Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sustaining Sustainable Communities

If Only. . .

For those of us old enough to remember August, 2004 -- pre-blog, with The Community Alliance in its infancy -- here's a blast from the past, floated (and, perhaps, still floating) somewhere out in cyberspace, as mission statement, wish list, cause celebre, of sorts.

Ahhh. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Are we standing still, or is the world around us whirling and whizzing by so fast that it only seems as though we're motionless, frozen in time?

Call it prologue, the precursor of better days to come. Call it epilogue, an epitaph to way too much "visioning," theorizing, and talking, and far too little in the way of actually cultivating ideas from ideals, and putting them galantly into action. More deed. Less word.

Call it sleep, if you'd like. Just don't call it "done."

Our work here at The Community Alliance, as activists, advocates, community organizers, and protagonists -- among other names we've been called, many of which cannot be published here -- is far from finished. In fact, we've only just begun.

Stay tuned. . .
- - -
From The Community Alliance:
August 10, 2004

There has been much talk over the years of the “sustainable community,” which, in reality, is not so much of a place as it is a process. A means to bring residents and merchants, government and civics, young and old, rich and poor, together. A method to define and, with any luck, to develop and implement, strategies for a more livable community environment.

To many of us here on Long Island , the term “sustainable community” is more an oxymoron than a viable reality. True, we speak freely of “smart growth,” “regional planning,” “community visioning,” and the like, but we challenge any one of you to drive down Old Country Road in the vicinity of Roosevelt Field on any given Saturday afternoon and find even a glimmer of vision, planning or “smart growth.” We ask you to walk through your local business district and discern any vision or “plan.”

Visit our hometowns – particularly the unincorporated areas that dot Long Island’s South Shore – and “sustainable community” takes on a whole new meaning. Our outdated (and outsourced) business districts and “Main Streets” reduced to ghost towns. The aging infrastructure crumbling. Our housing stock out of reach by seniors, the workforce and young families. Suburbia turned into an urban nightmare by the perils of illegal housing, the absence of code enforcement, and a “vision” of community that often extends no further than inside the front door.

Indeed, our hamlets, once the green fields of the Hempstead Plains, are now the brownfields of suburban neglect. “Blight,” “economic decline,” “sprawl” – words often associated with the ills of our urban centers – are now the language of Long Island’s landscape.

“Sustainability” – particularly for those of us who reside (to say “live” would be a misnomer) on the forgotten South Shore – is more akin to “life support,” our communities tethered to respirators taking the form of local civic groups and a hodge-podge of community organizations, while the great healers, our local governments, take on the visage of so many Dr. Kevorkieans rather than the Dr. Schweitzers we so desperately cry out for.

Now, we could complain ad nauseum about the two Nassaus or the two Towns of Hempstead – one for the wealthy and connected; those who can afford a property tax bill upwards of $10,000 per year; those who can seek asylum in incorporated villages, each with control of what goes down within their own borders; those for whom “affordable housing” is but the bane of someone else’s backyard. And one Nassau/Town of Hempstead for the rest of us – those who struggle daily to maintain a suburban quality of life amidst the encroaching turmoil of urbanization; those who must constantly reinvent the wheel against the backdrop of the Band-Aid approach of Town and County government; those who believe they are disenfranchised, underrepresented, economically disadvantaged and without power to change the course of community. But where has that gotten us?

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "The future is literally in our hands to mold as we like. But we cannot wait until tomorrow. Tomorrow is now." It is, with this understanding, that we find ourselves compelled to take action. Today, and not tomorrow. Together, and not as ships that pass silently in the still of night.

It is for us - not as outposts of community fighting on isolated fronts, but as a cohesive force, organized, mobilized and energized – to envision the future of community, and, reaching beyond that vision, to both ennoble and enable our neighbors through inclusion in the community-building process, creating communities that are truly sustained and sustainable.

This, in essence, is the mission of The Community Alliance, the very core of our being. To partner “townies” with Town Hall; to explore and create opportunities and choices in housing, in business district revitalization, in transportation, in new directions for our neighborhoods; to build consensus, encouraging residents – the real stakeholders of community – to leave the sidelines of complacency and indifference, and to infuse tomorrow with the empowerment of their participation.

Attractive, distinctive communities with a strong sense of place is the premise for “smart growth” and at the very heart of sustainable living. Together, we can build and rebuild these communities – our hometowns. Together, we can reshape the very landscape of community, taking our Town from blight to bloom. Together, we can turn vision into that long sought after, hard fought for reality, sustaining that “sustainable community” - our sustainable Long Island - for our generation, and for the generations yet to come.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

High Stakes At Belmont

Racetrack, Surrounding Community, Could Feel Pinch Of Money Crunch

We, at The Community Alliance blog, have often written about -- and pondered over, whimsically -- a renaissance for Elmont, the western gateway to Nassau County.

After all, as we've suggested, a blight on a tree in Elmont will, in due course, make its way to the flora of Wantagh.

And we've been "visioning" a sustainable Elmont -- as prelude to a more sustainable Long Island -- since the early days of this blog.

Always at the center of plans and proposals as would signal Elmont's rebirth -- and help the spread of redevelopment and reclamation move ever-eastward across Long Island -- was beautiful Belmont Park, home of thoroughbred racing's annual rite (that third leg of the Triple Crown), the Belmont Stakes.

Talk, from Albany to Mineola to Hempstead Town Hall, of recreating Belmont as a world-class facility, with video lottery terminals (VLTs) to spur economic growth, and even a hotel (one without hot sheets), has been aplenty.

The interconnection of Belmont with the Elmont community, and vice versa, is inexorable. The link, both historical and pervasive.

Talk is cheap -- relatively. Plans are just that -- plans. As we've opined before, for there to be a jewel in Elmont's claim to the Triple Crown, there must not only be a viable plan to revitalize and re-energize, there must also be summoned the courage and the wherewithal to take that plan to the streets.

Now, from the pages of Newsday, comes word that the folks who own and operate Belmont -- the New York Racing Association (NYRA) -- are seeing red ink, jeopardizing not only the 2010 Belmont Stakes, but the very future of Elmont as well.

If one envisions the future of Belmont Park sans the Belmont Stakes, one must, inevitably, conjure up a vision of Elmont without the presence and prestige of Belmont Park, a wellspring of communal life, with the potential for vast economic growth, along an otherwise bleak and dreary twenty miles of ugly.

Lest Belmont Park go the way of Jamaica Racetrack -- and with it, the misfortunes of the surrounding community -- the opportunity remains for Elmont to continue to rise from the ashes of decline and neglect.

If the Belmont Stakes is, indeed, the Test of Champions, then Elmonters (Elmontonians?) must see the challenge of reimagining Belmont, and the rebirth of Elmont proper, as the test of their own resolve.

Elmont residents must forge ahead with plans to rethink and redevelop Belmont Park, not only from the perspective of preserving both green space and a rich heritage that dates back to to the turn of the 20th century, but, more than this, to ensure the vibrancy and vitality of a thriving Elmont community for generations to come.
- - -
From Newsday:

NYRA's financial woes could close Belmont

by ELIZABETH MOORE / elizabeth.moore@newsday.com

No Belmont Stakes in 2010?

"It's possible," said Charles Hayward, president of the New York Racing Association, if the state doesn't soon award a long-awaited video lottery terminal franchise at Aqueduct.

Falling attendance, uncollected debts, and the continuing delay in expected VLT payments have led the operator of the state's racing tracks at Aqueduct, Saratoga and Belmont to warn it could run out of cash for payroll before the third leg of racing's Triple Crown, scheduled for June 5.

NYRA might not open Belmont Park at all next year, Hayward warned Monday, if by April it still has neither the revenue stream from the franchise agreement nor a firm financial commitment from the state.

"We've got to feel confident we have enough cash to run through the third week in July," he said.

Gov. David A. Paterson and state legislative leaders have been unable so far to agree on a winner from among five bidders for the Aqueduct franchise. The racing association also is waiting for a total of $18.2 million owed by the insolvent New York City OTB, which is undergoing reorganization. The tracks have seen revenue decline by 8 to 9 percent annually, Hayward said, and Belmont has had to put in a costly new drainage system to prevent horse manure from fouling groundwater.

NYRA's franchise agreement binds the state to negotiate in good faith to support its operating, capital and pension expenses until VLT operations begin, Hayward said.

But a $30 million cushion the state provided NYRA will be down to about $11 million by year's end.

Paterson spokesman Morgan Hook said talks are continuing with legislative leaders on the VLT franchise and that the state will "work closely with NYRA to navigate any potential fiscal difficulties." But, Hook said, "we are still awaiting final information from NYRA on their 2010 budget and cash-flow assumptions - something they have yet to provide."

State Sen. Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington), whose district includes Elmont, the site of Belmont Park, said NYRA's woes confirm his vote two years ago against putting it in charge of the race tracks. "NYRA just can't get the job done," he said.

Elmont's other state senator, Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), blamed Paterson and Democratic leaders for the lack of progress, calling Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) "an obstacle" to Belmont's development. Silver's office declined to comment.

Save The Clams Of The Great South Bay

Helping To Heal The World, One Crustacean At A Time

Our good friends at Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE) are asking all of us to step up to help protect the clam population of Long Island's Great South Bay. [Hmmm. And here we thought Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate "Clambake" Murray had single-handedly taken care of those crusty critters. Save them? Kate said, "eat them!" Better clam up while we're ahead...]

Anyway, as a result of brown tide, and other delitorious environmental degradations, the clams are disappearing off Long Island's shores faster than Tom Suozzi's aides-de-camp are packing their belongings. (Did anyone stop to think it may be the property taxes? They've simply fled to the calmer waters of, say, South Carolina).

