Wednesday, April 27, 2011

If It Is Broke. . .

Why Ain't We Fixin' It?

You know that old saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" Meaning: It's working. Leave well enough alone.

Well, here on Long Island, things have been "broke" -- physically and fiscally -- for quite some time, and grumble as we may, seems we've been content to leave it alone rather than to even attempt a fix.

Infrastructure crumbling. "Downtowns" in the doldrums. Housing, even in a down market, unaffordable. Transportation system outmoded. Employment opportunities evaporating. Generation Next fleeing. Commercial centers, such as Nassau's hub, slowly becoming the Chernobyls of our island.

And those property taxes. New meaning to the chant of, We're Number 1! 

Yes, for too long, Nassau County had to play second fiddle to places like Westchester or Jersey. But now, we are firmly holding our own ('cause nobody else will touch it) in the highest property taxes in the nation category. Hooray for us!

Our prospects for unloading the burden? Not too promising, we're afraid. School taxes, which account for upwards of 60% of our property tax bills, are projected to continue to climb, while State Aid, in real dollars for our school districts (all 56 of them in Nassau, 127 island-wide) will likely fall.

School District administrators continue to rake in the big bucks. Teachers' Unions continue to demand more. Costs, from transportation to insurance, pensions to utilities, continue to skyrocket.

And here we remain, frozen in place, caught between the proverbial rock of wanting the best possible educational opportunities for our children, and the hard place of emptying our wallets to pay for what has too often become mediocrity and excess.

FixAlbany is little more than a special interest spin cycle. FixNewYork hangs its hat on that precarious 2% school tax cap, as if that was a cure-all. [Which part of "TAX INCREASE" don't we understand? Let's see. 2% per year. Ten years. Okay, you do the math...]

Consolidate school districts? Sure, but not ours.

Cap Superintendent salaries? All right. You go first.

Insist that Albany deliver on the guarantee of our State Constitution to provide a system of free public schools? Right. Freedom, even in our schools, is never free.

Do something to eliminate the inequities of State Aid, which favors upstate districts and shortchanges Long Island? Well, maybe next year.

Replace the regressive school property tax with a progressive income tax (or simply adjust the existing State income tax to earmark the dollars for our public schools)? Did someone say tax???

Tie the property tax to real income, rather than the artificial value of one's home? I'm still hearing the word tax...

Keep things the way they are, doing absolutely nothing, save talk a good game? Sounds like a plan to us!

Whether we're pining over school taxes, kvetching about special taxing districts, cursing the potholes or bemoaning the empty, dilapidated storefronts along "Main Street," other than paying hollow tribute to a bygone era (and paying that over the top tax bill), what are we really doing to correct our course, invest in our future, and right the mighty ship that once was the promise of suburbia?

Sure, they'll give us a farmer's market, or twelve, but with business districts little more than open sewers, housing, even in today's economy, out of reach, jobs nonexistent - and did we mention those outrageous property taxes - who's going to be left on Long Island to eat those delicious, organic, home-grown fruits and veggies?

Where development -- beyond the facetious ode to facade improvement by virtue of a wrought iron bench here, a planter there, and Victorian-style street lamps seemingly everywhere -- is no better than a four-letter word (with planning cum zoning rounding out the Scrabble board, letters all hoarded into one corner), just what are the prospects for a re-energized, reimagined, re-emergent Long Island?

Coliseum? Casino? Lighthouse Lite? Let's put it to a referendum, and then do nothing for the next ten years.

When talk -- or, worse still, Tweet -- supplants the very notion of action, and polls, surveys, conferences and endless visioning sessions have upended shovel to dirt, what is the hope for Long Island's future?

Believe it or not, we're optimists here at The Community Alliance. We truly believe that Long Island's best days, after far too many sleepless nights, are yet to appear on the horizon. Of course, we are realists, as well. Rather than to stand in place, immobilzed by fear, by inertia, by entrenched indifference, we need to begin to move forward. We need to take a long hard look at the big picture -- while taking into account the details -- and do more than merely consider our options. We need to take sustainable development, Smart Growth, and civic engagement well beyond the drawing board. Less talk. Much less. More doing. Much more.

It's broke, folks. Let's fix it!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Recycle. Reuse. Re, Er, Um, Whatever...

Remembering When Earth Day Really Meant Something

Back in the 1970s (why does that suddenly seem soooooooo very, very long ago?), when Earth Day, if not the Earth itself, was young, there was much ado, not only to commemorate, but actually to help heal, our planet.

