Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Final Report Issued On Local Government Efficiency

Governor Introduces Legislation To End Special District Pay, Perks

Here we go!

The final report of the NYS Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness (yes, we know, we know) has hit the street.

It is comprehensive and far reaching, and has already spurred legislation to end salaries and perks for special district commissioners and their ilk.

The Commission's recommendations have also raised criticism from the State's AFL-CIO (which means the Commission must have done something right!).

Here are the highlights of the Commission's Report:

Regional Services
􀂃 Centralize certain services at the county level: assessing, tax collection, emergency dispatch,
civil service commissions, vital records
􀂃 Provide flexibility for counties to share jail facilities and manage jail populations
􀂃 Expand local governments’ ability to share services
􀂃 Encourage justice court consolidation
􀂃 Consolidate IDAs at the county or regional level
􀂃 Enable multiple counties to share functions like weights & measures and health directors
􀂃 Allow renegotiation of collective bargaining agreements when consolidations occur

Modern Municipal Structures
􀂃 Require town-wide approval for new villages and local reconsideration of small villages
􀂃 Ease procedures for consolidation, citizen petitions, and coterminous town-villages
􀂃 Require local consideration of county-level management for fire protection
􀂃 End compensation for special district commissioners, turn over management of sanitation
districts to towns, and require local reconsideration of all commissioner-run districts
􀂃 Allow local governments to make property tax sharing agreements
􀂃 Strengthen home rule by prohibiting the judicial doctrine of “implied preemption”
􀂃 Examine reclassifying some cities, towns and villages, and reconsider powers for each class

School District Restructuring
􀂃 Empower the Commissioner of Education to order consolidation
􀂃 Set up local schools restructuring committees to examine service sharing and consolidation
􀂃 Authorize regional collective bargaining contracts for new hires (phased in at local option)
􀂃 Facilitate consolidation of back office services and regional high schools

Informed & Active Voters
􀂃 Hold all local elections on November or May dates
􀂃 Reduce number of elective offices by converting certain positions to appointive
􀂃 Provide better information for voters
􀂃 Improve local financial data for benchmarking

Aid & Incentives
􀂃 Local Government Efficiency Grants and 21st Century Demonstration Projects
􀂃 Increase aid for efficient assessing using modern professional standards
􀂃 Encourage regional solutions, cooperative services and consolidation

Addressing Cost Drivers
􀂃 Require minimum employee contributions for health insurance
􀂃 Ease municipal cooperative health plan rules
􀂃 Review public employee pension benefit options (Tier 5)
􀂃 Reform Wicks and other procurement rules

Sustaining Local Efficiency
􀂃 Maintain a long-term focus on local efficiency at the state level, using existing state agency
resources organized through a Center for Local Government Efficiency that will support local
initiatives, promote cost-savings and follow through on Commission recommendations

Our take? "If only."

If only the Governor and our State Legislature (in essence, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver) follow through with enabling legislation.

If only county and town government would step up to the plate and do their part to adopt and implement the Commission's recommendations.

If only local government -- and we necessarily include school districts here -- would take the initiative to think and act regionally, consolidating, cost-saving, commited to the constituents they serve, and to those they tax.

If only New Yorkers would demand of their elected officials that the strong and compelling words of the Commission are worthy of the actions necessary to turn rhetoric into reality.

If only it was as simple as issuing a report, no matter how well intentioned, thought out, and forward-looking.

The Commission is to be thanked for its hard work and extraordinary effort, applauded for taking a long, hard look at the manner in which local government functions (and malfunctions), and heeded in its many recommendations, many of which would not only make local government operations -- including the essentials of fire service, water delivery, education, and sanitation -- not only more efficient, but quantifiably less costly (read as, "less taxing").

And now for the difficult task of creating that efficient, competitive, 21st century, local government the Commission envisions.

Let's hope we're not sitting here a year from today, tax bill in hand, scratching our heads, asking, "How did that work out for you?"
- - -
Click HERE to read the Commission's Report in its entirety.
- - -
Guv wants to nix perks for special districts

Gov. David A. Paterson is proposing legislation Wednesday to eliminate pay and perks for special district commissioners and put town boards in charge of sanitation districts.

Those are among the recommendations he has already accepted from the state Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness, which delivered its final report to him Wednesday.

"What has happened over the years is that they have become patronage mills," Paterson said of special districts. Paterson's proposal also would make it easier for municipalities to form a cooperative health plan and highway shared services agreements, allow multiple counties to share a single public health director and board of health, and make it easier for citizens to petition for municipal consolidations and dissolutions.

"We recognize that this [streamlining government] has been thought about before and that this has been tried before, but we are in an era that may be unparalleled," Paterson said. With property taxes rising 53 percent over the past six years, he said, "New Yorkers are voting with their feet."

The commission report also recommends giving New York's state education commissioner the legal power to order school district consolidations and restructuring.

It calls for consolidating a variety of government functions at the county or regional level: industrial development agencies; property tax assessment and tax collection; emergency dispatch; as well as civil service commissions and vital records.

The report also recommends requiring minimum employee contributions for health insurance.

It would require town wide approval of all new villages and would require local consideration of countywide management for fire protection services. Paterson said he plans to take its other recommendations under review over the next six weeks.

The state AFL-CIO issued a statement shortly after the release of the report bashing its cost-saving recommendations as "troubling" and said they would "further hasten this state's economic downturn."

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Isiah Thomas As Editor-In-Chief Of Newsday?

Only On Cable, Never In The Funny Papers

First it was Mortimer Zuckerman (Daily News) vying for the ownership of Newsday. Then it was Rupert Murdoch (NY Post).

And now, the Dolans, of Cablevision and NY Knicks infamy?

It could happen, according to a recent report published in the very paper that has become the focus of this high-priced tug-of-war, Newsday.

The Dolans, who, with Isiah Thomas courtside, all but ruined New York's champion-grade basketball team, and, while fleecing subscribers, have monopolized the cable scene for decades, are now poised to make a pitch for Newsday.

The Dolans, whose midas touch has made the family rich, have nonetheless destroyed everything they get their greedy little hands on, from the ruination of the Knickerbockers to the destruction of a cable empire through lousy customer service, price gouging, and hundreds of channels, few of which are worth the fiber optics they are transmitted through.

Use the subscribers' money to buy Long Island's only regional daily? Sure, why not?

And if Rupert Murdoch should win the war for Newsday?

Well, then, perhaps he'll appoint Al D'Amato to the editorial board.
- - -
Cablevision poised on Newsday bid; Al D'Amato's role seen

Cablevision Systems Corp. appears poised to make an end-around bid for Newsday this week with an offer expected to top two competing $580-million bids by media barons Rupert Murdoch and Mortimer Zuckerman, according to sources familiar with the matter.

But while Cablevision's controlling Dolan family may be willing to up the ante, they apparently do not have the behind-the-scenes influence that News Corp. Chairman Murdoch has been employing to smooth the Newsday purchase with local politicians: former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato.

D'Amato, whose Park Strategies Washington Group Llc is listed as a lobbyist for News Corp., last week made introductory phone calls for Murdoch to Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi and Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), among others, both officials acknowledged.

"I've had several conversations with Al about this in the past weeks," said King. "Al has great respect for Rupert Murdoch."

Since 2006, D'Amato and Park Strategies have been paid $160,000 to represent News Corp. before the Federal Communications Commission and Congress on "matters relating to telecommunications, media and broadcasting," according to federal records. D'Amato's firm declined comment yesterday, as did News Corp.

Unclear Monday was just how much the Dolans might be willing to pony up for Newsday, or whether the cable giant would move forward with an offer in conjunction with New York Observer owner Jared Kushner. Spokesmen for the companies declined to comment.

Cablevision and Observer officials are expected to meet again in the next few days to discuss their possible venture, one source said. The Observer, in any case, is not prepared to go it alone, the source said.

An expert following the bidding, who suggested Cablevision's interest in Newsday would likely drive the sale price higher, into the low $600-million range, said its interest is as much about strengthening its local empire as locking out other media players.

"Make no mistake about it, the Dolan family does not want Murdoch or Zuckerman staking out camp in Melville," where Newsday is based, said Kevin Kamen, president and chief executive of media appraisal firm Kamen & Co. Group Services in Baldwin. "They believe this is their market."

