupon Sales Tax $50.00
Clothing Sales Tax Repeal $160.00
Miscellaneous New Taxed Services (Barber Shops, Salons, gyms, etc.) $45.00
Flavored Malt Beverage Tax $5.00
Prepaid Cigarette Sales Tax Increase $2.92
Digital Products Sales Tax $16.00
Motor & Diesel Fuel Tax Cap Repeal $25.00
Soda & Beverage Sales Tax $122.29
Excise Tax on Beer & Wine $13.13
Auto Rental Tax $2.08
Additional Sales Tax on Transportation (Limos, Taxis and Chartered Services) $12.50
Sales Tax on Amusements (Movies, Sporting Events, etc.) $40.00

Capital Improvement Restrictions $33.33

State Police
Motor Vehicle Law Enforcement Fee $5.00

Grand Total: $3,875.48

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"Smart Growth" Comes To Long Island?

If Its Written In The New York Times, It Must Be True!

"Smart Growth."

A new (or not so new -- it actually dates back to the 1970s), much discussed (even on this blog), highly-touted vision for the development -- and revitalization -- of the urban landscape, as well as suburbia (such that it is), embracing the concepts of walkable downtowns, mixed-use, transit-oriented, high-density, affordable housing, and the reversal of the strip-mall mentality that has given rise to the sprawling of America.

The New York Times featured an article on various projects underway (or soon to be) here on Long Island that, at least in theory, fall under the umbrella of "Smart Growth," this in a region that, but for eastern Suffolk County, is pretty much built out, where growth -- begun with a spurt in the late 1940s -- has been anything but smart, and planning/zoning are as an anathema.

Indeed, notwithstanding the nominal existence of a regional planning and county planning boards -- where Master Plans apparently go to die -- Long Island has, over the past half century, been witness to what can be best categorized as haphazard development, seemingly bereft of any real or functional plans, other than those long ago shelved and collecting dust in the belly of the archives.

Zoning, left mainly to the Towns, has, until recently, been "wink and nod," build it any way you want, building code excepted, creating a hodge podge along "Main Street" that resembles the work of Dr. Frankenstein.

Having been hoisted on their own petard -- viewing the now crumbling and outmoded "downtowns" of Long Island's towns and hamlets for the barren wastelands they have become -- local zoning boards, often sitting as planning boards, are picking up the mantra of "Smart Growth," even where their newly-found enthusiasm for "getting it right" merely masquerades as "smart," and whose "plans," on the heels of "blight studies," are too often paraded down "Main Street" as ersatz "renewal."

Where America's oldest suburb cries out for the creation of a true, workable Master Plan, in draftsmanship and execution, "Smart Growth" appears to be gaining hold but piecemeal, in drips and drabs, and with great reluctance on the part of localities -- namely the townships -- to abandon the arcane and archaic in favor of the future.

A spot build here and a nod to "Smart Growth" there. Very little in the way of a comprehensive plan that would take Long Island, still mired in the 1950s, with a mall and sprawl mentality -- and a decaying infrastructure to show for it -- into the 21st Century.

Well, at least its a start!
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From The New York Times:

‘Smart Growth’ Takes Hold


TYPICALLY, apartments around here aren’t any more than two stories high. But off Middle Country Road, Avalon Charles Pond is a symbol of the future. Its three and a half stories will house 200 one- and two-bedroom luxury rentals.

The new nine-building development represents the new era of so-called smart growth projects on the Island. “Eventually this will be the center of Coram; this will be the hub,” said Connie Kepert, a Brookhaven councilwoman, envisioning more mixed-use development with retailing on the first floor and apartments or offices above. She contrasted this vision of Coram to “traditional downtowns” like Northport and Patchogue.

In years past, developments that put homes, workplaces and services closer together were often viewed askance. But in the last year, a number of higher-density projects have won the approval of civic associations and elected officials.

Some are mixed-use projects; others are transit-oriented developments; many incorporate ecologically sensitive elements. Each with at least 150 units and up to nine stories tall, they reduce hodgepodge sprawl and include more concentrated, vertical residential design, yet aren’t so massive that they loom over their neighbors.

Eric Alexander, executive director of Vision Long Island, a smart-growth planning group, said that in the last year approvals had been issued for a number of developments in addition to Avalon Charles Pond, which is developed by AvalonBay Communities.

Other projects, either new or close to fruition, include: a nine-story condominium in Mineola called the Winston; the Village Center in Islandia, a mixed-use development with hotels, residential condominiums, retailing and office space, and a plaza built on 12.6 vacant acres; a 349-unit transit-oriented apartment project by AvalonBay in Rockville Centre; and two projects by the Atlanta-based Trammel Crow Residential, one in downtown Hempstead Village and the other in West Hempstead.

“It is this oddball combination of higher density and community support” that has until recently been “antithetical to the perception of density and development on the Island,” Mr. Alexander said. “With the right locations and the right types of projects and the right type of process you can get positive results.”

He also pointed out that these alternative approaches to development are “market-viable projects in an economic downturn.”Early this month, after a 15-year effort to shutter the Courtesy Hotel — a locus of crime in West Hempstead — the Nassau County Planning Board took a major step toward that goal by giving Trammel Crow Residential the go-ahead to use the site for the Alexan at West Hempstead Station.

Rosalie Norton, president of the West Hempstead Civic Association, said the 150-unit Alexan would fulfill “a desperate need for housing” and draw more riders to the train, while “not destroying the suburban character of our community.”

She added that the commercial setting of the project — by the West Hempstead station of the Long Island Rail Road but “more than 200 feet away from residential homes” — was “a classic example of the right location.” The rental apartments have “so many positive aspects,” she concluded, that “the fear of the ‘what ifs’ suddenly stops.”

Kathleen P. Murray, the Hempstead town supervisor, said the project was approved once the developer reduced the number of units to 150 from 225 — which had been “very significantly over what was allowable.” An extra acre of adjacent land, which the railroad agreed to sell to the town for $1, has also helped ease concerns about density. The acre, now untended asphalt, will be redone as open green space.

As for the Islandia Village Center, Mr. Alexander says its planned location in an office corridor “sets an example of mixed-use development that has never occurred on the Island.”

