Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Foreigners Displace American Workers In Town of Hempstead

America's Largest Township Goes To The, Er, Ah, Goats?

Now she's gone too far. All the way to Nigeria, in fact. [Kate, you got that e-mail from the Nigerian Minister, too?]

Town of Hempstead Supervisor, Kate Murray, already known for putting pets before people through the now infamous Adopt-A-Pet program [heaven fordid the Town should adopt a crumbling roadway], has done it again.

Dozens of Town workers -- landscapers, laborers, those who keep our local parks neat and trim -- will get the boot. Decent, hard-working Americans (and good, cloth-coat Republicans, one and all), replaced, at the drop of a grass clipping, by Nigerian goats.

Yes, Nigerian goats. Foreign nationals, eating the weeds and grazing on American soil at the Town's Levy Preserve, where U.S. workers would daily toil for maximum wage (this is the Town of Hempstead, after all, where laborers DO collect $100,000 a year).

Have we no goats in America?

To add insult to injury, the goats, no doubt illegally brought into this sovereign state without documentation (are there no illegal Mexican goats?), are not only Nigerian, they're babies.

Baby goats! Mere infants. Whatever happened to child labor laws in this country?

Shame on you, Kate Murray! Taking away American jobs, from Republican Committeemen, no less, and in these most trying economic times.

Saving the taxpayer money? [Goats: $1000 a piece; goat handlers: $250,000 a piece.] Lowering the Town's carbon footprint? [Hardly, with those printing presses laboring 24/7 in the basement of Town Hall.]

Not to worry, says the Supervisor. No one ever loses a job at Hempstead Town Hall. Not even a chief investigator charged with 28 felonies. [Some eat grass while others eat crow, we suppose.]

"True, we're taking the park workers out of the Levy Preserve and replacing them with goats," said Murray. "At the same time, we're replacing the geese and ducks that inhabit our parks with Republican Committeemen."

Great. Now, we'll really have to watch where we walk!

As for the unassuming baby Nigerian goats, they will likely be placed within a "moveable fence" (not unlike that which graces America's southern border) as they feast on the tall fescue.

"Think of it as the Town's answer to Guantanemo," said Congressman Peter King, dismayed over the use of foreign labor, yet impressed by anything that involves a fence.

And while the goats do the work of many men (and child laborers. Don't forget about the children) -- some of whom, out of a job, will now be eating dog food -- Town Councilman Tony Santino ponders, "Do you think County Exec Tom Suozzi could be replaced by a horse?"

The horse might well "enjoy" a stint as County Executive, Tony -- and let's not forget about the horse's other end -- just as Town of Hempstead homeowners will soon enjoy both benefits and higher property taxes in the form of a newly created Special Goat Herding District. [The care and feeding of goats under local control. What could be better than that?]

Meanwhile, back at Levy Preserve, the goats reside in "miniature houses" at the park, no doubt most anxious as to their first assessment as they await receipt of the dreaded Statement of Taxes.

Then again, homeowners elsewhere in Hempstead Town will soon have a convenient excuse for not making out a check to Don Clavin, Receiver of Taxes -- The goats ate my tax bill!

Imagine that. Goats mowing the lawn at Town of Hempstead parks. What next? Goats eating trash and garbage (as they typically do) at the Town's Sanitary Districts, replacing commissioners, supervisors, patronage appointees, and their respective family members?

Hey, wait a minute. . .
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From the Town of Hempstead:

Mares Eat Oats, Does Eat Oats & Little Goats Control Weeds: Miniature Goats Used for Vegetation Control at Hempstead Nature Preserve

They show up every day to work, never complain and they are tireless in performing their job. Supervisor Kate Murray and Councilwoman Angie Cullin have unveiled nature's best weed control at the Norman J. Levy Park and Preserve. Goats -that's right, Nigerian dwarf goats - are being used as an environmentally responsible method of eradicating brush, weeds and other vegetation overgrowth at the park. Murray and Cullin were joined at the unveiling by Town Clerk Mark Bonilla, Receiver of Taxes Don Clavin and Ms. Robinson's third grade class from Norman J. Levy Lakeside Elementary School in Merrick.]

"We were looking for a way to control vegetation overgrowth that was in keeping with our nature preserve's mission," said Murray. "Lawn mowers and line trimmers emit greenhouse gases, and herbicides can pollute nearby waterways. Adding these goats to the town's workforce is an effective way to control weeds and it's environmentally responsible."

The four doelings (female) and one buckling are the size of puppies now, but will grow to about 50 pounds. Although extremely gentle, the animals will not be part of a feeding or petting exhibit. Visitors who tour the park will, however, be given a presentation on all of the park's features, including the new livestock.

The control of mugwort, phragmites (bulrushes) and weeds will be accomplished in one of three methods. Goats can be tethered by line, restricting them to an area in need of weed control. They can also be contained in areas needing attention with moveable fencing. Finally, the herbivores can be tended on leashes by trained handlers.

The goats, which cost just over $1,000, complement a flock of insect eating fowl known as Guinea Hens. The birds, which are indigenous to North Africa, have been a resounding success in the control of ticks at the preserve. In fact, there has not been a single tick incident reported at the facility in the four years since the fowl were employed as a nature-friendly insecticide.

"Kate Murray and I are building a legacy at this preserve that is environmentally sound," said Cullin. "Controlling insects and weeds with friendly animals that are in harmony with the preserve is a victory for neighbors, visitors and everyone who cares about the planet."

The goats reside in miniature houses in a goat colony at the park. Named for the seven dwarfs, the diminutive "weed whackers" include Sleepy, Sneezy, Bashful, Happy and Doc.

"I encourage nature lovers, hikers, bird watchers and anyone who wants to learn about how we've converted a former landfill into a nature preserve to visit the Norman J. Levy Park and Preserve," concluded Murray. "We're building a better planet for our children and future generations."

Say NO To Broadwater -- Again!

