Friday, August 28, 2009

When It Rains, It Pours

FEMA Establishes New Flood Zones For Long Island

While Morton Salt may have coined (or at least trademarked) the phrase -- When It Rains, It Pours -- its the new flood zone maps for Long Island, drawn by the Federal Emergency Mamagement Agency (FEMA, the folks who brought you Katrina's aftermath), that are likely to be the salt in the wound for many LIers who may soon have to shell out for costly ($1500-$2000) flood insurance.

Seems that the new studies show more of us barely keeping our heads above water in the event of hurricanes, tropical storms, or good ol' Noreasters -- after all, we are on an island -- so the maps have been redrawn, establishing flood zones in areas heretofore thought to be "higher ground."

According to the feds, some 25,000 additional Long Islanders are likely to find their properties in flood zones when the new maps become "official" in September. [Let's hope homeowners don't get flooded out before then!]

Click HERE for the new flood zone maps for Nassau County (effective September 11).

Click HERE for the new flood zone maps for Suffolk County (effective September 25).

If you are soon to be in a FEMA-designated flood zone, contact your insurance broker about obtaining flood insurance, which is required by most mortgage lenders (ask about the "grandfathering" of lower rates, which permits homeowners to buy flood insurance at the existing, typically lower premium, provided they do so before the new maps go into effect).

With Long Islanders already awash in a sea of economic woes, caught in a riptide of escalating housing costs, drowning in burdensome property taxes, the new flood zones may just be enough to capsize the boat.

Of course, when it comes to sink or swim, better to have that flood insurance lifevest, than to risk it all should those "once every hundred years" floods come a calling at our suburban stoops!
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For more on flood zones and emergency preparedness, visit Also, the Nassau County Office of Emergency Management, and Sufflok County Emergency Management.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Remembering Ted Kennedy

The Passing Of The Torch Bearer -- Edward M. Kennedy, 1932-2009

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Nassau County Parks: Public Or Private?

Lament Over Public Neglect And The Prospect Of Privatization

Our good friend Bruce Piel of PARCnassau cares deeply about the county's parks and open spaces. So much so that he chides Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi and his administration at every turn for, on the one hand, failing to maintain and preserve our green spaces and places of recreation, and, on the other hand, attempting to privatize the parks, taking their stewardship -- and, perhaps, ultimately, their use -- out of the public domain.

Public parks, sustained for the public good, should be the province of a public trust, maintained and preserved by government for the people to enjoy.

But what happens when that government will not, or cannot, by reason of economics or otherwise, meet its obligation to care for our public parks?

Should public parks be "sold" to private entities? If so, will the public be precluded from future use or direction? Are we talking "namining rights," for a fee, enabling government to keep control over the parks, or the county simply handing over the keys to our parks to private enterprise, with the possibility of turning public facilities into "pay-to-play" private country clubs, or, perhaps worse still, open, green spaces into fodder for developers?

Nassau County parks are a natural treasure, to be enjoyed today by residents, and preserved as pristine oases for future generations of Long Islanders.

Private initiatives, carefully structured and scrutinized, to maintain and preserve our county parks can help, especially in these fiscally uncertain times. That said, Nassau's parks must forever remain public, the playgrounds, lakes, pastures, and ballfields that are the very hallmark of suburbia.
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The Privatization of Public Parks

The current Nassau County Administration is aggressively pursuing its goal of partially or completely privatizing most of its parks, preserves, beaches, museums, etc, etc. PARCnassau has always opposed most privatization which we believe demonstrates the county’s ignoring the public will and their fiduciary responsibility to our parks system.

That being said, there are some civic organizations that have generously offered time and personnel to maintaining and/or administering some facilities such as museums, and preserves. This, unfortunately, is not the norm. Much more likely are private entrepreneurs, sometimes disguised as a “friend’s group” or not-for-profit organization that has been given control of public parklands, lining their own pockets at the taxpayers expense. The private day care centers in several county parks would be a prime example. Private operators pay a minimum occupancy and use fee, no town or school taxes and reap exceptional profits. The public is excluded or forced to pay higher fees to compensate for their “stewardship”.

We believe this is intolerable and must be stopped and even reversed wherever possible. Instead the county is still chasing new political friends to enter into more privatization agreements.

Documents show that the county has already privatized fully or partially the following public properties:

· African American Museum
· Bailey Arboretum
· Cradle of Aviation
· Flower Hill Park
· Herrick’s Park
· Hewlett House
· Leeds Pond Preserve
· Northern Boulevard Park
· Roslyn Senior Citizens
· Sands Point Park & Preserve
· Silver Point Park
· Tanglewood Park & Preserve
· Wantagh Railroad Museum
· Welwyn Preserve
· William Cullen Bryant Preserve

These documents further show that the county executive and his staff are actively targeting the following properties for privatization.