A word or two from this blog's readers could very well make the difference between survival and total annihilation  for Long Island's clam shelves (beware, oysters. You are next!), so take pen to paper, phone to ear, and lend your hand to the neighborhood clam!
- - -
From Concerned Citizens for the Environment:

Save the Clams

Action Needed to Access Federal Funding

The hard clam population in the Great South Bay has been dramatically diminished since the 1970s. To make matters worse, in July of 2008 the South Shore Estuary Reserve was hit with the worst brown tide outbreak in history. In an effort to assist clammers and the restoration of the clam population, Senator Charles Schumer and Governor David Paterson submitted a request to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce urging him to declare a "Commercial Fishery Failure for Hard Clams in the Great South Bay." Over 15,000 signatures and 4,000 individual letters from members of the public were submitted to the Secretary of Commerce supporting the designation. The Secretary has received all the data requested and is posed to make a decision soon.

Now, we need your help again to request that the Secretary of Commerce sign the declaration of a "Commercial Fishery Failure for Hard Clams in the Great South Bay." This critical designation provides an opportunity for much-needed federal money to assist us in clam restoration and re-seeding efforts.

Recently, the NYS DEC submitted additional data regarding the clam population, the causative factors, and the economic impacts. These data highlight the clam population crash and its economic impact on our region. The DEC estimates that the "wholesale (dockside) value of the Great South Bay hard clam fishery at its peak landings in 1976 was approximately $12 million…this represented an estimated economic return of $51 million to the State’s economy." In 2008, the dockside value of the hard clams was at its lowest—a mere $600,000.

Vital research is needed to understand brown tide and to prevent future harmful outbreaks from occurring. Local and state partners have been working to restore the clam population and habitat in the Great South Bay; however, brown tide outbreaks threaten meaningful advances. The commercial fisheries declaration is necessary to protect and restore the clam population.

Please call or write to the Secretary of Commerce and ask that he immediately sign the declaration of a "Commercial Fishery Failure for Hard Clams in the Great South Bay on Long Island, NY".

This declaration will assist all of Long Island by allowing much-needed federal funds for research, restoration, and clam re-seeding efforts to occur in the Great South Bay. Clam restoration will not only assist our local fishermen but also will provide much-needed filtering of our estuarine waters and preserve our maritime history.

The Honorable Gary Locke
Secretary, US Department of Commerce
1401 Constitution Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Phone: (202) 482-2000

Thank you for taking action. Together we make a difference!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Out Of The Shadow Of The Covanta Incinerator?

Or In The Mold Of The Archstone Debacle?
Town of Hempstead Plans "Innovative Housing" At Mitchel Field

Within eyeball view of the white smoke billowing from the cooling tower of the Covanta energy recovery (read as, trash incinerator) plant, and earshot of the Meadowbrook Parkway off Stewart Avenue, the Town of Hempstead is moving forward with a 200-unit housing development -- both rental and for purchase -- to be comprised of single-family homes, townhouses, and apartments.

Included in the mix, according to the Town's press release, will be so-called "workforce" housing units, to be built by AvalonBay of Long Island, developer and manager of high-end apartment communities.

The Hempstead Town Board has already approved the development, which will include approximately 20 acres donated by the County of Nassau and Nassau Community College.

While the project, which seemed to move through the town's burdensome and time-consuming review process with heretofore unseen lightening speed (unlike the stalled Lighthouse, and smaller scale redevelopment plans scattered throughout the town), numerous questions remain.

Will the planned "workforce" housing truly be "affordable?"

Will there be a sense of place, let alone a viable, walkable, sustainable community, in an area that lacks a neighborhood feel, is virtually unwalkable or even accessible other than by motor vehicle?

Will the addition of 200 housing units -- and, presumably, 200 families -- add to the burden of local schools, and further congest roadways already well beyond their load-capacity?

And will history -- the kind that produced the doomed Archstone/Moldstone at Westbury -- be repeated by way of exceptions carved out of the zoning code, shoddy building practices, and lax inspection/oversight by town officials?

Is there reason for hope in the land overshadowed by a soon-to-be expanded waste-management facility? [And what of the health of residents, given the growing Carbon -- and CO2 -- footprint of the Covanta incinerator?]

Of course. Hope springs eternal, even in America's most blighted township.

Still, one has to wonder. Just how did this project move through the approval process so quickly, with nary a public murmur? What accomodations will be made, other than to the developer, for existing residents and newcomers, to assure that the hodge-podge that is Mitchel Field -- with no place to walk, to play, or, for that matter, to pick up a loaf of bread (other than Target) in close proximity -- is neither repeated nor exacerbated?

And if the Town of Hempstead can accomplish what it has so boldly set out on paper and drawing board, why couldn't this much-needed and celebratorily-touted revitalization have found its way to communities like Elmont, Baldwin, and West Hempstead, where residents calmor and beg for affordable housing, Main Street redevelopment, and something as simple as a supermarket?

As one Elmont civic leader put it, "We've been revitalized on paper so many times, the artists can't come up with any new ideas for their drawings!"

We, at The Community Alliance, favor, and have long called for, the creation of sustainable communities on Long Island, pointing out, in this very blog, the successes (which have been too few), and, the failures (which lay just across the road on the north side of the Covanta incinerator).

We applaud the Town's initiative here, and, with finger's crossed, hope for the best. Where past deeds, however, have echoed hollow against bald-faced words, we brace ourselves for the worst.
- - -
From the Town of Hempstead:

Hempstead Town Clears Way For Innovative Homes Development

Seeking to provide increased housing options and recognizing the economic benefits of new construction projects, Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray and Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby announced that the town board has approved a zoning application that will clear the way for an innovative homes development adjacent to Nassau Community College in East Garden City. The developer, AvalonBay of Long Island, plans to construct over 200 homes, which will be comprised of both rental and purchase houses. The variety of home choices will be unique, consisting of apartments, town homes and single-family houses.

"My colleagues on the town board and I are looking to provide more housing choices that meet the evolving needs of our residents and reflect their lifestyle priorities," stated Murray. "Additionally, this project will stimulate the economy, creating vital construction jobs during a time when such work has been adversely impacted by a bruising recession."

The town board was thorough in its review of the proposal, ensuring that the proposal would be harmonious with the character of the township. In fact, the plans provide for a pool, a playground and the preservation of historic homes at the site. Matt Whalen, Vice President of AvalonBay Long Island, stated that the Town of Hempstead asked all the right questions and worked with AvalonBay in reaching out to community stakeholders.

The Mitchel Field development includes eight homes designated as part of the Homes for Our Troops program, which will be built and specially adapted for severely wounded veterans. The existing "General's Row" officer houses, which were built and operated since World War II and provided homes for many of the officers in the Navy, will be renovated to their original beautiful stature, assuring that an important part of the town's history is preserved.

"I am proud that this project will honor the history of the service personnel for whom Navy homes were built at this location," stated Murray. "It is fitting that eight of these historic homes will be donated for use by brave veterans who have been injured while serving our nation. I am also pleased that additional Navy homes at this location will be restored with modern conveniences and amenities."

In addition, the development will provide a much-needed mix of housing types, including workforce housing. The development will include three distinct types of housing: single-family homes, 44 town houses and 160 apartments, which will attract singles, young couples and empty nesters. The need for housing that appeals to young professionals and young couples has been documented in numerous studies and the "baby boomer generation" is looking for alternative housing options from their single-family homes.

The approved plan also includes a donation of approximately 20 acres of land to be donated to Nassau Community College and Nassau County. This donation will allow both the county and college the opportunity to enhance their existing offerings to Town of Hempstead and Nassau County residents.

Councilwoman Goosby noted that AvalonBay has the capital needed to begin this development. "Done properly, this development will bring much-needed housing options, jobs, increased tax revenue and numerous other benefits to the residents of Hempstead," stated Goosby.

"Reasonable and balanced development is essential to the continued growth and prosperity of our township," remarked Councilwoman Goosby. "AvalonBay's proposal to bring clustered rental homes, refurbish single-family houses and establish veterans housing at the former Navy property in Garden City clearly complements the character of the local community."

"We're very pleased that AvalonBay and the town have worked together to create a progressive development that will create needed housing, stimulate the economy, honor the rich naval history of this location and help improve the lives of wounded veterans," concluded Murray. "I look forward to the groundbreaking and to a project that will enhance our township."

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Mangano Manifesto, And Other Musings

Democracy Inaction (or, The Demise Of The American Electorate)

On November 3rd last, the voters, here in Nassau County, at least, stayed home. And so it is that, through the perfect storm of taxpayer anger, incumbent angst, and electoral malaise, Ed Mangano, a 7-term Nassau County Legislator, becomes Nassau's next County Exec.

And there you were, thinking your vote wouldn't make a difference!

Hindsight being 20-20, and foresight best left to the psychics and political pundits, we will neither prognosticate nor pontificate on the pros and cons of Ed Mangano's destiny.

Suffice it to say, our fortunes (or misfortunes, if you view the glass as half empty), as Long Islanders, are tied to those of Mr. Mangano. We rise or fall with him -- and, heaven help us, with the equivalent of functional illiteracy known as the Nassau County Legislature.

And so, we wish Ed Mangano every success, that we may prosper and grow (smartly, of course) under his watch.

Still, we are compelled, by our passion for this community and its overtaxed and often shell-shocked inhabitants, to ask, just what does a Mangano administration have in store for us?

