Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Make Mine A Dissolution, On Rye

Rye Town Supervisor Leads Charge to Dissolve

When one hears about campaigns to dissolve municipal entities -- whether fire districts, water districts, or entire townships -- rarely are the proponents of such initiatives the very public officials who run (and benefit from) the place.

Come now the Town of Rye, NY, where no one less than the Supervisor himself, Joe Carvin, is leading the charge to, in effect, cut off his own nose despite his face. [Actually, Mr. Carvin waives the $17,000 salary offered by the Town.]

Granted, the Town of Rye, with an annual budget of $3.6 million, doesn't provide much in the way of services, same being provided by the villages that lay within its borders, or by the encompassing County of Westchester. Still, to even entertain the notion of eliminating an existing layer of government -- particularly one that does little more than collect taxes -- is appealing. That the wheels are being put in motion by the Town Supervisor himself is, to say the least, refreshing, if not extraordinary.

Now, dissolving the Town of Rye is not likely to save all that much in dollars and cents. Indeed, the Town itself is spending $50,000 in State grant money to study whether it should do itself in. [We're quite good at "studying" here in New York. "Doing," not so much...]

That said, efficiencies are not always readily visible on the balance sheet. Sometimes, there's that proverbial "read between the lines" in terms of eliminating duplication of effort, streamlining operations, and having one less layer of bureaucracy to deal with in picking up garbage, removing snow, fixing streets, and so on.

Of course, we'd be delusional to so much as think that any Supervisor, Mayor, Commissioner or Trustee here on Long Island would be so bold as to follow Rye Town's Carvin down the road to dissolution. Then again, with dwindling resources, changing demographics, and the migration of both young and old from our shores, economy may dictate where reason so refuses.

In an era when doing more with less -- or even less with less -- has become the calling card of fiscal conservatives, and doing without (as in, do we really need sanitation services 6 days per week?) has become the new normal, maybe, just maybe, more of us -- including a local official or two -- will give some serious thought to dissolving a couple of taxing districts (or at least to consolidating a few), and calling for lower (not merely capped) property taxes in the morning!
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From The Wall Street Journal:

Pondering the Why for Rye

RYE, N.Y.—Town Supervisor Joe Carvin wants to issue his own pink slip.

He's leading a charge to dissolve the Town of Rye, the 350-year-old municipality he's headed for three years. The town is the government version of a holding company, serving as a shell for the Westchester County villages of Port Chester and Rye Brook, and Mamaroneck's Rye Neck section.

Despite its $3.6 million budget, the Town of Rye doesn't provide any sanitation, health or police services; they are provided by the other municipalities and by Westchester County.

The town collects taxes, conducts property assessments and maintains two parks, a number of bridges and a court. It employs 18 people, and paid out close to $2 million in salaries and benefits last year. Mr. Carvin, a hedge-fund manager at Altima Partners in New York City, has declined the $17,000 salary his predecessor received.

"The question is: What exactly does the town of Rye do?" said Gary Zuckerman, a former Rye Brook village trustee.

This spring, the municipalities are using a $50,000 state grant to study the idea of doing away with the town.

The move comes amid a state-wide push to consolidate more than 4,000 local municipalities in an effort to pare away layers of bureaucracy that drive up costs and taxes.

The problem is particularly acute in Westchester, Rockland and Nassau counties, all among the top 10 counties with the highest property taxes in the U.S., according to an analysis of Census data by the Tax Foundation.

In 2009, then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo proposed since-enacted legislation that allows citizens to launch a dissolution process without government approval—if they can get 10% of an area's registered voters to sign a petition. And last year the state gave $1.3 million to local governments to study municipal dissolutions and consolidations.

The push has yet to yield many consolidations. Last year's budget halved the state's $11.5 million appropriation to fund efficiency grants, and next year's budget is likely to keep the funding flat at $5 million. While at least a dozen municipalities have taken steps toward dissolution, only 38 villages have actually dissolved since 1920, according to a state report.

Last March, the village of Perrysburg in upstate New York voted to dissolve the village into the town. With 408 residents and a $290,000 annual budget, the village's population declined by 5% and the tax base was eroding. New York's Department of State estimates $125,000 in annual cost savings.

Currently, more than 30 local governments are looking into dissolution.

Dissolving local entities isn't easy. Over the years, municipalities have taken on billions of dollars in debt that other local governments don't want to assume. What's more, leaders of municipalities that seem prime for dissolution often have no interest in volunteering their jobs for elimination.

Mr. Carvin took office three years ago with the idea of consolidating the myriad local governments. His ideal solution would be to merge everything into the City of Rye. It split away from the town in 1942, and provides police, fire and trash services. Unlike villages, it has the power to tax residents.