Tell The Feds To Keep The Gas Barge Out Of Long Island Sound

From our good friends at Citizens Campaign for the Environment:

On April 10, 2008, Governor Paterson came to Long Island to announce that New York State denied Broadwater from locating in the Long Island Sound. NY State ruled that the Broadwater proposal would damage the Long Island Sound and violated the Coastal Zone Management Act. This was a major victory for Long Island Sound and all the members of the public that worked hard to make sure our voices were heard over the voice of a multinational, multi-billion dollar company - Shell Oil.

Now we need your voices once again!

The new Secretary of Commerce, Mr. Gary Locke, is charged with making an important decision - to uphold NY’s ruling against Broadwater or to overturn NY’s ruling and allow Broadwater to be built in the Long Island Sound. Currently, he must make the decision by April 13; however, there is a 15-day grace period, which brings the deadline to April 28.

How you can help:

We need you to tell the new Secretary of Commerce (and the head of his legal team) that Broadwater does not belong in the Sound and that THE LONG ISLAND SOUND IS NOT FOR SALE! Also, call your U.S. senators and tell them to call the Secretary of Commerce and tell him NO Broadwater!

To learn more about the proposed project, please visit: http://www.citizenscampaign.org/campaigns/broadwater.asp.

Tips for calling the Secretary of Commerce and the head of his legal team:
-Identify your name and where you live.
-Tell the Secretary of Commerce and the head of his legal team to uphold NY’s ruling on Broadwater - Broadwater does not belong in Long Island Sound.
-The Sound generates over $8.5 billion annually for the local economy while providing essential habitat and breeding grounds for over 56% of New York’s protected species.
-$500 million dollars have been invested over the last decade to restore the quality and beauty of the Sound to pass on to the next generation, not to foreign oil companies.

Tips for calling your senators:
-Identify your name and where you live.
-Thank your senator for being a strong anti-Broadwater advocate (except Senator Gillibrand, who was not in office at the time of this campaign).
-Request that your senator call the new Secretary of Commerce and tell the Secretary of Commerce to uphold NY’s ruling on Broadwater.

Senator Charles Schumer (NY) DC Office: 202-224-6542 LI Office: 631-753-0978
Senator Chris Dodd (CT) DC Office: 202-224-2823 CT Office: 860-258-6940
Hon. Gary Locke, Secretary of Commerce DC Office: 202-482-2000
Senator Kristen Gillibrand (NY) DC Office: 202-224-4451 LI Office: 631-249-2825
Senator Joseph Lieberman (CT) DC Office: 202-224-4011 CT Office: 860-549-8463
Mr. Joel Labissonniere, Department of Commerce, Assistant Counsel for Ocean Services-Head of Legal Team DC Office: 301-713-7380

Thank you for taking action to protect the Long Island Sound. Together we make a difference!

Monday, March 30, 2009

What's In Your Wallet? Reprise

For Everything Else, There's The Property Tax

"We will address skyrocketing property taxes."
--NYS Senate Majority Leader Malcom Smith

Savings to New York homeowners resulting from the findings of the NYS Commission on Local Government Efficiency & Competitiveness: Zero dollars

Savings to New York homeowners resulting from the findings of the NYS Commission on Property Tax Relief: Zero dollars

Savings to New York homeowners resulting from action of the NYS Legislature on the recommendations of the NYS Commission on Local Government Efficiency & Competitiveness and/or the recommendations of the NYS Commission on Property Tax Relief: Zero dollars

The ability to dupe New York homeowners into believing that taxpayer-funded commissions, studies, findings and reports and resulting rhetoric from elected officials will result in either more efficient government or lower property taxes? Priceless!

Its NOT The Assessment

Its Being Taxed At What Your House Was Assessed At Two Years Ago!

Every January, properties in Nassau County are, in effect, appraised for their Fair Market Value, this for the purpose of establishing an “assessed” value, upon with local property taxes are based.

And every January, and for the eleven months that follow, residents and politicians alike can be heard to loudly bellyache that we have high property taxes why? The Assessment, of course.

Yes, the dreaded Assessment.

But wait. Let’s take a closer look. In fact, pull out the letter you received in January from the Nassau County Department of Assessment. Chances are, the market value (presumably, what your house is worth in today’s market) is pretty much on the money. Perhaps it is even a bit lower than what similar houses in your neighborhood are selling for. So its not the Assessment, is it?

Technically, no.

The problem: The assessed value, as based on the market value of your house, has absolutely no impact on the property taxes you pay for the current tax year. Rather, the January, 2009 value, for assessment purposes, is for the 2010/2011 tax year.

So, simply put, the property taxes you pay today – to the county, the town, the special districts -- are not based on the value of your house as of January, 2009, but on the value of your house as it was in January, 2008. And if you grieved your 2008 assessment – a process that often takes up to a year, assuming you don’t have to go to court – your current taxes may well be based, for all intents and purposes, on the market/assessed values of your house as it was determined to be in January, 2007.

Given the real estate market, most houses in Nassau County were worth substantially more in January, 2007 and January, 2008 than they were in January, 2009. Ergo, higher assessed values on residential properties whose actual market values, in today’s dollars, are substantially lower than they appear on record. Higher assessed values means higher property taxes.

In terms that even us untrained, non-assessor types may understand, if the fair market value of your house in January, 2008 was $700,000, and in January, 2009 was $500,000, your 2009/10 property taxes – the taxes you are paying right now – are based on the $700,000 value, not $500,000.

Yes, we understand that when the market/assessed values go down, tax rates typically go up, this to make up the difference between what the taxing authorities (be they schools, towns, water districts, or anyone else with a hand in your pocket) need, and what the ever-eroding tax base can produce. The value of your house may go down, but you pay the same or higher taxes anyway.