Clean ups of parks, beaches, roadways, rivers and streams. Rallies to protect and improve the environment. Observances in every nook and cranny of this great land, from college campuses to local vest pocket parks.

Why, even the government joined in the celebration, clamping down on polluters, regulating emissions, and offering up public service announcements proding the nation to keep our planet clean.

Today, with more years behind it than many on this blue sphere have been alive, mention Earth Day, and, if you evoke more than a disengaged yawn, about all you'll hear is, "Oh yeah. Earth Day."

Sure, Google Earth Day (at least they remember), and you will no doubt find that our concern for Planet Earth abounds in cyberspace. Elsewhere, little more than mere mention.

Yes, towns, hamlets, civic and community organizations and, of course, those darn tree-hugging believers in the climate change hoax, recall the day, echoing its promise, evoking a faint hoorah. Still, Earth Day ain't what it used to was.

In our schools, there's little in the curriculum, other than a passing homage, perhaps, to Earth Day. Not enough time to expound on the virtues of keeping our planet safe for all creatures, great and small, what with the need to spend every classroom hour teaching to the tests.

Going Green used to mean something tangible. Doing something, proactively, to save the whales, cut down on CO2 and greenhouse gases, or help close that gapping hole in the Ozone layer. Today, Going Green is too often little more than a marketing tool. From Radio Shack to Starbucks, Earth Day is but a merchandising scheme to lure in the masses.

Why, even Congress (or at least one side of the aisle) has thrown Earth Day under the fume-spewing bus, hoping to end the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) role in oversight and regulation.

Granted, movements gain and lose momentum over time. They wane and ebb, much like the brown, oil-laden tides that blanket our shores with toxic waste. Wonder whether, a generation hence (if either mankind or any life on this good Earth will still be here), we'll be embracing the metaphors of Sustainability and Smart Growth the way we do Earth Day and Going Green? Sure, we'll have talked the talk. There's an abundance of that. But what will we have to show for it?

Clean air? Who needs it? Clean water? Highly overrated. Life as we know it? We'll worry about it tomorrow. Maybe.

Whatever happened to Keep America Beautiful? Remember those TV spots (pre-cable) featuring the Native American (we called them American Indians back then) shedding a tear over some inconsiderate boob tossing litter out of a car window? He'd be mortified if he had lived to see what we're doing to our poor planet today. And where's Woodsy Owl when we need him most?

Earth Day. Reduced, unlike Carbon emissions and water-borne carcinogens, to little more than a Hallmark moment.

We suppose that A Billion Acts of Green just don't go as far as they used to...

Happy, ho hum, Earth Day!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Passover Through The Ages

The Angel of Special Districts Passes Over The Houses Of Taxpayers [And He Stops Along The Way To Pick Up The Bread]

Hard to believe that we've been blogging this Passover Story going on seven years now, with absolutely nothing but matzo crumbs to show for it.

No surprise, then, that a recent survey shows that while New Yorkers as a whole favor consolidation of local government services, including special taxing districts, Long Islanders are more ambivalent, favoring, we suppose, not only the status quo, but greater cost and less efficiency as well.

We really do enjoy paying more while getting less, the notable exception being the folks in Town of Hempstead's Sanitary District 1, who not only continue to have their trash picked up at the back door (really?), but also get special sanitation trucks on the streets to pick up the leftover unleaven food during Passover.

Whether or not consolidating or eliminating local taxing districts, be they sanitary or fire, school or water, would actually save money or beget greater efficiency is a matter of ongoing debate. But, in the interest of our wallets and the efficacy of our Long Island, don't we owe it to ourselves, and our children (or so many of those who still choose to remain here) to at least try?

What is it they say about fools and their money?

Happy Passover to all!
- - -
From The Community Alliance Blog, March 9, 2005:

The Bread Of Our Affliction

A Passover Story, As Told By Counsel For Town Of Hempstead Sanitary District 1

An article appeared in a recent edition of the Nassau Herald on the subject of the Nassau County Comptroller's pending audit of several of the Special Districts, including Sanitary District 1. [We are reprinting the article below in its entirety, because you simply cannot make this stuff up!]

Commenting on the services provided by the Sanitary District, Nat Swergold, the chief counsel for Sanitary District 1, said "The district... accommodates the large Orthodox Jewish population in the area by arranging for special trucks during the eight holy days of Passover so bread can be disposed of, since observant Jews do not eat bread during the holiday."