· Baxter Pond Park
· Brookside Preserve
· Carmann’s Pond Park
· Carle Place Memorial Park
· Cedarmere
· Centenial Park
· Garvies Point Preserve
· Grant park
· Hall's Pond
· Inwood Park
· Jericho Historic Preserve
· Manetto Hills Preserve
· Massapequa Preserve
· Mill Neck Creek Preserve
· Meadowbrook Park
· Merrick (Meroke) Preserve
· Mill (Jones) Pond
· Muttontown Park & Preserve
· Old Bethpage Restoration Village
· Rev. Arthur Mackey Sr. Park
· Saddle Rock Grist Mill
· Sea Cliff Park
· Stannard’s Brook Park
· Stillwell Woods & Preserve
· Syosset Memorial Park

Are you concerned yet? Does the county walking away from its responsibility to operate and maintain these properties on our behalf bother you? Will we, the taxpayers of this county, continue to stand by while our children’s and grandchildren’s legacy is sold, bartered or given away? We hope not.

We haven’t even given you the worst of what is happening. A “Sportsplex” in Cedar Creek Park and Nickerson Beach Park and the sale of part of the Meadowbrook Preserve to an adjacent day camp that had used the site as their private property without the knowledge and permission of the county for years. These three instances will be the subjects of following updates.

Meanwhile, it is time for us to express our disgust and betrayal at the county administration’s cavalier treatment of our park system and demand the county recover and protect our parklands. It may be time for a public meeting to demonstrate our commitment. Will you and your membership come and show your support? Let us know.

Bruce Piel, Chairman
Park Advocacy & Recreation Council of Nassau (PARCnassau)
246 Twin Lane East
Wantagh , NY 11793
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A Sportsplex at Cedar Park?

The Nassau County Administration put out an RFP (Request for Proposal) last year for some one to build a Sportplex in Cedar Creek Park in Wantagh/Seaford. This was to include a Go Cart Track and miniature golf. After having to extend the submission deadline a few times, a would be developer has submitted the only proposal.

A group lead by one Philip Tavella of Diversified Financial Consultants. Inc. aka Investacorp, Inc. of Bellmore has submitted plans to build a humongous, professional Go Cart race track from Kart Attack of Bay Shore directly behind the Cedar Creek Water Treatment Plant and a Miniature Golf facility directly behind the Jones Beach Hotel on Byron Street in Wantagh .

On the following pages you can see maps of the proposals.

First the Go Cart Track: Kart Attack bill its tracks as competition grade, x-treme sport tracks for use by adults, primarily. Up to 12 souped up carts will race over an intricate, extended track creating a great deal of noise pollution especially to the Seaford residents and marinas just across Cedar Creek to the east, Cedar Creek Park proper to the south and Wantagh Park and marina to the west, not to mention the Water Treatment Plant itself (which adds its own noxious odors to the mix). Add to that the traffic and crowd noises and the little serenity available to county park users in Wantagh & Seaford will be lost.

Second the Miniature Golf: High mast lights and crowd noise adjacent to a residential area insures no rest for the weary in that area, either. It will also block easy access to the Jones Beach bike path along Wantagh Parkway .

Thirdly, a proposed ball field complex will mean the removal of the hill (the only one in the area) used by local children to snow sled in the winter.

This project will also negatively impact the Cedar Creek park Aerodrome and the small Tether Track which is nestled near the water treatment plant.

Is here an upside to this? Not for residents and park users in the area. The developer intends to make big bucks for his, up to 20 year, lease and is exempt from Town and School taxes. Not bad. Not bad at all. Mr. Tavella touts his directorship of the Darryl Strawberry Foundation aka Center for Autism Education as the only justification he needs for this facility and is unable or unwilling to counter objections above. Mr. Tavella must understand that the community affected is not against special needs children but believes they can be best served by a private facility on private land and not by one on a public park that harms the community at large.

More to come on Nickerson Beach & the Meadowbrook Preserve..

Bruce Piel, Chairman
Park Advocacy & Recreation Council of Nassau (PARCnassau)
246 Twin Lane East
Wantagh , NY , 11793
(516) 783-8378
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The views expressed by Mr. Piel are his own, and do not necessarily represent the opinions of The Community Alliance. We welcome differing viewpoints on quality of life issues for publication on this blog.
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Questions? Concerns? Comments? If it impacts on Long Islander's quality of life, we want to hear about it, and to help you do something about it.

E-mail The Community Alliance at

The Community Alliance
Common Sense Solutions To Common Community Concerns

Monday, August 24, 2009

On Town Hall Meetings And Counter-Tea Parties

Long Islanders Stand Up To Hecklers, Agitators, And "Wingnuts"

Our friends at YesWeCanLI report on a health care reform rally from Merrick, New York.
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When outside agitators come into a community, does one sit idly by or does one take a stand?

When outside agitators came into Merrick, Long Island, to rally against health care reform, Yes We Can! Long Island and the Bellmore-Merrick Democratic Club chose to stand up.

More than two dozen of our members staged a counter protest. They marched with hand-made signs to drive home the point that this organized gathering did not express the views of the Merrick community.

