Thursday, April 30, 2009

Do Flying Pigs Carry Swine Flu?

Nothing Is More Viral Than The Internet And 24/7 "News"

Remember the Salmonella outbreak last year (or was it e-coli, who can remember?), the one blamed on tomatoes, and ultimately linked to jalapenos, or some other vegetable that wasn't originally suspect, let alone a fruit?

Sure, blame the poor ham hock for causing a worldwide pandemic, not to mention the mass hysteria all the media attention has created.

So far, the Swine flu, though widespread, appears rather mild, if not mundane. Nowhere near the devastation of the deadly flu pandemics of years past, like the ones blamed on Spaniards in 1918, on all of Asia in 1957, and on cute little birdies in recent go rounds.

Now, the poor little piggy, forced to wear a mask at market, gets the blame for a virus officially known to those who study such things as H1N1.

Not quite as ominous sounding as Swine flu, but at least it lets Porky and Miss Piggy off the hook.

We recall flu outbreaks when we were kids. Entire schools and businesses shut down, because everyone was home in bed, achy, feverish, coughing up sputum, sneezing, and feeling generally lousy.

The news that the flu had broken out in your state or city was not the top story on the evening newscast, and certainly, it wasn't headlined as BREAKING NEWS, as the media outlets brandish almost everything these days, from reports of cloudy weather to a change of a single point in the Dow.

And certainly, no one blamed the flu on the lowly swine. [Frankly, the beast had enough going against him already, the poor porker.]

We had the flu. We stayed in bed. Drank plenty of fluids. Sought pity from our parents. And watched The Andy Griffith Show and Let's Make A Deal on our giant, 13-inch, black and white TVs, on which little was heard of flu pandemics.

Truthfully, watching Monty Hall open boxes and Opie go fishing with pa was a heck of a lot more fun than watching Wolf Blitzer and Sanjay Gupta go on and on and on about the dreaded Swine flu. [Or worse still, watching the pundits on CNBC intertwine the darn swine into the latest news on the markets in Japan. Well, it gives them something to talk about.]

Of course, the world is a heck of a lot smaller these days, with intercontinental jet travel available to every disease-carrying Mexican, Asian, and Somalian (because these dreaded diseases never originate in the United States, after all. Hand sanitizer has taken care of that!), and Swine flu, no doubt transmitted by flying pigs, whose cyber-droppings bombard us like so many rads from the sun, the lead story on CNN, MSNBC, FOX, CBS, NBC, ABC, and ESPN2.

Film at 11 -- and at 11:01, 11:02, 11:03...

If only we'd turn off our television sets, cover our coughs, wash our hands, and, for goodness sake, let flying pigs fly!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

How's My School District Doing?

State Ed Posts Performance, Property Tax, By The Numbers

Our children get report cards in school so that we, as parents, can gauge their performance, noting strengths, weaknesses, and progress.

So, too, is the performance of New York's public schools graded by the NYS Education Department (the folks who bring you Regents Exams), in their annual school Report Card.

Check out the Report Card for NYS Testing and Accountability for all New York school districts by clicking HERE.

With the school budget vote just weeks away (Tuesday, May 19), taxes are on the minds of many New Yorkers. This is particularly so here on Long Island, where school taxes account for upwards of 60% of the local property tax tab.

State Ed has recently issued the Property Tax Report Cards for all of New York's school districts showing data for the 2008 school year, which includes budget tax levies for 2008-09 and the percent change from the prior year.

Of course, that's last year's news.

School districts are required to make their proposed 2009-10 budgets available to the public no later than seven (7) days prior to the scheduled budget hearings (April 28 - May 5); to hold budget hearings seven (7) to fourteen (14) days before the budget vote (May 5 - 12); and to mail a budget notice to all residents by May 13.

Residents should contact their local school districts for more information, and are encouraged to attend the school budget hearings.

Be an informed citizen, and take the time to know how your tax dollars are being spent.

Your vote for the school budget on Tuesday, May 19 matters -- to our children and our future.

Monday, April 27, 2009

100 Miles Long

127 Separate And Distinct School Districts Wide

With school budget/school board elections just around the bend (Tuesday, May 19), no doubt talk of consolidating Long Island's 127 school districts (yes, we said 127) will resurface, and disgruntled homeowners/taxpayers will wonder, as the have for more than a decade, what can be done do lower skyrocketing property taxes -- which in most communities account for upwards of 60% of the local property tax bill.

Vote no on school budgets? Hardly.

First off, the increase in the tax rate under most austerity budgets would be greater than the increases proposed by the majority of Long Island's 127 (count 'em, 127) school districts.

Second, and of perhaps greater import, to shortchange our children is to forsake the future.

Education is costly, no question. Still, the cost of ignorance is immeasurable in terms of the detrimental impact on our children's ability to succeed, and our nation's capacity to compete, in this global economy.

We do not endorse voting down school budgets any more than we cozy up to the ersatz "tea party" revolutionaries -- who, not surprisingly, are typically the very folks who brought you the high taxes in the first place (though they would like you to forget that).

Yes, school districts have to trim budgets and tighten belts. A difficult balancing act, given the rise in fixed costs, which run the gamut from salaries to transportation, utilities to insurance, juxtaposed against the desire to furnish a first class, well-rounded education to Long Island's children.

Consolidation of services, which many school district are doing even now in terms of cooperative purchasing of everything from paper to power, is one way to keep costs down.

It is simply not enough. Even a cap on annual increases would not suffice, the bar already set way too high for the average taxpayer.

Assuming it is necessary to pay a school superintendent upwards of $250,000 per year, multiplied by 127 school districts, by our math, that's nearly $32 million in superintendent salaries alone. This for an island that's 100 miles long. [That comes out to nearly $320,000 a mile, folks!]

Looks like we really do need help in the math and sciences.

The cost in terms of duplication of services, on just the administrative side alone, is both unconscionable and unsustainable.

The New York State Commission on Property Tax Relief, in its final report, recommended, among other initiatives, the consolidation of school districts.

Combined with relief from unfunded mandates, and other measures that could potentially rein in costs, consolidation of Long Island's 127 school districts would go a long way in reducing costs and, in turn, lowering taxes.

A clear case of where less would be more for Long Island homeowners.

We really don't need a fact sheet from a blue ribbon panel to tell us that "property taxes are getting worse." We see it on our tax bills, and feel it in our wallets.

What we do need is the folks in Albany to act responsibly, taking up the challenge, in a truly bipartisan fashion, of lowering property taxes.

Indeed, it will take an act -- or many acts -- of a legislature that, regardless of which party has had control, has been largely absent from the scene, rhetorical wrangling and political lip service notwithstanding.

Then again, this is New York, with a dysfunctional legislature, and an electorate all too willing to serve as unwitting acomplice. Enacting legislation to effectively lower property taxes may well take more than an act of the legislature. It may take an act of God!
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Contact your State Senator and State Assemblymember today. Ask them what they are doing (not saying, DOING) to lower property taxes on Long Island.