Any escalation of the bidding could play into the hands of Tribune chief executive Sam Zell, who is working to amass cash for large debt payments tied to the transaction that took Tribune private. As such, Zell hasn't set a formal deadline for bids but would like to receive them soon, said one source familiar with the Zell-Murdoch talks. "He doesn't want to drag this out. After all, he and Rupert have already reached an agreement in principle for Newsday," the source said.

Tribune spokesman Gary Weitman declined to comment Monday.

Separately Monday, Tribune announced completion of its $175-million purchase of the land and buildings used by Newsday and three of its other newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times.

The deal severs the final tie between the papers and their former owner, the Chandler family of Los Angeles. It also wipes out about $24 million in annual rent payments.

Sources familiar with the talks for Newsday said the land acquisition gives Tribune more flexibility to strike a deal because it now owns all of Newsday and can retain ownership of the property in a future joint venture.

The notion of a joint venture has emerged as a key tax-avoidance component of Murdoch's bid for Newsday.

D'Amato has been a vocal proponent of Murdoch's ownership of Newsday. "Already the owner of the vigorous New York Post, Murdoch could bring decades of newspaper experience to bear, together with the ability to create a joint operating agreement between the two paper," D'Amato wrote in a November 2006 column in the Long Island Business News, well before Tribune went private in the Zell-led transaction.

This story was reported by James T. Madore, Thomas Maier and Mark Harrington. It was written by Harrington.

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.

Monday, April 28, 2008

A "Cap" On Property Taxes Or A Burden On Those Who Pay Them?

Suggested "Circuit Breakers" Would Do Little To Curb Spending, Reduce Tax Bill

A proposal now being aired before the NYS Commission on Property Tax Relief -- and apparently gaining enthusiastic support among a broad audience -- would cap not the property tax itself, but rather, the amount taxpayers would have to pay based on their level of income.

Would this so-called "circuit breaker" reduce the property the property tax?


Would it force school districts to further tighten their belts and cut spending?


Would it change the way we finance public education in New York State?


All it would do is shift the property tax burden from one set of financially-strapped taxpayers to another, without doing anything to remedy the underlying problem.

We agree with Commission Chairman, Tom Suozzi, that "the state would be 'enhancing' inequities between wealthy and poor schools by not having a cap," but, by the same token, the state would be widening the gap between wealthy (and even the not so) taxpayers and the poor by capping property taxes for some, but not for others.

Indeed, a "circuit breaker" cap would break the back -- not to mention the bank -- of the already overassessed and unduly oppressed homeowner, whose tax bill has skyrocketed into the stratosphere in recent years, and, quite frankly, is in no position to take yet another hit by way of shifted burden. [Homeowners are already behind the eight ball, given the dramatic and inequitable shift of the property tax burden away from commercial properties, right into the laps of those who own residential properties.]

Cap, if you will -- not that this will solve the problem, but it appears the Commission is already primed to move in that direction -- but when you do, cap across the board, and across all income levels.

Then, find a way -- through elimination, consolidation, and/or fundamental changes to New York's out-of-whack school aid formulae -- to actually give homeowners what they want, what they need, and, after all these years of digging deep into their pockets, what they deserve -- a lower property tax bill.

Enough is enough, already!
- - -
Plan to cap school taxes based on income praised

ALBANY - The idea of capping school-property taxes for moderate-income homeowners - but not for all taxpayers - appears to have gained momentum with the education establishment and members of a state commission studying how to lessen the tax burden.During the last of six public meetings, the Commission on Property Tax Relief yesterday heard multiple endorsements for a "circuit breaker" that would limit tax payments based on the ability to pay.

Relief would be steered toward moderate-income homeowners through tax credits instead of the current STAR rebate checks. The state probably would pick up the $1.5 billion or so in revenue lost by school districts.

Such a circuit breaker, which already exists in New York State in a more modest form, was lauded by the teachers union, school boards and superintendents - disparate groups that disagreed here on other issues before the commissioners.

"We should be looking more seriously at a circuit breaker which will help the people who need [tax relief] the most," said Robert Lowry Jr. of the state Council of School Superintendents. An across-the-board tax cap "would lock in existing disparities" between wealthy and poor school districts, and fail to address the soaring costs of employees' pensions and health care as well as gasoline for school buses, he said.

Alan B. Lubin, of the powerful New York State United Teachers, agreed, saying universal caps such as those in Massachusetts and California rob schools of resources needed to provide quality instruction. Capping property-tax hikes at three or four percent would have meant $27.5 million less for the Uniondale schools over the past four years and $15.2 million less for Westbury schools, he said.

"A circuit breaker protects taxpayers from a property-tax overload just like an electric circuit breaker by essentially capping an individual household's property taxes as a percentage of their income," he said. "Already 35 states have some form of circuit breaker."

However, business executives argued for a universal cap, saying it would force school districts to cut costs. The executives described the circuit breaker as a half-measure when the status quo needs to be blown up.

"A circuit breaker doesn't get to the core problem of controlling local spending ... it's not a solution," said Kenneth Pokalsky of the Business Council of New York State.

The seven-member commission, appointed by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer and continued by successor David A. Paterson, is warming to the circuit breaker as opposed to a universal cap, according to people familiar with its deliberations who requested anonymity. At yesterday's hearing, commissioner Paul Tokasz, a lobbyist and former Democratic majority leader in the Assembly, repeatedly asked speakers about the circuit breaker.

But commission chairman Thomas Suozzi, the Nassau County executive, said the state would be "enhancing" inequities between wealthy and poor schools by not having a cap. He also said the commission would issue its report on May 22, a week later than originally proposed because educators feared a backlash in the annual school budget votes scheduled for May 20.

Suozzi praised Paterson for using his first veto to strike down a bill mandating the hiring of police chiefs in communities with 150,000 people or less. Suozzi said such regulations are another reason why property taxes keep rising. Spitzer vetoed a similar bill last year.

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Light At The End Of The Lighthouse?

Town Schedules Public Hearings On "Impact" Of Nassau Hub

Let no one -- and certainly not this blogger -- say that the Town of Hempstead doesn't move with all deliberate speed when it wants to.

Public Hearings on the much-heralded Lighthouse Project, the "hub" of Nassau that would boast a renovated Coliseum as its centerpiece -- have been set for Thursday, May 22 and Tuesday, May 27 at Hempstead Town Hall.

The public (that would be you) is invited to comment on the proposal, and to raise issues of concern, which necessarily include traffic flow, air/water quality, and transportation.

These "scoping sessions," as these public forums are referred to, will be held as follows:

Location -
Town of Hempstead
Nathan L. H. Bennett Pavilion
One Washington Street
Hempstead, NY

Dates & Times-
Thursday, May 22, 2008 at 10:00 a.m.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008 at 7:00 p.m. [WOW! An evening hearing. Way to go.]

For more information, residents may call 516-794-8300.

The Town of Hempstead has even gone so far as to post the draft scope of the lighthouse application on its website, which provides a generic overview of the environmental impact statement for "The Lighthouse at Long Island."

As reported in Newsday, if all moves forward as planned, it is possible that ground could be broken on this 10-year project, decades in the making, as early as July, 2009.


Which all goes to show that Town Supervisor, Kate Murray, can set things in motion, and actually get the job done -- or at least started -- when she wants to.

Ulterior motives to getting the Lighthouse Project off the drawing board before the announcement of Kate Murray for Nassau County Executive?

Perhaps. But hitting the turnpike running on this planned renaissance for America's first suburb is a must, and, on this score, Supervisor Murray gets a well deserved pat on the back.

Now, about those plans for Baldwin, Elmont, West Hempstead...
- - -
Public comment sessions set for Lighthouse project


The public will soon have a chance to express concerns about the environmental and economic impact of the largest building project to hit Nassau County in decades - the $2-billion Lighthouse development that includes a renovated Nassau Coliseum.

The developers - who propose to build hundreds of hotel rooms, more than 2,000 apartments and millions of square feet of convention, office and retail space - say they believe that the input they have already received has covered whatever issues could arise.

But they're still open to suggestions.

And they'll get them at two public "scoping" sessions the Town of Hempstead has scheduled for next month.

The Lighthouse team - billionaire Charles Wang and real estate mogul Scott Rechler - submitted to the town last week a 28-page draft report, outlining environmental studies under way. Areas likely to be affected by the project include water, transportation, traffic, parking, air quality and noise.