"We'd go from lots of levels of government to just one and reduce expenditures by 20%...but we couldn't get the political support behind that," Mr. Carvin says. So he turned to Plan B: garnering support for dissolving the Town of Rye.

The growth of the villages over the decades has left the Town of Rye performing a hodgepodge of functions. It budgeted about $7,500 to put on holiday celebrations, $18,000 to run elections, $131,000 for legal expenses and $3,500 for veteran flags. More than $230,000 is used to pay down the town's $4.6 million debt.

Mr. Zuckerman, an attorney who moved to Rye Brook more than 25 years ago, pays taxes to New York state, Westchester County, the Blind Brook school district, the Town of Rye and the Village of Rye Brook.

"If it sounds confusing, it's because it is," says Mr. Zuckerman, who has been studying local layers of government for more than a decade. "We need to study what governments should provide and at what costs."

Write to Shelly Banjo at

Monday, March 14, 2011

No Shelter from the Storm

Animal House!

Be prepared for what you are about to see. The woman in the video with the short hair is Pat Horan, the current director of the Town of Hempstead Animal Shelter. She is the person who says "kill the kitty." By the way, Pat makes over $100,000 a year as a Town employee. Yes, we said over $100,000 a year. Just keep adding the alleged misdeeds to the list while padding the Town's payroll, and load on the insult to the ever-mounting injury!

Call Kate Murray, Town of Hempstead Supervisor, at 516-489-6000 and demand that Pat Horan, Shelter Director, be dismissed. Better still, let the buck stop with the Town Supervisor. Demand Kate Murray's immediate resignation!
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We Won't Get Fooled Again!

Or Will We???

Another tax year, and yet another promise by Town of Hempstead Supervisor, Kate "The Merciless" Murray, to "freeze" Town property taxes.

Take a look at Kate's press release, republished below, and those of tax years past, all alluding to a "freeze" of Town property taxes. Then, if you dare, pull out your property tax statements for this year, last year and the year before that, and tell us, were your Town property taxes "frozen?"

We suppose, like any big lie, this one, told long enough and spread far enough, through media ranging from the fabled "Murraygram" to the ever-regurgitated Town press release, will eventually be accepted as the truth.

The bottom line, of course, on that property tax bill, tells a much different story. The numbers, translating into dollars out of the pockets of homeowners and business owners, do not lie. The net increases in the tax levies convey a reality that stands in stark contrast to the hyperbole of Kate Murray's land of make-believe. Then again, a lie will make it half way around the world -- and all the way around Hempstead Town - before the truth has a chance to put its pants on.

To accept the notion that the Town of Hempstead "freezes" anything, but for the vision of suburbia, long-frozen in a 1950s myopic mindset of a Levitt home surrounded by that white picket fence, is to be delusional - or a GOP Committeeman on the Town's payroll.

One wonders whether residents will eventually wake up to the truth behind tax "freeze" and "holding the line," calling out the Supervisor, and holding our elected officials accountable. The day when beleaguered taxpayers will finally say, "Enough, already!"
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From the Town of Hempstead Ministry of Misinformation:

Murray To Present Tax Freeze Budget - Hempstead Town Boasts Highest Credit Ratings, Rock Solid Finances

"Budgeting during an economic crisis is not easy," cautioned Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray as she announced that she is crafting a budget that will freeze all town taxes for 2012. "I am working with my colleagues on the town board, and will present a tax-freeze budget that is accountable to taxpayers later this year. We will be able to do this because we have adhered to the simple yet profound Boy Scout credo, 'Be Prepared.'"

The Supervisor pointed out that controlling the town's discretionary costs, as well as preparing a multi-year fiscal plan and adjusting budgeted amounts such as mortgage recording revenues for the current economic downturn have resulted in rock solid budgets that have earned the highest available Wall Street credit ratings (Aaa, Moody's Investor Service; AAA, Standard & Poor's Ratings Services). Furthermore, Murray's administration has rejected reliance on "one-shot" (non-recurring) revenues to balance budgets and scrupulously avoided increased borrowing to meet ongoing government costs. These measures have protected the township's residents from the fiscal instability that plagues the federal government, New York State and many localities.

"Unfortunately, many other governments did not prepare and plan for the recession, leaving taxpayers to deal with painful cuts in government services and exposing future generations to the fallout of staggering budget deficits," stated Hempstead Town Senior Councilman Anthony J. Santino. "Kate Murray and I will not take taxpayers down that path. Because we have prepared for a difficult economy and budgeted carefully, we can offer a tax-freeze budget and maintain all services in force."