Now, don't get us wrong. We appreciate the great lengths our Sanitary Districts go to in order to serve the public, but "special trucks during... Passover" to collect the bread?

What next? The fire districts placing extra fire trucks in service just in case the horse radish on the gefilte fish burns the roofs of our mouths? Or maybe the water districts will pump in extra water to our homes to help wash down the matzo?

Let's face it, Jews, be they Orthodox, Conservative, Reform or unaffiliated, are not hording bread prior to the holiday. Indeed, most Jews, logic dictates, try to consume the bread they do have in the house before Passover. Assuming any bread remains, most Jews I know (this blogger included), clean the house of bread BEFORE the start of the holiday, and not, certainly, "during the eight holy days" referred to by Mr. Swergold. Just what are these "special trucks" picking up?

Is this the best counsel for the Sanitary District can offer up as a raison d'etre for these Special Taxing Jurisdictions? If so, we've only one word for him: Gevalt!

One has to ask, do we really need three garbage collection days, a recycling day, a bulk pick up day and a yard waste pick up day, keeping in mind that it is Town Highways, not the Sanitary Districts, that sweeps our streets (all too infrequently) and plows the snow. Why - and we’re embarrassed to say this - there are some days when we have absolutely no trash to put out at the curb. Are we eligible for a rebate?

It doesn't take an Einstein - who, by the way, celebrated Passover in a secular vein - to realize that the existence of the Sanitary Districts, and other Special Districts within the township, cannot be substantiated "as is," and the cost to run these districts - special trucks for Passover aside - cannot be justified. At least not with a straight face. Why, in Sanitary District 6, we only have six Commissioners, shy of the ten required for a Minyan!

Clearly, what the Sanitary Districts are trying to put over on the taxpayers amounts to nothing less than unmitigated chutzpah.

According to Andrew Parise, the Mayor of Cedarhurst (which is in Sanitary District 1), "Curbside service wouldn't fly here." You mean to tell me they're picking up garbage at the door? [And here we are, in Sanitary District 6, paying twice the rate for mere curbside service.]

We just have two simple questions: (1) How many Sanitary District Commissioners does it take to change that dim light bulb over the head of the unwittingly inane Nat Swergold, and (2) How long will we, the taxpaying homeowners of the Town of Hempstead, allow ourselves to be played for fools?
- - -

Sanitary district audit planned County comptroller plans to explore consolidation of garbage pickup
By Andrew Coen

In an effort to save county residents money on the taxes they pay for services like garbage pickup and water, Nassau County Comptroller Howard S. Weitzman has announced plans to begin auditing some of the more than 400 special taxing districts throughout the county.

Sanitary District 1, which services the Five Towns and small portions of Lynbrook and Valley Stream, is among the five districts to be audited and considered for consolidation with other areas.

Other districts that will undergo audits include Sanitary District 2, which encompasses Baldwin, South Hempstead and Roosevelt; District 6, which takes in Elmont, North Valley Stream, Franklin Square, West Hempstead and Lakeview; the Port Washington Garbage District in the Town of North Hempstead, and the Syosset Sanitary District in the Town of Oyster Bay.

The districts were selected for audits based on criteria such as high tax rates, large accumulated surpluses and high tax increases in 2004-05, the comptroller said.

According to Weitzman, along with residents paying village, town and county taxes, there are nearly 400 sanitation and water districts with 1,600 different tax rates, amounting to a "hidden government" that adds to the already heavy tax burden. Weitzman said he would like to explore the feasibility of town governments' consolidating some of the special districts to save taxpayers money and operate them with greater efficiency.

"The growth of these special districts reflects the haphazard development of Nassau County in the last century, from a collection of unassociated towns, villages and hamlets," said Weitzman. "Some of [these districts] may be necessary and some may be well-run, but the persistence of so many separate governmental authorities, with their own employees and tax rates, tends to hide the true cost of local government and contributes to our high local tax burden."

Nat Swergold, the chief counsel for Sanitary District 1, said he does not see his district meeting any of Weitzman's criteria for an audit, since, Swergold said, the district does not have a high surplus, has one of the lowest tax rates in the state and has not had any hefty tax increases. "We are probably a target for this audit because we are the largest [sanitary district]," said Swergold, adding that Sanitary District 1 services more than 30,000 households.