Town officials took the next step in the approval process by scheduling hearings, for May 22 and 27, at which groups or agencies can talk about potentially significant adverse impacts that may not have been considered. Those suggestions would be incorporated in the report that developers submitted, which then would be used by the developers in preparing a draft impact statement.

Uniondale residents, whose main concerns are traffic and transportation, say they'll attend the public sessions.

"We would like to see a meshing of that project with our community," said Mary-Ellen Kreye, past president of the Uniondale Community Council, a civic group. "We want transportation in and out available for people who work and live in Uniondale, too. We want Uniondale businesses to be helped, not replaced."

The developers say they'd like to begin the Coliseum renovation in July 2009, a project expected to generate thousands of construction jobs. It would be the first phase of a two-phase, 10-year project.

They have applied to create new zoning for the 150 acres along Hempstead Turnpike, in hopes of providing "a community of pedestrian-friendly interconnected streets." The report says the design is intended to be energy-efficient and to reduce residents' and employees' dependence on automobiles by using public transportation, shared parking facilities and traffic management programs.

Developers said they will have spent more than $7 million on consultants to study the various areas of impact, and anticipate a final report will be submitted to the town in July.

Studies will examine existing and projected traffic flow at 50 area intersections and highway ramps, both during morning and evening rush hours and before and after Islanders games.

Alternative forms of transportation being considered are walking and bicycling, as are such other energy-saving alternatives as solar, geothermal and fuel cell.

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.

Good Night, And Good Look

In Celebration of Edward R. Murrow

Had he lived, iconic broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow would have been 100 today.

It was Murrow who brought home the incivilities from the front lines of Europe during World War II, and who boldly challenged the witch hunts of Senator Joseph McCarthy during the 1950s.

Murrow was not only a pioneer of television news -- frankly, there was none before him -- his nose for the story, ability to tap into the very soul of America, and keen sense of what was news and what was opinion, paved the way for such giants in the industry who were to follow, among them, Walter Conkrite and Eric Severied. [Surely, you weren't thinking Bill O'Reilly, were you?]

Though no man's life can -- or should -- be summed up in a series of quotes or sound bytes, it is noteworthy here that we attribute to Murrow what has surely become his legacy -- a lesson not only to journalists (or those who would have us believe they are journalists, but are no more than imposters serving, as Murrow would have said, as accomplices of those who would terrorize a whole nation), but to all of those who cherish freedom and its liberties.

"If we confuse dissent with disloyalty — if we deny the right of the individual to be wrong, unpopular, eccentric or unorthodox — if we deny the essence of racial equality, then hundreds of millions in Asia and Africa who are shopping about for a new allegiance will conclude that we are concerned to defend a myth and our present privileged status. Every act that denies or limits the freedom of the individual in this country costs us the. . . confidence of men and women who aspire to that freedom and independence of which we speak and for which our ancestors fought." – Ford Fiftieth Anniversary Show, CBS and NBC, June 1953, "Conclusion." Murrow: His Life and Times, A.M. Sperber, Freundlich Books, 1986

"We proclaim ourselves as indeed we are: The defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world. But we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home."

"We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep in our history and doctrine and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes which were, for the moment, unpopular. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of the Republic to abdicate his responsibility." - From the March 9, 1954, "See It Now" television broadcast on Senator Joe McCarthy.

"A nation of sheep begets a government of wolves."

"To be persuasive, we must be believable; to be believable, we must be credible; to be credible, we must be truthful."

They may not be paying tribute on this day to Edward R. Murrow at the Bush White House, where that "government of wolves" has abdicated its responsibility to defend freedom here at home, among other insults to democracy, instead resorting to a contortion of the public will through fear and intimidation.

Nor are they likely to be extoling the virtues of Murrow's journalistic integrity at Fox News, where "believable," "credible," and "truthful" are not part of the vernacular, the spin dominated by the likes of Karl Rove and Sean Hannity.

It remains for us then, as bloggers, psuedo-journalists, and ordinary citizens, to remember Edward R. Murrow, and to aspire to his vision, his ideal, realizing that, whether in print, online, or on television, "This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire, but it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box."

Good night, and good luck.
- - -
From The Community Alliance Blog, November 14, 2005

Dissent Is Not Disloyalty. . .

In the 1950s, if you spoke out against the outrages of Senator Joseph McCarthy, the House Unamerican Activities Committee, or the Internal Security Act, you were labeled a Communist, blacklisted, and disgraced as a sympathizer of causes that ran counter to the American ideal.

In the early 1970s, if you protested the war in Vietnam, the White House's "secret plan to end the war," or J. Edgar Hoover's wiretaps in the name of national security, your were disloyal to your country, summarily admonished to either "love it or leave it."

Today, should you dare to question the motives of going to war or staying at war in Iraq, the provisions of the Patriot Act, or the actions of a President said to be taken to protect a nation and make the world safe for democracy, you are derided, and accused of rewriting history.

Closer to home, its more than friendly fire that comes our way when we protest the abuses of the Sanitary Districts and the tyrannies of one-party rule at Town Hall.

And just wait and see what we'll be called as we challenge the Fire Districts.

Ah, the more things change.

There's plenty we could say when it comes to those who would silence the debate -- whether that debate be of matters of global concern or on the costs of picking up the trash on our own block -- as there is concerning those who would remain silent where a rising concert of voices is both warranted and necessary.

With reverence to those who have said it and are saying it, we defer to someone who, perhaps, said it best -- the late Edward R. Murrow, correspondent for CBS News:

"No one familiar with the history of this country can deny that congressional committees are useful. It is necessary to investigate before legislating, but the line between investigating and persecuting is a very fine one and the junior Senator from Wisconsin has stepped over it repeatedly.

"We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men— not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.

"This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy's methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.

"The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn't create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it— and rather successfully.

"Cassius was right. 'The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.' Good night, and good luck." See It Now, March 9, 1954

Powerful words then. No less meaningful and relevant words now. Words for all of us to think about. Words for each of us to live by.

And The Meet Goes On

Property Tax Commission Holds 8th Public Forum

Summary of the Eighth Commission Meeting
April 23, 2008
12:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Chancellor’s Hall – State Education Building
Albany, New York

All Commission Members and four Special Advisors were present at the final public Commission meeting prior to the release of the Preliminary Report on May 22. More than one hundred individuals were in the audience and an additional thirty-two individuals provided testimony.

State Education Commissioner Richard Mills welcomed the Commission to Chancellor’s Hall.

Chairman Tom Suozzi, in his opening comments, discussed the charges of the Commission, including the examination of mandates and other root causes of high property taxes. He noted that Governor David Paterson’s first veto, which was issued today, was of a bill that imposed a mandate on local governments.

Expert testimony was provided by Robert Lowry, Deputy Director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. Mr. Lowry shared the Council’s perspective on school funding and some of the issues charged to the Commission.

The Commission also heard expert testimony regarding special education from Rebecca Cort of the State Education Department.

Host Mayor Gerald Jennings discussed the importance of high quality education in city school districts.

Rensselaer County Executive Kathy Jimino detailed the mandates the state imposes on county governments and the impact those mandates have on property taxes. She suggested that, if the state committed to providing no further mandates on counties, that counties would welcome a cap on county taxes.

Alan Lubin, Executive Vice President of New York State United Teachers, discussed the effect of property tax caps on education in California. He provided the union’s position on various proposals to reduce the costs of public education. He suggested that the Legislature, rather than consolidating the school districts themselves, should consider regionalizing some of the non-educational functions. He concluded that property taxpayers need relief, but that relief should not come at the expense of education when there are administrative areas where significant savings could be achieved.

John Lincoln, President of the New York Farm Bureau, discussed the importance of agriculture to New York’s economy and communities. He noted that, while a cap on school tax levies could reduce tax increases, a cap on assessments, similar to what is done in California or elsewhere, would not control taxes.

Calling for implementation of the Commission’s recommendations as soon as possible was Richard Bivone, President of the Nassau Council of Chambers of Commerce.

John Whiteley, who has attended almost all of the Commission’s meetings and many of its roundtables, spoke on behalf of Tri-County Committee for Property Tax Relief. His organization advocates for an immediate property tax circuit breaker and a shift of school funding from the property tax to the income tax.