Joseph Prokop, the lawyer for the Village of Islandia, said a new zoning district was created last month for the project. It is to include a seven-story 175-room hotel and a three-story 100-room hotel, as well as an eight-story 150-unit condo tower, two restaurants, a 31,000-square-foot two-story building with retail and office space, and a plaza with a built-in amphitheater and park benches.

Then there is the Winston in Mineola, a nine-story 285-condo development planned for Old Country Road, a block from the Mineola station. It received unanimous village board approval in February, despite its height.

The developer, Vincent Polimeni, said he “went in aggressively with a nine-story building, which is unheard of on Long Island.”

Normally, he said, “I get yelled at.” But in this case he got “a standing ovation,” he said, for the one, two and three-bedroom condominiums, which will average $450,000.

The redevelopment, on the site of former office buildings, got this positive reception because it stands to help cope with an influx of empty nesters and first nesters, and to generate income for the school district. Mr. Polimeni is also providing lower-cost housing in a separate building two blocks away.

Neal Lewis, the executive director of the Long Island Neighborhood Network, an environmental and civic advocacy group, said it was important to move away from “just immediately opposing projects if it is more than three stories or if it is more than 10 units to an acre.”

“Those kinds of standards have been a real impediment to trying to address the need for affordable housing and the need to have vibrant downtowns,” Mr. Lewis said.

With the right design, the proper location and community engagement, he added, “there is more public receptivity to projects that might have been considered high-density and might have been dead on arrival in past years.”

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Friday, December 12, 2008

Too Much Local Government?

Now Where Have We heard That Before?

Perhaps we should call this post, Dissolve Two Special Districts And Call Us In The Millennium.

It was just about a year ago that we pondered, on this very blog, whether we would be here this time, this year, asking if our property taxes are lower, or whether local government has somehow become more "efficient."

Well, here we are, a year hence, and few can say that the property tax bill has gone down (or even held its ground), or that local services, for which we pay top dollar, are operating with the honed efficiency of a beaver.

No, notwithstanding the findings of the NYS Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness (yes, yes, a blatant misnomer, we know), and the recently issued final report of the NYS Commission on Property Tax Relief, we appear to be no closer -- in terms of legislative action or real life solutions that translate into tax savings -- to practical resolution, than we were last year, or, for that matter, the year before that.

We certainly knew what the problems were -- or had a very good inkling -- well before the powers-that-be decided to commission high profile studies, hearings, and reports. Why, even we, at this lonely outpost of community, had spelled out the shortcomings of bloated local governments, with tentacles that held forth waste, redundancy, patronage, and greed as if the holy grail.

As for the solutions, well, who would have ever thought? Cut, consolidate, cap. Gee whiz, what a brainstorm. And how much, in taxpayer dollars, did it cost John Q. Public to reach that conclusion?

Of course, don't cut in our districts, or dare to even talk of consolidation. That's for someone else. And while a cap may look nice on the other fella's head, it does absolutely nothing to lower property taxes.

Not to worry, though. Those three men in that room up in Albany -- whoever those three men may be, come January -- aren't very likely to take (much less agree upon) any meaningful action which would result in cutting, consolidating, or, heaven forbid, eliminating the "too much local government" that now exists under the guise of "local control."

After all, if they couldn't muster the votes to do anything that amounts to property tax relief this year -- when the entire state legislature was up for grabs -- what hope is there for next year, when no one is running, and even fewer are watching? [Then again, what better time for action?]

Which brings us to the latest county to be heard from, or in this case, State official.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (the man who would be Hillary Clinton, if the fates and Governor Patterson allow -- Damn you, Caroline Kennedy!) has proposed legislation that would permit the voters -- that's you and I, folks -- to trigger a process that would require other local governments (i.e., Towns) to either eliminate or consolidate smaller local governments (i.e., Sanitary Districts).

Yeah, right. Like the electorate wants to get involved. Collect 5000 signatures? Okay, we can do that. Actually come out to vote? You must be kidding.

In theory, the AG, as with others before him, has the right idea. To serve the people (no, its not a cookbook) is what government is for, after all. So why not let the people decide which local taxing districts (or townships, for that matter) stay, go, or consolidate.

Because they won't. Waiting for the will of the people to translate into a groundswell of support (let alone to trigger action from the masses) is like waiting for Godot. No matter the impact on the wallet, or even the prospect of losing one's own home in the face of skyrocketing property taxes, inertia rules the day.

Besides, isn't acting in the best interests of we, the people, what voters elected folks like the Attorney General and our State Legislators for in the first place?

We sent you to Albany to lower property taxes, among other minutia that you haven't quite gotten too. You have been elected to act on our collective behalf, and empowered by law, and a mandate that more than suggests that without measurable property tax relief, your tax base may very well vote -- with their feet!

Given the realities of fiscal crises, nearly insurmountable deficits, and a legacy of dysfunction that is New York's State Legislature, don't hold your breath for much in the way of real property tax relief anytime soon.

Oh, there will be tough talk from government leaders. Proposals that promise a lower tax bill, more efficient government, and an end to the ways of too many hands in the proverbial pot. Still, don't be surprised if, come this time, next year, we're here asking, "Are your property taxes lower today than they were a year ago?"

With County and Town taxes for 2009 already set to rise, and special district taxes -- from sanitation to schools -- likely to follow suit in the face of significantly less aid from state and municipal government, the bottom line for property taxes can be forecast in terms of the Empire State's motto, Excelsior -- Ever Upward!

From Newsday:

Cuomo: "10,521 governments" too many
State attorney general proposes making it easier to consolidate or dissolve local governments


ALBANY - Describing the number of local governments in the state as "out of control," New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo Thursday unveiled a plan to reduce the number and cost of local governments to ease what is the highest property tax burden in the country.

"When people are cutting back on their Christmas presents, they're not going to let you waste their tax dollars," he told a standing-room-only crowd of politicians and good-government advocates at an Albany news conference.

A byzantine patchwork of laws makes it nearly impossible to consolidate or dissolve small units of local government - largely, Cuomo said, because politicians want to protect their own bureaucracies and patronage jobs."10,521 governments," he said, referring to the total number of local governments his office has counted statewide. "That's a lot of jobs, that's a lot of patronage jobs, that's a lot of bureaucracy."