And remember to vote YES on your school budget on Tuesday, May 19.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Walk The Walk

Take a hike, to fight asthma and lung disease, cancer, drunk driving, and to support Long Island's only food bank

This week, among other topics of interest, we mused about hydrogen fuel, sister-brother accessory apartments (no, its not incest), volunteerism (its alive and well), your local civic associations, assault rifles, Ann Coulter and her ilk, virtual life on Long Island, and the future of planet earth.

Truly, there's something for everyone on The Community Alliance blog! Don't forget to post your comments, and to write us at

Guest blogposts of community interest are most welcome. [Hey, its your Long Island. Talk it up!]

Now, get walking. . .

7th Annual Blow The Whistle on Asthma & Lung Disease 5K Walk
American Lung Association of New York
Saturday, May 2, 2009
Old Westbury Gardens
Registration begins at 8:30 AM
Walk starts at 10:00 AM
631-265-3848 x10

Families Walk for Hope
To benefit the Fortunato Breast Health Center and Breast Cancer Treatment
at Mather Memorial Hospital
Saturday, May 2, 2009
Registration at 8:00 AM
Walk starts at 9:00 AM

LI2DAY Breast Cancer Walk
Saturday, May 9, 2009
10:00 AM to 5:00 PM
(Part of Atlantis Marine World Day)
Riverhead, New York

13th Annual Long Island Cares Golf Classic
(A good walk ruined ;-)
Long Island Cares, Inc. -- Harry Chapin Food Bank
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Meadow Brook Club
Jericho, New York
631-582-FOOD (3665), x104

Walk Like MADD
Let's Eliminate Drunk Driving
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Farmingdale State College
10:00 AM to 1:00 PM
631-547-6233 (ask for Kristen Hovanec)

Have a community event, cause, rave, or gripe you'd like us to rant about on the blog? E-mail the details, and we'll give you a post -- and perhaps some lip (would you believe, tongue and cheek?) as well.

Enjoy the beautiful weather, and remember, April is Walk Your Neighborhood Month.

Hydrogenated Hempstead

Hydrogen Fueling Station Planned For Point Lookout

As per the most recent missive from Hempstead Town, via four-page, full-color Murraygram, Long Island's first hydrogen fuel station is slated to be built, this summer, in Point Lookout.

The idea: To demonstrate hydrogen energy technology, educate residents, and allow scientists to evaluate the practical potential of developing hydrogen-based fuel.

The projected cost: $2 million.

"Oh, the humanity." Doesn't Hempstead Supervisor remember the Hindenburg? Wait a minute. That was Helium. Never mind.

What about the hydrogen bomb? Talk about creating a blight upon America's largest township!

But seriously, folks, a hydrogen fueling station? What vehicles are we fueling, and at what cost?

Efficiency isn't exactly the word that comes to mind when we observe how the Town of Hempstead operates -- from its blunderbuss approach to suburban renewal to its hands-off wink-and-nod to the local special taxing districts that do business under the town's name and auspicies.

And yet, when it comes to energy technology, Hempstead Town, and, yes, Supervisor Kate Murray, have often been on the leading edge.

True, its been more showmanship and media play than anything else -- from the solar panels atop town hall that power the Supervisor's fridge, to the modified electric golf carts that town employees scoot around in -- but its a start, and a rather good one at that.

From e-cycling to Mercury recycling, humane geese control to, dare we say, Nigerian goats, the Town of Hempstead has led the charge for change in alternate energy and environmental responsibility.

That, even we must admit, is a tremendous feather in Supervisor Murray's cap, and kudos are due, both to her and the Town Board, for innovative programs that, at least in theory, reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and promote a cleaner, more sustainable environment.

But a hydrogen fueling station?

The NYS Energy Research Development Authority (NYSERDA) is fronting $1 million of the tab, with National Grid, the Island's gas supplier, chipping in with grant money and tax credits. The Town of Hempstead -- meaning, we, the taxpayers -- will foot the balance of the bill.

With the state in deficit mode and National Grid already surcharging ratepayers to debt by the therm, is this the way tax dollars should be spent? And have you looked at your local property tax bill lately?

And what of the cost of creating hydrogen fuel and safe, efficient fuel cells, and the energy needed to turn hydrogen into harmless H2O? When all is said and done, it could cost more, in today's dollars, to fuel vehicles on hydrogen than it does to run them on petrol.

Is the potential benefit of exploring the development of hydrogen fuel and its possible application as a fossil fuel alternative worth the risk and the cost?


Progress, of any kind, entails at least a modicum of risk, and the potential benefits -- including what we might learn from this technology even if the hydrogen fuel experiment should itself ultimately fail -- makes the cost palatable, if not entirely reasonable, even in these tough economic times.

As always, the cost of doing nothing -- standing still and taking no chances, let alone spearheading bold, creative initiatives -- is far greater than the risk of trying something new.

Stepping out of a zero-emission, hydrogen-powered car is, for Kate Murray -- and any politician, for that matter -- more ploy than play. That said, we have to doff our caps to the Town Supervisor on moving forward with progressive and inventive measures that not only keep the town ahead of the curve in terms of environmental stewardship, but also, as Ms. Murray herself said, "...contribute in a meaningful way toward the goals of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels..."

The Town of Hempstead hydrogen fueling station, politics and pandering aside, is more than mere fuel for thought. Its a small step in this generation's giant leap forward into this, our 21st Century.

Long Island's Civic Associations

Champions Of Community

Catalysts for change. Liaisons between residents and their representatives. Often, the closest things 'we the people' have to local government itself.

These are Long Island's civic and community associations. Comprised of people who live, work and raise families in your hometown, these are the folks who, day in and day out, volunteer to serve on the front lines of community.

Civic and community associations are the vanguards of our quality of life, giving voice to our hopes and concerns, and taking action to protect, preserve, and enhance our suburban way of life.

As Long Island's premier quality of life watchdog group, serving as an umbrella organization to more than 75 civic-minded community entities, The Community Alliance salutes the good people who so tirelessly and selflessly devote themselves in service to the community.

In this blogpost, and in posts to come, we will introduce you to civic groups across Long Island, invite you to learn more by visiting their websites, and encourage you, not only to join your local civic or community association, but to immerse yourself in the effort to better our towns, villages, and hamlets.

Its true -- there is no greater public service than service to the community!

Today, we are pleased to highlight and honor two community-based civic associations, Greater Gordon Heights and the East Park Civic Association (Roslyn Heights).

From initiatives to help lower property taxes, to the creation of a community action center, to joining in the "visioning" process, toward building a brighter future, the good people of Gordon Heights have banded together for the betterment of community. A cohesive group of volunteers whose commitment to tomorrow is evident in the work they do today.

Meanwhile, the East Park Civic Association is battling sewer taxes -- and winning, monitoring roadwork and beautification projects, and keeping the heat on state and local officials on hot button issues, including maintenance of the MTA right-of-way (a concern in many communities through which the LIRR passes) and landscaping of the sound barrier along the LIE.

Yes, from Gorden Heights to Roslyn Heights, concerned citizens are rolling up their sleeves, getting involved, and pitching in to improve the quality of life in their hometown.

How about you?
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If you'd like to see your civic association or community group highlighted on The Community Alliance blog, send us an e-mail at Be sure to include contact information and the organization's website address.
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Have a "hot button" community issue that you'd like The Community Alliance to help you press? We'd be delighted to hear from you at

The Community Alliance
Common Sense Solutions for Common Community Concerns

Thursday, April 23, 2009

There Is Life On Long Island

Plenty To Do, Much To See

How many times have we heard it? "There's nothing to do on Long Island!"