Speaking on behalf of the Ulster Committee on Property Taxes was Susan Zimet, who also serves as an Ulster County Legislator. Ms. Zimet testified regarding the urgency of property tax relief and reform.

Robert McKeon of Tax Reform Effort of Northern Dutchess provided statistics demonstrating the impact of a property tax cap on taxpayers and education in Massachusetts. Rather than a cap, Mr. McKeon’s organization recommends a circuit breaker be enacted.

G. Jeffrey Haber, Executive Director of the New York State Association of Towns, stated that high taxes are not the result of taxing jurisdictions but of state policy. He advocated for funding of mandates, restoration of state aid, and an end to new property tax exemptions (which shift the tax burden onto non-exempt property owners).

Steven Van Hoesen, Deputy Director of the NYS Association of School Business Officials, presented the association’s position on the various issues of school funding and property taxation and submitted a list of the top one hundred “under-funded” mandates.

The Commission heard additional testimony from the following (roughly in the order of testimony):

Kenneth Pokalsky, Business Council of New York State
Bruce Ventimiglia, Business and Labor Council of New York
Vaughan Smith, Hudson Valley Property Tax Reform Task Force
Bernetta Calderone, Town of Gardiner Resident, Member of
Marlis Momber, Town of New Paltz Resident, Member of
Richard Longhurst, NYS Congress of Parents and Teachers
Bill Batt, Center for the Study of Economics
Richard Young, New York State Teachers Retirement Fund
James Baldwin, Questar III BOCES
Ron Deutsch, New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness
Robert Biggerstaff, NYS Association of Small City School Districts
Ken Zalewski, City of Troy Councilman
Mary Evans, Town of Malta Resident
Richard Wray, Town of Ticonderoga Resident
Dick Gladu, Hague Town Board Member
John Peck, Town of Bleecker Resident
Doug Adams, Town of Marbletown Resident, Property Tax Reform Task Force

Preliminary Report

The Commission is expected to release its Preliminary Report on May 22. Additional information, including archived webcasts of the meetings, is available from the Commission’s website:

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Take Our Daughters And Sons To Work Day

Hey, Why Should We Suffer Alone?

Today is the day. Our kids come to work with us, to learn about our mundane, tedious lives in the "real" world.

All the more reason for our children to stay in school, we suppose.

And speaking of school, it has been a generation now since the process of educational "reform" began.

We saw our public schools failing, so we pointed to socio-economic conditions as a precursor to failure, and then abandoned of fixing the faltering public arena in favor of private, parochial, and so-called charter schools.

Test scores were falling, so we decided that teaching to learn must give way to teaching to the test.

The drop out rate in high schools was through the roof, and so, we created "standards" and skewed the numbers, dedicated to leaving no child behind -- or all of them -- as if we could somehow mandate educational excellence (unfunded, of course) through legislation that ties teachers' hands and promotes mediocrity.

For all we have done over the past 25 years to "reform" our education system in America, have we really done enough, and have we done it right?

Are our children better prepared today to face the challenges that lie ahead of them, or merely better prepped to sit for the SATs?

And what of the future of public education, that which has produced the greatest minds and foremost leaders of the last century?

Today, as our children accompany us to the workplace -- contemplating, perhaps, that their intended career paths should take decidedly different directions -- we take a look back at the last 25 years of "reform" in education, and, hopefully, each of us will reflect upon where we've been, and where we must go, in the classroom and out, to teach our children well, ensuring their futures -- and ours.
- - -
“If an unfriendly power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves.”

Jay Sommer, from 1983’s A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform

'Nation at Risk': The best thing or the worst thing for education?
By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY

Twenty-five years ago this week, Americans awoke to a forceful little report that, depending on your point of view, either ruined public education or saved it.

On April 26, 1983, in a White House ceremony, Ronald Reagan took possession of "A Nation at Risk." The product of nearly two years' work by a blue-ribbon commission, it found poor academic performance at nearly every level and warned that the education system was "being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity."

It kick-started decades of tough talk about public schools and reforms that culminated in 2002's No Child Left Behind, the Bush administration law that pushes schools to improve students' basic skills or face ever-tougher sanctions.

Twenty-five years later, the sole teacher on the 1983 panel says the tough talk was just what the doctor ordered.

"In order to move a nation to make changes, you have to find some very incisive language," Jay Sommer says. Now 81 and teaching Hebrew at a suburban synagogue, Sommer was a high school language teacher in New Rochelle, N.Y., when tapped to help produce the report.

A true Cold War document, it famously stated: "If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves."

Sommer says the harsh rhetoric should have come as no surprise.

"Any reasonable teacher should have understood at the time — and I did — that we need to tighten up that belt. We have to do something."

Called "the most important education reform document of the 20th century" by education historian Diane Ravitch, "A Nation at Risk" found plenty to fret about: Only one-third of 17-year-olds, it found, could solve a math problem requiring several steps; only one-fifth could write a decent persuasive essay. Millions of adults were illiterate. SAT scores were dropping.

The findings were met with skepticism by most education groups, who said it painted too harsh a picture of a system that was continually, if slowly, improving. Teachers actually hissed when Milt Goldberg, the panel's executive director, spoke to the National Education Association's annual meeting. The NEA's executive committee assured members that it was "just another passing fad that would fade like the morning haze."

But American Federation of Teachers head Albert Shanker quickly embraced the recommendations, says his biographer, Richard Kahlenberg. Shanker believed that "if teachers wanted to be part of the reform movement, they had no choice than to … become part of the solution."

To say that "A Nation at Risk" hurt public education is to ignore what could have been, Kahlenberg says.

In 1981, Reagan's education platform basically consisted of three ideas: supporting private schools through vouchers and tuition tax credits, reducing federal education spending and abolishing the federal U.S. Education Department.

After the report, Kahlenberg says, "Reagan had to back off on the spending cuts for education. He continued to mouth rhetoric about vouchers and privatization, but it got no traction at all."

Twenty-five years later, only a minuscule number of students attend private schools on the public dime. And federal K-12 education spending has grown from $16 billion in 1980 to nearly $72 billion in 2007.

That's cold comfort for those who say "A Nation At Risk" inaugurated a series of attacks on public schools. "That was the 'rising tide' we got engulfed with — the rising tide of negative reports," says Paul Houston, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators.

In 1983, he was superintendent of Princeton, N.J., schools, and he remembers wondering how to get people talking about education. He thought the report might be just the thing: A president barnstorming the nation talking about public schools? What could be better?
Then Houston read it.

He was not amused.

"It was an overstatement of the problem, and it led to sort of hysterical responses," he says. For one, it took liberties with the link between economic development and overall education rates.

Yes, the connection makes intuitive sense, he says — but when the dot-com boom made millionaires of ordinary Americans in the 1990s, "no one came to my office and thanked me."

"A Nation at Risk" also led to "a cottage industry of national reports by people saying how bad things are."

How did educators react? Imagine standing on a beach getting hit by crashing waves, Houston says.

"The first couple are a lot of fun. But after you've been knocked over for the 15th time and you're spitting up sand, you say, 'I want to go home.' "

All these years later, Sommer, the New Rochelle language teacher, says he has no regrets. "None — none whatsoever."

In fact, he says, at the time he thought the "rising tide of mediocrity" line was a bit harsh. "I didn't think that bunching together all the schools and giving them a common failure was appropriate," he says.

Now he says it was appropriate.

"As a consequence of the commission, things were improved in education without any doubt."

Though most teachers today are competent — and many of them are "great," he says — in 1983, there were plenty of people "who shouldn't have been in the teaching profession. This report made that point."

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Death By Special District Taxes

Cut Off The Head Of The Beast And Be Done With It

Those pesky special taxing districts.

Water. Sanitation. Fire. Sewer. To name but four out of more than 2400.

Chop 'em in half, and they simply regenerate, like so many earth worms, with major medical insurance and prepaid funeral expenses.

Expose 'em to the supposedly cleansing light of day -- figuring the public will not long stand for the shenanigans of full-time benefits and life-time pensions for part-time employment in largely no-show jobs -- and they just burrow further and further into the darkness.

Conjure up legislation that would make the service of special district personnel truly voluntary (and watch every last one of 'em run away faster than a roach under a 1000-watt Klieg light), and the folks in Albany will let it wither and die.

Now comes the report of the NYS Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness (we know, we know) -- a report due out on April 15th, but set to be unveiled one week from today -- which should set the stage for the exit of the special districts from the taxing scene, once and for all.