Cuomo is proposing a single statute that would set up a process by which voters within the districts could dissolve them. Studies have shown that this measure can save taxpayers from 5 percent to 22 percent on local property tax bills.

Cuomo said his office will work with state legislators in drafting a bill. Although he declined to speculate on legislators' reaction to such a reform, Cuomo said in a later interview with Newsday, "When I do a bill, I actually want to pass it."

Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), who sits on the Assembly's Committee on Local Governments, lauded Cuomo's effort as "the right thing to do."

"Long Island suffers especially as a result of these hundreds of fiefdoms," he said. "These are anomalies, they are throwbacks to a bygone era. We don't have to operate government on a 19th-century model."

New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli agreed. "New York cannot keep doing business as usual because we don't have the dollars to pay for business as usual," he said in a statement.

Officials from the Long Island Water Conference, which represents independent water districts, released a statement agreeing with the idea of simplifying the law, but adding, "The key is to follow the will of the public. Any effort to combine governments must come from the people not the politicians."

The attorney general's office began researching the issue months ago after undertaking its investigation into private lawyers on public payrolls, which was prompted by Newsday stories.

Cuomo said investigators were stunned by the maze of local governments scattered throughout the state, as well as the waste and abuse, also reported in Newsday.

Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman, who joined Cuomo at his announcement of the initiative, said such a reform would "empower the taxpayers on Long Island."

Weitzman has proposed allowing the Town of Hempstead to take over the independent garbage districts in the town. If that happened, he said, it would save taxpayers about $20 million, or about $200 per year per homeowner.

Cuomo's proposed reform would provide citizens seeking to dissolve or consolidate a local government a uniform three-step process to do so.

First, they would have to collect signatures from 10 percent of the voters who voted in the previous gubernatorial election, or 5,000 people, whichever is less. If successful, that would then trigger a vote. If passed, the local governing body would have a year to complete consolidation or dissolution.

That came as welcome news to Rosalie Hanson, a civic activist in Gordon Heights, where residents have tried unsuccessfully to dissolve their fire district, only to be rebuffed on technical grounds. Gordon Heights pays the highest fire taxes in the state, with an average of $1,500 per homeowner.

"What's the purpose of government," she said, "if not to serve the people?"

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Who's Watching The Special Taxing Districts?

You Should be!
Special District Elections Set For Tuesday, December 9th

Those Special Taxing Districts (you know, the ones that pick your pockets like the medieval fiefdoms of yore picked peasants off the land), operating under the guise of "local control," will hold elections for commissioners this coming Tuesday, December 9th.

Check out Newsday's interactive page for information on the Special District elections where you live.

Most elections, it would appear, are uncontested. No surprise, really, for despite all the hubbub about waste and greed among the Special Districts -- from State Commission Reports to extensive coverage in the local press -- few residents (the folks who actually pay the bills) actually bother to vote.

While you don't typically get to have your say on who is running most Special Districts (such as lighting, parking, sewer, and the like), or how money is appropriated, with respect to Water and Fire Districts -- much like the School Districts (which themselves account for upwards of 60% of the property tax tab on Long Island) -- YOU can (and should) stick in your 2 cents.

With bank accounts continuing to dwindle, jobs disappearing, and everyone -- from GM to NY State -- looking to reach into your wallet for a "bailout," your vigilance, and participation in the process that keeps representative government representative, is more important than ever.

On Tuesday, December 9th, show those who run the Special Taxing Districts -- and, too often, run away with your tax dollars -- that you're watching. VOTE!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Water, Water Everywhere. . .

. . .And Lots Of Taxpayer Dollars, Too!

Seems that those local water districts (aren't they special?) are up to their old tricks again. This time, they're squirreling away tax money above and way beyond what is customarily considered necessary. In some cases, they have enough money on hand to run all district operations for years.

A rainy-day fund, perhaps? Well, when it rains it pours -- tax dollars, that is. Money out of YOUR pocket, right into the coffers of Long Island water districts.

According to a study conducted by the office of Nassau County Comptroller, Howard Weitzman, 19 commissioner-run water districts in Nassau County had more than $59.9 million in the bank.

If you reside in the Garden City Park Water District, there's enough taxpayer money in the district's bank account to cover 2 years of service. In the Cathedral Gardens (West Hempstead) Water District, there's enough money in the till to operate for 7 1/2 years, without taking another penny from taxpayers (but, of course, they will).

So, with all this money on hand, what are the "locally elected" water commissioners going to do?

Disney World? A new gas-guzzling SUV? Wide-screen HDTVs for every employee?

One thing is certain. The Water Districts are not likely to be refunding any part of this surplus to homeowners or businesses. Nor is a tax cut in special district taxes in the offing.

Folks, it looks like, while you weren't watching the pot, it boiled over!
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Want more information about the special taxing districts on Long Island? Click HERE to check out Residents for Efficient Special Districts (RESD).
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From the Nassau County Comptroller:

Weitzman finds many water districts squirrel away so much money they could operate for years without new revenue

Comptroller calls for money to be returned to property taxpayers and water users

A report released today by Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman on the 19 commissioner-run water districts in Nassau revealed that jointly, the districts had an extra $59.9 million in the bank. The report looked at the December 31, 2007 balances.

According to the report, the Cathedral Gardens Water District in West Hempstead has accumulated enough excess funds to operate for seven and half years without collecting any more money from residents and the Garden City Park Water District could operate for two years using its $7.2 million bank account. These districts could stop charging their customers for years and still be able to deliver water to the taps of homeowners.

"In this time of extreme fiscal pressure on our local tax payers, it is more important than ever that governments limit taxes and charges to those that are absolutely necessary,” Weitzman said “Taxpayers are better stewards of their money than government. They should not be asked to prepay several years’ worth of taxes for possible future use. Instead, these districts should be offering taxpayers a substantial reduction in water charges.”

