Monday, March 17, 2008

Another Nail In The Coffin Of The Special Taxing Districts

Our Only Question: What Took So Long?

The probe widens, as the Attorney General of New York, the Nassau County District Attorney, and the Nassau County Comptroller broaden the investigation into Long Island's way too many and oh so costly special districts.

Who is getting paid for what? What benefits are commissioners, employees, and their relations getting for part-time or no-time work? Who is double, triple, or quadruple dipping into the NYS pension fund?

Certainly, the questions are not new, and they've been asked before, by groups like Residents for Efficient Special Districts (RESD) and The Community Alliance.

Beginning in 2005, Nassau County Assessor Harvey Levinson started to make serious inquiries, as well as quite a few waves, when he brought to light the outrageous costs to the taxpayer borne as a result of special district operations, as well as the disparity of expenses from district to district.

Few seemed to take notice, and even fewer, amazingly, seemed to actually care.

Perhaps now, with the economy tanking and homeowners losing equity and value by the minute, there is greater urgency in plugging the leaks and keeping a keen eye on the bottom line.

When it comes to hubris, there are few more arrogant, and steadfastly resistant to relinquishing power and its accoutrements than the special district commissioners.

If, indeed, pride cometh before the fall, then clearly, some of the high and mighty are about to take what amounts to a quantum leap off the cliff.

No tears to be shed by the taxpayers of Nassau County, though.

The demise of the special districts, and the greedy and self-indulgent hacks who run them, has been too long in coming, and at much too high a cost to the taxpayer.

To Howard Weitzman, Andrew Cuomo and Kathleen Rice we say, "Go and get 'em!"
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From Newsday:

Editorial: Probing Long Island's special districts

Those bull's-eyes on the backs of Nassau County's special districts just got a little brighter.

There are now three different probes targeting abuses in the crediting of public retirement and health care benefits. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, along with Nassau County's district attorney, Kathleen Rice, and its comptroller, Howard Weitzman, all have different roles to play - from recovering erroneously awarded pension dollars to prosecuting criminal activity.

The end result, however, will be a public accounting of who may have gotten undeserved riches and how much that may have cost all of us.

Cuomo is widening his investigation into payroll abuses by school districts to now include 36 water, sanitary and sewer districts, as well as five library districts in Nassau. This is some of the territory already mined by Weitzman, whose 2005 audits found that some districts had outside attorneys and other professional consultants listed as employees, so that those individuals could get generous state benefits.

At that time, no one seemed to care.

Now the blooming taxpayer revolt against wasteful spending has caught Albany's eye. There's a real possibility that legislation will be passed this year that would eliminate pay and benefits for commissioners in special districts, essentially removing the reason for their existence.

Most of these districts have lingered decades past their usefulness because political parties needed the patronage jobs they supply, as grease for the parties' machines. The results of these probes could make the case even stronger. Most special districts could be eliminated without any effect on local residents - except a lower tax bill.

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.

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