We garner scant insight from his campaign promises of more jobs (for whom?), to stop wasteful spending (or was that to waste it elsewhere?), to repeal the energy tax (saving the average homeowner a whopping $2.50 per month), and to freeze the assessment (throw in a freeze of tax levies and tax rates, while you're at it).

A platform built, at best, on a shaky foundation, if any base at all.

So, we turn to Ed Mangano's blog -- yes, Ed's a blogger, too (or has someone on payroll to blog and tweet for him) -- to see what can be gleaned.

To wit, Ed Mangano's "Four Points". [No relation to Woodrow Wilson, plus or minus a few points.]

From the Mangano blog:

The 4 Points of the Ed Mangano Campaign

Ed Mangano’s platform is simple: “If you want to have a county for you, for your children, that’s stable, that can deliver services properly, we have to fix [Nassau County] now.” To accomplish this, Ed Mangano has identified four basic failings in Nassau County government that need to be taken in hand and resolved.

First, Nassau County must curtail its wasteful spending. In the past eight years, the current county executive doubled the size of exempt patronage positions. These positions are highly paid, appointed, and unregulated by civil service exams, many receiving over $100,000 a year. But most disturbingly, 80 of these people do not even live in Nassau County. So not only are Nassau County residents deprived of the opportunity to work within their own government, but they are also deprived of the security of having policymakers subject to their own taxes and regulations. In addition, these politically motivated appointments are a drain on Nassau County’s resources. It’s a matter of basic math; Nassau County has a structural deficit of $150 million. Tom Suozzi spends $22 million a year with his new patronage positions; over eight years, that’s over $160 million. If County Executive Tom Suozzi had not crammed the county full of his political cronies, Nassau County would not be in its current fiscal mess.

Consequently, Ed Mangano is dedicated to shrinking Nassau County’s bloated patronage system. By eliminating a number of appointed positions within the County Executive’s Office, Ed Mangano will swiftly cut a large chunk out of Nassau County’s unnecessary expenses without reducing government services. This will translate into a greater amount of flexibility in combating Nassau County’s structural deficit. Moreover, Ed Mangano will discontinue Tom Suozzi’s ill-conceived policy of hiring non-residents to highly-paid county positions. Nassau County residents deserve policymakers who are subject to their own fees and taxes.

Second, Ed Mangano will freeze and fix Nassau County’s broken tax assessment system. As it stands today, the Property Tax Assessment System does not work. Houses are not being taxed at their fair market value. As a result, the County is being forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to settle tax challenges. Worse yet, the County has implemented a practice of bonding out these obligations rather than paying them through the operating budget, exacerbating the County’s already significant structural deficit. According to the report released by the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority (NIFA), the independent agency appointed by the New York State Legislature to oversee the county’s finances in 2001, “As a result of the County’s policy of borrowing to pay [tax assessment] claims, it is already carrying approximately $150.6 million in debt … solely related to its [tax assessment] program.” This constitutes almost 6% of the County’s total budget for its Major Funds.

Nassau County cannot become fiscally stable so long as this program remains as is. Nevertheless, County Executive Tom Suozzi has taken little action. He spends more time defending the tax assessment system than trying to fix it. His sole attempt saw an investment of $50 million in new technology and over 300 new employees to no effect. There is still the same $100 million loss. The county continues to throw good money after the bad. Conversely, the tax assessment system will be Ed Mangano’s first priority when elected. Ed Mangano will freeze all property tax assessments, set it, give people the benefit of their correction, and then work on fixing it when we’re not reassessing every year. By fixing the assessment system, everyone’s taxes will be lower and the cost of government will be reduced.

Third, Ed Mangano will end the unfair and regressive Home Energy Tax. In order to maintain a so-called “tax freeze,” Tom Suozzi, aided by the Democratic Majority, imposed a 2.5% Home Energy Tax on all residential home energy sources, including electricity, gas, oil, coal, propane, even firewood. According to the Nassau County Office of Legislative Budget Review, the Home Energy Tax is the equivalent of a 4.5% property tax increase, well above Suozzi’s own recommended property tax cap of 4%. In an act of sheer duplicity, the Suozzi political machine implemented the tax while simultaneously issuing a press release alleging that his budget did not raise property taxes. Ed Mangano calls the Home Energy Tax the worst type of regressive tax. It is inescapable. While families can choose to cut back on vacations and expensive dinners in tough times, everyone needs to heat their homes and turn on the lights. As the days grow colder and darker, residents will use more energy to heat and light their homes. This tax is going to hurt the most vulnerable members of our society: the poor and the elderly. It must be repealed.

Finally, Ed Mangano will create local jobs and opportunities. He will accomplish this in two ways: create a business-friendly environment for Nassau County’s small businesses and eliminate the divisionary tactics that frustrate large-scale revitalization projects, such as the Long Island Lighthouse. Currently, the county government has a disgraceful track record of hiring out-of-state contractors. They justify this decision by testifying that out-of-state companies are cheaper. This practice is unforgivable. The only reason why these companies are less expensive is because they don’t have to pay the burdensome taxes, imposed on them by this county. As such, Ed Mangano promises to abolish this system. He intends to start an Office of Local Opportunity in order to introduce greater competiveness in the bidding process between local companies. The office will teach Nassau County residents and businesses how to get government contracts, thereby strengthening the local job market and keeping our tax money here, in Nassau County. With an engaged local industry, more money will be raised through sales tax revenue, meaning lower property taxes for Nassau County residents.

In addition, Ed Mangano will bring in a new and effective leadership style that favors coalition building over the divisionary tactics that has polarized and stalled current large scale development projects. One of the biggest failings in the Suozzi administration is the preference for publicity over collaboration. The Lighthouse Project easily represents the largest and most promising enterprise on Long Island. Yet, despite its potential, the Nassau County Coliseum has sat idle. Suozzi, for all his huffing and puffing, has so politicized the project that he can no longer reconcile the needs of the Town with the wants of developer. He does not understand that success comes from compromise, not press conferences.

Ed Mangano, on the other hand, gets this. He comes from a strong background in economic revitalization, a background with certifiable results. When Ed Mangano took office in the Nassau County Legislature, the defense industry downsized. Over 20,000 jobs were lost at the Grumman’s Property in Bethpage. Experts said that it would take decades to redevelop. They were wrong. Ed Mangano, along with concerned residents and workers of every level of government, regardless of party, returned 15,000 jobs to that property and millions of dollars to the tax base. They didn’t need a camera or the big photo-op; they simply got the job done. Ed Mangano plans on committing that same drive to the Long Island Lighthouse Project and that same spirit of cooperation. He did it in Bethpage, and he’ll do it in Uniondale.
Same points -- Create jobs (patronage?); cut waste (come on, Ed. You can never have enough patronage); eliminate the energy tax; freeze the assessment -- but beyond that, no plan that we know of.

And so we ask, you, the community-minded (hereinafter referred to as "the afflicted"), and Ed (hereinafter referred to as "the anti-Suozzi"), what is the plan for Nassau's future? How do we "save Nassau"? And who will save us from our own government, let alone ourselves? [As in, "We have seen the enemy, and he is us!"]

While we at The Community Alliance take a brief holiday hiatus come December 24 (though, as we remind you often, the work of community never takes a holiday), we ask you to ponder Nassau's tomorrows, and to offer comment, both on the blog, and by writing us at thecommunityalliance@yahoo.com.

Your thoughts, suggestions, commentaries, and guest blogs are always welcome, as we work together, as allies in community, to build a better Long Island!

Happy holidays from all of us (okay, some of us. Would you believe, one of us?) at your hometown's quality of life watchdog, The Community Alliance.
- - -
Be sure to befriend us (betweet us?) on Twitter at http://twitter.com/communityalli.

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow!

The Blizzard Of 2009 In Bizzaro Land

As Long Islander's shovel out from under the weekend's snowstorm, we bring you a little levity amidst the drifts and the icicles.

A reprise of the Ode to the Murraygram of Winter's Past.

- - -
Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Supervisor And The Snowman

Kate Murray Offers Advice For Those Who Don't Know Enough To Come In Out Of The Cold

As temperatures soar to a near 60 degrees, the Town of Hempstead may not be a winter wonderland, but who cares? Certainly, not Town Supervisor Kate Murray, who, with snowman at her side (where did she find that snowman? Nice scarf!), has lofted another snowball our way in the form of this year's first Murraygram. [Or is it the second coming of Kate, right after that piece on "We don't set the Assessment, but we'll remind you to challenge it anyway?" Who can keep count?]

Appropriately entitled, Supervisor Kate Murray's Guide to Winter Safety (this replaces last year's guide on the same topic, so if you still have that mailing, please throw it away), this hard stock (must be 100 lb. paper), not quite 8 1/2" x 11" full-color glossy, gives tips to winter-weary residents that they never in a million years would have thought of themselves. Tips such as, "limit the duration of time spent outside in the cold..." and "make sure you have enough blankets in the house..." Gee, Kate, who would have thunk it?

Astonishingly, Kate Murray's Guide leaves us shivering in what it fails to warn us about. Things like, "never stick your tongue to an aluminum flagpole when the temerature dips below 32 degrees" or "CAUTION: Hot chocolate may be hot!" Kate, you're slipping.

Of course, the Supervisor did keep her promise, freezing the Town's budget for postage at somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.1 million. Then again, with postage rates having just increased, that $2.1 million won't mail as many Murraygrams as it did last year. In fact, rumor has it that Kate will have to dip into that Highway bond fund just to send a postcard to the folks back in Levittown.