Most governments keep a small amount of excess funds from their operating budget as fund balance. For example, Nassau County aims to keep about 4-5% of its prior year budget as fund balance and school districts are authorized by the State to keep 4% of the current year’s budget as fund balance. The Government Financial Officer’s Association (GFOA) recommends a fund balance of between 5-15%. Weitzman’s report states that every one of the 19 water districts have accumulated more fund balance than the state law permits for schools, or the 5-15% standard set by the GFOA. Cathedral Gardens has 763% of its operating budget in fund balance; Garden City Park, 198% and Franklin Square, 124%.

Recently, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has been critical of several school districts on Long island that carry a high fund balance.

"Collectively, these commissioner-run water districts should be holding no more than $3.9 million in fund balance and returning the excess $56 million to their hard-pressed tax payers,” Weitzman said. “Taxpayers could have used this money for their own benefit instead of padding the districts’ bank accounts.”

Water districts collect user charges and property taxes. At 2007 operating costs, Manhasset-Lakeville has 3 years and 4 months worth of property taxes in the bank, Garden City Park has 3 years and 3 months of property taxes in the bank and Franklin Square has 3 years and 1 month of property taxes in the bank. Bethpage, Oyster Bay, South Farmingdale and Albertson all have over two years’ worth of property tax collections in the bank. Eight districts had accumulated between one and two years’ worth of property taxes.

"Commissioner-run districts have argued that they are saving money by accumulating large fund balances to pay for future major repairs or capital projects,” Weitzman said. “In effect, they are taking money from current residents to finance future benefits instead of using long-term borrowing to spread the cost over future years. Not only is this unfair, but it can also avoid Town oversight over district borrowing."

"Vastly over collecting from tax payers is unnecessary and not in their best interest,” Weitzman added. “Tax payers have better use of their money then to send it to sit in district bank accounts.”

Click HERE for Commissioner Run Water Disticts Fund Balances

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Illegal Accessory Apartments Hurt Tenants, Too

Unscrupulous Landlords Prey Upon Those With Limited Resources And No Rights


I live in Dobbs Ferry in an illegal apartment. Beacause of my lack of rights as a tenant renting in an illegal apartment, I am forced to move. I live in the basement with extremely loud and inconsiderate people upstairs. For the first two years I tried to make it work, pretending I was really living at home and those were my brothers making all the noise upstairs. Right!! We were raised properly and had manners. I tried talking to them , writing notes and banging on the ceiling.

Well, the truth of it is the couple upstairs are 60+ Italian immigrants whose brother in-law owns the house but does not live here. In the beginning I was told I could use the garage for storage. That changed when he decided to use his garage to store his mason materials and diesel truck. He then cut down the tree in the back yard, and turned it into a parking lot for his hispanic assistant masons and their vehicles to park!!! So now I get to hear a diesal truck, electric garage door opening and two cars ten feet from my head start every morning at 7 AM seven days a week. The lazy fat man upstairs decided he was too above parking on the street and began parking on the grass like trailer park trash. I complained to the landlord. He replanted seed and put up a temporary fence which they had to nerve to take down!!

Now there is the issue of the fat retired wife lacking any hobbies whatsoever except to hang her wet dripping laundry over my entrance door every day over 40 degrees. She also takes in laundry. Why should I have to look at other peoples' underwear and girdles?? Disgusting. If this were in an apartment building, this would never be allowed. I complained to the town of Dobbs Ferry about violating the law of parking too close to a building and to my entrance door. Nothing was done.

Next there is the issue of no carpeting except the ones I gave them. What about the law in NY demanding 80% of your floors to be covered? Not in this case. Besides them walking like elephants every morning at 5 AM, I have to listen to the grandchildren running back and forth non stop for up to six hours several times a week. Of course, they have to leave on their shoes. When they are alsleep or gone, then I have to listen to the loud tv from 8 PM til after 10 over my bedroom. Did I mention he wears a hearing aid- but obviously not always!! All I ask is that I have one room in my apartment where they are quiet above my head.

I cannot enforce any of my rights as a tenant since this is an illegal apartment. This jerk upstairs even threatned to harm me twice if I were to complain again about their noise. I made two police reports. Better yet, I went on the Mike and Juliet Morning Show on a segmant called "Nasty Neighbors."

Of all the people responding to their post about who had nasty neighbors in the tri state area, I was chosen to have the worst. I have a recording of him threatening to punch me in the face. Apparently, the garbage men did not stand up the cans after emptying them like they do twice a week all over the United States. He decided it was my fault for some psychotic reason.

I complained recently to my landlord about them being loud before 9 AM only over my bedroom, again, which was always my main request. He came over and yelled at me for calling his house to complain. He then told me I have to leave the hallway light off unless I am in it. Another violation?? During the same visit, he also yelled at me for having my lights on in my apartment when I am home!! Definitely inbreds!!

So, am I for or against illegal apartments?? Guess!! As tenants, we have no rights whatsoever. I was never informed this apartment was not legal.

I am now moving to a legal apartment building where I do have rights. I would love to report the landlord so no one ever has to go through this. Moving is a costly expense. Feel free to post this wherever you like.

Name Withheld Upon Request
Dobbs Ferry, New York
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What is the impact of illegal accessory apartments where you live? Do your neighbors -- or you -- have tenants living in your basement? Are you a tenant in an illegal apartment, at the mercy of a landlord who just doesn't care about anything other than that rent check? What, if anything, is your town or village doing to curb or eradicate illegal rental apartments in single-family homes?

The Community Alliance would like to hear from you. E-mail us at thecommunityalliance@yahoo.com.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Kick Me Kate!

Murray Proposes 6.6% Tax Hike For Hempstead Town

It wasn’t all that long ago that Town of Hempstead Supervisor, Kate Murray, was issuing press releases and generating Murraygrams (at taxpayer expense) to announce that she was “holding the line” on property taxes, or, as if leaving homeowners out in the cold was something to be proud of, “freezing” town taxes.

Well, no press release or Murraygram to accompany the proposed Town of Hempstead budget for 2009, where homeowners in the unincorporated areas of the township will, if Kate Murray has her way, “enjoy” a 6.6% increase in town-imposed property taxes – not including any hike in special district taxes, the control over which the town summarily disavows.