According to Swergold, last year's tax rate for single-family residences in District 1 was $12.58 per $100 of the assessed value of a home, which is half the rate of District 2 ($24.62 per $100) and District 6 ($26.05 per $100).

"[District 1's] tax rates are much lower than the rest of the districts," said Cedarhurst Mayor Andrew Parise. "I don't know who would provide better service than we get here."

Swergold said that while he welcomes an investigation into his district, because it is well run, he does not think the audit is necessary, since the state comptroller audits the district periodically. He added that he could not envision any sort of consolidation of the areas to save money, since each sanitation district has different needs. "I think [consolidation] is not a good idea, because each area and each district is unique," said Swergold, who has been the attorney for District 1 since 1972. "There is no way we could keep these services if there were consolidation."

Swergold said that District 1 is unique compared with other sanitary districts, in part because its workers pick up trash in the rear of residents' homes, which means residents do not have to place garbage curbside unless they are disposing of heavy items. The district operates its own recycling plant in North Lawrence and, as a result, has the highest recycling rate of any sanitary district in the state, according to Swergold. The district also accommodates the large Orthodox Jewish population in the area by arranging for special trucks during the eight holy days of Passover so bread can be disposed of, since observant Jews do not eat bread during the holiday.

"Curbside service wouldn't fly here," Parise said of the unique services offered to residents in District 1.

According to Weitzman, the goal of the audits is to provide a better understanding of the districts'

expenditures, hiring and procurements practices and the efficiency of their operations. He said that additional audits of other special districts in the county would be considered depending on how the initial examination goes.

The comptroller's decision to initiate audits follows a January report by County Assessor Harvey Levinson that showed that many special taxing jurisdictions, like garbage and water districts, spend millions of dollars each year with little observation by the public. The report prompted Levinson to call on the comptroller to audit those districts in the county.

"Homeowners who pay widely different tax rates for the same services within a town are entitled to know how their ever-increasing tax dollars are spent," said Levinson. "I am confident that Comptroller Weitzman's independent examination of sanitation districts operating within the towns will lead to sensible cost-cutting measures, consolidation or possibly even the elimination of these unnecessary invisible governments."

The planned audits have the support of some top state officials, including Comptroller Alan Hevesi, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. "In beginning these audits, Comptroller Weitzman is addressing the need for greater public oversight of these taxing districts," said Hevesi. A 2002 audit of some of these special districts by then state Comptroller Carl McCall found that several districts kept unreasonably high reserve balances.

Weitzman's audits will examine administrative and operating expenses and the appropriateness of fund balances.

Comments about this story? or (516) 569-4000 ext. 210.

Friday, April 15, 2011

"How'r They Doin'?"

"Not So Well," According To Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch

Long Island Legislators fail to live up to pledge

This may not surprise you (it certainly came as no surprise to us), but many of those same State Legislators who hail from Long Island -- signers all of Ed Koch's New York Uprising Pledge to reform redistricting -- have now reneged on their promise.

And here you thought their word was their bond. Well, it was, until the election was over.

We can go on and on about promises unkept and pledges broken, but why not let Mayor Koch tell it like it is. The sad tale of, "41 Dishonorable Legislators."
- - -

As you know, there are some lawmakers who, despite signing written pledges last year, are now standing in the way of redistricting reform. 41 of them, to be exact, including nearly the entire Republican conference in the Senate.

Make no mistake, this betrayal of the public trust can only be described one way: Dishonorable.

This week, thanks to your support, we were able to push back. Your generous contributions allowed us to send 100,000 automated "robo-calls" into the districts of lawmakers who reneged, so I could inform voters that their Senator or Assemblymember is breaking their promise, and holding up reform.

Click here to hear one of the calls yourself - this is the one to voters in Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos' district.

And the impact of the calls is snowballing. Media around the state - in Rochester, Westchester, Buffalo, Utica, Hudson Valley, Albany, Auburn, Long Island, Watertown, and more - is covering the pledge-breakers, and scorning them in editorials. Not to mention all the other groups that have put the new "Enemies" on notice - from ReShapeNY, whose members are holding forums in districts around the state, to the New Roosevelt Initiative, which just announced a rally in Senator Greg Ball's district.

At least one legislator got the message right away: The day after the robo-calls began, Sean Hanna, Assemblyman from Rochester, announced that he had just become a co-sponsor of the redistricting bill. I halted the calls to his district immediately, and congratulated him; we hold no grudges.