And then there are the host of intricate formulae upon which the Assessor’s office relies, to compute this or confound that. [Damn you, Harvey Levinson! We hope you are enjoying yourself in Florida, where property taxes are much, much lower. ;-)]

Still, shouldn’t the property taxes we pay in Nassau County – among the highest in the nation – be based upon the actual market value of our houses as they are TODAY, and not as they were two or three years ago? [Surely, in an appreciating market, we’d be contrarians. Hey, give us a break. We’re trying to save you a buck or two.]

Taxation without representation is one thing. [Whether that representation is adequate is another blogpost for another time.] Taxing homeowners today – and going forward two tax years -- based on market/assessed values that bear little if any semblance to the current market is simply unconscionable.

We have the technology in place (okay, the technology exists, but maybe not in Nassau County) to adjust assessed values so that the current tax year appropriately corresponds to current market value. Nassau County homeowners shouldn’t have to wait until 2010/2011 to see the market values of their houses reflected in their property tax bills.

Why, all of this makes you want to go out and vote against the Assessor, doesn’t it? Wait a minute. We don’t get to do that anymore, do we?

Friday, March 27, 2009

NYS Releases List Of Proposals For Use Of Stimulus Funds

Draft List Includes Artificial Reefs And A Model Ship Testing Facility

If you had nearly $25 billion dollars at hand -- as in the amount of federal dollars New York will receive under the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- how would you use it?

New York State's Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Cabinet has called for the submission of proposals, and, having received more than 14,000 project requests -- from towns, cities, villages, school districts, and ordinary citizens like you -- has now released a draft of what we call the Recovery Wish List.

Among the proposals submitted (and, again, these are only proposals), are $10.5 million for a "modern model ship testing facility at the Webb Institute," $200,000 to "create an artificial reef using old subway cars," and $105,000 for the "restoration of two Irish famine ships, the Bristol (no relation to Palin) and the Mexico."

Of course, not all wishes will or can be granted under the Act, nor will there be enough money to fund all projects submitted for consideration -- be they $115 million the construction of a medical school at Hofstra or $50,000 for Basement Water Remediation at the Gloversville (Fulton County) Public Library -- but many of the proposals, indeed most, are sound and worthwhile. [There's even merit to the restoration of famine ships and the creation of artificial reefs, but with limited resources, one must prioritize.]

Of interest locally, a proposal request of $2.9 million, designated as "Nassau County, Elmont Streetscapes," was submitted, as were hundreds of projects -- from bulkhead replacement to roadway restorations to the purchase of a transit trolley -- by Nassau County, school districts, and local municipalities.

Conspicuous by their absence are any project proposals submitted by the Town of Hempstead, America's largest, most blighted, and most patronizingly bloated township. [Well, at least we couldn't find any requests as we gleaned through the more than 14,000 submissions spread out over some 774 pages.] A road resurfacing, perhaps? "Downtown" revitalization, here and there? Not even a single request for a Victorian-style streetlamp. Maybe the Town Supervisor didn't get the memo!

Then again, the window of opportunity for Hempstead Town -- and for community organizations and civic-minded individuals -- to submit project-specific proposals for consideration remains open.

How and where in your community would you spend a share of that $25 billion? Add your project to the Recovery Wish List today!
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Click HERE to visit New York's economic recovery website.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

1.2 Billion Dollars Short And Decades Late

MTA Makes Straphangers Pay For Its Mismanagement, Abuses

Well, the MTA Board has gone and done it. Raising fares and tolls -- anywhere from 25% (NYC Transit) to 75% (Nassau Bus) -- curtailing and eliminating service, and threatening to bankrupt the ridership, sticking out its tongue at the NYS Legislature (which itself has done nothing to head off the portended devestating hikes and service cuts), and sticking it to everyone who must or chooses to use mass transit.

Shame on the MTA. Its board members should be be lost forever 'neath the streets of Manhattan as the men who never return!

It never had to come to this, of course. The MTA, over the past quarter century or so, could have avoided this mess -- even with the hardships occasioned by the current fiscal crisis -- had it managed OUR money effectively (or at all), forgone the spending binges of good financial times, and opened itself up to public scrutiny (after all, it is a PUBLIC Authority).

Then again, the state legislature could have headed this disaster-in-the-making off at the pass, engaging in at least a tad of oversight over these many years, or, more recently, by adopting the so-called Ravitch Plan, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, which, if not making the increases and cuts unnecessary, then certainly lessening their impact upon a public that can barely spare a dime, let alone an extra buck fifty for a bus ride in Nassau county.

High drama in hard times.

Off course, this isn't the end of the story. Now that the MTA has done its dirty little deed, the legislature and the Governor will have no choice but to intercede, in effect stepping in to bail out the MTA -- if not to the tune of the body's $1.2 billion shortfall, then in sufficient sums so as to make the fare/toll hikes and service cuts somewhat less severe, if not entirely palatable.

Think they won't come to the aid of the MTA? Think again.

First off, the MTA is too pig -- er, ah, too big -- to fail. Will they let the entire transit system go under? Perhaps they should. Bury the bones and start from scratch.

Then there's what we call the "Lindsay snowstorm factor". A blizzard paralyzing the City of New York for two weeks back in February of 1969, nearly ruining Mayor John V. Lindsay's re-election bid (he lost the Republican Primary, only to be re-elected as an Independent, splitting the Democratic and Republican vote), and, destroying any shot he may have had at the presidential nomination.

The state legislature, although safe and snug until 2010, knows full well that the electorate has a memory sufficiently long so as to hold its Assemblymembers and Senators accountable for any hit to the wallet occasioned by the MTA's actions.

And where's the money coming from to bail out the MTA? Remember that $26 billion in stimulus money, courtesy of the feds? Make that $24.8 billion dollars, or somewhere in the neighborhood.

Indeed, as we reported in an earlier post, the NYS Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Cabinet has asked for citizen suggestions, public proposals on how your federal tax dollars should be spent.

Well, here's a no-brainer: $1.2 billion to bail out those pinheads at the MTA.