YesWeCanLI's diary
It took courage. The anti-reform rally had eight times as many participants, and they were loud, well organized and, sometimes rather (physically) aggressive. They drove their cars and trucks up and down Merrick Avenue honking their horns to drown out our chants. A few members of the group obstructed the counter-demonstrators from walking on the sidewalk. One loudmouth kept yelling things like "Hitler was a community organizer; Fidel Castro was a community organizer."

It is clear their concerns had less to do with health care reform, per se, and more with a general unhappiness with the direction of the country resulting from the election of Barack Obama as a Democrat and as the first African-American President.

While there were some tense moments, the confrontation was, fortunately free from violence.

However, as Yes We Can! Long Island President Marvin Kreutzberger told a "reporter" with Alternative News Network, the faux news operation that has been covering tea bagger demonstrations around Long Island, "These are people who do not want to listen. They’re being fed big lies and they’re repeating it."

Having strongly held, divergent opinions and beliefs is an integral part of American democracy. But for our democracy to work we must demonstrate a willingness to listen to and respect those views, even when we are vehemently opposed to them.

That is sorely missing from the debate today. The attitude seems to be "I’m right, you suck."

No wonder Congressman Barney Frank told a woman who accused him of supporting "a Nazi policy" that "trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table."

Yes We Can! Long Island will continue to advocate for President Obama’s plan to reform health care. It is one the most pressing – if not the most pressing – needs of our time. We will take our message to real people, who voted for health care reform, and not become distracted and deceived by these wingnut protesters.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Keeping Our Kids On Long Island. . .

. . .After They've Seen The Property Tax Bill

We've heard all the reasons -- many of them spot on -- for the so-called "brain drain" on Long Island.

High property taxes. Lack of affordable housing. No jobs. Poor public transit. Traffic.

Now what about the reasons to stay?

Well, recently, Nassau County Exec Tom Suozzi hosted a pow wow for Generation Next, asking those in their 20s and 30s what it would take to get them to stay -- or relocate to -- Long Island.

Suozzi touched on the old stand-bys -- "Cool Downtowns," the Nassau County Master Plan, the parks and beaches, and the fact that Nassau is but a stone's throw from NYC.

The attendees offered their views, conjuring up not a vision of a new suburbia, a recurring theme of the County Exec's administration, but rather, of an old Nassau, badly in need, as Suozzi himself put it, of re-imagining.

"Re-imagining" -- something that takes Disnyesque re-imagineers, we suppose -- isn't all that easy here on Long Island, where the vision of suburbia is all too often stuck in the 1950s "ideal", and NIMBY is the standard bearer of the naysayers, who look to thwart even the mere discussion of change, let alone progress.

No surprises as to the stumbling blocks that send our kids west, and keep them off the island. Still, they're worth rehashing, this in the hope that we could not only re-imagine, but redirect both mindset and resources toward alleviating the problems, lest Nassau County become a wasteland where only us oldtime suburbanites -- relics of the 50s, 60s, and 70s -- are left to grow poor and fade away behind those white picket fences.

Living in the basement isn't all its cracked up to be. Unless college grads and young, upwardly mobile professionals want to live in their old rooms in their parents' houses, or worse yet, in an illegal basement apartment, where do they go?

Housing prices are, for the most part, unaffordable, even in a down market, and assuming, for argument sake, one could afford a house, the property taxes are still out of sight.

Affordable rental units, notably in "downtown" areas, accessible to both "Main Street" and public transportation? Not so much here on Long Island, if at all.

Dude, where's my job? In this economy, if there are jobs -- jobs paying a living wage -- they are predominantly in the City. For young professionals trying to establish a foothold in their respective fields, the City offers opportunity, while, here on Long Island, prospects for employment -- in a job where there is growth potential -- are much more limited.

You can't get there from here -- or there. Public transportation (essentially, Long Island Bus), is a horror. Unreliable. Doesn't go where you need to be. Stuck in traffic, just like the automobile you would have taken -- and would have to take -- to get from here to there.

In the City, you can walk where you have to go, or take the subway, and be just blocks away. On Long Island, its the car, and congested roadways, to everywhere and anywhere.

As one young Long Islander told Suozzi, "Even if I want to take the railroad (LIRR), I have to ask my parents for a ride to the station."

Do we need light rail and other alternate modes of transportation in Nassau County? You betcha!

Can you walk to shopping, entertainment, or, for that matter, your friend's apartment? As they say in Brooklyn, fuggetaboutit!

The City, with all that has long been considered antithetical to suburban living -- including that dreaded high density in close quarters -- is a walkable, sustainable community, in every sense. Nassau County? Not so much.

You call this "downtown"? Most of what we characterize as "downtown" -- cool or otherwise -- here in suburbia is often a block or two of shops, half of them shuttered, en route to the mall.

Sorry. Manhattan is "cool." Downtown Brooklyn is "cool." Main Street in suburbia? Downright crummy, save a few locales, cited by Suozzi, as being Nassau's in-spots.