Harkin back to the days of former Supervisor Rich Guardino, who was plucked from elected office as Town Supervisor for a presumably more colloquial life in academia. Rich left the town in relatively good stead, financially, with an “official” surplus of some $50 million dollars. [We say “officially,” as those in the know in Hempstead Town at the time put that surplus closer to $100 million.]

Enter Kate Murray and, lo and behold, that surplus mysteriously evaporates into thin air.

Where did all that money go? To fix town roads? Hardly. To make local government more efficient? Don’t make us laugh. Back to the taxpayers? Now, you’re pushing it.

Turning surpluses into deficits, and growing government, rather than shrinking it, is not only the stuff that Washington, D.C. is made of, or so it would appear as the “respected on Wall Street” crowd at Hempstead Town Hall learns, at the expense of homeowners, that “borrow and spend,” like the historical downturns in the market, eventually catches up with you.

With falling revenues and an unprecedented financial gloom hanging over Long Island, an increase in property taxes was, more or less, inevitable. Credit is tight. State aid to localities is harder to come by. Costs are, as Kate Murray aptly puts it in her budget statement, “skyrocketing.”

Still, a 6.6% increase in the already onerous tax burden is a bit much to be shouldered by Town of Hempstead homeowners, already straining to keep afloat in a sea of rising school and county taxes, and home values that, in some neighborhoods, have declined as much as 20% over the past year. This is especially so when, year after year, the Supervisor has boasted as to the town’s fiscal prowess and financial muscle.

And why is it that the poor souls without benefit of village life – the abandoned and neglected of unincorporated hovels like Elmont, Baldwin, Uniondale, and West Hempstead, to name but a few – are called upon to bear the cost of the town’s tax hike, while the incorporated get a free ride under the Supervisor’s proposal?

Then again, why ask? It would seem that the unincorporated hitherlands, with little say, and even less in the way of actual representation, are the favorite dumping grounds for the Town of Hempstead’s refuse, both literally and figuratively.

Kate Murray, having gratuitously turned America’s largest town into America’s most blighted township, now looks to add a new mark upon the cross us townies must bear: The Town of Hempstead – America’s most taxed township.

Yes, if you want the services – such as those provided by lighting districts, parking districts, refuse disposal districts, and the like (sorry folks, but sanitary districts and water districts will cost you extra, as they’re not included in the town tab), you have to pay the price.

And for the 6.6% extra you’ll cough up toward Kate’s kitty in 2009, the town will throw in an Urban Renewal Plan here, and a Condemnation Proceeding there. [If you dig deep enough into your pocket, you may even get a Victorian-style lamp post, or two.]

Kate Murray. Trusted on Main Street no more!
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From The Three Village Times


Wrong Time to Raise Taxes?
Not for Town of Hempstead

During the Presidential campaign, Republican candidate, Senator John McCain, has said that now is the wrong time to raise taxes. Senator McCain believes with a struggling economy, additional taxes would put another hardship on taxpayers. But don't tell that to the Town of Hempstead. With families hurting with possible escalating oil prices for the winter and a troubled market, Republican Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray plans on increasing taxes for residents of the unincorporated areas of the town such as West Hempstead, Franklin Square and Elmont by 6.6 percent or $45.90 over the 2008 budget, according to Murray's 2009 budget message.

Supervisor Murray cites plummeting mortgage revenues as well as softening sales tax receipts as pressures that come with the 2009 budget. However, the 2009 budget proposal calls for a $4.9 million spending increase over the 2008 budget.

With families hurting financially, residents need their government officials to keep spending in check. However, it seems that the easier solution is to go to the taxpayers for more money in order to feed the machine of government.

The town should at least take a longer look at its budget before having to ask the taxpayers to pay even more money. If you live in Elmont, West Hempstead and Franklin Square, the unincorporated areas, you will find yourself paying more money and what have you gotten in return?

In West Hempstead, many residents simply want the Courtesy Hotel to close. Nothing has happened yet. In Elmont, people want a redevelopment of areas that are underdeveloped. Nothing has happened yet.

Perhaps if the town were to act on some of the projects that never seem to get done, then more revenue will be brought in and there will be no need to ask homeowners to pay more than they are already paying. It's time for the town to do more for these residents than just tax them.

- Joe Rizza

The writer is the editor of the Three Village Times.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Change Has Come To America

And To The New York State Senate

We are witness to history, both across this great land and here on Long Island.

A new direction for America, and the end of the Grand Old Party's forty-year reign in the State Senate.

In the depths of America's Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected President of the United States, and Americans, forlorn, tired, fearful, and hopeless, could be heard singing the refrains of Happy Days Are Here Again.

For these United States and, perhaps, the world, a new day dawns. A new day where hope triumphs over fear, confidence supplants uncertainty, divisiveness succumbs to civility, and that which tears nations and people apart gives way to a new wave of cooperation that brings everyone together for the common good of all mankind.

A New New Deal for America; an opportunity to live out the dream of Camelot as the world watches this nation lead again.

As Sarah heads back to Wasilla, and Joe-the-Plumber looks for work at Hempstead Town Hall (where plumbers really do make $100,000 a year), we look toward Albany, where, by a narrow two-seat majority, power (if not authority) shifts in the State Senate from red to blue.

Time to put partisan bickering behind us, to cross the aisle, to work together for the benefit of all New Yorkers, cutting property taxes, bringing parity and common sense to the State aid formulae so that none of our children are left behind, funding the unfunded mandates, and, yes, at long last, passing that bigger, better bottle bill.

"Yes We Can" has been the mantra of the Obama campaign, and must be the modus operandi of every elected representative from the State Capitol to Town Hall.

Then, and only then, can we end the stalemate that stymies progress and holds every one of us prisoner to yesterday's fears and failures.

Change has come to America. Let us make this our defining moment.

Cue the balloons.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Your Vote. Your Voice!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Polls Open In New York 6 A.M. to 9 P.M.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Move Over Joe-The-Plumber

Long Islanders Go To The Polls

On Tuesday, Joe The Plumber steps aside, and all of us regular Joes get to decide who will govern – and by that we mean, who will not only lead our nation in these most difficult days, but represent our community, that which is global as well as local, in a time of uncertainty and angst.

The top of the ticket may well be a done deal in New York, but down-ticket, the races are wide open, and, particularly as concerns the New York State Senate, where the balance of power hangs by a thread, the stakes could not be higher.