Hey, we can pay those fare and toll hikes now, or our grandkids can pay back the trillions in bailout money later. Tough choices, and they all stink!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Memo To Suozzi: Don't Link Property Tax To Income Tax. . .

. . .Unless The Property Tax Is Replaced By An Income Tax

Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi railed against a tax increase on residents with incomes of $250,000 or more (the so-called "fair share tax"), saying New Yorkers should "revolt" if there is an increase in the income tax without a corresponding cap on -- or some sort of stabilization of -- the property tax.

Why tie an income tax on the wealthy -- the 3.2% of New Yorkers who, for decades, have enjoyed generous tax breaks afforded through lucrative loopholes, for which the other 96.8% of us pay handily -- to the onerous property tax, which burdens residential property owners, particularly those in Nassau County, most unfairly?

What has one tax (based solely on income) got to do with the other tax (based solely on the assessed value of one's property)? Absolutely nothing!

Of course, mention taxes, of any variety, and the ire of the general populace is raised, every feather ruffled. "Revolt!"

Revolt, indeed.

What is most revolting is the failure of state, county and local government to take any meaningful remedial action -- whether by cap, consolidation, cost reduction, or elimination -- that would effectively reduce local property taxes.

Instead, it is study, conclude, report, and then, when nothing constructive happens, shift the focus away from the skyrocketing property tax -- which is decimating homeowners on Long Island, particularly in these difficult financial times -- onto a suggested increase of the income tax on the wealthiest New Yorkers.

Yes, it would be nice if we didn't have to tax the rich at a higher rate than we tax the middle class. In fact, it would be wonderful if there was no income tax at all. Keep every dollar in pocket, and everybody goes home happy.

In reality, every New Yorker must pay his or her fair share when it comes to financing the objectives of a democratic society [though some of us wish we had the line-item veto], meaning that, here in America, the rich are called upon to pay more than the poor. Certainly, the wealthy should, at the very least, pay their fair share.

The Community Alliance supports the fair share tax, and urges the New York State legislature to act accordingly -- or to act at all, for that matter.

We also call for, as a separate and distinct issue, true property tax relief, substantive rather than pro forma. Toward that end, the consideration of a local progressive income tax to replace the regressive property tax, among other reforms, must be on the table.

The undo burden placed upon homeowners to carry schools, towns, counties and special districts needs to be addressed with more than studies by Blue Ribbon commissions, ersatz relief in the form of STAR rebates, and mere rhetoric by elected officials -- well-intentioned as it may be -- calling for a taxpayer revolt.

Monday, March 23, 2009

GIVE And Ye Shall Receive

Volunteerism To Have More Than Own Reward

Who said that being a volunteer doesn't pay?

Sure, to volunteer, as we do at The Community Alliance, and as many of our readers do in their communities, is its own reward.

Now, under new legislation, passed in the House and making its way to the Senate, service to the community will become more compelling and, yes, even more rewarding.

The United States House of Representatives has passed a measure -- the Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act (GIVE) -- which, if enacted into law, would create a nationwide community-based infrastructure that would promote -- and fund -- traditionally volunteer activities.

Through matching funds, fellowships, stipends, and other local incentives, community-driven projects -- and the volunteers who support and implement such initiatives -- would be given a major boost, and not just a pat on the back.

GIVE provides a WIN-WIN-WIN-WIN in creating jobs, fostering community service, rebuilding community from the ground up, and calling all Americans to service -- the very foundation of our great democracy.

For highlights of GIVE, we bring you a blogpost from our friends at BlueOregon.com:

Obama Asks Us to GIVE
Caitlin Baggott

When Obama the candidate spoke about the need for a generation of service, I was pretty sure that it would take his administration a year to set up. Far from it. Tomorrow, Congress will be voting on a comprehensive and inclusive Act to, among other things, increase the number of volunteer service positions in the US from 75,000 to 250,000.

The GIVE Act (The Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act) is a direct response to the energy, passion and talents of people who want give back to their communities. It is a multi-generation call to service.

Highlights from the bill are after the jump. The GIVE Act will be on the House floor tomorrow. You can track the bill from here and contact your Elected Officials from here and here. Act now so that tomorrow we can get to work.

One note on this landmark legislation -- there is no funding here for people to participate in public service on civic participation (registering voters, getting out the vote, educating communities about important issues, etc.). While many, many young Americans are involved in community service volunteerism, few participate directly in the political or civic process as volunteers. This legislation is an important step toward a new generation of service. And there's more work to do.

Creates 175,000 New Service Opportunities and Rewards Americans for Commitment
Grows the number of volunteers nationwide to 250,000, up from 75,000. The bill also links the full-time education award to the maximum authorized Pell Grant award amount in order to keep up with rising college costs.

Provides Incentives for Middle and High School Students to Engage in Service
Establishes the Summer of Service program that engages middle and high school students in volunteer activities in their communities and allows them to earn a $500 education award to be used for college costs.

Makes High School Students Part of Solution to Challenges in their Communities

Establishes Youth Engagement Zones, a new service-learning program to help bridge partnerships between community based organizations and schools in high-need, low-income communities to engage high school students and out-of-school youth in service-learning to address specific challenges their communities face.

Recognizes and Supports Colleges and Universities Engaged in Service

Establishes the Campuses of Service to support and recognize institutions of higher education with exemplary service-learning programs and assists students in the pursuit of public service careers.

Boosts Opportunities for Disadvantaged Youth

Expands opportunities for disadvantaged youth, including those with disabilities, to become more involved with service and strives to include people of all ages and those from diverse background in volunteerism.

Creates Green and Other New Service Corps to Meet Key Needs in Low-Income Communities

Establishes four new service corps to address key needs in low income communities, including a Clean Energy Corps to encourage energy efficiency and conservation measures, an Education Corps to help increase student engagement, achievement and graduation, a Healthy Futures Corps to improve health care access, and a Veterans Service Corps to enhance services for veterans.

