Monday, February 04, 2008

Residents For Efficient Special Districts Reach Out To Commission

"Transparency, Accountability, Necessity"

January 30, 2008

New York State Commission of
Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness
Stan Lundine, Chairman

Dear Chairman Lundine,

The members of RESD, comprising civic leaders from across Long Island have committed significant time and effort on developing the enclosed recommendations. We trust you and the other commission members will give them careful consideration. RESD has been a leading grassroots organization on this issue and many of our members have personal experiences with special taxing districts on Long Island.


Laura K. Mallay
Executive Director
- - -
Residents for Efficient Special Districts
Recommendations to the NYS Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness

Improved efficiency in public services and lower taxes in New York lie primarily in three areas:



It is extremely cumbersome for taxpayers to determine how taxpayer dollars are being spent within the current special taxing district system. Special taxing districts do not easily provide basic information to interested taxpayers. Consequently, most citizens give up in frustration. Needed changes in the laws that govern the special taxing districts would make for a more informed and aware electorate.

1) Public question and answer periods should be mandated for every commissioner-run board meeting with no qualifications. Mandating oral or written notification to special taxing districts before a meeting occurs makes participation by concerned taxpayers frustrating.

2) Public websites with basic information should be required and include notice of all meetings, elections, current and prior year budgets, and minutes of previous meetings.

3) Notices for Requests for Proposals (RFPs) should be required in high circulation, countywide publications that are generally accepted as the daily source of information to residents. RFPs should be available as well on the website.

4) Newsletters and mailings from the district should be prohibited ninety (90) days prior to special taxing district elections except for limited circumstances.

5) All commissioners should be unpaid and limited to three (3) terms, with each term not to exceed three (3) years in duration.

6) Individuals should be limited to serving on only one board at any given time. These are to be volunteer positions and the potential for conflict of interest on both a personal and multi-boundary district level must be averted.


Turnout for special taxing district elections is generally only 1% - 3% of the registered voters. This lies in stark contrast to the notion of “local control” which exists more in theory than in practice. Additionally, the policies and procedures of the special taxing district elections are created and managed by the District Commissioners themselves, which creates an inherent conflict of interest. With no oversight of the integrity of the elections, the potential for voter fraud and disenfranchisement is great.

1) All elections by special taxing districts must be under the jurisdiction of the County Board of Elections. Additionally, tellers or workers at the polls must be independent of the special taxing district and not present a conflict of interest.

2) Elections for special taxing districts must be held on one day in the calendar year, either the general election day in November or, in the alternative, the school district Election Day in May that was established to provide taxpayer participation in educational budgets.

3) Standard and consistent election hours must be established, to allow for fairness to all, regardless of work schedule. Additionally, absentee ballots must be made available under the same rules and criteria used for general elections in the state of New York.

4) Provide residents the right to vote on the annual budget as is done in school district elections.

5) Residents should not be required to submit FOIL requests for basic information (e.g. the operating budget) from special taxing districts. Information provided by special taxing districts should be made available to residents within five (5) business days.

6) Fundraising accounts of local Fire Departments and the “Fire Fighter Exempts Organization” collect and retain millions of dollars that are unregulated and not audited. Oversight of these funds must be legislated at the State level.

7) There should be a cap on the amount of money held in reserve funds for the Special Taxing Districts. These districts levy taxes for years without ever informing the taxpayers what the money is being set aside for and then purchase without voter approval. While not financially prudent, having the Special Taxing Districts bond these large purchases would let the VOTERS decide. A cap like the one in place for the school district budgets would better protect the taxpayers.

Necessity of certain Special Taxing Districts

Residents for Efficient Special Districts (RESD) has serious reservations about the value being delivered to taxpayers through special taxing districts. Special taxing districts, which were designed almost 100 years ago, have outlived their usefulness. The system has resulted in high taxes and overlapping and redundant provision of services. Elimination and consolidation of districts, associations and boards must be seriously evaluated at the state level to help lower taxes and deliver services more efficiently.

1) We support the transfer of local water and sewer authority to the County level. Environmental policies and standards should be administered at the County level.

2) Consolidation of special sanitation districts to the Town level would provide continuity of local community standards while preserving the jobs of sanitation workers in relative proximity to their homes.

3) Residents should have the option of voting to consolidate their fire district with another one without Town approval or, reorganize the fire districts at the County level.

4) Towns should take a much more active role in reviewing and approving the budgets of special taxing districts that fall within their jurisdiction.

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