Wrong again, Paumanok Vineyards breath.

Aside from the stuff you already know about -- like Long Island's pristine beaches, succulent vineyards, and engaging museums from art to aviation -- there's a whole world at your doorstep waiting to be explored.

There's golf and antiques; crafts and comedy; fairs and baby yoga (baby not included).

And there's a website -- -- where you can find it all!

Whether you're looking for good eats, something to do on a sunny spring day, or the latest events, from Elmont to Montauk Point, is a fantastic place to start.

Community and civic groups can even post events on the website -- free of charge -- and everyone is invited to join the Life on Long Island mailing list to stay in the know.

Still think there's nothing to do on Long Island? Think again!
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Additional Long Island Links:
Keep It On Long Island --
Long Island, NY --
Long Island Convention & Visitors Bureau --

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Town of Hempstead Expands Law On Mother/Daughter Apartments

Easing Housing Crunch While Keeping Families Together

When it comes to enforcing the laws relating to accessory apartments in single-family homes -- in particular, the laxity of enforcement vis-a-vis illegal rental apartments, in basements and otherwise -- this blog has often chastised the Town of Hempstead.

The illegal accessory apartment, a danger to occupant and burden to taxpayer, continues to be a major plague upon America's largest township.

Still, every once in a great while, the Town of Hempstead offers up a pleasant -- and, less frequently, a community-minded surprise, as they have done recently in adopting a change in the Town Code that permits the use or rental of accessory apartments in single-family homes by siblings to siblings.

Could it be that Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray has a sister residing in an apartment in Murray's Levittown cape, and wants to make it all legal?

Who knows the machinations that lurk behind the legislation? All we can say is, in easing the housing burden that has forced too many families off of Long Island, and in affording sisters and brothers the opportunity to co-house alongside -- or, perhaps, down the block from -- mom and dad, Murray and the Hempstead Town Board have made the right move.

Now, about those illegal basement apartments and other unlawful accessories that continue to be rented outside the code?

Here, too, its time for the Town to act responsibly.
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From The Town of Hempstead:

It's All in the Family: Murray and Hudes Expand "Mother-Daughter"Apartment Law to Include Siblings

Acknowledging the rising cost of living on Long Island and accommodating the wishes of many community residents, Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray and Councilman Gary Hudes, along with the entire town board, have passed legislation that effectively expands upon the town's provision for "mother-daughter" apartments in single-family homes. The new law will allow siblings to qualify for an exemption to alter a one-family home to accommodate two families. Moreover, siblings can now enjoy the same benefits that apply to parent child relationships in the establishment of an accessory apartment in a single-family home.

"Many families today want to stay together and remain in the same home while continuing to enjoy the suburban quality of life that our township affords," Supervisor Murray said. "Adjusting the 'mother-daughter' apartment law to reflect this reality will allow us to better serve the different needs of families throughout Hempstead Town."

The pre-existing law defined a mother-daughter residence as a one-family home constructed or altered to include a second kitchen for the sole use of the children or parents of the home's owner. Expanding the law to include siblings will help family members to stay with the people they love while easing the costs of owning and operating a home. Both the previous mother-daughter law and the new legislation apply only to single-family homes in unincorporated areas of the town. Incorporated villages are not subject to the legislation and control their own zoning regulations.

"Many families today are struggling to make ends meet," Councilman Hudes said. "Giving immediate family members the option to share a home may help both older and younger siblings alike ease the costs of living on Long Island.

"In addition to the mother-daughter residence law and the new sibling provisions, residents may only alter a one-family home to accommodate two families by obtaining a two-family senior residence permit. [Emphasis added.] By providing more opportunities for families to stay together, Murray and Hudes hope that young adults who might otherwise find the costs of owning a home to be prohibitive will be able to remain in their communities, while older family members may benefit from the assistance that younger siblings or children can provide in a shared residence.

"Many siblings grow up in the same home and highly value the bond they share with their immediate family members," Supervisor Murray concluded. "Once grown, siblings should still be able to keep a close-knit family in a shared home while maintaining the high quality of life that they have come to enjoy in Hempstead Town."

The Day The Earth Stood Still

At Least Long Enough To Stop And Feed The Roses

Earth Day on Long Island, where the air is clear, the fields are green, and the water you drink comes from aquifers deep below the soil, into which we pour tons of pesticides, herbicides, and other toxic chemicals every year.

As we celebrate planet earth, and, hopefully, reflect upon and work toward its renewal and sustainability, how about making a start of it at home by going organic?

Your lawn and garden are great places to get the organic seeds sowing, as our friends at the Long Island Neighborhood Network have been telling us for years.

Switching from chemical warfare on your lawn and in your garden to organic gardening is not only good for the environment, its good for your green space, and, in the long run, its more economical than the costs -- for lawn care and health care -- associated with those nasty chemicals.

The Neighborhood Network provides guidance on Four Steps to a Toxic-Free Organic Lawn, and even provides an up-to-date list of organic landscapers.

After you've tended to your lawn, have a go at making the inside of your home more earth-friendly. Non-toxic living is something we can all strive toward, from the containers we use to package food, to the cleaning products we spread around the house, to the beauty products we put on our bodies.

A healthier earth begins at home, and it all starts with YOU, today, Earth Day!

On Cleanliness, Godliness, And The Almighty Mechanical Sweeper

Taking Back Planet Earth, One Dirty Street At A Time

Back in the day, some 39 years ago, when Earth Day was fresh, new, and novel, the movement was more than a symbolic rapprochement to healing mother earth.

We truly believed that our planet was dying, and that, through mankind's benevolence -- and a whole lot of recycling, reclaiming, and reusing -- we could fix this place we call home, and make it sustainable for generations yet to come.

The hype and anticipation of Earth Day, with celebrations in the park, to clean-ups on the beach (and let's not forget the protests at nuclear power plants), was second only to that of Apollo moon missions.

Lowering greenhouse gas emissions, removing litter from the side of highways (to the pleasure of that teary-eyed native American), and doing our share -- or what little we could -- actually meant something. Emotions were stirred, and we were called to action.

Time was, Think Globally, Act Locally was more than a catch phrase. It was nuance, ushering in a new era of cleaner, healthier, greener living, where our children could breathe the air, drink the water, and get from one place to the other without spewing tons of carbon monoxide into the air.

Think globally? Today, if you can simply get folks to think at all, its a major accomplishment.

As for Earth Day itself, the whole notion has become rather ho hum, inconvenient truths notwithstanding.

Earth Day, is it? So we ask, as we strap ourselves into our gas guzzling, sulphur dioxide spitting, ozone depleting machines, prepped to drink our morning joe out of a styrofoam cup, soon to be tossed, along with that McDonald's bag and Snapple bottle, out the car window.

Sure, we've exchanged an occasional incandescent bulb for that fluorescent here and there, upgraded to Energy Star dishwashers, and even pay homage to the idea that gave birth to Earth Day by designating entire communities as "green." We've seen Green Levittown. Its not altogether that green (but bless your little hearts for having a go at it).