Broadens Scope of Collaborative Service Efforts

Expands the focus of the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) to include disaster relief, infrastructure improvement, environmental and energy conservation, and urban and rural development.

Encourages service partnerships with other federal agencies.

Recruits Scientists and Engineers to Service to Keep America Competitive

Recruits scientists, technicians, mathematicians and engineers into national service to help keep America competitive.

Expands Service Opportunities for Older Americans and Public-Private Partnerships

Creates two new fellowships to engage social entrepreneurs, boomers and retirees, the private sector and Americans from all generations in service.
-ServeAmerica Fellowships: ServeAmerica Fellows are individuals who propose their own plans for serving in their communities to address national needs and are matched up with a service sponsor.
-Silver Scholarships and Encore Fellowships: These programs offer boomers and seniors, age 55 or older, opportunities to transition into service post-career as well as entrance into new careers in the public or nonprofit sector.

Creates a nationwide community-based infrastructure to leverage investments in service

Builds a nationwide service infrastructure through community-building investments and social entrepreneurship.
Community Solutions Fund: Creates a Community Solutions Fund pilot program that awards competitive matching grants to social entrepreneur venture funds in order to provide community organizations with the resources to replicate or expand proven solutions to community challenges.

Establishes Call to Service Campaigns
Includes a Call to Service Campaign to launch a national campaign encouraging all Americans to engage in service and to observe September 11th as a National Day of Service and Remembrance.
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NOTEWORTHY: Of the 221 Aye votes in the House, only 2 came from Republican members, Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland and Ron Paul of Texas. 187 Republicans voted Nay, chiefly in opposition to spending. [Gee, where were these Republicans during the course of the past eight years, when they spent us from a surplus to a how many trillion dollar deficit?]

The House bill was sponsored by our own Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy. Bravo!

Town Of Hempstead Begins Valet Parking Initiative

Or So The Property Tax Hike Would Portend

Forget about a chicken in every pot, or even a Murraygram in every mailbox. How about valet parking for every homeowner in America's largest township?

Well, not quite. Still, looking at the latest tax levy for the Town of Hempstead-County of Nassau -- where the tax for the local public parking district increased from last year by a whopping 136.33% -- the Town should not only be parking our cars, they should be picking us up at the front door and taking us grocery shopping.

Granted, the tax rate and ultimate tax for public parking districts is a mere pittance compared to, say, Town Park Districts, Town Refuse Disposal Districts, and even Town Lighting Districts, but gee fellas, in these tough economic times, couldn't you at least give us a break on parking?

The tax rate per $100 of assessed value for the Town's local public parking district (1.804), according to the 2009 General Levy, is three times greater than the tax rate for the County's Environmental Bond (0.678).

All right, so its less expensive for taxpaying homeowners to park in a Town of Hempstead lot than it is for them to have their garbage collected (Sanitary District 6 tax rate per $100 is 46.575), for local water delivery (14.535), and for fire service (20.091), but really, a 136% increase in a single year?

Of course, in order to park in a Town of Hempstead lot, you have to drive over Town of Hempstead roads, where the tax levy -- a hefty $60,489,831.86 for Town Highways/Repairs & Improvements -- has increased but 11.72% over last year. So, where are those repairs and improvements, anyway? [And whatever happened to the millions of dollars the Town "bonded" several years ago (concealed in one of its "tax freeze" budgets) for highway/roadway repair and maintenance?] This year, an extra pothole tax. Next year, a special district to help fill them!

Okay, we still question why we're paying almost $131 million this year for Nassau County Police Headquarters (nearly twice the levy for the County's general purposes), but then again, we're paying nearly as much for trash collection as we do for police protection, so who are we to complain?

Look. We all want first class services. That's why we live in suburbia. But are we getting our money's worth on Long Island, in Nassau County, and/or in Hempstead Town, where is all of this money actually going, and are what can only be categorized as significant increases in the local tax levies substantiated?

A little transparency and more accountability would be nice. Efficiency should be the norm, not the buzz. And could you send the car around Noon tomorrow to pick us up?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Is Town In Dark On Lighthouse Project

Hempstead Town Studies Options For Proposed Coliseum Redevelopment

"Slow and steady" is how some view the Town of Hempstead's progress toward the approval of the so-called Lighthouse Project, the comprehensive redevelopment of the Nassau Hub. [The Town, of course, sees itself moving at breakneck speed.]

Slow, certainly. Steady? We're not so sure.

The Town has developed a knack for studying everything from blight to traffic patterns. They've gotten quite good at preparing studies, in fact. So much so that almost every locality -- Elmont, baldwin, Uniondale, West Hempstead -- has at least one.

In terms of moving beyond the studies toward revitalization, redevelopment, or something resembling the reinvention of our "downtowns" and "Main Streets," other than a smattering of Victorian-style streetlamps and brick pavers, Hempstead Town, with rare exception, has not been a pacesetter.

In a recent interview on Cablevision's Meet The Leaders, Town of Hempstead Councilman, Anthony Santino, was asked whether the Town of Hempstead was up to the task of zoning for the Lighthouse Project.

Mr. Santino was unequivocal, citing the "success" of the Roosevelt Raceway redevelopment, accomplished under the auspicies, and with the blessings of, the Town of Hempstead.

Granted, the definition of "success" may differ among reasonable people. Considering the congestion of the roadways (at times, impassable), the mold at Archstone, the total lack of "walkability" (a cornerstone of smart growth), and the profound environmental impact (the Covanta incinerator notwithstanding), it would be difficult for us, a lay bloggers, to label the raceway redevelopment as anything more than blunder followed by folly.

To be fair, a project as massive as the Lighthouse should not be undertaken lightly, the Town having both right and obligation to examine every facet of the proposal under a microscope, and to assure, through zoning and enforcement, that the Nassau Hub, critical to the county's resurgence and viability, does not turn into the Nassau flub.