Now never mind that it is too warm for snowmen -- by the way, the snowman pictured with Kate is actually a Snow Committeeman, on payroll at Town Hall as a seasonal worker at $100 per hour. Great work if you can get it. And ignore the fact that just days after Kate's Guide to Winter Safety hit the mailboxes of some 200,000-plus homes, the same residents received the Town's mailing of the Parks and Recreation Winter/Spring Brochure -- apparently, no one thought about possibly including Kate's frostbite folly as an insert to this brochure, or placing a short blurb on page 6. [Nah. No space for that. What with Kiss Me Kate (this blogger kids you not) coming to Levittown Hall in Hicksville on May 19th as part of the Town's Performing Arts Series, who has room to publicize winter essentials like, "winterize your car..." and "stock up on ice melt..."

Please don't ask, "Couldn't the Town simply post Kate's Guide to Winter Safety online, much like its online Bicycle Safety Brochure?" We told you not to ask!

How about an Around The Town piece on winter's travails for all the local papers (been there, done that), or letting folks know that winter safety advice is only a click away? [SEE the Center for Disease Control's Extreme Cold: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety. We found out much more than we'll ever need to know, and not a single photo of Kate!]

No, they don't think of new ways to waste the taxpayers' money at Hempstead Town Hall. They rely on all the old, time-tested methods -- man the presses and mail out another Murraygram! [You may have noticed that The Community Alliance took down its Murray-Mail-Meter shortly after last November's election. On the one hand, we figured that, with Kate's victory in hand and position of power secure, the incessant mailings would stop. On the other hand, our tote board ran out of digits. We couldn't keep up!]

Okay, so Kate can claim a mandate. Fine. Kate wanted a mandate. Heck, sources close to the Supervisor tell us (off the record) that she's needed a mandate for the longest time. Now that Kate has a mandate, maybe she'll get herself "shtuped," and stop sticking it to the taxpayers every time! [I know, I know. Residents "enjoy" being screwed by the Town of Hempstead. Got it. Don't rub it in anymore.]

This just in from Kate Murray's Blizzard Coldline: "If possible, limit travel during inclement weather."

We think Kate & Kompany need to expand their horizons beyond the dangers of winter doldrums. Here are a few suggestions, free of charge (with no postage due) from The Community Alliance, for future Murraygrams:

Kate Murray's Guide to Kitchen Safety -- "Never hold a knife by the blade."

Kate Murray's Guide to Bathtub Safety -- "If possible, do not bathe with electric toasters."

Kate Murray's Guide to Japanese Steakhouse Safety -- "Do not let the chef toss a shrimp at you. It may cause a fatal heart attack and lead to frivilous lawsuits."

And then there's the one that is sure to be a hit on HBO, Kate Murray's Guide to The Universe (hitchhiker not included). "Never attempt space travel without a space ship -- or in the event of inclement weather."

Maybe Kate should forget about the Murraygrams altogether. She's already set her sights higher, with a possible run for County Executive in the offing. Kate for Kounty Exec? Sure. Why should Town of Hempstead residents suffer alone? We can all share the joy of the Murraygrams in our mailboxes.

We can see it now. Mondello taps Murray to run for Nassau County Executive on the GOP line. [Much like Max Bialistock convincing Roger Elizabeth Devry to direct Springtime for Hitler.] Mondello will also ask Roger Corbin to run for the job on the Dem line -- all in the interest of bipartisan cooperation, of course. And yours truly will launch a write-in campaign for Governor -- not of New York, mind you, but of a small, hurricane-ravaged state in southeastern Mexico, known ostensibly as home of the floating gardens of Kaopectate. [This blogger meets today with the editorial board at Hoy, seeking their endorsement!]

Okay, gotta run. Just found yet another Murray missive between the doors -- now they're being delivered by Ed McMahon and the Publisher's Clearinghouse Prize Patrol (you may already be a loser -- pay up!). Hmmm. What's this? Kate Murray's Guide to The Eternal Darkness of the Voter's Mind -- "It is also a good idea to have a flashlight (and batteries)..." Now why didn't we think of that?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Running Away To Canada. Again.

An American's Journey North For Cheaper Drugs

Some forty years ago, Dave Jacobs, a native Long Islander still in his teens, ran away to the Canadian north. It was the turbulent 60s. The Vietnam war was raging. Young men were dying. And like thousands of other American boys who, out of conscience, not cowardice, believed that the war was immoral and the draft unjust, Dave fled to Canada.

Settling, for a time, on Vancouver Island, marrying, and beginning to raise a son, Dave longed to return to the America he had grown up in. The America he had loved, and left.

Dave's flight, today forgiven under amnesty, and historically, at least, understandable, if not laudable, was illegal. He was a draft dodger. An outlaw. In blatant violation of the laws of these United States of America.

Today, Dave Jacobs lives, once again, on Long Island, in the house once owned by his parents. He is a gentle, unpretentious man in his early sixties, now fighting another battle, this time, against Parkinson's Disease.

He doesn't talk much about the 60s, his move to Canada, or the Vietnam era. In fact, the Parkinson's has affected his speech to the point where Dave does not talk much at all, about anything, other than his grandchildren.

During the course of the day, Dave takes 6 different medications to help fight his illness. The daily cost of his prescription drugs was in excess of $100. You read that right.

And yes, we said "was," because, recently, Dave became an outlaw once more, fleeing to Canada in blatant violation of the laws of these United States of America.

Nowadays, he crosses the Canadian border, not by foot, under cover of darkness, but rather, via the Internet, from the comfort of his den. His flight is not to avoid the draft or the ravages of war, but to buy the drugs he needs to stay alive, at less than half the cost for the same medications available in this country.

Last week, the United States Senate narrowly rejected an Amendment to the health reform legislation that would have legalized the reimportation of drugs from Canada and other foreign countries. Drugs that American pharma sell internationally far below the cost we pay here at home. Drugs that are price-controlled elsewhere, but left to the free-market (read as, the whim of the drug companies) in the U.S.

One could argue, and with considerable merit, that legalizing the reimportation of drugs would be far from the panacea it is often said to be. Economists will tell you that the cost of drugs will necessarily rise elsewhere, including Canada, and that foreign governments may limit the reimportation of American-made drugs, increasing their price.

Of course, this begs the question of how American pharma can get away with selling a pill for $75 when that very same pill costs them a mere 15 cents to manufacture. Yes, we know. They're making up for the expense of R&D, and those failed meds that never made it to market. Surely, greed, and the power of the pharma lobby, with millions for lobbying but barely a dime to contain costs, have nothing to do with it.

For Dave Jacobs, the concern is not so much a matter of who is right -- in big pharma, in Washington, or, for all he cares, in Canada. It's a matter of being able to afford to stay alive.

We're with you, Dave. Godspeed!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Doomsday At The MTA?

Just Another Day Of Pummeling The Public At The Public Authority

It wasn't long ago that the folks at New York's mismanaged and fiscally inept Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) -- the public authority charged with running the buses, subways, railroads, bridges, and tunnels -- cried poverty, and threatened chaos on the transpoetation front lest they get fare increases, toll hikes, and a payroll tax.

And so, John Q. Public, through the State Legislature (and other bodies that pass for representative government), caved, giving the MTA exactly what they asked for. Fare hikes, toll increases, and a payroll tax.

Ahh. The MTA would now be solvent. The Doomsday plan of cutting and eliminating service would be avoided. New York's straphangers and bridge crossers would be saved from the axe.

But that was yesterday (or was it the day before?).

Doomsday has returned with a vengeance, and the MTA claims, yet again, that it cannot meet its expenses.

Woe is us.

And so, as threatened, the MTA will curtail service, depriving Dashing Dans of seats, service, and security, and leaving us to wonder how in the heck we could allow an agency such as the MTA to run so amuck. [Which is about the only thing they seem to be able to run!]

The Solution Is In Dissolution

When a public authority ceases to act in the public good -- as the MTA has long failed to do -- if it cannot be rehabilitated (Lord knows, we have tried), it must be abolished.

The Legislature should immediately discharge the MTA Board, appointing an interim financial control board (Felix Rohatyn, where are you when we need you?) in its place.

The first act of the financial control board, as prelude to dismantling the MTA, is to fire the agency's presidents -- all 6 of them. [My God. There are more MTA Presidents than there are Sanitary District commissioners. Well, almost.]

Obviously, no one at the MTA, from Board to chief executives, knows how to add, subtract, audit, or budget, let alone how to run a railroad. The difference between surplus and deficit, to the MTA chieftans, is simply a matter of how much they can fleece the public for on any given day.

Next, arrange to pay back bondholders (use the salaries you've been paying to all those top execs, and let the MTA Board, Management Team,  and past Board Chairs, borrow -- personally -- to close the gap on what the agency still owes).

Then, sell the subways, buses, trains, and bridges to the highest bidders, under the condition that they retain Disney to manage and operate the whole shebang. Now they know how to run a railroad.

It's high time we stopped rewarding incompetence with tax dollars!
- - -
From Newsday:

MTA board OKs controversial budget with service cuts

 by ALFONSO A. CASTILLO / alfonso.castillo@newsday.com

After getting an earful from transit advocates and elected officials, the MTA board on Wednesday unanimously passed an $11-billion budget that includes widespread cuts in service, including the elimination of several Long Island Rail Road trains, entire Long Island Bus routes, and some subway and city bus lines.

The plan, which does not take effect until July at the earliest, also looks to eliminate discounted MetroCards for students, and make deep cuts to paratransit.

Before the 12-0 vote, the agency's chief vowed to "take the place apart" to find savings in the future, including by cutting jobs and slashing overtime.

"Can we really say that the money that is sent to the MTA... is well spent?" MTA chairman and chief executive Jay Walder said. "We need to be able to say that. Unfortunately, I'm not able to say that we can."