Seriously. What have we really done, as a society and individually, in the past 39 years to reduce our carbon footprint? Driven less, mass-transited more? Converted to solar or wind power? Saved a forest by using recycled paper?

How many of us even bother to keep our own little corner of the world green? Do we broom sweep in front of our storefronts or homes? Are we using organic lawn care products rather than chemical fertilizers and pesticides?

Perhaps planet earth isn't as worthy of saving as it was nearly four decades ago. Could be that it really isn't as easy being green as we thought it would be? Or maybe the last eight years, when the melting of the ice caps was debatable and global warming was only a theory, or worse still, in the eyes of one United States Senator, a hoax, have made us tune out and turn of.

Well, it is time to get in touch with planet earth once again. On this Earth Day -- which, not coincidentally, happens to be today -- and every day, do your part to reclaim our little patch of blue, right here on heaven's green earth. Rekindle the spirit that moved the Friends of the Earth. Do it for yourself, if not for generations yet unborn.

Celebrate Earth Day locally, here on Long Island. We'll all breathe a lot easier, and Mother Earth will thank you.
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Check out your town's efforts at greenification at
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From the Long Island Herald newspapers:

Street Cleaning As Rite Of Passage

To the Editor:

The old joke goes something like this: “Cleanliness is next to Godliness. In New York, its next to impossible.”

The annual rite of spring, invoked by towns and villages alike, is ushered in not by the hum of the robin, but rather, by the drone of the mechanical sweeper, that iconic harbinger of the earth’s rebirth, harkening back to the day when those bristled brushes actually made contact with the debris-strewn asphalt.

Ah, the memories of childhood in the city, where streets were washed, no less swept, on a regular basis, and homeowners actually removed their cars from the roadways, even without the strict mandate of Alternate Side parking, so that the sweeping machines could clean from curb to curb.

Today’s suburbia is a distant cry from the vision of planners and street sweepers alike. Scheduled sweeping days are few and far between (once per month, from April through early October, if we’re lucky), those mechanical bulls now only sheepishly patrolling our streets, moving sand and litter from one side of the road to the other (too often, on trash collection days, having to dodge coverless receptacles and rodent-riddled garbage bags), with few homeowners bothering to take their vehicles off road, permitting at least an ode to street cleaning, if not actual progress toward environmental responsibility.

Gone are the days, or so it would seem, where common decency, rather than proscribed dictate, meant that we moved our cars for the likes of snow plows and street sweepers. We have, apparently, abandoned civility and that simple nod to quality of life, in favor of a survivalist’s every man for himself credo.

Alas, suburbia is not the wilderness, where your nearest neighbor is twenty miles down that dirt road, and your right to lay claim to that byway for your pick-up truck to stand fast against the intrusions of the outside world is inviolable.

Assuring that our streets are clean, at least nominally so, and making way for the occasional mechanical sweeper, is but a small part of the community spirit, the shared responsibility, that helps keep suburbia viable, sustainable, and livable.

Besides, if all that sand remains on our residential streets during the summer months, they may reclassify our houses as beachfront properties. And you know what that will do to your property tax!

Seth D. Bykofsky
West Hempstead, NY

The writer, a civic activist of longstanding, is a former president of the West Hempstead Civic Association, and a co-founder of The Community Alliance, a quality of life watchdog group.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Its Official: Volunteering Is Cool Again

Obama Signs Serve America Act

Not since the Peace Corps of President Kennedy has the urge for volunteerism been so strong in America, or so urgently needed.

And so, with the stroke of a pen -- many pens, actually -- President Barack Obama signed into law the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.

The bill provides nearly $6 billion during fiscal years 2010 through 2014 for service entities, including AmeriCorps and four new corps: a Clean Energy Corps to encourage energy efficiency and conservation; 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.

The new law will increase the number of volunteers nationwide to 250,000 from 75,000, and will increase the full-time education award that service members receive in exchange for their work to $5,350 for 2010. It will create the Summer of Service program for middle and high school students to volunteer in their communities, letting them earn up to $1,000 for college costs.

The bill will also expand the focus of the National Civilian Community Corps to include disaster relief, infrastructure improvement, environmental and energy conservation, and urban and rural development, according to a summary of the bill available on the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee's Web site.

The bill includes a national Call to Service Campaign to encourage all Americans to engage in service and to observe September 11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance.

The Serve America Act has received praise from national service organizations, including the American Red Cross and Voices for National Service.

And while the right-wing Heritage Foundation calls the Act "the death of public service," this on the heels of conservatives lamenting "foolish deficit spending" (they would know), among other nasty expletives, the new-found commitment on the part of the feds to public service and volunteerism is most welcome, indeed.

Hopefully, the desire to serve, encouraged by increased funding and support from Washington, will trickle down to state and local government, and to the very communities that now, more than ever, need the helping hands of volunteers.

Yes, now is the time for all good Americans to come to the aid of their community. Volunteer!

The Coughlin-Coulter Connection

Can Millions Of Listeners Be Wrong?

"If you take what I say as gospel, you’re an idiot.”
--Glenn Beck, Fox News

During the height of his radio career, Father Charles Coughlin drew a weekly audience estimated at 40 million, or roughly one third of the nation at that time.

Preaching the gospel of what can only be categorized as bigotry and hatred -- rationalizing the policies of Adolph Hitler and blaming everything from the Russian Revolution to the Great Depression on the Jews -- Coughlin was revered by his followers, who were legion.

The followers of the likes of Rush Limbaugh -- and by extension, Ann Coulter, once described as Rush Limbaugh in a mini-skirt -- are legion as well. Indeed, in a single broadcast Limbaugh, and his Fox News counterpart, Bill O'Reilly, surpass the 40 million listener/viewer mark many fold.

And so spews the bigotry, the hate-mongering, the factually-deficient and morally baseless accounts of opinion that pass for something newsworthy. The stuff that spawns the likes of Coulter's "We just want Jews to be perfected" comments.

Unlike Limbaugh (a college drop-out), who is laughable even on his best days -- a cigar-chomping, pill-popping W.C. Fields of the uber-right -- and Bill O'Reilly (we blame his misguided rants on having ingested too much of that Levittown water in his youth), whose ratings (though often exaggerated) are based more on entertainment value than content, Father Coughlin, a Roman Catholic priest, and Ann Coulter, with an undergraduate degree from Cornell and a law degree from the University of Michigan, bear credentials, which, if nothing else, give legitimacy to what they have to say. Well, at least in the case of Coulter, until she opens her mouth.

No doubt, Father Coughlin, with his anti-semitic rant heard across this land, believed every vitriolic utterance that found its way into a microphone and unto the ears of millions of Americans, many of whom accepted what Coughlin preached as the gospel truth.

As for Coulter, one wonders whether her obnoxious irreverence isn't more of an act, gauged to sell books and create a media stir, than it is her core belief. And yet, how many Americans take what Coulter -- and her Limbaugh/O'Reilly/Hannity marionettes -- have to say as the absolute truth? Millions, no doubt.

Stifle the words of hatred, bigotry, and indecency? Censor the likes of Coughlin and Coulter?

Absolutely not.