Perhaps the best indicator of the integrity and reliability of a particular government's budgeting practices lies in the reviews of independent financial analysts and the credit ratings of Wall Street rating agencies. In fact, the independent Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) has conferred its Excellence in Financial Reporting Award upon Hempstead Town every year since 2003. And, Moody's Investor Services, the respected Wall Street rating agency, has based its top rating of Hempstead's finances on "the town's prudent fiscal management characterized by conservative budgeting practices, development of multi-year financial forecasts..."

"Our straightforward approach to budgeting has earned the respect of credit rating agencies on Wall Street and won the trust of neighbors on Main Street," said Murray. "We'll continue to justify that trust with a budget that is responsible and holds the line on all town taxes."

The officials pointed out that a key benefit of aggressive fiscal management is that it allows the town to maintain important programs and initiatives that stimulate the economy and create jobs while encouraging development that expands the town's tax base. One such job-creating town service is HempsteadWorks, the town's one-stop career center. Almost 15,000 clients found employment in 2009 through this fee-free service center. Hempstead Town is also supporting the creation of local construction, engineering and associated jobs in the private sector through a $50 million capital improvement program. The program funds road and building construction, marine bulkhead work and other job-boosting projects. Finally, Hempstead's well-managed budgets and stable tax base have attracted three major development projects for the coming year that will create jobs and generate local economic activity.

"During tough economic times it's important that we do everything possible to help neighbors make ends meet," concluded Murray. "We're freezing all town taxes and at the same time crafting a local stimulus program, offering career services to job seekers, and encouraging responsible development that will pump needed private sector dollars into our local economy. In short, we've heeded the Boy Scout credo, "Be Prepared,' and taxpayers in our township are benefiting from our fiscally responsible budgeting practices."

Thursday, March 03, 2011

A Tax Revolt By Any Other Name. . .

Tax Levies Rise As "Revolt" Subsides

They may have taken to the streets in Egypt, Yemen and Libya, but here on Long Island, there's every indication that our protests are limited to the penned gripe and the occasional public moan, ventures to the streets confined to a walk to the mailbox to pick up the latest Statement of Taxes.

That "line" they say is being "held" or "frozen" is moving again, steadily upward, as property taxes continue to spiral out of control.

Arriveth the Statement of Taxes for the Nassau County/Town of Hempstead 2011 General Tax Levy, and, lo and behold (more like, high and be shocked), someone's finger apparently got stuck on the "+" key.

County General Purposes tax levy, up 9.89%. County Police, up 6.05%. County Sewage Collection, up 11.88%.

Sure, there's only so much $435 million in County tax levies can buy, but didn't the County Exec say he wasn't raising our taxes? You can do the math, but clearly, the pluses outnumber the minuses in the "Change from Prior Year" column by nearly 48%.

So, how's that tax revolt working out for you?

Meanwhile, over at the Town of Hempstead, where Supervisor Kate Murray's "freeze" leaves us out in the cold, Parking District taxes rose by 12.33%. The Town Park District levy is up 9.07%. Kick up Town Lighting by 3.96%, Town Building/Zoning by 6.47% (must be for all those enforcement officers), and Town Highway Repairs/Improvements (who is kidding whom?) by 6.50%.

And while the tax levy for the Town Refuse Disposal District decreased by 19.46%, those who "enjoy paying more" for the privilege of the "local control" offered by the so-called special districts saw the tax levy rise in Sanitary District 6 by a whopping 15.07%. So, let us see. There's less garbage to dispose of, but more garbage to collect? Hmmm. Guess it's a matter of efficiencies...

Yes, the Town's General Purposes tax levy was essentially "frozen." The remainder of the Town's tax bill (save Refuse Disposal), more icing on the Town's cake.

The bottom line on the latest tax bill, for most Nassau County/Town of Hempstead homeowners, is a  nearly 6% net increase in property taxes. Not exactly a "freeze." Nowhere near "holding the line."

Mind you, this does NOT include school property taxes. Depending upon your district, that was an additional increase in the tax levy of upwards of 8%.

Hey, it's only money. Your money. Well, it was. Now it's their money...

Maybe next year, they'll talk "cap" instead of "freeze." Either way, that's more property taxes, not less, or even the same. [If a "freeze" means higher taxes, you can only imagine what a "cap" would portend!]

Okay. It costs alot to light the roadways and fix the streets. Apparently, it costs even more to keep taxpayers in the dark (we told you to close the lights when you leave LI) and turn biways into lunar landscapes (are we zoned for that?).

Tax revolt? Perhaps next year. For now, the only thing revolting is the property tax bill!

P.S. Wonder where the Town of Hempstead hid the $7 million tab for running the Town's Animal Shelter. Clearly, we need a special district for that...