Walder said that the MTA's 5,000 administrative positions are "too many," that the $500 million spent on overtime must come down, and that the 50 percent increase in the cost of construction materials since 2003 is unacceptable.

While Walder said there was not enough time to avoid the painful budget cuts, he expected the changes he proposes would result in significant and growing savings.

"We must accept that as we do that, there will be layoffs," Walder said. "We must not be afraid to eliminate work that is unnecessary. . . . The reality is that the majority of our costs come from labor."

Earlier Wednesday, transit advocates and elected officials blasted the MTA for forwarding the plan to fill a nearly $400-million budget gap at the expense of some of the region's most vulnerable commuters.

"How low can you go?" New York City Councilman Charles Barron asked the board before the vote.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said New Yorkers are tired of the MTA's "budget dance," which he said has continued even after New Yorkers were already forced to make sacrifices to pull the transit agency out of a massive budget deficit this year.

A bailout passed in May by the State Legislature raised fares and tolls by 10 percent, implemented a new payroll tax for employers, and hiked taxi and DMV fees. The rescue package was intended to avoid service cuts, but MTA officials announced earlier this month that they had recently discovered an additional $383-million budget shortfall.

"This tired old song isn't giving us a sense of faith and hope in the transit system," Stringer said. "When a crisis comes, you go for the most vulnerable. You go for our students. You go for people with disabilities... We should not be in the business of going after the next generation, because this generation can't run a transit system."

Several speakers, including Straphangers Campaign spokesman Gene Russianoff, urged the MTA to consider alternatives to cutting service, including redirecting a portion of federal stimulus funds and money allocated for the MTA's capital plan to the operating budget.

"I think this badly undermines your credibility. The riding public was told last May that there would be no service cuts when the Legislature bailed out the MTA. Riders held up their part of the bargain... But now they're threatened with almost the exact same list of service cuts again."

William Henderson, executive director of the MTA's Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, said that while he agreed with Walder that the capital budget should be protected, he said "all options should be on the table" to avoid the cuts. Henderson said that the cuts on the LIRR, which include the elimination of weekend service to West Hempstead and reducing weekend and afternoon off-peak service on the Port Washington line, would impact some 13,000 riders.

"The riders don't question that you need to take action to deal with the shortfall," Henderson said. "Instead they question the choices you have made."

Friday, December 11, 2009

Twittering Our Days Away

On The Community Front, More Action, Less Chat

The Twitter phenomenon is all the rage! Why, according to published reports, it has already surpassed Facebook as a favored mode of communication.

Wow! Whatever happened to talking? A good old face-to-face discourse. Lost art, we fear. Replaced by texts, emoticons, and tweets.

So what is it with Twitter? Does it really keep us all connected and up to the minute (as if we really need to know what our friends -- or worse yet, people we never even met -- are doing at this precise moment in time), or is it part of the great disconnect, like e-mails and text messages, that, in actuality, isolate us from neighbors, friends, and, yes, community.

Sure, we can "communicate" without end by text and tweet, never having to look anyone in the eye, pat anyone on the back, or even respond to a tough question when we're put on the spot.

Blackberry in hand, Bluetooth in ear, we are oblivious to the world around us.

Where's the warmth, the personal interaction, the body language?

And how is it that, while we have so little time to have an actual conversation with family, friends, or significant others in our lives, we seem to have an abundance of time -- doesn't anybody work anymore -- to tweet all day long?

Okay. While we're on the subject, why is it, in the world of community advocacy -- from rebuilding downtown to reclaiming brownfields, and everything in between -- we spend so much time and energy in the political equivalent of tweeting and texting, and so little in actually getting the job done.

We host forums, attend planning meetings, create committees, and commit to seemingly endless visioning sessions -- some even virtual. We write letters, op-ed pieces, and post blogs. We discuss, from near and far, and debate, without apparent cloture. We even spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to study, survey, poll and research -- only to find out what we already knew.

The result? Not half as much as we had hoped for, planned on, or, for that matter, talked about.

No. Rome wasn't built in a day. In this century, perhaps? Why is it always one step forward (if that), two steps back?

On a personal, intimate level, perhaps we need to talk more, tweet less. In our more global endeavors to create a viable, sustainable community here on Long Island, however, better a little less talk, and a whole lot more action.

If only, just for a day, we could turn off our cell phones (we said off, not silent or vibrate), skip the e-mails, and forego the tweets, maybe, just maybe, we'd be able to really communicate with one another.

And if we could move beyond the talk, taking our vision of suburbia from table to street, perhaps the fruits of our advocacy and activism would come to bear in this community we call Long Island.

Happy holidays to all from your friends, neighbors, and fellow tweeters (http://twitter.com/CommunityAlli) at The Community Alliance!

An Institute For A Sustainable Long Island?

Indeed. At Molloy College In Rockville Centre

We've often said, only half in jest, that about the only thing that is sustainable on Long Island, particularly along its forgotten and long-forsaken south shore, is the blight.

Indeed, in Hempstead Town, communities officially "blighted" -- such as Baldwin, Elmont and West Hempstead -- wear the blight designation as a sort of badge of courage. [Or was that like a Scarlett Letter?]

Anyway, far above the blight, in the hallowed halls of academia, an institute (unlike that of Mel Brooks High Anxiety fame) was founded (had it been lost?) earlier this year, whose mission is, if not exploring new worlds, then, at least, to sustain this one. [The mission statement reads, "To integrate the idea of sustainability into the academic life of Molloy College and to serve as a core resource on environmental responsibility to help ensure a sustainable future for the students and faculty of Molloy College, as well as the larger Long Island community." Ugh. Say that ten times fast!]

Yes. The Sustainability Institute at Molloy College. Headed up by someone who is familiar to anyone and everyone who, in any way, shape, or form, has thought about, talked about, or even wondered about Long Island's future -- Neal Lewis.

Neal and his team -- most of whom followed him from their former gig at the Long Island Neighborhood Network -- echo many of the same concerns as we at The Community Alliance have blogged about over these many years. Clean and reusable energy. Organic (or at least, non-toxic) resourcing. Global warming. Downtown cooling. All of the good stuff that, packaged together, helping to create a self-sustaining, liveable suburban environment.

Established in April, 2009, the Institute has already developed initiatives ranging from Go Green on Halloween to Greening Your Place of Worship, with such Neighborhood Network staples as Do-It-Yourself Organic Lawn Care and 15 Things Long Islanders Can Do To Be Energy Efficient, being integrated into the program.

Of course, to truly create sustainability on Long Island, the Institute will necessarily have to add to or complement its focus of stated core values and goals (Curb global warming. Reduce environmental toxins.
Improve public health. Promote smart planning that provides sustainable land use. Promote communities and life-styles that are sustainable and affordable in the long-term.) with other elements of smart growth critical to Long Island, and designed to address issues that are infrastructural as well as environmental. [A few that come immediately to mind: Improving transportation. Creating affordable housing. Revitalizing "Main Street." Incorporating density, mobility, and walkability into Long Island's vision of suburbia.]

Ahh. The marriage (or at least a domestic partnership) of The Sustainability Institute with, say, the ideas and ideals of the Long Island Neighborhood Network, Sustainable Long Island, and Citizens Campaign for the Environment. [Wait. Is that a marriage, or a menage-et-trois?]

And, of course, somewhere in that congenial and cooperative mix -- or at least in the discourse and sidebar so crucial to taking a vision of sustainability from drawing board to "Main Street" -- will be none other than The Community Alliance.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Eat Garbage, Lady!

Maragos Pledges Follow-Up on Comptroller's Audits of Special Districts

Hot on the heels of the Newsday article, which followed the antics of the $200,000+ Sanitary Commissioner in Oceanside, incoming Nassau County Comptroller, George Maragos, has said that the audits -- which demonstrated waste and abuse in the special taxing districts -- shall not have been in vain.

""Otherwise, why are we spending the money and doing these audits if there's no follow-up?" Maragos asked Newsday reporter Sandra Peddie.

Why, indeed!

We encourage Mr. Maragos, as Comptroller, not only to take the next step in challenging the special districts on issues of efficiency and economy, if nothing more, but also to make good on his campaign promises to "reduce the cost of government, speak out against overspending, demand fiscal responsibility, and be independent of the County Executive."

Of course, as concerns the special districts, such as the Town of Hempstead Sanitary District in Oceanside, all the follow-up in the world will go for naught unless and until the Town -- whose name and imprint is etched into every aspect of the Sanitary District's being -- steps up and takes responsibility.

Enough of the bunk from the bunker where Town Supervisor Kate Murray and her Committeemen are holed up. "We have no control over the special districts..."

Yeah. Just as the Town has no control over zoning, code enforcement, roadway resurfacing, downtown revitalization, or any one of dozens of operations over which the Town has tacit, if not actual jurisdiction.

Build a much-needed supermarket in Elmont to replace the delapidated Argo movie theater? The Town has no control. Tear down the Courtesy Hotel in West Hempstead and build transit-oriented rental units? The Town has no control. Make a decision, at long last, on the Lighthouse project, the centerpiece of Nassau County's revival. The Town has control, but what's the rush? Nothing actually gets done here without a decade or more of delay.

We guess "control" is subjective. To us, review of budgets, including salaries, and appointment, with a wink and a nod, of personnel (who just happen, by mere coincidence, to be GOP Committeemen, Town employees, or the brother, son or nephew of one of Town Hall's own), exudes control.

Then again, what the heck do we know?

Meanwhile, in New York State's most taxing fire district, Gordon Heights, residents are one step closer to dissolution, just a single commissioner's vote shy.