The real question here, in the Long Island community, selfish though it may appear, is do we keep a steady-handed Long Islander at the Senate’s helm, and the Long Island delegation well placed, so they can continue to fight for us on school aid, property tax relief, health care, and the other bread and butter issues that impact so greatly upon us, or do we, after generations of one-party control, switch gears, giving the new kids on the block a chance?

In ordinary times, we would be hard-pressed to set aside our credo that the status quo is never good enough; our mantra that one-party rule flies in the face of democracy; that you can’t keep sending the same folks in to do the job, year after year, decade after decade, and expect a different outcome.

These are, however, no ordinary times. For the first time in collective memory, a Long Islander is the second most powerful man in New York (third, if you include this blogger :-)). Senator Dean G. Skelos has, presiding over the Long Island delegation, always stood firm and fast for this community. He is not only a well-respected leader, but a renowned consensus builder, who puts Long Island first. In these times of budget deficits, shortfalls, STAR reductions, and cutbacks across the board, we cannot afford, having come in to our own at long last, to cede that authority to New York City or upstate.

If this sounds parochial or provincial – running against the grain of our conventional wisdom – it is. We admit to having a bias in favor of our own Long Island, and an overriding interest in protecting the homes, the health, the jobs, and the wallets of each and every Long Islander.

Do we cringe when we endorse an incumbent State Senate octogenarian (Caesar Trunzo) who, notwithstanding the fact that he delivers for his constituents with bacon galore, has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel? You betcha. Still, the precarious balance of power in that legislative body, that now, by a single vote, favors Long Islanders, is too important to shift to the other party, where parochial and provincial interests far afield from our own may well dictate policy and redirect fiscal priorities.

Of course, some of our basic tenets cannot – and will not – be compromised.

Peter King – who we see as one of those “anti-Americans” that the California Congresswoman of the lunatic fringe was ranting about – is wrong on immigration, wrong on racial profiling, wrong on waving the flag while stomping on the Constitution, wrong on continually beating up on his own constituents, and wrong on latching on to the discredited Bush doctrine, lock, stock, and barrel. While he’s likely to be re-elected (read as, “you CAN fool most of the people, most of the time”), we endorse Graham Long in his challenge to unseat the King.

Our endorsements are not about party, or about politics, although no one would dare accuse us of being apolitical. They are, first and foremost, about what we believe would be best for the future of our Long Island. Call it, Community First!

But don’t take our word for who would best serve Long Island. You can – and should – check out ALL of the candidates at the League of Women Voters of Nassau County Voters’ Guide on the web at www.lwvofnassaucounty.org/2008VG.pdf

Finally, if you’re thinking of sitting out this election because “it’s a done deal,” “they’re all the same,” or “what difference could my vote possibly make,” think again. This is no time to sit on the sidelines, a spectator to our community’s future. Not this time. Not this election.

On Tuesday, November 4th, consider what is best for YOUR Long Island. VOTE!

· Barack Obama

· 1st Congressional District: Timothy Bishop
· 2nd Congressional District: Steve Israel
· 3rd Congressional District: Graham Long
· 4th Congressional District: Carolyn McCarthy
· 5thCongressional District: Gary Ackerman

· 1st Senatorial District: Kenneth LaValle
· 2nd Senatorial District: John Flanagan
· 3rd Senatorial District: Caesar Trunzo
· 4th Senatorial District: Owen Johnson
· 5th Senatorial District: Carl Marcellino
· 6th Senatorial District: Kemp Hannon
· 7th Senatorial District: Craig Johnson
· 8th Senatorial District: Charles Fuschillo
· 9th Senatorial District: Dean Skelos

· 1st Assembly District: Marc Alessi
· 2nd Assembly District: Fred Thiele
· 3rd Assembly District: Patricia Eddington
· 4th Assembly District: Steve Englebright
· 5th Assembly District: Ginny Fields
· 6th Assembly District: Phil Ramos
· 7th Assembly District: Michael Fitzpatrick
· 8th Assembly District: Elizabeth Bloom
· 9th Assembly District: Karen Kerr-Ozimek
· 10th Assembly District: James Conte
· 11th Assembly District: Robert Sweeney
· 12th Assembly District: Keith Scalia
· 13th Assembly District: Charles Lavine
· 14th Assembly District: Robert Barra
· 15th Assembly District: Rob Walker
· 16th Assembly District: Michelle Schimel
· 17th Assembly District: John Pinto
· 18th Assembly District: Henry Conyers
· 19th Assembly District: David McDonough
· 20th Assembly District: Harvey Weisenberg
· 21st Assembly District: Thomas Alfano


Nassau County District Court – 2nd District

· Fred Hirsh
· Fran Ricigliano
· Robert Bruno
· Dana Jaffee
· Ignatius Muscarella

Nassau County District Court – 4th District

· Angelo Delligatti

Nassau County Family Court

· Carnell Foskey, Jr.

Nassau County Court

· Norman St. George

Supreme Court

· Robert Lifson
· Edward Maron
· Kenneth Davis

Thursday, October 30, 2008

LI School District Property Taxes Take A Hike

Nassau County Homeowners Get An October Surprise

You knew it was coming. After all, we told you so!

Homeowners in many of Long Island’s school districts – at least in Nassau County, where school property tax bills recently went out – displayed both shock and dismay when they saw as much as a double-digit increase on the bottom line. Ouch!

Of course, this should come as no surprise to anyone, with rising costs for such staples as utilities and transportation (not to mention the staples themselves), coupled with a substantial reduction in the State’s STAR outlays to Long Island school districts.

Yes, the hand that put that STAR rebate check into one pocket, now deftly reaches into the other pocket to take what little may be left in your wallet.

Whose to blame here?

The school districts? Well, curb spending and cut costs to the bare bone, where you can, but someone’s got to meet those contractual obligations (from salaries to insurance), and ante up to pay for the mandates yet unfunded by either the State or the feds.

The State Legislature? With the Assembly failing to adopt legislation imposing a cap – with or without circuit breaker – the continued reliance on an antiquated system of aid formulae that few, even in the education arena, can comprehend, and Long Island getting back less that 25 cents for every single tax dollar it sends to Albany, why, the sky’s the limit for school property tax increases.

