Friday, October 23, 2009

Property Taxes, Then And Now

A 10-Year Retrospective On Your Local Property Tax Levy

Its not too often that we wax nostalgic, longing for those "good old days", here at The Community Alliance, but, having recently received his Statement of Taxes, this blogger figured he'd take a step back in time to see what he was paying in County, Town, and School taxes back in 1999 (when we were supposedly partying, in anticipation of everything coming to a grinding halt at the strike of Midnight on January 1, 2000).

So, I pulled out my property tax statements for 1999 -- Angie M. Cullen, Receiver of Taxes (don't these folks ever go away?) -- and offer now a quick comparison. [Your tax levy may vary.]

1999 General Tax (County of Nassau, Town of Hempstead) -- $2532.12
2009 General Tax (County of Nassau, Town of Hempstead) -- $4546.24

1999 School Taxes -- $3732.76
2009 School Taxes -- $7245.75

1999 Town Taxes (including Special Districts) -- $1545.39
2009 Town Taxes (including Special Districts) -- $2532.65

1999 County Taxes -- $986.73
2009 County Taxes -- $2013.59

Town Special District (water, fire, sanitation) Taxes [for those who still buy into the legal fiction that these entities are not under the control of the Town]:
1999 -- $769.82
2009 -- $1368.67

1999 total property taxes (County, Town, School) -- $6264.88
2009 total property taxes (County, Town, School) -- $11,791.99

We're not accountants here at The Community Alliance, so you can do the math. Better yet, pull out your own property tax statements (go back as far as you'd like, if you can stomach it), and see your bank account drained before your very eyes.

Have salaries doubled in ten years? Not for most of us. Social Security been increased two-fold? No. Investment income matching the rising property tax? Not in this economic climate.

In the first year that we could find where total tax levies were included in the Statement of Taxes, which was 2003 (thanks to Don Clavin, Receiver of Taxes, then and now), the numbers present a picture that is even more astonishing.

In a matter of 6 years, we've seen, as example, the following increases in the tax passed along to the public:

2003 County tax levy (rounded to the nearest thousand) -- $402,706,000.
2009 County tax levy (rounded to the nearest thousand) -- $425,781,000.

2003 Town tax levy* (rounded to nearest thousand) -- $156,885,000.
2009 Town tax levy* (rounded to nearest thousand) -- $214,024,000.
*Includes Special Districts

2003 Town Special District tax levy (rounded to nearest thousand) -- $18,882,000.
2009 Town Special District tax levy (rounded to nearest thousand) -- $24,314,000.

2003 School tax levy -- $25,833,996.72
2009 School tax levy -- $33,949,929.56

For those crunching the numbers, and looking to point fingers and place blame, in the 6 years from 2003 to 2009, the increase in the total tax levy was as follows:

County of Nassau -- $23,075,000.
Town of Hempstead -- $57,139,000. [So much for TOH Republicans saving taxpayers' money!]
Town Special District* -- $5,432,000.
School District** (rounded to nearest thousand) -- $8,116,000.
*Figure represents single Fire District, Water District, Sanitary District, combined
**Figure represents single School District

Okay. Let's point fingers and lay blame, since that's what the politicos seem to do.

In just 6 years (3/4 of Tom Suozzi's tenure as County Exec, and all of Kate Murray's time in office as TOH Supervisor), the County (which encompasses the Town) raised taxes by $23 million, while the Town (smaller than the County, which includes 3 Towns, 2 cities, and numerous villages), raised taxes by $57 million.

And the GOP has the gaul to ask residents to put Republicans back in control of the Nassau County Legislature, and keep the GOP in Hempstead Town Hall for another hundred years? [Let's see. 6 years=$57 million. 100 years=??? Too mind-boggling to even think about!]

An Ed Mangano tax revolt? While the Republican tax increases at the Town level are revolting, indeed (as were the handling of finances at the County level under former CE, Tom Gulotta and his Republican administration, which, in great measure, led to the necessity of tax increases under Tom Suozzi and the Democratically controlled County Legislature), we always assumed a tax "revolt" meant you wanted to lower taxes, not raise them!

And here we were, thinking that Kate Murray, Tony Santino, and the Town of Hempstead Republicans were serious when they declared "we're holding the line on taxes."

Silly us!

But we digress. No more pointing fingers. You know who's been naughty and who's been naughtier. You are smart enough (we can only hope) to differentiate the big lie from the damned lie.

Truth is, property taxes are not a Republican problem or a Democratic problem. Given their druthers, both parties would tax -- and have taxed -- us out of house and home.