The Town of Brookhaven failed to act on the legitimate Petition of taxpayers to dissolve the districts, so Gordon Heights residents stepped up, ran for office, and, whatdayaknow, they won.

Now that's what we call, "local control!"
- - -
From Newsday:

New Nassau comptroller reacts to trash supervisor's raise

by SANDRA PEDDIE / sandra.peddie@newsday.com

The news that Oceanside's $199,750-a-year garbage supervisor got a merit raise right after a county audit harshly criticized his extraordinary pay package prompted the newly elected county comptroller to vow Wednesday to push for better follow-up of audits.

"Otherwise, why are we spending the money and doing these audits if there's no follow-up?" asked George Maragos, a Republican businessman who in his first bid for office defeated Democrat Howard Weitzman.

Maragos was reacting to the fact that commissioners of sanitary district No. 7 started paying supervisor Charles Scarlata a $40-a-week merit raise Nov. 7, just a week after county auditors lambasted his extraordinary pay package in an audit. In addition to his base salary of $154,908, Scarlata receives bonuses and special benefits that boost his entire compensation by tens of thousands.

Special districts have been a hot-button political issue because they are a source of patronage jobs. But Maragos, who financed his campaign entirely with his own money, said he was not concerned about such political considerations.

Instead, he said, "we have to start bringing about change to make government more accountable."

Scarlata, 51, is the son of Oceanside Republican leader Michael Scarlata, who ran the district for many years, retired and now is back as a part-time consultant. Charles Scarlata's mother, Johanna, works for the Town of Hempstead, as do two of the district's commissioners, Michael Sullivan and Thomas Dapolito.

Hempstead Town officials say they have little authority over the district's operations, even though the town board approves the district's nearly $8 million annual budget, which includes salaries.

But outgoing county Comptroller Weitzman, who oversaw the audit of the district, disagreed.

"It's up to the town supervisor and council to use their authority under state law to control the district's spending," he said in a statement.

And Laura Mallay, executive director of Residents for Efficient Special Districts, a group seeking to consolidate some districts, said, "Our elected officials need to step up here on behalf of the taxpayer."

She added, "It's time to stop passing the buck."

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Man Rescued From Long Island Cesspool

Who Will Save The Rest Of Us?

Gotta love those stories of human drama at their best. Girl lodged in the bottom of one hundred foot well. Miners trapped 3 miles below the surface in cave in. Worker stuck in the muck of a Long Island cesspool.

No worries. The cesspool worker, waist deep in debris, was successfully pulled from below, and will likely fully recover. We wonder how many fire districts had to respond to the scene, and query whether yet another sewer district might have obviated the need for a cesspool.

Speaking of cesspools, how's your "Main Street" and "downtown" business district looking these days? If you're in a village, you might say, "pretty cool." On the other hand, for those in the unincorporated areas of Long Island's townships, where brownfields abound, and "VACANT", "FOR LEASE," and "OUT OF BUSINESS" are signs of the times, the response is, "not so hot."

Ahh. Too bad the county, the town, and the local municipalities have no money at hand to improve facades, revitalize "downtown," and transform "Main Street."

No. No money for public works, creating not only jobs but a more liveable, sustainable suburbia. "We're tapped out. It's not in the budget. We're cutting everywhere we can."

Yeah, right.

And we suppose that's why every Tom, Dick and Murray, from the Town Supervisor down to the lowly Sanitary District Commissioner, is getting a raise.

Oh, let the taxpayers suffer. We need five or six commissioners per piddly district. Why shouldn't they be on the public dole, raking in $200,000 per year, plus benefits and pensions? Who cares if a city of 8 million can run on a single fire department with but one commissioner? We deserve it!

Apparently so. The sad truth being that residents, armed with the knowledge and seized with the power to abolish all forms of special district chicanery, are, with all too rare exception, content to sit back, do nothing, and pay, pay, pay.

The stinking cesspool is overflowing, and we yell out, "Hey, let's jump in and go for a swim!"

Oh yeah. Yesterday was election day in many of Long Island's fire and water districts. How many of you bothered to vote? A show of hands? Hmmm. Not many. [Then again, there is hope. In Gordon Heights, two outsiders who want to dissolve Long Island's most highly taxed fire district beat three opponents, two of whom were incumbents. Bravo!]

In Garden City Park, on the other hand in our pockets, a single candidate, Chris Engel, was elected to the posts of Fire Commissioner AND Water Commissioner. [He could start the fire and put it out at the same time!] Did anybody care? Reminds us of the I Love Lucy episode where the traffic cop also served as the judge, the jailer, and the bail bondsman. And why not?

They tell us the grass is greener over the septic tank, and we believe them.

Folks, as long as we allow them to carry on this charade that passes for government, to take every last penny in the name of the public good where no good is served, the cesspool will continue to bubble up, suck us in, and drag us down.
- - -
From Newsday:

Oceanside garbage district gives supervisor raise

by SANDRA PEDDIE / sandra.peddie@newsday.com

A week after county auditors harshly criticized the extraordinary pay package of the Oceanside garbage supervisor in October, district commissioners gave him a merit raise, officials said Tuesday.

The $40-a-week raise, which was given to all 15 administrators and office workers beginning Nov. 7, will bring the pay of sanitary district No. 7 supervisor Charles Scarlata to at least $199,750 this year. That includes his base pay of nearly $155,000, plus payments largely for accrued comp time, and it will make him one of the highest-paid public officials on Long Island, according to records. His regular annual increase, plus the merit raise, add up to a nearly 6 percent jump over last year.

READ: Past coverage of Charles Scarlata

That does not include the extras he gets, such as a leased 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe, a $15,000 payment for life insurance and post-retirement pay of $25,000 a year for 15 years on top of his pension, among other items, according to the audit, which was released Oct. 29.

"It's outrageous, and it underlines how little we can do about our government," said Oceanside resident Carl Flatow.

"It just shows the arrogance and the feeling that they can get away with it," said Omar Henriquez, a community activist who has researched special districts and their impact on taxes. "The special district is designed so that it doesn't encourage [public] involvement."

Commissioners approved the raise, despite the audit, because they felt it was deserved, said Thomas Dapolito, one of the five district commissioners. "He really deserves it because he works very hard."

Scarlata was out of the office Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.

Another commissioner, Louis DeVito, said Scarlata was not overpaid. "I think it's in line with what other people with that experience are making."

In fact, records show, Scarlata earns more than supervisors of the other 10 independent sanitation districts in Nassau County. Currently, his base pay for 2009 is $2,978.99 a week, or $154,908 a year. The district serves 10,950 customers and has 57 employees, in addition to the commissioners.

By comparison, annual salaries for district garbage supervisors range from $2,600 for the commissioner-run Glenwood garbage district in North Hempstead, which contracts out its garbage collection, to $140,790 for the superintendent of sanitary district No. 1 in Lawrence.

In addition, Scarlata is allowed to get payment for comp days added on to his salary, a $450 shoe and optical allowance, salary "adjustments" or bonuses and post-retirement pay after he leaves the district. He also gets a new car for personal and district use, two $300,000 life insurance policies and health and dental benefits worth $16,200 a year, according to the audit.

Records show that other district supervisors don't get all those extras. While some get cars and benefits in the larger districts, none get post-retirement pay on top of pensions. And smaller districts often are run on a shoestring.

"We get nothing," said Joanne DelVecchio, commissioner of the Carle Place garbage district, where commissioners handle the administrative work and contract out for garbage collection. "We pay for our own gas, use our own car, use our home phones, our own cell phones, get no benefits."

She added, "I think they abuse the system."
- - -
Footnote to comment by fellow sanit commish Louis De Vito -- Right. We're paying for "experience." Yeah. The experience of being duped, ripped off, and made to look like fools, all in the same breath. Now that's what we call a consolidation of services!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Charity Begins At Home

A "Vote" To Raise Money For Long Island's Environment

Yes, today is Special Taxing District (Fire, Water) Election Day (check with you local fire and water district for particulars as to time and place), so get out there and vote!

Today also presents the opportunity to vote, via Facebook, in Chase Bank's $5 million giveaway to local charities, where your vote could help our good friends at Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE) (among other Long Island charities and causes)  fill the coffers for their continuing efforts to preserve and improve the quality of our water, our air, and our lives here on Long Island.

You can also invite friends to cast their votes, post to the walls of fellow Facebook afficianados, and, of course, Tweet your support to the entire free world.

Read on for the details, and be sure to vote!
- - -

Vote for Citizens Campaign Fund for the Environment on Facebook:

Chase Bank is giving away $5 million to your favorite charities.

Chase Bank launched a charity campaign on Facebook. The campaign is giving away $5 million and asking Facebook users to select the nonprofit organizations they would like Chase to support. Citizens Campaign Fund for the Environment, CCE’s research and education arm, is a nominee. We need your help today to receive a portion of the $5 million!

If you’re one of our Facebook fans, vote for "Citizens Campaign Fund for the Environment" here:

If you're not following us on Facebook, become a fan here: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#/pages/Citizens-Campaign-for-the-Environment/31420959864?ref=ts

If we get enough votes, we will receive a portion of the $5 million donated by Chase. The funds we receive will help us protect New York's and Connecticut’s land and water resources, including:

Reducing pesticides in the environment
Restoring our ocean, estuaries, and Great Lakes
Fighting climate change
Increasing clean, home-grown renewable energy
Protecting drinking water

The first round of voting ends December 11, so be sure to vote soon.

Thank you for your support. Together we make a difference!

- - -
Search Chase Community Giving on Facebook at http://apps.facebook.com/chasecommunitygiving/charities/search and vote for your favorite charity to receive its share of the $5 million giveaway.