Their words should be heard -- must be heard -- loud and clear, by millions, no, by billions, around the globe, translated into every language, and transcribed in every newspaper.

YouTube their petty missives into cyberspace. Parade their outlandish ilk onto every talk show.

It is only then that such words -- and the flawed thought processes behind them -- can be exposed as the by-products of narrow minds from which they, like raw sewage, seep; confronted, by those who listen to each callous word, and glean their scathing, bitter intent; denounced, by good and decent folks, everywhere, as the rhetoric of hate; and, ultimately, defeated.

So keep listening to Rush Limbaugh, and by extension, Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, and Sean Hannity, assuming you have the time for a good belly laugh. Just remember, as Glenn Beck would say, "If you take what they say as gospel, you're an idiot!"

Monday, April 20, 2009

Arm Every American With An Assault Rifle. . .

. . .Then Ban All The Bullets!

On the 10th Anniversary of the shootings at Columbine High School, and with the massacre at Virginia Tech and the horrific shootings in Binghamton, New York still too close in the rear view mirror, it seems Americans are no closer to coming to their senses with respect to gun control than we were a decade ago.

Indeed, in apparent bows to the savagery promoted by the likes of the NRA, we've abandoned efforts to close loopholes that allow almost anyone -- from the mentally ill to prison parolees -- to purchase hand guns and semiautomatic weapons, have senselessly allowed the assault weapon ban to lapse, and still cling to the wild west notion that Columbine and Virginia Tech scenarios could be prevented, or the carnage lessened, were we to arm every man, woman and child with a gun.

Indeed, Students for Concealed Carry on Campus is advocating the right to carry concealed weapons -- as a matter of self-defense -- on college campuses, the notion presumably holding sway that, like Wyatt Earp, if we all carried guns, either no one would use them, or, if someone burnished that Glock, we'd have the opportunity to shoot first and ask questions later.

Somehow, the thought of college students -- or even their professors -- walking around campus with concealed weapons doesn't do very much to put this blogger's mind at ease about the safety of his college-aged children -- or any other law-abidding citizen, for that matter.

We suppose an old-fashioned shoot out in the Student Union at High Noon would resolve all disputes; that a disgruntled Freshman, who thought he deserved an A rather than a C on that mid-term, wouldn't take it out on his prof or fellow classmates with an AK-47; and that there will be a collective lock-up of all guns before the weekly bar crawl.

Conjure up your own scenarios, if you dare.

Fortunately, more reasoned minds prevail on most college campuses, as espoused through organizations such as Students for Gun Free Schools.

Among the arguments made by Students for Gun Free Schools against concealed weapons on campus are:
(1) Concealed handguns would detract from a healthy learning environment.
(2) More guns on campus would create additional risk for students.
(3) Shooters will not be deterred by concealed carry permit holders.
(4) Concealed carry permit holders are not always “law-abiding” citizens.
(5) Concealed carry permit holders are not required to have any law enforcement training.

We agree on all counts.

In fact, other than law enforcement, concealed weapons should not be permitted to be carried anywhere in public, on or off campus.

Frankly, we wouldn't feel any safer at Roosevelt Field, Stop & Shop, or Target if we knew that the guy next to us might be carrying a concealed weapon. To the contrary, we'd be frightened out of our wits.

We don't rid our schools of drugs by permitting every student to take a toke in the cafeteria or sanctioning a crack club at recess. And we surely won't put an end to gun violence -- let alone reduce its devastating toll -- by allowing everyone to carry a gun.

Do you know what they would call a "Have Gun, Will Travel" America, where everyone carries a concealed weapon, ready to take aim at the next suspected aggressor (or simply someone who looked at the gun-toter askew)? IRAQ!

College campuses are safer without concealed weapons. The same goes for our communities at large.

Okay, we hear you Second Amendment buffs grumbling (as if any of you have ever read the Constitution). That old right to bear arms shtick. Fine. But the Constitution doesn't say what type of arms Americans shall have that right to bear.

Might we suggest arming every American with a peashooter -- a straw and a lifetime supply of spitballs. Then everyone, from college campuses to Main Street, could take his or her best shot.

Nope, I'll never give up my peashooter. Not until you pry it from my cold, dead hands!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

On May 16, Spend A Week In Philadelphia One Day

Art Of Community Conference To Build Upon Vision Of Utopia

Helping to build sustainable communities and nurture the minds and souls of communitarians, Intentional Communities, a project of the Fellowship for Intentional Communities, will be hosting an Art of Community conference just outside Philadelphia, PA on Saturday, May 16th.

A fabulous opportunity to get in touch with your inner community, to share community visions, and to commune, if you will, with the very nature of community life, in all of its splendor.

Whether or not it takes a village -- as in an incorporated village -- there can be no question that it takes a community.

True, it may not be community as we know it here on Long Island, but hey, raising awareness, learning about what's out there in communities beyond our pale, and convening outside Long Island's big box, might be just the inspiration you need!

Fellowship for Intentional Community Events and Conferences

The Art of Community - May 16, 2009 outside Philadelphia, PA

Got hope? Ready to build on it? Join Caroline Estes, Laird Schaub, Tony Sirna, Harvey Baker and Ma'ikwe Schaub Ludwig and the rest of the FIC gang on May 16 outside of Philadelphia at the beautiful Camphill Kimberton Community for a day of workshops, connection and fresh energy for your community building endeavors.

This is your chance to connect with some of the movements most dedicated movers and shakers, get inspired and learn about the nuts and bolts of community building in its many forms.

Sliding scale of $45-100 for the day includes meals.

For tickets, go to:

For information about the program or to offer to help spread the word, contact Ma'ikwe: For questions about registration, contact Jo:

Event Schedule
May 16, 2009 at Camphill Kimberton Hills Community
8:00 a.m. - Registration

9:00 - Opening Welcome from Camphill Kimberton Hills & Ma’ikwe Schaub Ludwig for the Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC)
·Opening Talk: Laird Schaub

9:45 - Break

10:00 - Workshop Session I
· Consensus: Caroline Estes
· Ecovillages Panel: Tony Sirna and Ma’ikwe Schaub Ludwig
· Start or Join?: Laird Schaub

11:30 - Lunch

12:45 - Workshop Session II
· Starting an Intentional Community: Ma’ikwe Schaub Ludwig
· Visions of Utopia II: with Harvey Baker
· Conflict: Laird Schaub

2:45 - Break

3:00 - Workshop Session III
· Guerilla Community: Harvey Baker
· Legal Structures: Tony Sirna
· Stump the Chumps: Caroline Estes, Laird Schaub and Ma’ikwe Schaub Ludwig
· Cohousing: Raines Cohen and Betsy Morris

4:30 - Schmooze/Q&A/General Networking (how casual or formal this session is will depend on attendance numbers)

6:00 - Dessert Auction

6:15 - Dinner

7:00 - Live Auction, proceeds to benefit to FIC

8:00 - Closing/Thanks/Invitation for Further Connection

If you'd like to help promote the event in your area download a printable flyer (PDF) and hang it up wherever people are looking for more community!