Or will it?

These local-yokel fiefdoms have been around since the turn of the last century, appendages of an era that passed us by long ago, when there was the need for such entities to provide essential services such as garbage collection and water, and the words "local control" actually meant something.

Today, with the proliferation of governmental entities dwarfed only by that of al-Qaeda training camps, and the duplication -- and often, quadruplication of services -- by town, county, and state, there seems little need to keep these bastions of patronage and cronyism (money-suckers all) around, let alone to permit commissioners and their every blood-relative to remain on the public dole.

A piecemeal reining in of the powers and emoluments of the special districts hasn't proven successful in the past, and as tempting as it may be to do a "snip-snip" here and a "clip-clip" there, until we cut off the oxygen to the special district warlords, they will find a way to continue to milk the public cash cow.

No more cows for the special taxing districts, say we. Turkeys. As in cold turkey.

Legislate the special districts out of existence -- and make certain that the folks in Albany do it before election day, lest we be spoon-feeding our tax dollars to the local commissioners for another two years or more.

Then, turn over the responsibilities for providing municipal services to those who already do it elsewhere (i.e., the townships), and who, for the most part, do it just as well, and for a heck of a lot less money, than the special districts.

The time has come (actually, the time came years ago. We just stopped the clock along the way) to strike at the heart of the special district beast, killing it dead, then incinerating the body (call Covanta), and spreading the ashes over Long Island Sound (sorry, Citizens Campaign for the Environment), just to be sure.

Local taxpayers -- particularly financially-strapped homeowners -- can little afford to stand by as the special taxing districts die slowly, gasping for air, hanging on to our wallets for dear life, until the day arrives (if ever) when we can pull our hard-earned money free from the commissioners' cold, dead hands.

As for those special district commissioners -- they of $700 steak dinners, 50-inch plasma TVs, and gas-guzzling SUVs -- well, let them get real jobs, and actually work for a living, pay for their benefits, and do without the perks, just like the rest of us!
- - -
From the Editorial page of Newsday:

The special-district dance

DiNapoli wants to go slow; Spitzer had tougher tack. But something's gotta give

Two schools of thought are forming about how best to respond to the continuing reports of the ways special districts guzzle taxpayer dollars.

One prefers the slow, death-by-a-thousand-cuts approach. This favors incremental change - such as shining a bright light on the waste, in the hope that voters will have nothing better to do than analyze sewer financial statements and, duly enlightened, will start asking tough questions.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli takes this path by advocating legislation to establish a uniform special-district voting day. His bill would also require that all budget information be available online and that there be public budget hearings, scheduled with plenty of notice.

Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi, who seems to embrace all strategies, said, "This is a no-brainer." It's also a no-brainer that this isn't enough to eliminate the waste and patronage.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer advocated a much bolder, slash-and-burn approach, but it disappeared from Albany shortly after he did. Spitzer's budget included a proposal that would have cut off salary and benefits to special district commissioners, making them no different from those who serve for free on school, library and fire-district boards. This would have eliminated an estimated $1 million a year in special-district spending in Nassau County, which holds the honor of having more of these plum jobs than any other county in the state.

One of Spitzer's legacies is the Commission on Local Government and Efficiency, which is scheduled next Wednesday to issue an aggressive and comprehensive set of recommendations of ways taxpayers can save money but maintain municipal services. That gives everyone a little more time to decide whether poking at the problem or going for the jugular is the best strategy.

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

School Daze

As Budget Vote Nears, School Taxes Are On Homeowners' Minds

Across Long Island, local school districts are in the process of crunching the numbers and adopting their budgets.

A difficult task, to be sure, and one which most school board trustees, homeowners and taxpayers all, take quite seriously.

Cut and scrimp as they might, it is never easy, in an era of high costs, seemingly boundless contractual obligations, unfunded mandates, and only a trickle in funding from the State, to hold down either budgets or tax rates.

With this in mind, and maintaining our general position that while education may be expensive, the cost of ignorance is that much greater, we offer this blog as a forum to one and all -- taxpayers, trustees, students, parents, teachers, administrators, and even State legislators -- to chime in with their thoughts on school budgets, funding, and the process that culminates this year on May 20th with an up or down vote on more than 120 local mandates here on Long Island alone.

Today, our friend and fellow activist, Robert Newman, of Patchogue Area Civic Tax Watch, has his say. On May 20th, you can have yours!

By the way, the figures Mr. Newman refers to in this Guest Blog may be Patchogue-specific. The issues he raises, and the manner in and means by which fund public education in New York are not.

We agree with Robert Newman, if nothing changes, and all we say is "see you next year," the discussion we have on the next go round will be pretty much the same.

Get involved in the education of our children. You can make a difference, and, believe us, your future depends on it!
- - -
Budget Adoption – Patchogue-Medford Schools

The board adopted a tax increase of 9.5% for the 2008-2009 school year. The taxpayers will vote on this budget on May 20. Just a short 3 weeks ago they were talking about needing an 18% tax increase to fund all necessary programs. The board agreed (by informal vote) that in order for the public to pass the budget they would need to get the increase down to less than 10%. To do this, they talked about significant cuts as noted in the 5th paragraph (below) of our notes of March 26. The board has stated publicly, and it has been in the local newspaper recently, that these cuts were subject to getting more money from the state. If we got less money, even deeper cuts would be needed.

We found out last week that we did not get the state funding we had hoped for. In fact, Patchogue was hosed again by getting less per student than similar schools (in size and demographics) like Longwood, Middle Country and William Floyd. So how did we reduce the tax increase to 9.5%?

We have no idea!

And that, in a nutshell, is why budgets fail and why the local taxpayers do not trust their local government! No communication, no transparency, smoke and mirrors. If the public thought they would find out by going to this meeting (or any school board meetings for that matter), they were very wrong. The board had rehearsed Administrators discussing High School course offerings for electives as well as Elementary level reading class sizes and methodology. Board members made public comment pro and con but it was clear that the ink was already dry and the cuts were already approved in secret without public input or discussion.

It is little wonder why very few taxpayers showed up at this meeting. First of all, only 50 people showed up. Of this 50, there were several groups of 10 or so sitting in groups. These groups represent various special interests in the district. If you eliminate district employees from the attendance and special interest head count, the number of taxpayer residents attending the meeting was MAYBE 5. Only 5 people showed up because the community has given up on wasting their time with this annual charade?

The special interests will now go out into the community and “talk up” the benefits of passing or failing the budget.

This annual dance does a disservice to our kids and the value of our homes. Until the state takes over FULL funding of local education, it will be Groundhog Day all over again. Full state funding means the state pays for all CORE programs and all costs for our school. Every school and student in the state would receive the SAME core education. This would include funding teachers and employee salaries and benefits as well as mandated programs. This represents 90% of our tax bill.

We can maintain local control (this is a faulty concept that the teachers and administrators unions promote) by allowing each school district in the state to vote on local spending amounting to 10% or less than our current budget. These voted funds could only be used for specific items that would be considered extras above the needs of basic education. Each district would have to publish these expenses in a line item so it could be easily compared from one district to the next. Anything above that could be paid for by donations and fundraisers.

Could wealthy schools districts have more programs for their kids by deciding to pay more for extras? Sure. That is the way it should be. And every resident is free to move to a district that VALUES these extras.

Bottom line is that the fair way to do it is for ALL kids in ALL schools to receive the basic CORE education. LOCAL residents can decide and pay for extras!

There are proposals similar to this on the table right now. They will go nowhere unless people make a stink. We suggest you read up and deal with your state elected officials. It will be a long battle, but it is doable. Otherwise, see you next year. If nothing changes, this site will simply change the meeting dates, the discussion will all be the same!

Bob Newman,
Fax- 631-730-6308
Patchogue Area Civic Tax Watch Org.
PO Box 135
Patchogue, NY 11772
- - -
What's your opinion on school budgets, school taxes, and education here on Long Island?

Your neighbors -- and the readers of this blog -- would like to know.

Write to The Community Alliance at

Monday, April 21, 2008

Earth Day Is Not Just About Global Warming

Its About You!

There are some among us -- many, in fact -- who believe that the earth revolves around them.

Well, for at least one day -- Earth Day, Tuesday April 22 -- it does.

In fact, the earth revolves around every one of us, as stewards of this great, green and blue planet, and not just on Earth Day, but every day.