Charity is only a mouse-click away!

Friday, December 04, 2009

Closing The Door On "Gated" Communities

Nassau's Localities Should Follow Lead Of NYC In Fighting Blight

Ban the gate!

Yes, the gate. You know, that metal pull-down security gate over the glass storefront, often marred by grafitti spelling out sundry epitaphs.

The gate. As seen along the Grand Concourse, Jamaica Avenue, and Main Streets and downtowns everywhere.

A staple along commercial thoroughfares, not only in New York City's boroughs, but, more and more, in the towns, hamlets, cities, and villages of Nassau County.

Oh, you've seen the gates. Blocking out the mom and pops along "Main Street" and in the strip malls that are the hallmark of both urban and suburban sprawl.

The gate. A steel barricade, intended to ward of the more unsavory elements. An invite to the blighting of an entire community.

The gate. Ugly. Foreboding. A deterrent to crime and to the aesthetics, and very livability, of a neighborhood.

Once the mainstay of urbanity, the steel security gate has found its way east, in abundance along Hempstead Turnpike, Old Country Road, Sunrise Highway, and Merrick Road, to name but a few of the commercial "gate"ways.

Now, the New York City Council has voted to ban the opague, roll-down, steel security gate from New York City's streets, as unsightly, uninviting, and a precursor to that which Nassau County residents are becoming all too familiar -- blight.

They'll all be gone by 2026 (not a typo), when the NYC ban is fully implemented, replaced, if at all, by gates that permit passerbys to see through -- ala security gates on mall storefronts.

If nothing more, the see-through gates will reduce grafitti tagging, and will permit both shoppers and law enforcement to peer inside. On the quality of life front, steel gates giving way to gates with greater transparency will beautify business districts, which, in turn, will make "downtown" a more receptive -- if not altogether "cool" -- place for strolling, shopping, and, perhaps, living.

A good move by NYC to enhance its business districts, and one that Nassau County's local governments -- the folks whose zoning ordinances make or break "Main Street" -- should consider adopting.

The "gated" community, after all, has no place in suburbia!
- - -
From The New York Times:

Bringing Down the Curtain on a Symbol of Blight


New York City’s storefront gates, like its fire escapes and stoops, are there but not quite there: the unnoticed wallpaper of New York at night. They have been battered by vandals and defaced by graffiti taggers. They have secured diamonds, handmade tortellini and other valuable commodities. They have provided the clattering soundtrack of dawn and dusk, the steel canvas of struggling artists, the most compelling evidence that the city does, indeed, sleep.

And now, on orders of the City Council, roll-down gates have joined the ranks of fatty foods and cigarette smoke: they have been legislated against, some right into extinction.

The Council voted on Monday to ban the kind of security gates that completely shield commercial storefront windows and doors from view — ones that resemble old-fashioned auto garage doors, with narrow horizontal slats that rise up like a steely sort of curtain — while permitting the kinds of gates common in suburban shopping malls that allow passers-by to see inside.

Along Court Street in the Carroll Gardens section of Brooklyn, a gentrifying commercial and residential strip in what remains an Italian stronghold, the gradual ban on solid gates — there are probably tens of thousands of them — was as well-received as a property tax hike. Not a single owner or manager who was interviewed was aware of the Council’s vote.

The head-scratching dismay expressed by Pyung Lim Lee upon learning that City Hall had taken a regulatory interest in the rickety old solid gate outside C.H. Plaza Dry Cleaners, 400 Court Street, Brooklyn, N.Y., 11231, was typical.

“If the government pays, then O.K.,” said Mr. Lee, the owner of the shop, who was not surprised to learn that the government would not, after all, be covering the cost of a new gate. “They make law, law, law, and people’s life is more difficult.”

Frank Caputo took a more nuanced approach. He is the owner of Caputo’s Fine Foods, a narrow little hub of homemade mozzarella and pastas, down the street from the church where Al Capone was married long ago. Since Caputo’s was opened by his parents in 1973, the shop has had two gates, both of them the solid, no-peeking-in type. “I was afraid that someone was going to break the glass,” said Mr. Caputo, 47.

He has had the second gate — a $4,000 model with an electric motor that allows him to turn a key or press a button to raise or lower it — for about two years, and he figured that by 2026, when the ban fully kicks in, he would need to replace it, anyway. “If they would have told me I had six months to replace it, I would have been upset,” Mr. Caputo said.

Council members said the bill, which passed 45 to 0, was intended to deter vandals from spraying graffiti on flat-surface gates, to help beautify neighborhoods and to give police officers and firefighters the ability to look inside in an emergency. The ban applies to numerous businesses, including banks, barber shops, beauty salons, health clinics, dry cleaners, dental offices and retail stores.

All businesses affected have until July 1, 2026, to install security gates that allow at least 70 percent of the area they cover to be visible. Any gates installed after July 1, 2011, must comply with the new requirements.

“We took great pains in this bill to make sure we balanced quality-of-life issues and graffiti eradication with the real-life financial challenges small businesses are facing in this recession,” said the Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn. “That’s why the bill has a lengthy time frame.”

The city’s many storefronts, like their proprietors, have their own bedtime rituals. In the diamond district in Manhattan, many shops do not bother with roll-down gates: employees can be seen removing the jewelry, item by item, from the window displays, bound for parts unknown.

On one block of Court Street, the window of a barber shop with no gate afforded a full view inside (the old-fashioned cash register’s empty drawer left open and the bill holders up), but the insurance office next door seemed to contain more secrets, with a solid gate, marred by graffiti.

The metal gate covering G. Esposito & Sons’ pork store offered a peek inside, but what was visible just inside the door would probably attract only the most desperate sort of burglar: a giant apron-clad, wide-eyed piggy statue.

Karen Van Every, the owner of Serimony, a card and gift shop, has a see-through gate, which she wanted so that passers-by could look inside when the store is closed. “People walk by and they see a piece of jewelry in the window and they want to come back,” she said.

Still, Ms. Van Every, like many other Court Street merchants, said she opposed the ban because of its eventual impact on businesses’ bottom line. “Every little cost associated with having a small business could put you under,” she said.

The solid gates have a forbidding quality, recalling the bad old days of 1970s-era New York, when a desire to encourage window-shopping was superseded by a concern over rampant crime and occasional looting.

In some cases, they were no deterrent. In 1973, for example, five young burglars in the Bronx broke into a clothing store with a roll-down gate by cutting a hole in the roof.

But in other cases, solid gates might have helped. During the blackout that struck the city in the summer of 1977, looters ripped off nonsolid storefront gates by hooking chains to them, attaching the chains to cars and then stepping on the gas.

But sometimes no gate could have withstood looters’ fury during the blackout. Jonathan Mahler, in his book “Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx Is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City,” described the scene in Bushwick: “They were taking crowbars to steel shutters, prying them open like tennis-ball-can tops or simply jimmying them up with hydraulic jacks and then wedging garbage cans underneath to keep them open.”

The gates, like all endangered species, have their own unique history. They have kept people in as much as out: In 2004, advocates for immigrants complained that janitors were getting trapped inside locked and gated groceries until managers arrived the next morning.

In Bushwick years ago, some graffiti-tagged gates were painted over, without charge, by New Yorkers with little choice in the matter: petty criminals sentenced to perform community service.

On Court Street, many of the solid gates are marked with graffiti, but others have been used as billboards to advertise the stores they protect. Acorn Real Estate features an image of a giant acorn; R.P.T. Physical Therapy, nearby, had an artist paint its blue logo on its gate, a silhouette of a man over the phrase, “Let Us Help You Reach Your Goals.”

Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company

Promises, Promises

Does GOP "Tax Revolt" Portend A Return To The Days Of Smoke And Mirrors?

What we at The Community Alliance have been saying, going on six years now, is capsulized in a New York Times editorial. One that postulates that frustratrated, if not angry taxpayers took aim at the wrong target in the just past election, and put behind the driver's seat those who not only swerved the car off the road into a ditch in the first place, but moreover, in the ensuing years, couldn't even sit tall enough in the public saddle to reach the steering wheel, with legs that neither touched the accelerator nor slammed on the brakes.

It would appear that, yet again, we have seen the enemy, and, quess what? He is still us!
- - -
From The New York Times:

A Misguided Tax Revolt

Thomas Suozzi has just lost his job, voted out as Nassau County executive by about 380 votes in an election that turned on voters’ frustration and anger about high property taxes. It was a victory for free-form anxiety, but a loss for Nassau County, whose tax-weary residents went after the wrong target.

Mr. Suozzi was elected in 2001 to pull Nassau out of a fiscal ditch, and he did — over the hard-core opposition of an intransigent Republican minority. He brimmed with ideas to reinvigorate the local economy and was an early leader of the crusade to repair Albany’s rancid political culture. He had big plans for a third term, but they were whomped by the recession and a little-known Republican, Edward Mangano, who also ran for the newly invented Tax Revolt Party.

Mr. Suozzi was not alone in the New York region. In one election night voters fired County Executive Andrew Spano in Westchester, Gov. Jon Corzine of New Jersey and Democratic candidates in local races all over. The Nassau County Legislature is in Republican hands again, after 10 years. Nassau’s comptroller, the Democrat Howard Weitzman, fell to a little-known Republican.

The Republicans took the simplistic path to success, railing against taxes to turn voters’ pain into votes. But their logic was grossly misplaced. Nassau’s property taxes are crushingly high, but the county portion of the bill, Mr. Suozzi’s responsibility, is only about 16 percent. More than 60 percent goes to school districts, whose bloated budgets voters routinely support. Twenty percent pays for a galaxy of special taxing entities, like garbage districts and fire departments, that voters have never seen fit to consolidate or close despite Mr. Weitzman’s withering audits.