The Town recently approved the Environmental Report for the Lighthouse ("in record time," if the Town must say so itself).

Can the Town of Hempstead handle a project of this magnitude? For sure. They have the resources, the wherewithal, and the smarts. The question is, will they?

The Town must not rely on history as its guide, or on the small-minded, myopic planning and haphazard zoning by which it has come to define itself. Nor should they cave to the whims of special interests, developers included, in planning the course for Nassau's future.

Take your time, Hempstead Town. Let's redo the Nassau Hub properly, and get it right on the first go round. Transportation, housing, access/egress, and environmental concerns, among other significant details, must all be astutely considered and intelligently addressed.

That said, the Lighthouse Project must proceed with all deliberate speed. Let's not have to ask which will come first, a revjuvenated hub or a Stanley Cup for the Islanders.
- - -
From the Town of Hempstead press release:

Officials at the town noted that after all environmental reviews and reports are completed, Nassau County officials must approve the subdivision plan and the Town Board would hold a hearing on the rezoning of the project site. Approval of a lease agreement by the County Legislature and site plan approvals by the Town Board will also be required before the town's building department could issue building permits.

Hmmm. Town Board + Nassau County Planning Commission + Nassau County Legislature + Town Board + Town Building Department = Completion Date of ???

The Citi Never Sleeps

After All, They're Too Busy Counting All The Money We Gave Them

Citigroup, endowed with some $45 billion in stimulus dollars ($300 billion, if you include Uncle Sam's backing of bad assets carried on Citi's books), and fresh off a profit of $8 billion for the first two months of 2009, must be laughing all the way to the bank.

Taxpayers, on the other hand. . .

If you have a savings account with Citi, you're getting somewhere in the neighborhood of 0.25% interest on your money. This, of course, is a heck of alot better than the interest you're getting from Citi on that $45 billion you lent them.

Meanwhile, holders of Citi credit cards – most of them, taxpayers – are being paid back by Citi with an increase in their variable rate to Prime plus 16.99%. As of December 1, 2008, that rate was 21.99%.

Heaven forbid a cardholder default, by failing to make a minimum payment or exceeding the credit line, and that rate jumps to 29.99%. Too bad Citi doesn’t pay these rates on their savings accounts and CDs!

Upping the interest rates charged to the consumer, far beyond that which would otherwise be considered usurious, does nothing to ease the credit crunch or raise consumer confidence, let alone to help financially-strapped Americans in these times of economic woe. Certainly, its no way for Citi to say “thank you” to John Q. Public for keeping this financial giant from defaulting on its own obligations.

Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. Perhaps, with some $8 billion in profits on hand, its time for the fed to call in its loan to Citigroup. At the very least, Citi should begin to pay interest. Yeah, payback is a bitch, but hey, the taxpayers could use the money right now. Then again, we suppose $45 billion just doesn’t go as far as it used to!
- - -
So, Where's Our Bailout?

Here's an idea: In exchange for the taxpayer-financed bonuses being paid to the folks who lost all that money at AIG, we, the people, are afforded a one-time opportunity to convert all of our regular IRA accounts to Roth IRA accounts, absolutely tax free!

Fair is fair, after all...

Monday, March 16, 2009

What Do We Need? Special District Reform

When Do We Need It? NOW!

From our good friends at Residents for Efficient Special Districts (RESD). [Yes, we know. There is no such animal as an efficient special district! ;-)]:

Special District Reform is Key to Lowering Nassau Taxes

Nassau County
is unlike most Counties in New York. Over the past 100 years, Nassau has created a multitude of special taxing districts to provide basic services like garbage, libraries, water, and sewers. Many of these special taxing districts are run by commissioners who are elected, often for 3 -5 year terms, by approximately 1-3% of the residents of these districts. Nassau has, by far, more special districts than any other county in New York. The overwhelming majority of special taxing districts in Nassau County are costly, ineffective and contribute to our high property taxes.

These districts are an overlapping mess that encourages unaccountability and confusion for taxpayers. Because of the way they were created in state law, neither the towns nor the County has authority over these special districts. The districts create their own budgets, assess whatever taxes they deem necessary and are accountable only to the small number of people who know about the annual elections that they themselves run.

In 2007, County Executive Suozzi’s office released a study that found that special district elections are held on at least 24 different days every year and there is at least one special district election in 11 of the 12 months of the year. These elections are not widely publicized and there are many examples of elections where only a handful, literally, of voters came to the polls. One special district developed a pattern of holding the election in the Commissioner’s own kitchen. Nassau County desperately needs special district reform.

County Executive Tom Suozzi, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Governor David Paterson have included a number of important reforms in the Governor’s 2009 budget. These reforms are under attack by several legislators and many people and businesses who want to maintain the status quo. County Executive Suozzi, the Hagedorn Foundation, the Long Island Progressive Coalition and a grassroots group called, RESD (Residents for Efficient Special Districts) are building a coalition to fight for these changes.

This group successfully pushed for additional accountability measures in last year’s legislative session. We won some small battles, but the war rages on and we are trying to build a stronger coalition to push these changes through the legislature.

What we need:
We need as many people as possible to call Senator Craig Johnson’s office to explain the importance of special district reform.

The Governor’s 2009 budget currently contains language that does four key things.

It simplifies and unifies the local government consolidation process. This will make it easier for taxpayers to eliminate a special district if they feel like they are not getting the biggest bang for their “tax buck.”

It eliminates compensation for special district commissioners. Fire commissioners and school board members are not paid for their service. Sanitation, water, sewer district commissioners shouldn’t get per diems, dental, vision and health plans, pension plans and other lavish perks.
It makes it easier for special districts to cut down on health care costs by forming cooperative health benefit plans. It simply makes sense to reduce health care costs by buying health care in bulk. The special districts can and should cooperate better to relieve Nassau’s high tax burden.