There's nothing to do on Long Island! Actually, there's plenty to do. Just check out one of the many LI-based websites, such as (Keep It On Long Island),, or, and you'll see that there's rarely a dull moment, with a "to do" list sufficient to keep even the most energized twenty or thirty-something hopping.

Unfortunately, as with most places and things on Long Island, "what to do" is, typically, not just down the block or right around the corner, and, more often then not, you'll need a car to get there.

Yes, Long Island, in general, and Nassau County, in particular, have much to offer. Yet, to compete with the lure -- and, in certain instances, relative affordability of NYC, it will take a whole lot more than a "Tom Suozzi Wants YOU To Come Home To Nassau County" Facebook page to keep our kids in Nassau, and to bring back those who have left the suburban nest for the big, and not all that bad, City.

Of course, talking about it, putting all the issues on the table, open for debate, is a good start. Moving beyond the talk toward decisive action, actually making Nassau affordable, walkable, navigable, workable, liveable, and, yes, cool, is the next logical step.

Let's take that step together!
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From the Manhasset Press:

Suozzi Wants Younger Generation to Stay in Nassau County
Deterrents Are Affordable Housing, High Property Taxes, Traffic Congestion

Nassau County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi held a forum with Nassau’s “Next Generation” of current and former residents between the ages of 20-35 to discuss the county’s future. Suozzi listened to the concerns of nearly 200 young professionals who enjoy living in Nassau County but are finding it difficult to stay or move here. Many grew up in Nassau County and either moved away or still live with their parents.

Nassau County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi held a forum with Nassau’s “Next Generation” of current and former residents between the ages of 20-35 who enjoy living in Nassau County but are finding it difficult to stay or move here. Many live with their parents.

“Young people are leaving Nassau County in droves, and we want to find out why. We want to know what it would take for these young professionals to stay in Nassau County, because it is a great place to live. We have great schools, great healthcare, low crime, low unemployment, open spaces and parks, north shore waterfronts and south shore ocean beaches, and we are a stone’s throw from New York City,” said County Executive Suozzi. “But we grew so much in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s and that population has aged out and we need to make the county more attractive to young people.”

Those attending the forum participated in roundtable discussions about what they would like to see in Nassau County, and shared their concerns and ideas with the county executive. The main concern among the participants was finding affordable housing in Nassau County, as many of them said they still live at home with their parents. Suozzi explained that the “Cool Downtowns” initiative would address the problem of affordable housing. A Cool Downtown is located near a train station and other public transportation and has multistoried buildings with people living and working in rental apartments, restaurants, and shops. Examples of downtowns that are already “cool” are located near a train station. Great Neck, Long Beach, Rockville Centre, and Garden City were cited as examples of places that currently have these downtowns.

“A Cool Downtown would be the ideal place for a young professional to live. They could walk to local stores, and eat in local restaurants and wouldn’t have to use a car to get around. They would also be close to the train, with easy access to New York City and other places on Long Island. Right now, if you’re 20 to 30 years old, you’re not moving to Nassau County. You can’t find an apartment to rent, and you’re not going to buy a house in a community like Levittown, because the neighborhoods are full of families. It’s not going to be any fun. Cool Downtowns would change that.”

Suozzi also discussed Nassau County’s Master Plan, which addresses Nassau’s challenges of traffic congestion, high property taxes, and pockets of poverty. It provides guidance on how Nassau can become a national model for smart, environmentally responsible new suburban development as we move forward for the next 25 years.

“For Nassau County to be sustainable into the next generation and beyond, we must attract young college graduates and businesses to locate here. We need to create ‘cool downtowns’ in Nassau where commercial areas are located near transportation centers and where housing, mixed-use structures and local amenities can be sited to support walkable communities.”

The Community Alliance
Common Sense Solutions To Common Community Concerns
Write us at with your comments, suggestions, and ideas. Guest blogposts are always welcome!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Of Blenders, Toasters, And Property Tax Assessors

A Point-Counterpoint On The Nassau County Assessment

Here at The Community Alliance blog, we've gone back and forth, time and time again, about assessment, reassessment, the role of the Assessor, and what it all means to the homeowner/property taxpayer.

Views differ sharply on what's wrong with the assessment process, how to fix it (or scrap it), and the impact of assessment and reassessment upon the ever-escalating property tax, but one thing all Nassau County residents seem to agree on --that bottom line is way too high.

Of course, the average assessment can be calculated at a single dollar, and still, the tax bill -- based not only upon assessed value, but on the tax rate (as in, "the tax rate also rises") -- will continue to go up, up, and up some more.

The problem, of course, is spending, which drives up tax rates, and has commercial and residential property owners alike scrambling to challenge their assessments, year in and year out, in the hope against hope of lowering that tax bill -- upwards of 60% of which is comprised of school taxes.

Perhaps if we concerned ourselves less with the assessment, and more with containing costs in Long Island's 124 seperate and distinct school districts (which are exempt, by the way, from the new State law that gives we, the people, the opportunity to consolidate, or even eliminate, taxing districts), that property tax bill would, indeed, go down.