Below, you'll find a list of the 41 legislators who signed our pledges, and have so far reneged. They deserve the scorn of their constituents and - and all New Yorkers - for dishonorably breaking their word.

Ed Koch
Founder, New York Uprising

These are the 41 lawmakers named "Enemies of Reform" this week, for reneging on their pledges. Please use the links to call or write them, and demand that they keep their word on redistricting.


Al Graf, AD 5

Joseph Saladino, AD 12

Michael Montesano, AD 15

Thomas McKevitt, AD 17

David McDonough, AD 19

Edward Ra, AD 21

Bill Scarborough, AD 29

Ken Blankenbush, AD 122

Christopher Friend, AD 137

Andrew Goodell, AD 150


Ken LaValle, SD 1

John Flanagan, SD 2

Lee Zeldin, SD 3

Owen Johnson, SD 4

Carl Marcellino, SD 5

Kemp Hannon, SD 6

Jack Martins, SD 7

Chuck Fuschillo, SD 8

Dean Skelos, SD 9

Marty Golden, SD 22

Andrew Lanza, SD 24

Bill Larkin, SD 39

Greg Ball, SD 40

Stephen Saland, SD 41

Roy McDonald, SD 43

Hugh Farley, SD 44

Betty Little, SD 45

Joe Griffo, SD 47

Patty Ritchie, SD 48

John DeFrancisco, SD 50

James Seward, SD 51

Tom Libous, SD 52

Tom O'Mara, SD 53

Michael Nozzolio, SD 54

James Alesi, SD 55

Joe Robach, SD 56

Cathy Young, SD 57

Patrick Gallivan, SD 59

Mark Grisanti, SD 60

Michael Ranzenhofer, SD 61
George Maziarz, SD 62

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"Nassau County Is In A State Of Repair"

Or Is It, Disrepair?

"Repair" signifies that things -- like roads along Main Street, the infrastructure that is the foundation of our local economy, the tax base, long-eroding, the deficit -- are getting fixed.

Unfortunately, there is little, beyond the hollow rhetoric from both sides of the aisle, to indicate that Nassau County is on the road to recovery, let alone that the road is in the process of being repaved.

County Executive Ed Mangano is quick to point out the problems (and to blame most if not all of them on his predecessor), but falls short of offering real solutions. [Someone needs to clue us in on the numbers, too. If Mangano, as per his TV spot, turned a $133 million deficit into a surplus, how is it that we now have a $176 million deficit in Nassau County? We need more smoke to cover the mirrors here!]

The loyal opposition, meanwhile, is swift with its condemnation, telling us what we do not need -- a casino, for instance -- but offering little  more than homage to what we do need -- next-generation housing, among them -- without providing a roadmap (potholes sold seperately) showing how to get there.

State and Nassau County Democratic Chair, Jay Jacobs, calls Mangano's governance, "bumbling." With hindsight, it becomes all too clear that leadership during the Democrats' tenure wasn't all that much better.

So what's the problem and who's to blame? The old borrow and spend, hallmarks of both sides of the political spectrum, the stuff that county, town and school districts alike are made of, creating huge deficits and, ultimately, gargantuan paybacks, as in taxes, fees and rate hikes.

Who's to blame? Not Ed Mangano (he said so himself). Not Jay Jacobs. Not the Dems or the GOP. Heck, they've simply tried to give us, their constituents, exactly what we want. More of this. More of that. And then a bit of these and those to go along with them.

Never mind the cost. We'll worry about that later.

Well, folks, "later" is suddenly upon us. [Actually, it was upon us more than a decade ago, when Nassau County, in boom times, was at the brink of the financial precipice. We changed administrations, but every one of us wanted the good times to continue to roll.]

We can't blame the elected. After all, they are merely a reflection of our own sordid desires, and our unwillingness to pay the pipers for the tunes we demanded they play. And imperfect as they are in implementing our wishes, our representatives, bumbling and blithering, term after term, have given us what we have asked for -- sort of. A great colossus of government-induced spending for which there appears no end (nor cap) in sight.

Whom did we expect to bear the burden of paying for 56 separate school districts in Nassau County alone? What about those 200-plus special taxing districts, each emptying our wallets into their coffers? In a good economy -- make that a great economy -- Nassau floundered. And now, with markets wallowing, fiscal cupboards bare, NIFA barking at our heels, and inflation on the horizon? Exactly what did we expect?