And let's not even talk about the school districts. [All right. We will, but for a moment.]

The figures posted above represent but a single school district levy in Nassau County. Multiply that figure, more or less, by the 57 (as many as Heinz has varieties of pickles) school districts in Nassau (out of a mind-blowing 124 on Long Island), and the increase alone in the total tax levy to finance Nassau County's schools in the 6 years from 2003 to 2009 was a whopping $462,612,000., plus or minus a few million dollars, here and there.

Now we're beginning to talk about real money! [More than 60% of the average homeowner's property tax bill, in fact, and climbing.]

Then, multply the $5,432,000.00 Special District tax levy increase by how many Special Districts in Nassau County? We cringe at the very thought!

Indeed, the numbers are so staggering that they have become almost as statistical as they are painful, difficult to reduce to terms the individual taxpayer can comprehend.

Let's make it simple, then. Pull out your own Statement of Taxes -- go ahead, we dare you -- and take a look at the bottom line.

Our elected officials may lie, skewing figures and ceremoniously, if not disingenuously, "freezing" budgets. [Recall that Tom Gulotta, as County Executive, also "froze" taxes, year after year. We all know the end game of that charade.] The numbers, on the other hand, do not.

No, high property taxes, occasioned by reckless spending, excessive borrowing, the accumulating interest upon debt our great grandchildren will still owe (lest they all abandon Long Island, as polls and pundits portend), and the burden they place upon homeowners and businesses alike, are neither a Democratic problem nor a Republican problem. High property taxes are OUR problem (that's WE, the People).

Change, you say? Oh, they can keep the change (and they will). What we need, whether in Albany, the County Seat, Town Hall, or on our local School Boards, are folks willing, able, and ready to make the tough decisions (and understand, those decisions, and the dramatic cuts in spending they must entail, will be difficult), and offer us up something more than empty rhetoric as property tax relief.


  1. The numbers speak volumes about a story that is unacceptable. To paraphrase Everitt Dirksen, "A million here and a million there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money." Over the years, there's been a tendency to fall into a false sense of complacency in response to the steady stream of nonsense we've heard about how taxes are being held. Meantime, for every little special district, and every school district, not to mention every town or county, the story is always the same: "oh, we're holding the line on taxes" or maybe, "taxes are only going up a little." But as Dirken knew, a little here and a little there, and you're talking real money. High taxes on Long Island are no longer an annoyance; indeed, at this point, people are experiencing real hardship from the weight of carrying their government on their backs. The only one of our elected representatives I've heard trying to get out in front of this is Suozzi, although it's not as if he's been able to do anything substantive. Indeed, as far as I'm concerned, not a single one of the representatives, school board members, special district honchos or executives who have been elected to, at least in theory, represent me, have shown that they give a tinker's damn about taxpayers.

  2. I imagine that all municipalities borrow. Hence, the growing deficits. Still, why does government make a habit out of spending far in excess of what they take in in revenues? It's like a family living off of credit cards, only in the case of government, the taxpayer has to foot the bill.

    Curious as to exactly how much the Town and County borrow in these tax "freeze" years, and what that will actually cost taxpayers in coming years (when officials are not running for re-election).

    If memory serves, Kate Murray inherited a $50+ million surplus when she was appointed as Hempstead Town Supervisor in 2003. Where did that money disappear to, so that we now have to rely on that excellent credit rating to borrow?

    Does anyone recall seeing a tax rebate check in the mail?

    I also remember a multi-million dollar bond, built into a tax "freeze" budget some years back, for the repair of Town streets and highways?

    I'm certain we're paying for the borrowing, as well as the bonding, as part of the $57 million increase in the Town tax levy.

    Too bad we never saw any improvement to our streets and highways!

  3. nassau is going to follow ny state,nj and california into the dustbin of bankruptcy. it doesnt matter whether its dems or repubs,its a vast out of control monolithic bureaucracy of county government-why on earth we need it when connecticut dumped theirs way back in 1965-town government,villages,and the biggest monster of them all-the schools. why on earth do we possibly need 124 different districts?

    so we're paying top dollar for average to mediocre services. as i said before and ill say it again- anyone with half a brain needs to think about leaving. everyone i know under 50 and everyone i know who has kids in college- either wants to leave and or is telling their kids,"dont come back to nassau,theres no future here".

  4. That's all I have to say. OUCH!!!

  5. I got the Murraygram in the mail yesterday, with Tony Santino's name and photo accompanying that of Kate Murray. Imagine the money spent to create, print, and mail this literature with different Councilmembers for each district?