It transfers the management of sanitary districts to town boards. Some of the sanitation districts are among the most notorious for political patronage, nepotism, wasteful spending, and poor accountability. The towns can and should manage the garbage in Nassau. Recycling programs and other large scale trash solutions will help get the trash trucks off the Long Island Expressway and promote better solutions for Nassau’s future growth.

Sen. Johnson has voted against these proposals in the past, but may be willing to support them in the future. Senator Johnson is great and represents his constituencies well; but he needs to be convinced to support or at least not oppose these legislative changes.

We need to explain to Sen. Johnson that special districts have operated in the dark for too long. They don’t publicize their elections, they shouldn’t receive per diems, health care, and other perks, and they haven’t attempted in any way to reduce costs by partnering with other special districts around them. Nassau County residents love their services, but they can’t afford to pay for governments that fail to provide those services as cheaply as possible.

Consolidating garbage districts would improve recycling rates and save taxpayers millions of dollars. New York State has established a recycling goal of 50% of the waste generated. Recycling rates in Nassau County are significantly below this goal and significantly less that surrounding Counties including Suffolk County. The majority of taxpayers in special taxing garbage districts pay much higher rates than those serviced by the town run garbage districts.

Water is a regional resource. A more regional approach to managing water resources could protect water resources and reduce costs by minimizing water pumping and power costs, dealing more cost effectively with emergencies and contamination issues, and shutting off wells that are more costly to operate.

For Everyone:
This legislation will benefit all Nassau taxpayers especially those in the Town of Hempstead. In general, special districts in the Town of Hempstead have received more criticism for waste than special districts in other parts of the County. Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Newsday have all chronicled the waste, fraud and abuse by special districts. This legislation is critical to ensuring special districts are accountable.

Sen. Johnson’s office can be reached at:

District Office:
151 Herricks Road, Suite 202
Garden City Park, NY 11040
P: (516) 746-5923

Albany Office:
604 Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
P: (518) 455-2622

What did we pass last year?

Last year, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and County Executive Tom Suozzi pushed for and passed legislation that:

Established a uniform date for public hearings conducted by the board of commissioners on district budget estimates before the budgets are submitted to the town;

Required that budget estimates, annual financial reports, public notices and audit reports are posted on the websites of both the district and of the town in which the district is located; and

Required adequate notice to the public for annual budget hearings including the time, date, location, purpose of the hearing and the availability of an estimate of the proposed expenditures and revenues.
- - -
An overhaul of New York's special districts -- by way of consolidation and, where possible, outright elimination -- would save taxpayers millions of dollars. [And couldn't we all use a tax "bailout" right about now?]

Contact your State Assemblymember, State Senator, County Legislator and Town Council member (Hempstead, North Hempstead, Oyster Bay). Tell them that the time for special district reform is NOW!

Friday, March 06, 2009

Can VLTs Help Resuscitate An Ailing Elmont

Redevelopment Plan Gains Favor, Momentum

Video Lottery Terminal (VLTs). The so-called Racino. The kind now found at Yonkers Raceway, Monticello Raceway, and points north, bringing lottery-style gaming to local communities with the intent to infuse the local economy with cash, spurring growth and prosperity.

Sounds wonderful, in theory, but does it work, in practice?

No one would argue that Elmont, like Yonkers -- and Monticello in Sullivan County -- is in need of a helping hand. The "gateway to Nassau" has fallen upon hard times, with the decline of it business districts, the aging of its infrastructure, and myriad demographic shifts, which, for better and for worse, have forever changed the face of Elmont.

Still, will the addition of VLTs, and possibly a hotel, have the desired effect of promoting financial stability for what has become, in many respects -- particularly in the economic sense -- a downtrodden community?

Have the VLTs brought a resurgence to Yonkers or Monticello? Not really.

True, Yonkers is in the midst of its own renaissance, in large part thanks to a universal redevelopment plan that encompasses much of its downtown. The money spent at the VLTs at the raceway, however, haven't translated in bucks for either Main Street or South Broadway.

Much the same for Monticello, where plans to revitalize Broadway have perennially fallen through the cracks, and the VLTs at the racetrack, just a mile or so away from downtown, have done absolutely nothing to transform Monticello from ghost town to boom town.

Will adding a hotel make the difference for Elmont? Well, hard to envision Elmont as a vacation mecca, or a gamblers' draw akin to Atlantic City. Maybe the Belmont Stakes crowd could fill the rooms, but otherwise, a hotel in Elmont, sans attractions beyond the racetrack and the VLTs, would likely detract from the community -- ala the no-tell hotels that nearby communities have long sought to be rid of -- rather than to attract new business and enhance both image and viability.

Yes, Elmont cries out for revitalization. Still, we must be cognizant of the fact that not all redevlopment is desirable, or, for that matter, beneficial.

Before we embrace the plans for the future of Belmont -- and with these plans, the best hope for all of Elmont -- let us carefully consider the potential outcomes.

Be careful what you ask for, Elmont. For you may just get it -- VLTs, hotels, and all!
- - -
From the Three Village Times:

Plan Unveiled for Belmont Park
VTLs and Hotel Part of PlanFor Development of Belmont
By Joe Rizza

Empire State Development (ESD), New York's lead economic development agency, and the New York State Racing & Wagering Board (RWB) have issued a report for the redevelopment of Belmont Park. The report identifies two sites for redevelopment - Site A, an 8-acre parcel of land north of Hempstead Turnpike and adjacent to the track's grandstand and open space, and Site B, a 28-acre parcel of land south of Hempstead Turnpike, east of the Cross Island Parkway, and adjacent to single-family residential neighborhoods.

The plan includes various options for each of the sites.

For Site A, these options are as follows:
• Option 1: Racino (a facility in which Video Lottery Terminals (VTLs) are located.
• Option 2.1: Small hotel with VTLs in the grandstand.
• Option 2.2: Large hotel with VTLs in the grandstand.
• Option 3.1: Small hotel with a Racino.
• Option 3.2: Large hotel with a Racino.