We know. Let’s blame it on the Assessor. Harvey, before you retire to Florida, tell us where we can send our property tax bills.

It’s the perfect storm, really. Inaction in Albany. Expenses for school districts, as they are for most of us, going through the roof. Disparity in State Aid, based on a confounding mix of formulae that both time and reason hath forgot, between the nearly full-funding received by upstate districts and the paltry sums that trickle down to Long Island.

The proverbial ship has hit the fan, folks. And with New York’s deficit deepening, and debt mounting, don’t look up the Hudson for anybody to bail us out.

Hey, we warned you about spending that STAR rebate check. Foolish homeowners. You thought you could use that money to put food on the table, make your next mortgage payment, or buy books next semester for your daughter in college. Let that be a lesson to us all!
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From Newsday:

School-tax hikes in Nassau anger residents
BY JOHN HILDEBRAND john.hilderbrand@newsday.com

More than 75,000 homeowners in Nassau County are getting socked with double-digit -percentage hikes in school taxes - a shock for many in a year when school districts raised tax levies an average of about 4 percent.

While overall district levy increases are the lowest in a decade, 70 percent of individual Nassau homeowners are seeing tax hikes exceeding 4 percent in bills received earlier this month. And about one homeowner in every five is getting an increase of 10 percent or more, according to figures prepared by the County Assessor's Office at Newsday's request.

Tax levies are the total amount raised through local property taxes to pay for school expenses; levy increases may be higher or lower than tax hikes on individual homes.

In response to widespread complaints from Nassau taxpayers, school and county officials explain that much of the rise in taxes is beyond the control of schools themselves.

Contributing factors include a continued rise in taxable values of homes due to a lag in assessments, along with reductions in the state's STAR tax credits, which are paid to schools in lieu of property taxes.

Many homeowners find such explanations difficult to fathom, especially at a time when actual housing prices in their own neighborhoods are starting to sag.

"I went off my rocker!" said Tom Lavin, of Woodbury, a retiree who saw school taxes on his high-ranch home jump 10.7 percent.

A friend, Eleanor Hund, who lives in neighboring Syosset, said she was "shocked" by a 14.5 percent rise in her taxes.

In contrast, the Syosset-Woodbury school budget, approved by residents in May, carried a tax-levy increase of 5.98 percent.

At the time, local school officials said they couldn't estimate the effect of that levy on individuals' property taxes because factors needed to calculate those taxes, such as home assessments, had not been finalized.

State and county authorities note that much of the extra taxes are offset by another form of STAR payments - rebate checks mailed directly to homeowners. In Nassau County, most checks range from $170 to $860 per household, depending on income and other factors, with payments as high as $1,026 for older residents with limited incomes.

Some of those authorities acknowledge, however, that homeowners' burdens could increase substantially next year, if the state cuts back on rebates in response to a weakening economy.

On Tuesday, Gov. David A. Paterson projected next year's state budget deficit at $12.5 billion.

"If the state is short of money, they could cut anything," said Nassau County Assessor Harvey Levinson.

Figures prepared by the assessor's office show that about 233,000 residences out of a total 333,000 in the county got school tax hikes of more than 4 percent, while 76,000 got increases of 10 percent or more. The total excluded about 52,000 residences where tax hikes were affected by changes in exemptions and other special circumstances.

Levinson says he sympathizes with homeowners who wonder why assessed values continue to climb in the face of a weakening market. Assessments, he explains, are based not on current housing prices, but on prices paid in 2006 and the latter half of 2005.

The reason for this time lag: a state law requiring the county to set assessments early, in order to give property owners time to appeal before receiving their tax bills.

Homeowners also are confused, Levinson adds, by the state's practice of dividing STAR money between payments going directly to them and payments going to school districts. The assessor contends that all STAR money should go to schools, because this would make distribution cheaper and allow schools to curb taxes further.

State lawmakers defend the current system, on grounds that it ensures homeowners benefit directly.

STAR rebates do not go to owners of commercial property, however. Richard M. Bivone, whose East Meadow firm provides fire-safety services, saw the school tax bill on one of his offices recently rise 7.7 percent, even though the East Meadow school district raised its levy 4.7 percent.

"It's debilitating, because there's no end in sight," said Bivone, who is president of the Nassau Council of Chambers of Commerce.

The rate-setting system also creates headaches for school officials, who have only limited control.

"This is one of the most difficult things to explain to taxpayers," said Leon Campo, superintendent in the East Meadow district, "because we're explaining the work of someone else."

Suffolk's tax bills go out in December.

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.
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The View From John Q. Public:

What were Long Island residents thinking last May when most approved low single digit school tax increases? Did they really think those numbers were going to hold up?

School administrators and boards have known for years how to hide surplus cash. Now they have mastered the art of playing with tax rates and property valuations. Schools put budgets up for vote in May. What people are actually voting on is the total spending amount but schools are always out their SELLING the tax increase amount. In 2008 this amounted to an average 4% increase.

So, how do schools determine the tax rate that they are SELLING to the public? It’s so simple, even a cave man could do it. They take the amount of money they want to take from us, subtract the amount of money they are to get from grants, federal and state sources and divide it by the prior years actual assessed property value which they adjust so they can back into the tax rate they feel they can SELL. Bottom line, they play games with the numbers and can sell whatever tax rate they need for budget approval. Then when the actual assessed values come out in October (like we see today), the real tax comes to light. Some schools like Wantagh and Patchogue have seen through this scam and reject even single digit tax increases.

Schools start working on their budgets in November so as we get into the 2009 school budget season, school boards and administrators will have some huge hurdles to overcome and find new ways to hoodwink the public. I think their time is up! As Newsday helps educate the public on how all this works, schools will also have to deal with huge cuts in grants and state funding. More importantly, the recent economic meltdown attributed to the housing crisis (fueled by inflated property values) will put a real focus on this newly discovered new math!

Robert J. Newman
Patchogue , NY
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What's in your wallet -- and on your mind? The Community Alliance wants to know! Write us with your opinions, viewpoints, and guest blogs at thecommunityalliance@yahoo.com.