Sure, it has become cliche to say "think globally, act locally." And how many of us actually "recycle, reuse, or reduce?"

Still, you don't have to compete with Al Gore for the Nobel Prize or be another Ed Begley, Jr. to help save our little corner of the planet.

Earth Day activities are as simple -- and as close -- as battery recycling at the AAA's Great Battery Round-Up in Garden City, and the Mother Earth Parade at the Long Island Children's Museum.

From keeping our drinking water pure through organic lawn care, to saving energy by switching to compact fluorescent bulbs, you can do your part, today and every day, to make a big difference.

It truly is easy being green -- on the environment and on your wallet.
- - -
Click HERE to help the The Nature Conservancy plant a billion trees
- - -
Click HERE to learn more about global warming
- - -
Visit the office site of the Alliance for Climate Protection

Friday, April 18, 2008

Earth To Levittown

Green Levittown To Celebrate Earth Day On The Air

Good Morning America Will Feature Green Levittown Sunday, April 20, 2008 8:30-9:00 AM.

To the left, a photo of Citizens Campaign for the Environment staff with Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi in celebrating the Green Levittown project.
Make sure to tune in this Sunday, April 20, 2008, on ABC to see the groundbreaking Green Levittown campaign featured on Good Morning America! Green Levittown will be highlighted as a model for other communities throughout America looking to “go green” by reducing their carbon footprint.
CCE has been actively working with Nassau County and other partners to create the Nation’s first green suburb. CCE has knocked on almost every resident’s door in the community of Levittown, NY to educate them on global climate change and, more importantly, on how simple changes in their home can make a big difference in fighting global climate change. The added bonus—going green saves residents money!
CCE is working with expert partners including: Keyspan, Bethpage Federal Credit Union, Alure Home Improvements, Tragar Oil, Intellidyne, Earth Kind Energy, Satco, LIPA, P.C. Richard and Sons, and Lazard. All the partners are working together to make it easy for residents to save money and energy in their homes.
This groundbreaking project is a model that can be used by communities across America.
Please feel free to visit or for more information.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Fiddler On The Roof, Its Not


Paying twice as much for services that cost your neighbors half.


Dead people -- patronage hacks of long ago -- still on payroll, collecting health insurance benefits, and "enjoying" three pensions.


Sending out extra garbage trucks to pick up bread during Passover.

Ah yes. Traditions.

The legacy of the special taxing districts, where little has changed -- not even the commissioners -- since the age of feudalism.

So, why do we pay, accepting the travesty of what is, instead of embracing a future of what could be?

What else? Tradition!

After all, without tradition, life here in our little unincorporated areas would be as shaky as... as... as a fiddler on the roof!
- - -
While we await the final report and recommendations of the NYS Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness (yes, yes. We know), due out April 15th, and now put over to the end of the month, we present for your reading pleasure -- for the FOURTH consecutive year, The Community Alliance blog's version of A Passover Story.

Not much has changed since we first ran what has now become an annual rite back in March of 2005.

The special district fiefdoms continue to rule the roost, with charity toward the few and open hands reaching into the pockets of the many.

Local townships continue to assert they have no control over what these districts do, how much tax they levy, or who reaps the multitude of benefits for what are, in many instances, no-show jobs.

And last, but by no means least, the Nat Swergolds of the world continue to counsel special districts, far and wide, offering comfort to the connected, and a rationale to the masses that, although defying reason, has become a mainstay of life here in suburbia.

"Eat Garbage!" they seem to tell us. "Pay more, get less!" "Give us this day our daily matzo. We'll be around to pick up your bread during Passover."

- - -
Friday, March 30, 2007

A Passover Story - Revisited

Like The Plagues That Beleaguered Generations Past; Like Locust And Pestilence Upon Our Fields; Like The Blood On Our Doorposts And The Slaying Of The First Born; So, Too, Is The Saga Of Local Government -- The Pharaohs Of Our Time

Its that time of year again, folks. Yes, those "special" trucks at Sanitary District 1 will be rolling through the streets of the Five Towns next week, picking up the leftover bread during the Passover holiday.

This will mark the third consecutive year that The Community Alliance blog has run our Passover Story -- a new tradition in blogdom much like A Christmas Story has become to post-Thanksgiving television.

Unlike the real story of Passover, which tells of the exodus of the Jews from the land of Egypt and celebrates the freedom of all people from the yoke of enslavement and oppression, this Passover story is yet to have a fortuitous ending.

Indeed, our long march through the desert that is the realm of the special taxing districts has only just begun, with no oasis in sight, and the oppression of the Pharaohs -- be they reincarnated in the form of Joe Mondello or Kate Murray, or as the original April Fools joke, Nat Swergold, Counsel to Town of Hempstead Sanitary District 1 and purveyor of fine matzo everywhere -- continues, unabated.

Why, just this week The State Comptroller's Office has released the report "Town Special Districts in New York: Background, Trends, and Issues."

The report analyzes the growth in special districts, details how special districts are structured, and compares the geographic concentration of these districts. The report also contains a county-by-county breakdown of the total number of special districts, the total amount of revenue raised and the impact on taxpayers. Click HERE to access the report. There are no surprises. Nothing new, really.

And guess which county tops the list of Special District revenues and leads the way in Special District burden/property taxes per household? [How'd you guess?]

State Comptroller, Tom DiNapoli, finds that “the revenue raised for special district services represents nearly one quarter of total revenues raised by towns,” and asks, “should residents be charged at different rates for substantially the same public service based on where they live in a town?”

Of course they should be charged more! Why, they enjoy paying more. And just think of what it costs to add those "special" trucks to pick up the bread at residents' backdoors during Passover.
- - -
A Passover Story

Why Is This District's Garbage Collection Different From Any Other District's Garbage Collection?

The following story, first blogged on March 9, 2005, drew so much attention, not to mention critical acclaim, that we simply had to run it again. [In fact, several regular readers specifically requested a reprise.]

We all know the outcome of the Nassau County Comptroller's audit of the infamous Town of Hempstead Sanitary District 1.

A $700 steak dinner for 4, and what was characterized as a "total lack of financial control."

Of course, things have changed dramatically in Sanitary District 1 since last year's audit. Well, at least one thing has changed -- THE TAX RATES! Now Sanitary District 1 residents pay even more to "enjoy" their back door trash pick up.

Don't you just love it?

The Bread Of Our Affliction
A Passover Story, As Told By Counsel For Town Of Hempstead Sanitary District 1

An article appeared in a recent edition of the Nassau Herald on the subject of the Nassau County Comptroller's pending audit of several of the Special Districts, including Sanitary District 1. [We are reprinting the article below in its entirety, because you simply cannot make this stuff up!]

Commenting on the services provided by the Sanitary District, Nat Swergold, the chief counsel for Sanitary District 1, said "The district... accommodates the large Orthodox Jewish population in the area by arranging for special trucks during the eight holy days of Passover so bread can be disposed of, since observant Jews do not eat bread during the holiday."

Now, don't get us wrong. We appreciate the great lengths our Sanitary Districts go to in order to serve the public, but "special trucks during... Passover" to collect the bread?

What next? The fire districts placing extra fire trucks in service just in case the horse radish on the gefilte fish burns the roofs of our mouths? Or maybe the water districts will pump in extra water to our homes to help wash down the matzo?

Let's face it, Jews, be they Orthodox, Conservative, Reform or unaffiliated, are not hording bread prior to the holiday. Indeed, most Jews, logic dictates, try to consume the bread they do have in the house before Passover. Assuming any bread remains, most Jews we know clean the house of bread BEFORE the start of the holiday, and not, certainly, "during the eight holy days" referred to by Mr. Swergold.

Just what are these "special trucks" picking up?

Is this the best counsel for the Sanitary District can offer up as a raison d'etre for these Special Taxing Jurisdictions? If so, we've only one word for him: Gevalt!

One has to ask, do we really need three garbage collection days, a recycling day, a bulk pick up day and a yard waste pick up day, keeping in mind that it is Town Highways, not the Sanitary Districts, that sweeps our streets (all too infrequently) and plows the snow. Why - and we’re embarrassed to say this - there are some days when we have absolutely no trash to put out at the curb. Are we eligible for a rebate?