For Site B, the options are as follows:
• Option 1: Retail with 30 stores with theater and food complex with and/or small hotel.
• Option 2: Big box retail center with a sports facility option.
• Option 3: Mixed-use retail with senior housing.

It is hoped that the redevelopment of Belmont Park would spur economic growth in the area by creating jobs and making Belmont Park a more attractive destination for visitors.

Assemblyman Tom Alfano, who represents the Elmont and Floral Park communities in the 21st Assembly District, called the proposal a "turning point for Elmont and Floral Park that will mean jobs, jobs, jobs and a sure-fire way to cut property taxes for homeowners."

Alfano, who has made Belmont Park his chief concern, believes the proposal will revitalize the Hempstead Turnpike corridor. "The next step is looking at what the right combination is. I don't support the senior housing component because we have enough senior housing in the area. What I want to focus all of our efforts on is creating jobs and lowering taxes on homeowners," he said. "With this proposal, we can help our young people get a job. With this proposal we can create construction jobs. With this proposal we'll create sustainable jobs. With this proposal we can cut taxes on homeowners. With this proposal we'll be expanding the tax base. With this proposal we'll bring revitalization to Hempstead Turnpike. With this proposal we'll finally make Belmont a destination point instead of raw iron gates."

Senator Dean Skelos also agreed that the proposal is what the communities surrounding Belmont Park need. "What we've been saying all along in this process is that we need economic development and to cut taxes on homeowners. Right from the start, Assemblyman Alfano and I have been pushing for this kind of plan for the community. We have to move now on these proposals and we can't allow this process to get bogged down like Aqueduct. Time is of the essence. Let's get to work," he said.

Senator Craig Johnson, who represents the Elmont and Floral Park communities in the 7th Senate District, believes bringing VTLs to Belmont is vital to the project's success. "But let's be clear: This is only a first step toward making Belmont the first-class destination that it could be. This process should move as quickly as possible, but it has to be done correctly and the affected communities need to be involved every step of the way," Johnson said, adding that he has reintroduced legislation to create a Belmont Community Advisory Board.

Some of Elmont's community leaders have responded positively to the study to revitalize the areas surrounding Belmont Park. Sandra Smith, chair of the Elmont Coalition for Sustainable Development, called the site plan very exciting and a big shot in the arm for Elmont and Floral Park. "This is the beginning of something big for all our communities. From the beginning we outlined what we wanted to see and pushed hard for it every step of the way. Now with the governor, Senator Skelos and Assemblyman Alfano all pushing in the same direction, we literally hit the triple," she said.

Patrick Nicolosi, president of the Elmont East End Civic Club, believes the study is great news for Elmont. "In this economy with all of the challenges we face, we need to cut taxes and create jobs. This proposal starts us down this road finally. I want to see the large hotel, retail and Belmont redeveloped to help all our communities," he said.

The next step is to determine the economic viability of the land uses and amount of development feasible for Sites A and B with an economic impact analysis and the feasibility of placing a VTL facility in Belmont Park with a gaming analysis, according to the study. Before any redevelopment steps are taken in the implementation process, the New York State Franchise Oversight Board must unanimously approve the redevelopment of Sites A and B.

The Belmont Park Redevelopment Study can be found at http://www.empire.state.ny.us/Belmont/default.asp.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A Master Plan For Nassau County?

Planning Commission To Outline Vision On March 16th; Public Encouraged To Attend

Robert Moses, the so-called Master Planner, responsible, in great measure, for the migration eastward from New York City, passed away in 1981, his last foray into public works, as head of the Triborough Bridge & Tunnel Authority, having pre-deceased him by some thirteen years.

Indeed, while there have been many attempts to formulate a workable Master Plan for Long Island, and Nassau County, in particular, as evidenced by what has become of Nassau's "downtowns" and byways -- where zoning by exception rules, and vision is of the tunnel variety -- there hasn't been much planning in these parts since Moses parted the scene in the late 1960s.

Yes, there have been pokes at creating a Master Plan, in one incarnation or another, lo these many years (and we've chronicled the good, the bad, and the downright ugly, right here at The Community Alliance blog), yet, save those plans that lay gathering dust in the catacombs or bottled up like some magical genie of yore, not one has made its way from drafting table to the streets of Long Island. [Piecemeal spot development, courtesy of local zoning/planning boards, notwithstanding.]

If at first you don't succeed (or at second, third, and forth, for that matter), try, try again.

And try again the County of Nassau will, with the Nassau County Planning Commission set to unveil its vision -- not an actual plan, but a vision for one -- for that new Nassau on Monday, March 16th from 5:30-7:30 PM at the County Legislative Chambers, 1550 Franklin Avenue, Mineola.

It is touted as a Public Kickoff Meeting, and that means, you, the public (formerly, we, the people), are invited to add your input and share your vision, this in the hope that the new (and improved) Nassau won't look so much like the old Nassau, or at least not like the one that time has forgotten since the days when Levittown became America's first suburban community.

Granted, that "vision" thing hasn't yielded much in the way of planning, let alone smart growth or redeveopment of either brownfield or "Main Street" -- at least beyond the Victorian-style streetlamps and brick pavers that have passed for "streetscaping" -- but hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

We'll keep you posted as the Planning Commission's vision -- and the Nassau County Master Plan website, which, as of this blogpost, is still "under construction" (surprise!) -- takes shape, and offer our own insight, recommendations, and observations, as watchdog of Long Island's quality of life.

Through the follies and foibles of planning and zoning (or utter lack thereof) as have turned America's oldest suburb into America's most blighted suburb, hope springs eternal.

Yes, Robert Moses, there is a Planning Commission (as there was a Lee Koppelman. Remember him?) Let's just hope, for all of our sakes, they (we?) get this vision thing right this time, and live to see paper hit pavement in our lifetime.