    Spare no expense with the taxpayers' money!

    Homeowners, of whatever political affiliation, should be incensed. I know I am. And yes, I vote!

  6. The problem is not only government taxing us to death, but also a problem that we are not growing. Smart development needs to happen, and real businesses need to locate here to alleviate some of the tax burden from the residents. In other words, we need to expand our tax base.

    The biggest hindrance to expanding this base has been and continues to be the Town of Hempstead. The County has little to no power over development.

    If Kate would have incorporated smart growth principles into the Town's zoning code in 2003, we would not be in the tight squeeze that we currently find ourselves in.

    That's why Kate's Gotta Go!

  7. If No body has ever raised my taxes, why am I paying more? I guess it must be the boggie man who raises those taxes. I guess the taxing districts don't count and the energy tax doesn't count and the fees for just about every thing doesn't count. Oh! and don't count those school taxes. The problem is both parties just don't get it. They don't have to tell us every year that taxes are bad. WE KNOW THAT ALREADY! HOW ABOUT A PLAN? ASSESS MY HOME AT ZERO AND MY TAXES WILL STILL GO UP.

  8. This illustrates an important point: "holding the line on taxes" is a common claim but it obscures the truth in the context of a growing tax base. Aggregate tax levies continue to go up, even if the tax rate stays the same. Simply stated, there ought to be economies of scale in government just as there are economies of scale in business. In other words, as the population on Long Island grew over the last ten years (or twenty years, or fify years) it should have been possible to actually REDUCE the per capita tax levy. So simply "holding the line on taxes" is nothing to brag about - truth is, when the economy was booming over the period cited above, we should have been able to expect LOWER tax rates, simply because the tax base was growing so dramatically. Paradoxically, the proof of this idea will now be reflected in the fact that as people leave Long Island, or otherwise pay less taxes due to home foreclosure or reduced spending, and as businesses leave or reduce their operations here, those poor saps who continue to hang on will end up paying more.

  9. The last comment is correct, but our tax base is, in fact, shrinking. Nassau County's population has gone from 1.4 million down to 1.3 million, yet our tax rates have only gone up. This reduced tax base only exacerbates the tax burden for shell-shocked homeowners and business owners. Add to that the flight of manufacturing businesses like Grumman, and you have a recipe for disaster.

    The only politician even discussing the tax base problem is Suozzi. While he can do more to reduce County inefficiency, he can do very little to promote development other than be chief cheerleader for the Lighthouse project and draft a Master Plan with no teeth.

    This responsibility lies primarily with the 3 Towns, and specifically the largest one of them all, the Town of Hempstead. In that arena, the Town of Hempstead has failed miserably. Their zoning code is from an era when Eisenhower was president, and it has only gotten worse since then.

    We need new leadership at the Town of Hempstead. I don't know if Kristen McElroy is the answer, but I definitely know that Kate Murray is not!

  10. Why did yo only compare six years of the Suozzi administration? Doesn't that skew the numbers since he raised taxes over 20% in his first year. You also need to calculate things like the new energy tax, since you like to throw in the town and special districts together.

    Lastly,I know you hate anything Kate Murray does, but give credit financially to her and the TOH Comptroller. They proudly say the have the highest bond rating, unlike say, Nassau.

    Also, they do not bond out long term costs, contrary to what the COunty just did with retiree's and well as the 2012 kick in from the Union contract deferments.

    These are real problems facing the County and at least the TOH didn't go down that path.

  11. I think when the 2010 census is done,it will show a much bigger drop in nassau's population.It wouldnt surprise me if the #'s come in at around 1 to 1.1 million.

    The current 1950's zoning,combined with little to no industry and with schools and government the biggest employers,we are rapidly approaching the edge of the cliff.

    Another big problem is the mindset. Its not 1959. People dont shop on main street. The business day doesnt end at 5 pm. Mom doesnt stay home,raise the kids and run the house.

    Go take a look at fairfax county va- same demographics as nassau yet has lower taxes and better services.perhaps its time to look at their blueprint for success.

  12. That's pretty faint praise. I agree that there are some budget approaches the county has taken that are less than desirable. Using long-terms debt to service what are essentially operating costs is almost never a good idea - I'm not thrilled with this either. There are real problems facing the County, but there are also real problems facing the Town - both fiscal and in terms of public policy. What gets me about Murray is that I get no sense that she is inclined to either acknowledge or address those problems in any meaningful way. She's constantly highlighting how wonderful things are in the Town but for many people who live here, life is getting progressively more difficult and things really aren't that great.