It doesn't take an Einstein - who, by the way, celebrated Passover in a secular vein - to realize that the existence of the Sanitary Districts, and other Special Districts within the township, cannot be substantiated "as is," and the cost to run these districts - special trucks for Passover aside - cannot be justified. At least not with a straight face. Why, in Sanitary District 6, we only have six Commissioners, shy of the ten required for a Minyan!

Clearly, what the Sanitary Districts are trying to put over on the taxpayers amounts to nothing less than unmitigated chutzpah.

According to Andrew Parise, the Mayor of Cedarhurst (which is in Sanitary District 1), "Curbside service wouldn't fly here." You mean to tell me they're picking up garbage at the door? [And here we are, in Sanitary District 6, paying twice the rate for mere curbside service.]

We just have two simple questions: (1) How many Sanitary District Commissioners does it take to change that dim light bulb over the head of the unwittingly inane Nat Swergold, and (2) How long will we, the taxpaying homeowners of the Town of Hempstead, allow ourselves to be played for fools?
- - -
Sanitary district audit planned County comptroller plans to explore consolidation of garbage pickup
By Andrew Coen

In an effort to save county residents money on the taxes they pay for services like garbage pickup and water, Nassau County Comptroller Howard S. Weitzman has announced plans to begin auditing some of the more than 400 special taxing districts throughout the county.Sanitary District 1, which services the Five Towns and small portions of Lynbrook and Valley Stream, is among the five districts to be audited and considered for consolidation with other areas.

Other districts that will undergo audits include Sanitary District 2, which encompasses Baldwin, South Hempstead and Roosevelt; District 6, which takes in Elmont, North Valley Stream, Franklin Square, West Hempstead and Lakeview; the Port Washington Garbage District in the Town of North Hempstead, and the Syosset Sanitary District in the Town of Oyster Bay.

The districts were selected for audits based on criteria such as high tax rates, large accumulated surpluses and high tax increases in 2004-05, the comptroller said.

According to Weitzman, along with residents paying village, town and county taxes, there are nearly 400 sanitation and water districts with 1,600 different tax rates, amounting to a "hidden government" that adds to the already heavy tax burden. Weitzman said he would like to explore the feasibility of town governments' consolidating some of the special districts to save taxpayers money and operate them with greater efficiency.

"The growth of these special districts reflects the haphazard development of Nassau County in the last century, from a collection of unassociated towns, villages and hamlets," said Weitzman.

"Some of [these districts] may be necessary and some may be well-run, but the persistence of so many separate governmental authorities, with their own employees and tax rates, tends to hide the true cost of local government and contributes to our high local tax burden."

Nat Swergold, the chief counsel for Sanitary District 1, said he does not see his district meeting any of Weitzman's criteria for an audit, since, Swergold said, the district does not have a high surplus, has one of the lowest tax rates in the state and has not had any hefty tax increases. "We are probably a target for this audit because we are the largest [sanitary district]," said Swergold, adding that Sanitary District 1 services more than 30,000 households.

According to Swergold, last year's tax rate for single-family residences in District 1 was $12.58 per $100 of the assessed value of a home, which is half the rate of District 2 ($24.62 per $100) and District 6 ($26.05 per $100)."

[District 1's] tax rates are much lower than the rest of the districts," said Cedarhurst Mayor Andrew Parise. "I don't know who would provide better service than we get here."

Swergold said that while he welcomes an investigation into his district, because it is well run, he does not think the audit is necessary, since the state comptroller audits the district periodically.

He added that he could not envision any sort of consolidation of the areas to save money, since each sanitation district has different needs. "I think [consolidation] is not a good idea, because each area and each district is unique," said Swergold, who has been the attorney for District 1 since 1972. "There is no way we could keep these services if there were consolidation."

Swergold said that District 1 is unique compared with other sanitary districts, in part because its workers pick up trash in the rear of residents' homes, which means residents do not have to place garbage curbside unless they are disposing of heavy items. The district operates its own recycling plant in North Lawrence and, as a result, has the highest recycling rate of any sanitary district in the state, according to Swergold. The district also accommodates the large Orthodox Jewish population in the area by arranging for special trucks during the eight holy days of Passover so bread can be disposed of, since observant Jews do not eat bread during the holiday.

"Curbside service wouldn't fly here," Parise said of the unique services offered to residents in District 1.

According to Weitzman, the goal of the audits is to provide a better understanding of the districts' expenditures, hiring and procurements practices and the efficiency of their operations.

He said that additional audits of other special districts in the county would be considered depending on how the initial examination goes.

The comptroller's decision to initiate audits follows a January report by County Assessor Harvey Levinson that showed that many special taxing jurisdictions, like garbage and water districts, spend millions of dollars each year with little observation by the public. The report prompted Levinson to call on the comptroller to audit those districts in the county.

"Homeowners who pay widely different tax rates for the same services within a town are entitled to know how their ever-increasing tax dollars are spent," said Levinson. "I am confident that Comptroller Weitzman's independent examination of sanitation districts operating within the towns will lead to sensible cost-cutting measures, consolidation or possibly even the elimination of these unnecessary invisible governments."

The planned audits have the support of some top state officials, including Comptroller Alan Hevesi, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. "In beginning these audits, Comptroller Weitzman is addressing the need for greater public oversight of these taxing districts," said Hevesi. A 2002 audit of some of these special districts by then state Comptroller Carl McCall found that several districts kept unreasonably high reserve balances.

Weitzman's audits will examine administrative and operating expenses and the appropriateness of fund balances.

Comments about this story? or (516) 569-4000 ext. 210.
- - -
And the story continues. The NYS Comptroller's audit of Sanitary District 1 found major transgressions (still denied by Nat Swergold & Company), and the Nassau County District Attorney's office is conducting it's own investigation (begun under Denis Dillon) to see if any Sanitary District 1 Commissioner, employee, or contract worker engaged in criminal conduct.

Meanwhile, those observing Passover who would like to have a truck sent to their homes to pick up bread may call Sanitary District 1 at 516-239-5600. Tell them The Community Alliance sent you! [Passover observers residing outside Town of Hempstead Sanitary District 1 can call 1-800-I-GOT-BREAD for pick-up. Ask for Kate.]

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Remember The Nassau Hub?

Town Of Hempstead: Where Visionary Plans Have Gone To Die!

If it seems like eons ago when the Nassau County Legislature handed off the revitalization plans for the Nassau Hub -- the area encompassing the Coliseum -- to the Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town of Hempstead, well, not quite.

In reality, the so-called Lighthouse project has only been floundering about the catacombs of Hempstead Town Hall since last November, and, just days ago, on April 8th, the Town Board voted unanimously to begin the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) process, issuing a positive declaration, and taking the first step in what is often a long and tortured road toward redevelopment.

Even assuming that everything goes smoothly before both Town Board and Zoning Board, at best, it is unlikely that ground could be broken at the Nassau Hub before July, of 2009, more than a year from now (and, perhaps not coincidentally, at a time when Town of Hempstead Supervisor, Kate Murray, hopes to be campaigning for Nassau County Executive -- perhaps one of the few things the Nassau Hub plan has in its favor in the hope of moving the project along at more than a snail's pace).

The Town of Hempstead, through outside consultants and on its own initiative, will now begin to "study" the impact of the Nassau Hub plan. [And we know how much the Town "enjoys" the studious life, its myriad "Blight Studies" as cases histories in how to avoid the inevitable by studying the issue to death, adopting the study's findings, and then neatly shelving all plans, perhaps for further study at some undetermined, later date -- as in "never."]

Yes, we need to know the impact of a project the magnitude of the Lighthouse will have upon the likes of water, sewage, and, of course, traffic, but there has to be a way to streamline the process, so that the studies, to be followed by public hearings, to be followed by who-knows-what, do not drag out the Lighthouse project into the next decade, or beyond.

"We have seen the foot-dragging by the Town, on revitalization projects of a much smaller scale," said one Elmont civic leader, speaking on the condition of anonymity (so you know it wasn't Pat Nicolosi -- LOL). "Plans labor on the drawing board for a generation or more, artist renderings abound, and, but for the talk, few of the projects actually come to fruition."

Indeed. Elmont had its Blight Study -- as did neighboring West Hempstead -- and other than lofty plans, dozens of hearings at Town Hall, and promises of a bright future filled with renewal and Victorian-style street lamps, what have they got to show for it?