Then again, what would we -- or they -- have to talk, point fingers, and play political football about if a scapegoat couldn't be found, either in the dreaded assessment, or in the embodiment of all evil, the Assessor.

Fact is, while raging against the assessment system, and railing against the Assessor, makes good political fodder, this will not serve to lower the property tax.

In truth, the only way to lower that regressive tax -- short of replacing it with an income tax, or other form of progressive financing -- is to contain costs and curtail spending.

That said, we are pleased to bring you, live via satellite (but never on cable), two avid followers of this blog, and good friends of community, Donald X. Clavin, Jr., the Receiver of Taxes of the Town of Hempstead (its okay to boo ;-), a rising star in New York's GOP, and Henry Boitel, Director of the Rockville Centre Democratic Club, trying to keep his party from pulling the rug out from under itself, in a Point-Counterpoint on the assessment.

Their opinion pieces originally appeared in the Herald newspapers, and are republished here for your thoughts, comments, and insights.

Hey, its your money. You should be trying to keep more of it in your pockets.

Let us know what you think at

POSTSCRIPT: We've added a post-publication retort from the Assessor himself, offering a "mid-year market analysis." Clears the air or muddies the waters? We report. You decide!

On Blenders and Tax Assessments
Donald X. Clavin, Jr.

The Nassau County Department of Assessment could learn a lot from Macy’s if they handled tax grievances the way the retailer deals with broken blenders. After all, in both instances we’re dealing with unhappy customers (taxpayers) who are frustrated with a defective product and want satisfaction. Unfortunately, the assessment department has never really considered those who have overpaid taxes as a result of assessment errors as aggrieved customers. Indeed, a recent report by the county assessor claimed that the hemorrhaging assessment system was not broken even while a recent Newsday article [“Millions in Refunds in Nassau”] observed that Nassau has paid out half a billion dollars in refunds between 2003 and ’08.

Back to my blender experience. A few years ago, I purchased one of these countertop appliances at Macy’s only to find out it didn’t work when I got it home. Admittedly in a cranky mood, I returned to the department store ready to fight for a refund on my defective blender. In true testament to sound customer service, a store clerk greeted me upon my return with a smile. And, after I explained what had happened, she apologized and cheerfully refunded my money. What the Macy’s representative did was not some mysterious retail strategy. Rather, it was common courtesy and emblematic of the right way to treat customers or anyone who has been sold a defective product (i.e., an erroneous assessment).

Unlike the Macy’s model for dealing with people who want satisfaction in seeking refunds for defective products (assessments in error), Nassau County has a slightly different approach…“Stop appealing your property tax assessments. That’s the public service message courtesy of Thaddeus Jankowski, Nassau County’s first appointed assessor,” [see Newsday column – “Residents Just Want to Know Tax System Works,” July 14, 2009]. What the county assessor has done is to add insult to injury by claiming his product isn’t broken, telling taxpayers that they shouldn’t challenge their assessments and attacking officials (including the town receiver of taxes and county legislators) for informing residents of their right to challenge an assessment if they believe it is wrong.

At the core of the problem with the assessor’s logic in blaming those who challenge their assessments for the staggering payouts on tax challenges is the fact that Nassau only pays an award it the property owner is over-assessed. Therefore, the $90 million in annual tax grievance refunds that Nassau pays out is based on the county’s errors. Consider the audacity of telling taxpayers not to seek redress for county mistakes that result in an overpayment of taxes. You have to say this for Tax Assessor Jankowski – he has chutzpah!

Don’t you think if Macy’s was paying out $90 million per year in refunds for broken blenders they would have fixed the problem by now? Carrying forward reductions from one year to the next instead of immediately increasing assessments is something many in the tax grievance industry suggest as a possible remedy to the problem. Freezing assessments for a predetermined number of years (3-5 years) has also been recommended as a possible mechanism to allow challenges to level off an provide and opportunity for assessment challenge adjustments to catch up with assessment department updates/revaluations. Finally, training county employees on how to actually operate a computer system for which the county has paid $50 million would be a good first step.

While I appreciate the difficulty of the tax assessor’s job, I think most residents will agree with me when I say that half a billion dollars in errors is enough. What’s more, fixing a broken assessment system should rely on productive and well reasoned remedies, rather than blaming those who have been over assessed for challenging their assessment.

Given the county assessor’s peculiar approach to customer service, Nassau property owners have to ask themselves, “Would you buy a blender from this man?”

Mr. Clavin is the Receiver of Taxes for the Town of Hempstead. [As he often points out, he doesn't set the tax rates, he merely collects the payments.]
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Plain talk on a real problem: reducing the tax and fee burden on property owners
Henry J. Boitel

We need some plain talk on a real problem: The mounting property tax burden during what will surely be a long term state of economic difficulty.