The prime reformer for cutting taxes and putting the county economy on solid footing has been Mr. Suozzi. He led a campaign to curb costly state mandates on local governments and pushed an ambitious plan for development in faded downtowns and in central Nassau.

What did Mr. Mangano offer? A pledge to repeal an energy tax that would immediately blow a $40 million hole in the county budget and imperil its bond rating. Vague promises to cut spending in a campaign Newsday’s editorial page called “idea free.” The Republican who unseated Mr. Spano, Rob Astorino, is going to lead a county government that he once said should confine itself to tasks like running the airport and fixing roads. Christopher Christie, the governor-elect of New Jersey, never explained how he plans to cut taxes at a time when New Jersey’s budget is battered by the recession.

Decades of Republican majorities in Nassau County kept taxes down by borrowing and borrowing until the crisis exploded. Mr. Corzine fell into a hole created by the reckless borrowing and tax-cutting of the state’s last Republican governor, Christine Todd Whitman.

Voters in these areas should hope their newly elected leaders don’t actually try to keep their promises.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Out Of Many, One?

Will Consolidation Of Taxing Districts Save Money?

Long Island. 125 school districts. 132 fire districts. 340 town special districts. Who can keep count any more?

Next door, in a city of 8 million, a single school system. [Within the single system, schools exceeding standards, others barely making the grade, and dozens of high schools, each maintaining their unique identity. So fall the arguments that, come consolidation, the gold standard in Jericho will de-evolve into the failing level of Roosevelt, or that East Meadow would lose its identity to Elmont.]

One sanitation department. One fire department. City water flowing through the pipes. And not a single "special" taxing district.

The discourse never strays far from the mark. "Property taxes are too high on Long Island." Yet, we fail to do the one thing that could conceivably lower (not cap -- lower) them.

Freeze the Assessment. Nope. Freeze home values at $1, and the tax rates will rise through the roof to meet the required levy. A school district budget of $40 million remains at $40 million, without regard of your home's assessment. Tax rates will rise in inverse proportion to decreasing assessments (and declining properties on the assessment role). And with decreasing State Aid, homeowners will pay even more as the tax levies, ala the surge waters of Katrina, continue to rise.

Cap the property tax. Sorry. We said, "lower the property tax," not slow its growth to 3 or 4 percent every year. [Do the math. In Just three years, a cap increases your tax by 10%. Where's the savings?]

Legalize basement apartments in single family homes. Supplemental income for homeowners, so they can afford to pay those outrageously high property taxes? We don't think so. The logic to such reasoning applies like a band-aid to a hemorraging artery. Issues of safety aside, the added burden upon services such as water and sanitation would necessitate an increase in the property tax, and a single family house, now assessed as a multi-family dwelling, well, you figure out the property tax on that one!

Stop using public money to pay for private schools. You heard us! Tax dollars to public schools. Period.

The State to fully fund public schools. Ideally, yes. Indeed, in our interpretation of the State Constitution [Article XI, Section 1 mandates that "The Legislature shall provide for the maintenance of a system of free common schools, wherein all children of this state may be educated." (Emphasis added.)], NY is required to finance a system of free public education. Did someone say, FREE? Reality check. Given the fiscal hole NYS is in, and the way New York's government operates -- or fails to, in its dysfunction -- look for less State Aid, not more!

Spend less of the taxpayers' money. YES!!! In a nutshell, curbing expenditures, trimming budgets, eliminating waste, cutting excesses, not spending money that government -- local and otherwise -- does not have.

In New York, from Albany to the local Board of Ed, it has, for generations, been spend, spend, spend. And when you have no more tax dollars at hand, borrow, indebting the next generation.


The tree is bare. The pot is empty.

Taxes on a Nassau County ranch on a 60'x100' lot? $10,250.

Taxes on a Queens County ranch on a 60'x100' lot? $3,475.

And we can't save the overburdened taxpayer by consolidating school districts and eliminating special districts? Wouldn't it at least be worth a try?

Where keeping services local makes sense -- as in neighborhood patroling by the police department (which, by the way, can be and is accomplished by a single department) -- keep it local. Otherwise, the decentralized system under which we now operate everything from garbage collection to water distribution simply does not work for John Q. Public.

They tried decentralizing schools in New York City, each school district having local control. It was a dismal failure, economies of scale notwithstanding.

You don't have to be a Nobel Prize winner to know that the special taxing districts (and, unlike the State's recently adopted consolidation measure, we include school districts among them) are strangling Long Island's homeowners.

Relying upon bogus fixes, or worse, doing nothing, is simply not an option.
-  - -
From Newsday's Opinion Pages:

Nobel winner's work challenges LI on consolidation

William Bianco and Regina Smyth are professors of political science at Indiana University.

Most Nobel Prize winners vanish from the news shortly after their award is announced. But the work of this year's winner in economics - who will accept her award Dec. 10 in Stockholm - speaks directly, and in unexpected ways, to one of the most vexing issues facing Long Island: whether to consolidate the multiple layers of schools, governments and municipal authorities that distinguish Nassau and Suffolk Counties.

Over many decades, Elinor Ostrom, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, has challenged the assumption that consolidation over a broad region is automatically going to be more efficient and cheaper than having many smaller organizations, each offering the same services locally.

She would have many questions to ask, for example, about Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi's recent proposal that the county executive be put in charge of a single, countywide school district, as a strategy for lowering the property taxes.

Consolidation tends to produce gains in efficiency, she has found, but also significant losses as organizations grow in size. So there is a tradeoff: We have to decide if the savings are worth the cost.

Over 40 years, Ostrom has explored how individuals successfully collaborate to allocate and preserve scarce natural resources.

She and her students and colleagues - including the two of us, who teach with her - have applied their theories to lobster fisheries in New England, forests in Indiana, Bolivia, Uganda and Tanzania, irrigation systems in Nepal, groundwater management in Australia, and cow grazing lands in Switzerland.

In a case especially resonant for Long Island, one of Ostrom's early studies took up the issue of merging of local police departments: Is one department in a region more efficient than several?

She found economies of scale with shared crime labs and dispatching, but when it came to patrolling neighborhoods, smaller departments with fewer layers of supervision were better at spotting early signs of problems, which turned out to be more efficient in the long run.

Ostrom has found that successful solutions, such as Costa Rica's management of pollution in the face of growing eco-tourism, often developed from the ground up. Rooted in local knowledge, these solutions were easier to implement and more likely to be successful than regulations imposed by a central government.

Efficiency can be trumped by the value of a local government's in-depth understanding of how ordinary people in a locale will be affected by changes in public policy.

How does this apply to thinking about the future of Long Island? A good example is the issue of school consolidation.

In its December 2008 report, Suozzi's state Property Tax Relief Commission raised the prospect of merging districts with fewer than 2,000 students, which would combine up to one-third of Long Island's school systems. The commission estimated millions of dollars in cost savings.

Ostrom and her colleagues would ask: What are we giving up for this savings? Is the trade-off worth it? And what exactly are we trying to get out of consolidation? How will consolidation achieve it? What do we lose by consolidating?

Staying local has advantages. With many small districts, a region as a whole is less vulnerable to failures, such as corruption, malfeasance or incompetence at high levels. Another advantage is expert knowledge: It's possible that a small district like Cold Spring Harbor may succeed not so much because of its wealth, but because it knows how to serve its community's needs extremely well.

Ostrom's team would ask: If the goal is to improve the delivery of education, then what is going to change in the classroom with consolidation?

Presumably you are not going to close schools right away; everyone will keep working as they have been. It's not as if you consolidate and suddenly free up enough money to hire 50 more teachers, and cut class sizes in half.

So the main change in staffing would be at the central office: one superintendent instead of two. You probably wouldn't reduce the assistant superintendents by very much, because there is a bigger population to manage.

A larger district can purchase supplies at discount, which isn't trivial. But not everything is pencils or school buses. Different districts may prefer one textbook or another for chemistry classes, for example. But if only a few different texts can be ordered to get bulk savings, say, there's no obvious advantage to the centralized purchasing - other than a windfall for some textbook publisher. In that situation, is the lower price of textbooks worth the loss that comes with one-size-fits-all teaching?

Ostrom would say if you want to centralize at all, centralize around functions that are clearly more efficient - the purchase of "public goods," for example, such as paper towels, pencils or motor oil, where everyone gets the same thing, and the amount of good is equal for everyone.

Of course, sometimes the smaller units she favors can do bad things. They can be under the radar and wind up being less accountable. Minorities can be more easily frozen out, because of their small numbers. The Long Island Index has found that the fragmented school system limits opportunities for students in low-income communities across the area. And Newsday has reported frequently on the patronage and wasteful spending that goes on in the Island's many special districts for fire, water, park and sewer services.

But on balance, Ostrom has found, the advantages of centralization are marginal compared with the possibilities opened up by the spread of information and commitment - people's belief that their opinions count - that come with staying small and local.

People arguing against centralization often sound like cranks who just want their own and don't see beyond their backyards. But this work has shown that sometimes when they express their fears of losing local control, they have a point.

Finally, Ostrom would ask, if consolidation is so compelling, why isn't it happening already? School districts and other authorities don't have to be merged into the same person, or organization or offices. There are many ways for them to cooperate - telephones, e-mail, texting - and talk to each other.

Her faith ultimately lies in the wisdom of local people. With the economy in the tank, people feel pressure to do something to lower their taxes. But in this case that something may be worse than what is already there.