And so, with a project such as the Nassau Hub, perhaps of as great a moment for America's first suburb since the groundbreaking of Levittown, there needs to be the resolve -- a cautious resolve, but a resolve, nonetheless -- to move forward with all deliberate speed.

Toward that end, a group of concerned citizens known as the Long Island Lighthouse Political & Economic Alliance, is asking residents to sign an i-Petition urging the Town of Hempstead Supervisor to move the project along in its entirety (no piecemeal dissection need be applied here), in favor of (among other benefits), job growth, and increased tax base, a new home for our beloved (*&^%$@!) Islanders, and housing (at long last) for Generation Next.

We need to expedite the Lighthouse project, and not permit what too often becomes the habitual stall at Hempstead Town Hall, where even the best laid plans of community lay in repose and, ultimately, whither on the vine.

Redevelopment of the Nassau Hub -- on the global scale as envisioned by the Lighthouse plan -- is good for Long Island. After all, we are all Islanders -- even Kate Murray -- and to be sure, every island needs a lighthouse! :-)
- - -
Click HERE to sign the i-Petition

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

D-Day For Special Districts

Findings And Recommendations of Commission On Local Government Efficiency Due Today

Its not just tax day, fellow Americans. This is the day -- April 15 -- when, pursuant to Executive Order of former Governor Eliot Spitzer, the NYS Commission On Local Government Efficiency & Competitiveness (yes, we know. It remains an oxymoron) is to render its final report and issue full recommendations on what to do about New York's more than 4200 special taxing districts.

The Community Alliance will publish the Commission's report, in its entirety, as soon as it is made available, right here on this blog.

Whatever the Commission's recommendations, don't expect overnight change or swift action on the part of the NYS Legislature.

After all, not a single one of the Commission's preliminary recommendations, as presented to the Legislature by way of incorporation into this year's proposed budget, made it to the final budget placed on Governor Paterson's desk for signature. [Click HERE for the Herald Community Newspapers' article, STATE BUDGET: No Action On Special Districts.]

Read through the Commission's mandate, republished below, and then, stay tuned...

Oh, and by the way, you have until 11:59 PM to postmark your tax returns!
- - -
No. 11


WHEREAS, New York’s local governments are established and operate under New York’s Constitution, statutes and regulations and receive financial and governance support from the State; and

WHEREAS, local governments, including counties, towns, cities, villages and special purpose districts, such as school and fire districts, provide many of the public services which determine whether New York’s residents and businesses live and conduct commerce safely, healthily, productively and happily; and

WHEREAS, New York’s local governments, including more than 4200 taxing jurisdictions, have evolved over centuries, and in many cases reflect circumstances, population concentrations and needs which have changed significantly or no longer exist; and

WHEREAS, the sheer number of such taxing jurisdictions and their overlapping and multi-layered nature cause public services to be excessively expensive, and provided in a manner that is inefficient and reduces the competitiveness of New York’s localities and the job and business opportunities for New Yorkers; and

WHEREAS, many New Yorkers are unaware of the boundaries and very existence of many taxing jurisdictions and special districts, and this results in an extraordinarily low level of participation in many local government elections; and

WHEREAS, the opportunities for smart growth and regionalization of the delivery of certain public services such as public transportation, waste management, information technology and water supply are often inhibited by New York’s fragmented local government structure; and

WHEREAS, New York’s local tax burden is the highest in the United States and negatively impacts competitiveness and the quality of life; and

WHEREAS, New York’s laws, regulations and programs have been only minimally effective in assisting local governments to partner in the efficient delivery of public services, to merge, consolidate or regionalize local government, to adopt smart growth practices, and otherwise improve the living environment for New Yorkers; and 2

WHEREAS, a comprehensive analysis is needed:

(1) to identify the barriers which inhibit more efficient local government, the merger, consolidation or regionalization of local government, partnering among local governments to more efficiently provide public services, adoption of smart growth practices, and the procurement and construction of regional transportation and other infrastructure which improves the efficiency, competitiveness and quality of life of New York’s localities; and

(2) to guide the formulation and development of tools to assist local governments to pursue and achieve these objectives;

NOW THERFORE, I, Eliot Spitzer, Governor of the State Of New York, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and Laws of the State of New York do hereby order as follows:

1. There is hereby established the New York State Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness ("Commission").

2. The Commission shall consist of fifteen members appointed by the Governor, including one member appointed upon the recommendation of the Comptroller, one upon the recommendation of the Speaker of the Assembly, one upon the recommendation of the Majority Leader of the Senate, one upon the recommendation of the Minority Leader of the Assembly, one upon the recommendation of the Minority Leader of the Senate, at least one individual representing a member of the New York State Association of Counties, at least one individual representing a member of the New York State Association of Towns, and at least one individual representing a member of the New York Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials.

3. The Governor shall select a chair of the Commission from among the members. A majority of the members of the Commission shall constitute a quorum, and all recommendations of the Commission shall require approval of a majority of the total members of the Commission.

4. The Governor shall appoint an Executive Director of the Commission, who shall be an employee of one of the executive branch agencies herein directed by the Governor to render assistance to the Commission.

5. The Commission shall conduct a review and analysis of New York’s local government structure and operations, and to the maximum extent possible shall consider, and where appropriate incorporate, the expertise and learning of prior commissions, studies and academic institutions engaged in local government studies, and state agencies with responsibility for assisting local government, including but not limited to the Department of State, the Office of Real Property Services, the Urban Development Corporation, the Department of Economic Development, the Division of the Budget, the Governor’s Office of Regulatory Reform, the Office of State Comptroller and the State Education Department.

6. The Commission shall make recommendations on ways to consolidate and eliminate taxing jurisdictions, special districts, and other local government entities where doing so would improve the effectiveness and efficiency of local government. 3

7. The Commission’s review shall include an analysis of:

(a) the number and types of local government jurisdictions in New York State, the basis for their creation, and the opportunities and barriers to their restructuring, merger, consolidation or partnership to deliver public services;

(b) the nature and extent of services delivered by various types of local governments;

(c) the services which lend themselves most logically, efficiently and easily to merger, consolidation or partnership initiatives;

(d) opportunities and barriers to the regionalization of local government functions and services and the extent to which "smart growth" practices can improve the performance of local government and the delivery of public services and enhance New York’s competitiveness;

(e) the procedures for and effectiveness of local government elections, including the percentage of eligible and registered voters who participate in such elections, and the utilization of common election dates and procedures by local governments which serve a substantially common electorate;

(f) the degree to which local government electorates are presented periodically with the option of dissolving the local government or reaffirming the local government’s continuation; and

(g) the effectiveness of existing state laws and programs designed to assist local government efficiency, consolidation, merger, partnership in government operations and service delivery, smart growth, and the procurement and construction of regional transportation and other instrumentalities and infrastructure.

8. In undertaking this review and analysis the Commission may request documents, conduct public hearings, take the testimony of witnesses in the form and manner which it deems most efficient, and take all other actions necessary to carry out its functions.

9. The Commission shall make recommendations which it deems necessary or advisable for:

(a) strengthening and streamlining the structure and operations of local governments;

(b) reducing the costs of and improving the effectiveness of local government operations and services;

(c) facilitating the merger, consolidation and partnering in the delivery of services by and between local governments;

(d) promoting and facilitating regional government and the regionalized delivery of public services; and

(e) reforming election laws and procedures to increase and maximize the awareness of local governments among the electorate and maximize participation in local government elections and proceedings.

10. The Commission shall issue a report of its findings and recommendations on or before April 15, 2008. The report shall be submitted to the Governor, the Comptroller, the Majority Leader of the Senate, the Speaker of the Assembly, the Minority Leader of the Senate, and the Minority Leader of the Assembly.

11. No member of the Commission shall be disqualified from holding any public office or employment, nor shall he or she forfeit any such office or employment by virtue of his or her appointment hereunder. Members of the Commission shall receive no compensation for their services but shall be allowed their actual and necessary expenses incurred in the performance of their functions hereunder. All members of the Commission shall serve at the pleasure of the Governor and vacancies shall be filled in the same manner as original appointments.

12. Every agency department, office, division or public authority of this state shall cooperate with the Commission and furnish such information and assistance as the Commission determines is reasonably necessary to accomplish its purpose.

GIVEN under my hand and the Privy Seal
of the State this ____________ day of
April in the year two thousand seven.

Secretary to the Governor