Introducing: The FIC Road Show!
Would you like to have the FIC come to your neighborhood and put on a one-day event? We come with workshops, inspiration, schmooze opportunities and years of experience in Intentional Community living and cooperative culture. For information about a Road Show event, please contact our events team chair, Ma'ikwe Schaub Ludwig (505) 514-8180.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Albany, MTA Get An Earful In Elmont

Local Civic Leaders, Residents, Blast MTA, State, Over Fare Hikes, Service Cuts, Taxes, And The Increasing Burden Upon John Q. Public

The names and faces were familiar: Pat Nicolosi of the Elmont East End Civic association; Rosalie Norton of West Hempstead Civic: Dottie Werner, a mainstay of the Elmont community.

They all came out on Wednesday, in the shadow of Belmont Racetrack, to protest budget cuts, fare and fee increases, new taxes, and give-backs.

WCBS-TV covered the event, and provides the following report:
- - -
L.I. Furious At Paterson, Albany Over Budget Woes
Reporting Jennifer McLogan

NEW YORK (CBS) ― New York's budget blues are causing anger on Long Island. Residents of Nassau and Suffolk Counties say Albany is trying to balance the budget on their backs. Gathered across from Belmont Park Race Track, taxpayers gave Albany lawmakers an earful about what's troubling them.

"I am sick and tired of the state considering Nassau County and Suffolk County as their cash cow," West Hempstead resident Rosalie Norton says. "I feel like they pick our pockets to spread the money around everywhere else." Norton, a small business owner, thinks Long Island is getting the shaft – an average $2,400 increase in utility, income and sales taxes for a family of four – in the new state budget on its way to Governor David Paterson's desk for signature. She complains about students from SUNY and CUNY being taxed, new taxes on wine and water, cuts to local hospitals and Nassau and Suffolk youth programs, and slashes to Long Island's share of school aid – as much as 60 percent.

"We're living on a fixed income," Elmont resident Dottie Werner says. "I have social security and a small pension from my husband, who is deceased." 85-year-old Werner, who lives alone, has learned her STAR rebate check will be eliminated.

And there's more frustration. "Closing that train station would destroy our plan! [It's] very short-sighted," Patrick Nicolosi, of the Elmont East End Civic Association, says. "The future is that train station. The future is Elmont right now." The Elmont East End Civic Association is up in arms that the planned hub revitalization for Belmont Park seems all but dead. Now residents are learning the LIRR service to and from Belmont will be the first to go if the MTA does not receive financial rescue from Albany, but both political parties continue to bicker.

"I would hope [a bailout is coming], but right now that's up to the Speaker and Majority Leader to put forth plans so that we negotiate them," State Senator Dean Skelos says. "We have not seen a bill." The blame game continues, but people say it's not about party affiliation, it about elected officials working together to save mass transit and the local community.

Meanwhile, SUNY and CUNY students complained about increased tuition in the form of a student tax that's part of the new budget.
- - -
Same old story out of Albany? You betcha!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Passover Has Come To Hempstead Town Again

A Taxpayers' Lamentation, From Moses To Murray

For the fifth consecutive year, The Community Alliance blog is pleased to republish, in its entirety, A Passover Story, as it originally appeared on this blog March 9, 2005.

"Pleased?" Well, we'd be so much more pleased if the underpinnings of this posting had come unhinged in these intervening years, with reform coming to the special taxing districts.

Alas, much like the Jews at Passover seder await the arrival of Elijah -- and Christians, at Easter, await the return of the Messiah -- residents of Long Island continue their long, disquieting vigil for special district reform.

Talk of reform, like so many readings from the Passover Haggadah, plentiful. True reform, in terms of action by the State Legislature, globally, or by the towns under whose auspices the special districts operate, locally, as elusive as the afikoman.

So, send out those extra trucks during Passover to pick up the bread of our affliction, oh you commissioners of sanitary districts near and far. And may ten thousand plagues be upon all your houses!

As for the rest of you, a joyous Passover and a happy Easter from all of us at The Community Alliance.
- - -
Wednesday, March 09, 2005

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 I know (this blogger included), 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.

Tom Suozzi Is Off And Running

Campaign Begins For Third Term As County Exec. [Or Is It Governor? Senator?]

Tom Suozzi, completing his second term as Nassau County Executive, recently re-launched his campaign website at

Interestingly, though to no one's surprise, Tom doesn't say which office he's running for.

A third term as County Exec? The Governor's seat? A challenge to Senator Gillibrand?

Who knows!

Much like Tom's Magical Mystery Bus Tours (circa 2005)-- you remember, the tours that took community leaders on a ride as prelude to Tom's much touted economic redevelopment plan -- Suozzi's plans for his own future, if not ours, remain a mystery.

We're still waiting, in much of Nassau County, for economic redevelopment. The bus ride was loads of fun, Tom, but it seems like, after we got off, the bus kept going and got lost somewhere.

Also awaiting a re-launch, we suppose, is property tax relief (Tom chaired the commission), special district reform (to include school district reform, which Tom called for way back when), and any appreciable results stemming from the creation, several years ago, of Nassau's first Empire Zone (circa 2006).

Yes, Tom has that grand vision Nassau needs. [Although, his vision didn't extend to the Final Four, Suozzi picking Michigan State to go all the way in the NCAA championship.]

Give Tom Suozzi an A for effort -- from his ever-present showmanship to his use of the latest technology (Twitter on, Tom Suozzi) -- an A- in ideation and in sharing the vision for that new suburbia (circa 2005), but only a C+ in actually getting the job done.

The rhetoric is wonderful, Tom, but on those bread and butter issues, as well as quality of life concerns, its the results that count.

Then again, governing is a team effort. If Tom Suozzi is to make the grade and hit a homerun for Nassau County, he needs the cooperation and support of the County and State Legislatures, and his colleagues in Town government. For the most part, in terms of helping the County Exec restore luster to the jewels in Nassau's crown, those folks have been failing dismally.

"The Party Of No" Parties On In New York

Republicans Vote "No" On New York's Budget

Where were the fiscally prudent Republicans when they were in charge of spending?

It wasn't all that long ago when the GOP controlled both the Governor's seat and the Senate in New York State; when two of the "three men in a room" -- the fellas who determined how much of our tax dollars would be spent, and on what -- were Republicans.

They spent New Yorkers' money as if it grew on trees, while, at the same time, they failed utterly to either curb spending or address the concerns that, inevitably, consume tax dollars much like termites consume the wooden foundation of a house.

Recently, constituents of Senator Dean Skelos, the Senate's Minority Leader, received an e-mail (republished below) detailing how the recently-adopted New York budget fails the people of New York. [Be reminded that it was only last year that Senator Skelos was the Majority Leader, albeit his tenure, upon the resignation of Joe Bruno (also a Republican), was relatively brief.]

The subject line read, Senator Skelos votes "no" on State Budget.

The Senator calls the budget process the most secretive in recent years (as if there was a distinction to be made between "secret" and "more secret"), a demonstration of "arrogance" by the top three Dems, and the resulting budget, one that "cripples the residents of Long Island by imposing increased taxes, decreased aid to education, decreases (in) the healthcare accessability, raised insurance premiums, and impos(ing) other tax(es) and fee increases."

In many respects, Senator Skelos is absolutely correct.