Donald X. Clavin Jr.'s column "On blenders and tax assessments", criticizes Thaddreus Jankowski, the new Nassau County Assessor, for suggesting that property tax protests should be curtailed or discouraged. Mr. Clavin is somewhat unfair in his comments since he fails to accurately state the Assessor's position.

As I understand that position, it is: Tax assessment is not an exact science.

It is almost certain that good arguments can be made for moving an assessment one way or the other. In many jurisdictions, a tax protest will automatically fail unless the protesting property owner claims that the assessment is too high by at least 5 percent or so. Nassau has no such limitation. Many people lodge tax protests and are able to make a logical case that, as compared to some nearby homes, their home is over-assessed by several thousand dollars. The result is a small win for the homeowner, a large cost to the county in time and money for processing the protests, and, in the end, the homeowner only gets back half of the overcharge because they usually have hired a protest company that splits the savings with the homeowner.

There certainly is a logic to the Assessor's position. I suggest that the Assessor (be invited) to back up that logic with facts, i.e., what is the usual and average reduction in assessment and tax, in terms of dollars and percentage, following a successful tax protest?

Having said that, I agree with Clavin that the property tax system in Nassau County is not fairly administered. That is not our present Assessor's fault, since almost all of the assessments presently in place predated his appointment. The elephant in the room is that, even allowing for a reasonable margin of error, there can be substantial inequities because much of the appraisal process is superficial or grounded in long-term inequities. Property owners are also part of the problem. I have never heard any property owners complaining that the tax assessor has appraised their property too low.

There are several matters that our assessor and our policy makers ought to look into:

1. As I understand it, the "comparables" against which a home owner can compare his assessment are those that are in the same community as his or her home. Theoretically, an entire North Shore community, for example, may carry assessments that are way out of line with the valuation of homes in the Village of Hempstead. I wonder what, if any, actual effort is made to equalize valuations across the county or, at least, across each of the three Towns?

2. It's close to impossible for the entire county to be fairly assessed in a short period of time. It would probably take at least five years. I think a program of standardized assessments should divide the county into rational segments, and the sequence of when a segment will be re-appraised ought be determined by lot.

3. In the meanwhile, the "actual value" assessments we see in our tax bills are way off if measured by the prices homes are fetching if and when they can be sold. There ought to be a substantial effort on the part of the assessor to determine which areas of the county have been most devalued by the growing drop in real estate prices.

4. At the time of assessment, homeowners should be provided with a reasonably clear written explanation of the basis for their assessment, including comparables, improvements and what, if any, positives and negatives of their property were taken into account.

5. Clavin seems to be proposing the so-called assessment freeze. That is a phrase that politicians often use in place of suggesting any remedy. They use it as though it means a tax freeze. There is no such thing as a tax freeze. The only way taxes can be frozen is if governmental expenditures are frozen (or, actually, decreased). Assessment variations only move the deck chairs around. "Freezing" assessments freezes inequities. Homeowners should always be able to protest their assessment if they think it is materially unfair. A homeowner always should be able to initiate a reassessment, and should probably be charged a reasonable fee if the reassessment shows the home is fairly appraised. If the homeowner wins, however, he or she should be paid a reasonable administrative fee if it is shown that the home was unfairly appraised. There is merit to the proposal that the county should be limited from initiating reappraisal of a home to say, every five years.

On a related matter, we are headed for election of county legislators and county officers in November. I took the time two years ago to listen to all of the debates on News 12 amongst those who were running for that office. For the most part, when it came to real estate taxes, almost all of them spoke total nonsense. They recite the mantra of "relief for the property owner", but make no meaningful proposals. They advocate a "freeze," which, as I have already noted, is to tax policy the equivalent of moving around the deck chairs.

I hope that this year, we will put all of their feet to the fire to show that they understand the problem and that they are prepared to make hard choices to provide true tax relief while meeting the increasing county debt and infrastructure deterioration.

I suggest that, as we swing into the campaign season next fall, every responsible property owner should write to the candidates for county office who will be on their local ballot, and stress the need for real solutions that will cut the pork, while maintaining the fundamental social objectives of modern government. Part of such a solution must be a closer coordination among the primary taxing authorities: county, school, town and village. They have to start looking at it from the perspective of the total tax and fee burden on property owners. In the process, they should bear in mind that increases in governmental fees and sales taxes are not solutions - just additions of more deck chairs at a growing expense to the people.

Over this past week we received one, of the seemingly endless stream, of full color Town of Hempstead mailings in which Supervisor Kate Murray and Councilman Tony Santino, beneath their smiling photos, tell us: “Murray and Santino to present tax freeze budget ahead of schedule.” [their emphasis]. I hope they have accomplished that feat, but that remains to be seen and debated.

I also hope that one of the items in the budget will show the actual postage, materials and personnel costs that are incurred from mailings that arrive, sometimes several times a week, from those two Town of Hempstead officials. They might also include a clear statement concerning the total cost of political appointments, i.e., non civil service jobs.

