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!
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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."
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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.
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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?
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FROM THE NASSAU HERALD:
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? ACoen@liherald.com or (516) 569-4000 ext. 210.
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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.]