The budget fails us in terms of aid to education, both secondary and higher. The budget short-changes health care, the environment, and community services. The hot-button issues -- those that cost us millions of dollars in the short-run, and prosperity in the long haul -- property taxes, unfunded mandates, energy initiatives, special district reform, putting the lid on state spending (to name but a few), all fell by the wayside.

True, the STAR rebate is gone. Good riddance to it. We all saw it for what it really was, anyway. Putting a check in one pocket with the right hand, while picking the other pocket with the left hand.

For all of Senator Skelos' righteous indignation -- and he is 100% right to be indignant -- is the failure of the Democrats in Albany to do right by New Yorkers really any different than the shortcomings of the GOP when they held the reins?

Tell us. What really has changed in Albany, other than a few seats, and the right -- executed with juvenile aplomb -- to squabble over office space and who gets how much of that coveted member item money?

The Dems may hold court for now, but there has been no seismic shift in either policy or spending. Indeed, old habits don't just die hard, they live on, partying through the cold Albany night, until every last taxpayer dollar -- and even those of our grandchildren -- have been spent.

There are answers and remedies, ladies and gentlemen. Spend that money as if it were your own. Tackle the issues that New Yorkers have been clamoring about going on decades. And do a little more -- okay, a lot more -- than to simply point fingers and to just say "no!"
- - -
A Message from Senator Dean G. Skelos:

Dear Friends:

This year's budget negotiation process has been the most secretive negotiations in recent history. The failure to include the press and the public in this process has lead to a disastrous and irresponsible New York State Budget. This budget has increased the State's spending more than in any time in the history of New York during a time when people are struggling due to the economic crisis in our state and nation.

I, along with my colleagues in the Republican Conference, have offered amendments to this budget that would help rather than hurt the already struggling citizens of New York weather this economic crisis. These amendments unfortunately have fallen on deaf ears and were rejected by the current Democratic Senate Majority.

These amendments include:

· Reinstatement of the much needed STAR Rebate checks

· Eliminate the unfair Tax Increases

· Increase affordability and access to Higher Education

· Protection of our Environment

· Placing a Cap on state spending

· Protect the Middle-Class citizens of New York

· Lower the astronomical Energy Costs

· Creating Mandate Relief for our local school districts

This year's State Budget is the example of one party rule and shows the arrogance of the three Democrats from New York City negotiating how to spending our hard earned tax dollars. This Budget cripples the residents of Long Island by imposing increased taxes, decreased aid to education, decreases the healthcare accessability, raised insurance premiums, and imposed other tax and fee increases. In addition there is not a single provision to create jobs here on Long Island or anywhere across the state. This is wrong for the taxpayers and wrong for New York.

For more information please visit my website at .

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

April Is 'Walk Your Neighborhood' Month

What's Going On In Your Community? Walk Your Neighborhood And Find Out

Spring. A time of renewal -- for flowers, trees, people, and, yes, even communities.

A great time to get outside, clean up the yard, aerate the front lawn, lay down that organic weed control and fertilizer, and see what's happening around your town.

Do you know what's going on down the block, let alone on the Avenue or along the Turnpike? Has a streetscape been improved, a park beautified? Has "Main Street" become a more pedestrian-friendly place to shop and to stroll? Is your neighborhood "walkable?"

Well, you'll never know if you don't put your sneakers on, get out there, and, quite literally, walk your neighborhood.

The Community Alliance has designated April as 'Walk Your Neighborhood' Month, a time to take a closer look at the good, the bad, the blighted, and the revitalized in your own hometown, to reflect on what has changed -- for better or for worse -- and what has not, since this time, last year, and to take action (i.e., organize a park clean up or a neigborhood watch, or simply contact your local councilmember) to make your neighborhood a great place.

What makes a neighborhood great? Well, for starters, you should read The Great Neighborhood Book, a publication of our friends at Project for Public Spaces, the folks who, by their own accord and ours, engage in building community and creating places using that which most planners seem to lack -- common sense.

Of course, there's nothing like neighborhood in the first person. Hitting the street, breathing the fresh air (or holding your breath along the Turnpike), seeing what is, and visualizing what could be.

Is your neighborhood pedestrian-friendly, eco-centric, inviting in both design and appearance, accessible, sustainable, with plentiful open, green space? Or, is your neighborhood a congested, automobile-centric, hodgepodge, where just crossing the street means taking your life in your hands, and taking the car to buy a newspaper or a quart of milk is not a choice, but a necessity? [Think the Roosevelt Raceway redevelopment.]

Are we creating and promoting community living at its finest in Long Island's many and varied neigborhoods, or fostering a sprawling isolationism, where the bonds of community are broken and destroyed?

These are but of few of the questions you should be asking yourself, your elected representatives, and those who serve on planning boards, zoning boards, and civic boards alike, as you Walk Your Neighborhood in the days and weeks ahead.

Like what you see? Or could things be better along the streets, avenues, and boulevards of your hometown? What's your neighborhood's "walk score?"

Write to The Community Alliance at Tell us what you see as you Walk Your Neighborhood, that which could be better, or, perhaps, even great.

Together, we can make a difference!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Grant Us This Day. . .

"Member Item" Money Goes To The Victors

When the GOP controlled the NYS Senate, upwards of 80% of discretionary spending money -- the so-called member item funds -- went to Republican senators. Democrats called foul, and local projects in districts represented by Democrats got shortchanged, assuming they got anything at all. [The same principle holds true in the Assembly, where Dems have ruled the roost for decades. Assembly Democrats get the lion's share of the member-item money. Republicans get whatever scraps are left over, maybe.]

With the tide having turned in the Senate, Dems now clinging to a 32-30 margin, upwards of 80% of discretionary spending money goes to the Democrats, and the Republicans cry foul.

Is turnabout fair play? Of course not. Should all members, of both parties, in both chambers, share and share alike, at least when it comes to discretionary funds available for expenditure in the community? Absolutely.

But this is Albany, and tit-for-tat, eye-for-eye, you got yours now I'll get mine, is so engrained in New York politics, that fundamental fairness goes for naught, and when it comes to spending, let the minority be damned.

And who does this unyielding partisanship hurt? Not the Senators or Assemblymembers -- they're doing just fine, thank you. It hurts the constituents of districts represented by members in the minority of either house, which, here on Long Island, means that most communities will get less. Yes, suffer the constituents. [As if getting back a mere 25 cents for every tax dollar Long Islanders send to Albany wasn't bad enough!]

Less money for those "Main Street" revitalization projects. Fewer discretionary bucks for local public schools. Smaller grants this year to civic and community groups.

Member item spending by the NYS Legislature has always been promlematic. An unequal distribution of funds among reprsentatives elected to serve every New Yorker equally is inherently unjust.

Clearly, who gets to spend the taxpayers' money is just as important as how that money is being spent.
- - -
From The New York Times:

Spoils of Victory in Albany Are More Funds for Pet Projects

ALBANY — Member items, which are annual legislative earmarks doled out by individual members for pet projects, are scattered throughout New York State’s budget and total $170 million. Common Cause, a group that advocates for an open, honest government, has called the items an “incumbency protection program.”