Mr. Boitel is a former member and president of the Rockville Centre Board of Education, and has resided in Rockville Centre since 1972. He is a director of the Rockville Centre Democratic Club.
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Click HERE to read the official Nassau County Assessment Administration System Review: Analysis and Recommendations.

Declining Real Estate Values Likely to be Reflected in Upcoming Assessments

(Mineola, NY) - The Nassau County real estate market is experiencing a severe downturn, according to the first-ever Mid-Year Real Estate Market Report released today by the Department of Assessment. Unless the market turns around, a corresponding drop in assessed property values is likely to be reflected in next January's Preliminary Assessment Roll.

Today's report is the first in a series of regular mid-year reports about the Nassau County real estate market by the Department of Assessment. Bleak sales figures and other key indicators examined for the report show that the downturn is affecting a broad swath of the residential and commercial real estate market in the County.

On the residential side, the mid-term review shows that residential sales volume has dropped by 57 percent between the second half of 2008 (July-December) and the first half of 2009 (January-June). All indicators analyzed showed that the sales prices of homes have fallen by at least 12 percent since July 2008.

On the commercial side, sales prices in the County have declined by 25 percent between 2008 and the first half of 2009. Vacancy rates have increased by 7.5 percent since the fourth quarter of 2008. Sales volume has dropped by 48% between the second half of 2008 (July-December) and the first half of 2009 (January-June).

The mid-year analysis offers property owners a useful illustration of what is happening in Nassau County, according to County Assessor Ted Jankowski. “This is a sophisticated mid-year snapshot of the real estate market in Nassau County, and our outlook for the rest of 2009 based on the most comprehensive data available,” Jankowski said. “Based on the data we anticipate that both residential and commercial assessments will be coming next January 2, 2010 - in comparison to January of 2009.“

Nassau County has over 418,000 properties, with a total market value of $309 billion as of January 2, 2009. But unusual aspects of the County's taxing structure have contributed to public confusion about assessments. Nassau County is the second largest assessing jurisdiction in the State of New York after New York City. But while New York City has only one taxing jurisdiction, Nassau County has 320 taxing jurisdictions, many of them overlapping. Depending on where a property is situated, a Nassau County property owner can be subject to combined levies of up to 22 different taxing entities.

Contrary to widespread belief in Nassau County, assessments are not a tax. Instead, they are used by various taxing entities to determine a property owner's proportionate “share of the tax pie” for each school, town, county, and special taxing entities. Despite the anticipated drop in assessed values, the unusual lag-time in Nassau County between January 2, when assessments are determined, and when they are actually used by taxing jurisdictions to calculate property taxes means they will not be reflected in property tax bills until October of 2011 for school bills and January of 2012 for the general tax bill.

Mid-Year Real Estate Report - FY09

Assessment Map

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

A Government Entity Consolidated, Is A Property Tax Dollar Saved

Trimming, Sharing, Consolidating, To Create Efficient, Cost-Effective Government

Before the NYS Senate adjourned its recent, turbulent session, they did manage to pass some landmark legislation, including the Breastfeeding Mothers' Bill of Rights. [We kid you not. May sound silly, but it is important. The dissemination of information, the education of young parents, and the protection of the rights of both mother and child, are essential to the well-being and healthy development of our most precious natural resource -- our children.]

On other key issues -- including property tax relief, in the forefront of the minds of every New Yorker -- the Senate was, apparently, not as motivated to act (call it "taxtose intolerance"). Property tax reform was the topic of many a conversation, and the occasional -- if not perennial -- debate, but push come to shove, coup or no coup, easing the property tax burden got no more than lip service, and not a single breast to suckle on, so to speak.

And so, another legislative year behind us, and New Yorkers are left to fend for themselves to create smaller government, eliminate waste, consolidate services, and, potentially, lower that bottom line on the property tax bill.

Fortunately, the legislature did give us a mechanism to at least begin the process, this through the recently enacted New York Government Reorganization and Citizen Empowerment Act.

Our allies in the battle to streamline government, reduce costs, and lower property taxes at the Center for Governmental Research report on a plethora of initiatives, from Albion to Seneca Falls, where steps are being taken to regain control over local government for the benefit of the people that government was intended to serve.

Here's the overview, as provided on the Center for Governmental Research website:

Shared Services/Consolidation
For many local governments – villages, towns, cities, counties and school districts – CGR has identified options for increasing efficiency, effectiveness and equity via service sharing or consolidation. Some of the issues that prompt communities to seek our help include rising property taxes, higher costs for key services (e.g., police, water), little-to-no growth in the population base, and/or a stagnant economy. For sample projects, click here.