Remember, blogging is not a spectator sport!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Who Will Assess The Next Assessor?

To Elect Or Appoint? That Is The Question!

Next Tuesday, November 4th, Nassau County residents will go to the polls to elect a president, members of Congress, and State Legislators, among sundry other office holders, from judges to town council members.

Also on the ballot is a Referendum which, if passed, would replace the now-elected (for a 6-year term) Chairman of the County Board of Assessors (commonly known and often misidentified as “the Assessor”) with an appointed (for a 3-year term) Assessor, hand-chosen by the County Executive, and confirmed by the Nassau County Legislature.

The theory behind the Referendum – or at least so much of the thought process as is messaged to the public – is that an appointed Assessor depoliticizes the office, permitting this overseer of the assessment process (as sordid as it is) to do his or her job without having to engage in the customary, and, when it comes to property taxes, always derisive, electioneering.

Opponents of the Assessor-by-appointment argue, with more than nominal merit, that removing the public – whose very property is being taxed through the Assessor’s office – from the equation, chips away at John Q’s right to redress tax grievances, if for no other reason than the Assessor, no longer subject to the whim of the popular vote, would become less responsive to public representation [read as, “We’re being property-taxed to death”], and wholly beholden to the one making the appointment [read as, the Nassau County Executive]. Then again, taxation without representation has become little more than mere cliché, hasn’t it?

Those who favor appointment of the Assessor over election say that not only will the position become less political, but with the elimination of the Board of Assessors, there would be an annual cost-saving of some $250,000. [We’ll never see a penny of that, of course, but, somewhere, the books will reflect – and the County Exec will boast – a savings to the taxpayers.]

Frankly – and we’ve said this before – its not the Assessor that’s the problem, or even how he lands in office. It’s the assessment.

With a complex and convoluted process for calculating the assessment that makes the State’s maze of school aid formulae look like a game of tiddly-winks, we’ve ended up with a system that, at best, distorts home values, and, at worst, systematically robs homeowners of their ability to live in their own homes.

“Fair” is not a word that comes to mind when one discusses the property tax or its assessment, the onerous burden placed squarely upon the shoulders of homeowners, including those who, having bought into the American dream for less than they now pay every year in property taxes, are being taxed into the poorhouse (where at least they’d get “a cot and 3 hot”).

We talk about scraping the assessment system, perhaps in favor of a more equitable local income tax (Shhh. Don’t say that. Someone may accuse us of wanting to “spread the wealth”). We have even had State commissions and local study groups visit the issue, and its component parts, be they related to local government “efficiency” (gag us with a spoon) or a property tax “cap” (not a reduction; just a cap), with reports that praise the virtues of cost-cutting and consolidation, all the while urging across-the-board “reform.” [We suggest the Governor empanel a Blue Ribbon commission to study the meaning of the word “reform.” Then watch for a final report to which all conformist non-reformers can sign on to!]

But we digress. What were we talking about again? Oh yeah. The Referendum.

Whether appointing is any less – or more – political than electing is one for the ages. Are appointed judges, for instance, less political than elected judges? Or is it just the opposite?

And where that appointment must be confirmed by one of the most politicized and polarized bodies in New York, the Nassau County Legislature, could the outcome be characterized as anything but political?

What we are looking for, we are reminded, is transparency and, above all, accountability, from those who govern us, right? Or does the mere appearance of transparency and accountability suffice?

True, the electorate has been dumbed-down over the years, falling prey to campaign small talk that labels, libels, and contorts, but even Joe-The-Plumber can figure out that, in a democracy, elected trumps appointed – and where we elect the wrong person for the job, its our own fault, not the product of a back-room deal or the machinations of a legislature that bickers over minutia and lets die in committee the big stuff.

As you may recall, these guys couldn’t even agree on the appointment of a Poet Laureate for Nassau County. Perhaps, next time around, we should simply elect one!
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From the
League of Women Voters of Nassau County:

Making the Nassau County Assessor an Appointed Position with
Educational and Professional Qualifications Form of Referendum:

SHALL NASSAU COUNTY LOCAL LAW NO. 7 -2008, ENTITLED "A Local Law to amend the County Government Law, in relation to the organization of the Department of Assessment and the appointment and duties of the Assessor," abolishing the County Board of Assessors and replacing the county-wide elected Chair of the Board of Assessors with an Assessor, who would be appointed by the County Executive, subject to confirmation by the County Legislature, for a term of three years and who would be required to meet standards of education and professional experience. BE APPROVED?

Proposed Abstract
This referendum seeks voter approval of a local law to amend the Nassau County Charter, in relation to the organization of the Department of Assessment and the appointment and duties of the Assessor.

The law brings Nassau County in line with most other jurisdictions throughout the State by providing for a single appointed professional County Assessor to serve as the head of the County Department of Assessment. The Charter amendment would abolish the County Board of Assessors and replace the county-wide elected Chair of the Board of Assessors with an Assessor, appointed to a three year term of office by the County Executive, subject to confirmation by the County Legislature, and required to meet professional standards of education and experience and to obtain certification as a New York State certified assessor within three years of beginning his or her initial term of office.

In addition, the proposed law amends former Charter § 607 (entitled "Correction of roll: extension of taxes") to delete obsolete language that provided for the hearing of complaints from property owners. Since the provision is inconsistent with subsequently enacted sections of State law, it has not been used for many years.

The law would become effective on January 1, 2009.

Those who favor the referendum say it will take politics out of the Assessor’s position. There would no longer be a need for the candidate to raise money and run a political campaign, and the Assessor would not be identified with a particular party. The Assessor would have to meet professional educational and experiential requirements, thereby assuring knowledge and experience with the job. This referendum would bring Nassau County in conformity with most of the rest of the counties, 85% of which have professional Assessors.

Those against the referendum say that it robs Nassau County residents of their constitutional right of representation and their right to vote for a policy-making government official. They say that it would effectively eliminate the people’s choice and hand it over to the County Executive; that this law quashes the voices of all 1.3 million Nassau County residents. The key factor is accountability. We should leave the choice in the hands of the taxpaying voters, who should retain their right to select and elect the County Tax Assessor.