Thousands of member items are specified in this year’s budget, but much of the money is set aside in discretionary funds that can be tapped later. And there is actually more than $170 million in this year’s budget, because the Legislature uses discretionary funds left over from previous years for items in this year’s budget as well. No public official could provide the total amount of member items in the budget — it is one of Albany’s mysteries.

This year there will most likely be a big geographic shift in member-item spending. In years past, the Republican-controlled Senate poured member-item money into special projects on Long Island and upstate, its power base, while the Democratic-controlled Assembly favored New York City and its suburbs. With both chambers now controlled by New York City Democrats, the biggest losers could be upstate community groups.

Nothing about the process suggests a fair allocation of resources. The majority party in each chamber takes the largest share of the member-item money, and then the leader of the majority party in the Senate and the Assembly takes the biggest chunk and divvies up the rest, with favored or senior members typically coming out on top. A review of member-item spending by The New York Times in 2006 found that 10 of the 62 senators controlled a third of the Senate’s member-item appropriations.

The biggest culture shock this year will be for Senate Republicans, who lost their grip on the majority in last year’s elections. In years past, the former majority leader, Joseph L. Bruno, would dole out roughly $6 million in member items to his constituents. This year, the entire caucus of 30 Senate Republicans is going to have to divide a little more than $8 million.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, is typically Albany’s king of earmarks — he usually hands out about $7 million in member-item money, with a big chunk going to the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, which is run by the husband of Mr. Silver’s chief of staff.

His control of the member-item purse strings is one of the ways he wields power over his members — he decides how much money each member gets to dole out.

“Ultimately there has to be a decision made, and it’s made by the speaker,” said Assemblyman Steven Englebright, a veteran Suffolk County Democratic lawmaker who appropriated $510,000 to an art gallery in Setauket, N.Y., to help it purchase a building when it was facing eviction.

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Friday, April 03, 2009

The 411 On The 911 Emergency Alert System

Swift911 Comes To Long Island; Residents Encouraged To Sign Up For Emergency Notification

"In the event of an actual emergency...."

Well, probably the government wouldn't be able to tell you about it until it was over, if at all, but on the off chance of a terrorist attack on town hall, or, more likely, a local water main break, municipalities across Long Island are now mobilizing to activate what is known as the Swift911 system, an emergency notification platform designed to notify thousands of people instantly -- by telephone, e-mail, and text message -- in the event of an emergency.

In browsing the web, we found that several Long Island localities have initiated the Swift911 sign-up process (you must opt-in), including the cities of Long Beach and Glen Cove, the village of Freeport, and the Town of Hempstead. [Town of Hempstead residents will be notified by Murraygram! Kidding.]

Other municipalities are coming on board, or may already have set up the Swift911 system. Check with your local government.

Hopefully, the Swift911 notification alert will be utilized only for true emergencies, such as flooding, sewer breaks, and pending natural disasters, and not for more spurious purposes, like when Hempstead Town Supervisor, Kate Murray, wants to use federal stimulus funds to buy corned beef sandwiches and chopped liver from the Coliseum Deli, or when one of the dwarf Nigerian goats escapes its pen at the Levy Preserve.

Then again, we might simply hope that the Swift911 system works at all. Attempts to reach Swift911 at its website ( -- as posted by the municipalities now online -- led us only to a broken link. [Keep trying. In the event of an emergency, you may just happen to get through.]

College campuses have been utilizing Swift911, or similar services, for several years to notify students of emerging situations, from the horror of a suspected gunman on campus, to the more mundane closure of dining halls.

As far as we know, this is the first application of the Swift911 protocol on Long Island.

At press time, inquires to town, village, and cities, and to Swiftreach Networks, Inc., as to the specific costs to municipalities (and, in turn, to taxpayers) to install and maintain Swift911 are pending. [Now this would be an appropriate project for use of federal stimulous money!]

It is always best to be prepared for emergencies, and with an instant notification system in place, residents will have the option to be better informed and, accordingly, better prepared.

Of course, if the Swift911 notifies you of a situation -- say an approaching category 5 hurricane -- that requires you to take one of those designated Evacuation Routes, all we can say is, "If this had been an actual emergency, good luck!"

Get Your Shovel Ready In Hempstead Town

Latest Murraygram Seeks Stimulus Money For Coliseum Redevelopment

She shoots. She Misses. She hits Hempstead Town residents in the head with a scheme to end all Town Hall schemes: A Petition drive to secure federal stimulus money for the Lighthouse Project.

Forget that there is no stimulus money available for this project, and that, as of the latest list of projects released by the NYS Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Cabinet, not a single request for stimulus funds has been submitted by or on behalf of the Town of Hempstead, Supervisor Kate Murray, apparently kicking off the election season a bit early, is at it again -- sending out some 40,000 Murraygrams, at the taxpayer's expense (of course), urging residents to sign a Petition (to be sent to Nassau County Executive, Tom Suozzi), to secure stimulus money for the purpose of renovating the Nassau Coliseum.

Okay, so the County Executive has absolutely zero control over federal stimulus dollars -- nada, zippo, naught. And anyone, including the Hempstead Town Supervisor, is at liberty to submit a project proposal to the NYS Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Cabinet. But never mind the facts.

"Put Islanders fans first," said Murray, in a Town-issued press release that briefly appeared on the Town of Hempstead's website.

How about we put the taxpayers first, Kate? Using public monies to finance private projects? Sort of like Citibank using federal stimulus dollars to buy the rights to name Citifield, only worse.

Newsday calls Murray's ploy "smoke-and-mirrors." We call the shenanigans that go on at Hempstead Town Hall, shameful.

We realize that all politics is local, and that the Supervisor has her sights set on re-election -- or higher, should she be the GOP choice for County Exec -- but that three-ring circus act at Hempstead Town Hall cannot go on. The days of fooling all of the people all of the time in Hempstead Town -- and using their tax dollars to perpetuate the hoax -- are over.

"shovel ready," Kate? Oh, you bet it is!
- - -

Hempstead plays a stimulus smoke-and-mirror game

Stimulus dollars here, stimulus dollars there. Everywhere stimulus dollars are being used by state and local politicians as window dressing to mask their refusal to make tough choices. The latest example of this charade is the petition drive to get federal dollars for the Lighthouse Project, the big redevelopment proposed for the Nassau Veterans Coliseum and the area surrounding it.

At least in Albany, there are real bags of dollars from Washington specifically designated for Medicaid, education and transportation projects. The Democratic leadership, however, used the money as a stopgap to avoid politically difficult spending cuts. In Hempstead, Republican Supervisor Kate Murray is perpetuating an even bigger stimulus fraud with her petition, mailed to 40,000 homes, pretending there is federal money that could be used to renovate the Coliseum. (It's not too early to note that this is a local election year.) This ploy seems to be a way for Murray to shift blame if Islanders owner Charles Wang follows through on his threat to move the hockey team off Island if Hempstead fails to approve the entire project, not just the Coliseum renovation, by October.

The town can't identify any pot of stimulus money available because there isn't any. We've asked. And could you imagine the national ruckus if taxpayer dollars were used to renovate a sports stadium - especially when the developer plans to use private financing?

Murray's flier says the Coliseum is a "shovel ready" project. The only thing shovel ready right now is what the elephants in Hempstead just dropped in this mailing.

Copyright © 2009, Newsday Inc.