Featured Research
City & Town of Batavia NY Consolidation Plan Released

After receiving a NYS grant to study consolidation and engaging CGR as study consultant, a joint City/Town Committee spent nearly a year investigating and assessing options for the future. In July 2009 the Committee delivered its final report – a plan for consolidation with a proposed timetable and recommended approach – to the City Council and Town Board. The plan calls for the new consolidated government to be a city, and recommends elected officials approve a joint charter commission and take steps to pursue a public vote on the new charter in November 2011.
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Voters in Johnson City NY to Vote on Dissolving the Village

On November 3, 2009, voters in the Village of Johnson City NY will decide whether to dissolve the Village and consolidate with the Town of Union. A study committee has worked for 18 months to develop a plan, with staff support provided by CGR. The Dissolution Report & Plan was released to the public in July and a public hearing will be held August 10, 2009 at 7PM at the Johnson City High School auditorium.
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With Consolidation, There Could Be Big Savings for Village of Seneca Falls Taxpayers

The leaders of the Village and Town of Seneca Falls initially engaged CGR to help them achieve a major goal: reducing the cost of government to help stimulate economic growth in the community. In 2008, CGR found the community would potentially save $393,000 in costs by dissolving the Village and consolidating government operations with the Town. In addition, potential AIM incentive funding from NYS would bring in new revenue of $495,000. After factoring in other revenue shifts, including revenue the Town receives from a landfill, CGR estimated property taxes for a Village resident owning a home with a $100,000 taxable assessed value could be cut $975 a year if the Village dissolves and consolidates with the Town. Residents of the Town outside Village currently pay no property taxes but would pay about $375 a year on an equivalent home. The Village board voted to pursue developing a Dissolution Study and in early 2009 CGR was engaged to conduct the follow-up study.
Full Report
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Consolidation Study for the Village of Albion, Town of Albion & Town of Gaines

Four-fifths of the Village of Albion is in the Town of Albion, and one fifth is in the Town of Gaines. A CGR study found limited opportunity for the three municipalities to generate significant cost savings through shared service agreements. However, if the Village and Town of Albion consolidate, overall property tax savings would be at least 18%, and if all 3 consolidate, overall property tax savings would be at least 22%. Consolidation savings would come from cost reductions due to efficiencies and substantial new state consolidation incentive funds. In late 2008 a joint oversight committee recommended to elected leaders that they pursue dissolution of the village, thereby reducing the number of governments from three to two.
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Village of Lake Placid / Town of North Elba Shared Services Study

CGR completed a study in 2008 for the Village of Lake Placid and the Town of North Elba that evaluated opportunities to expand shared services between the village and town to reduce costs and share them more equitably. The study focused primarily on parks, public works and administrative services, but also addressed options for police and courts. The study found that the village and town already have some unique and long-standing cost-sharing arrangements that could provide the template for expanding cost sharing between the highway, water and sewer departments.
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Service Sharing/Consolidation Options Can Lead to More Vibrant Future

The Village and Town of Cobleskill NY asked CGR to identify service sharing/consolidation options for their communities. CGR found some options, such as sharing planning, court or code enforcement functions, could be achieved with little change to existing municipal structures. The 2008 report suggests that, in time, a single entity (achieved either by dissolving the Village or becoming a city) will provide the framework for creating a government that is more cost effective and efficient, and has access to more revenues to offset the local property tax burden on taxpayers. In January 2009, the Village board voted to pursue development of a dissolution plan.
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NY Commission on Local Government Efficiency & Competitiveness Study

The Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness examined ways to strengthen and streamline local government in NY. Prior to making a final report to the NY governor in 2008, the Commission engaged CGR to analyze local governments (city and town) in the Oneonta, Norwich and Cortland areas and evaluate opportunities to share services and/or consolidate. The report highlights 3 themes: 1) there is no need for the state to require a “one-size-fits-all” solution; 2) shared services agreements or consolidations must be perceived as being equitable in order to succeed over time; and 3) to consolidate entire municipal entities, creative solutions are needed in order to overcome challenges of outdated borders, imbedded procedures, legal constraints and historical differences
Full Report
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The big news here is not the "been there" studies or "done that" reports, but rather, actual forays into eliminating ineffective and often duplicated levels of government.

In Johnson City, just outside of Binghamton, for instance, residents will vote this fall on a referendum to dissolve the very village in which they live, consolidating services with the Town of Union.

How do you like that?

Long Islanders, armed with the very same weapons at the disposal of the folks in Lake Placid, need to pick up the baton and run with it, with much the same zeal and dedication with which they have fostered the progression of other initiatives vital to the island's future, such as the Lighthouse project.

We cannot, we dare not, delay in advancing the causes of both government efficiency and property tax relief, either by waiting for others to do it for us (they won't), or, in taking no action, hoping against hope that property taxes will simply lower themselves (they won't).

This is the time for community activists, organizers, leaders, and advocates to step to the fore, demanding consolidation and sharing plans from their local governments (or what all too often pass as local governments, such as the so-called special taxing districts), and, should no workable and realistic plans be forthcoming, to start the ball rolling through community awareness and awakening, drafting and carrying petitions door-to-door, placing referenda on ballots in villages, hamlets, towns, and special districts all across Long Island.

The message is clear: Property taxes are too high and local government is too big. The means for self-help is available: Resident-driven dissolution and/or consolidation. The time for us to get moving is now!