Generation Next is fleeing. Seniors are struggling. The middle class is shrinking. The infrastructure -- much of it still mired, by the inertia of local government, in the 1950s -- is crumbling.

The mindset of the electorate here on Long Island? Apparently, doing nothing remains a viable option.

Perhaps Ed Mangano said it best (though not quite eloquently): "We're doing what the people are looking for..."

The cartoon character, Pogo, may not have been entirely off the mark when he said, "We have met the enemy and he is us!" Indeed, we have only ourselves to blame, really, for this awful mess we're in.
- - -
From the cyberpages of

The Democratic Response:

Nassau Dem Chair Responds to State of the County

Nassau Democratic Chair Jay Jacobs offers the following response to the State of the County.

It was hard to watch County Executive Ed Mangano stand before every resident of Nassau County and twist the truth about the situation we're in.

Mangano campaigned on a promise to improve our county’s finances, but his tenure as county executive has been marked by incompetence and fiscal irresponsibility.

The economy is struggling. There’s no argument about that. Too many of our neighbors can’t find jobs. Too many of our kids are leaving Long Island to seek their fortunes elsewhere – and why should they stay here? Our county executive has done nothing to help our communities weather this storm.

Mangano and the Republican majority in the county legislature promised to fix our county’s broken property tax assessment system, which overcharges homeowners by a total of $100 million every year. Their idea of a fix, however, was to make schools responsible for providing refunds to homeowners who pay too much.

The recession has forced school districts across Nassau to cut programs, fire teachers and raise taxes. Now that Mangano has made them responsible for doling out property tax refunds, they will be forced to make more cuts and increase their share of your property tax bill.

I want to emphasize this point: Ed Mangano wants us to believe that his budget doesn’t raise taxes, but he isn't telling the truth.

Mangano has also levied a new tax on nonprofit organizations, although he insists the new tax is a “fee.” This new tax charges nonprofits like hospitals and universities for using the county’s sewer system. To pay it, these nonprofits will have to raise tuition rates and levy fees of their own. Whatever you call this new burden, it amounts to more money out of your pocket.

Mangano needs to be honest with the people of Nassau County. He hasn’t fixed our broken assessment system. He simply shifted the burden away from the county. He didn’t pass a no-tax budget. He is forcing other entities to charge you for the costs of his policies. Our county executive can't keep treating the county budget like a shell game.

Under Mangano’s bumbling tenure, the state has had to take over the county budget. Simply put, our current county executive isn’t up to the challenge of governing during these difficult times. We need leaders who will make smart cuts and pursue real reform of our county’s assessment system, rather than passing the cost of the problem onto our schools. We need leaders who will support smart growth.

We don’t need a casino. We don’t need the traffic it would bring. We need next-generation housing. We need places for our kids to move when they get their first jobs. We need places for young people to congregate and socialize and form the bonds that hold communities together. With well-designed neighborhoods come new residents, who pay taxes and help our county invest in its future. We need a place for a new generation of Long Islanders to settle and grow.

We’re all in this together. That’s why we have to be careful about the cuts and investments we make in hard times – and Ed Mangano isn’t thinking in anyone’s future but his own. That’s why he slashed funding to Long Island Bus. That’s why he is imposing a new tax on hospitals and colleges. That’s why he wants to build a casino instead of a neighborhood. These proposals all sound good the way he spins them, but underneath his rhetoric, they are bad policies that will leave Nassau worse off in the long run.

Jay Jacobs is the chairman of the Nassau County Democratic Committee as well as the New York State Democratic Committee.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Bay Park Follies?

The Price (Tag) of Privatizing Public Parks

Our good friends at PARCnassau find the County Legislature's approval of the private use of Bay Park's athletic fields -- at taxpayer expense -- dismaying, to say the least.

Are we giving away our public parks and open spaces? And, at what cost to taxpayers, homeowners, and future generations of park-goers? A boon in revitalizing and maintaining a local community park, or a sellout to a private group with the public to bear the burden?

Read on, and feel free to comment below. They are your County parks, after all. Well, at least they were...
- - -
Yesterday, Monday, April 4, 2011 the Rules Committee of the county legislature voted to allow the County Parks Department to finalize an agreement with Molloy College, Rockville Centre for the Occupancy and Use Permit for the Bay Park athletic fields. In effect, this commits COUNTY TAXPAYERS to underwrite Molloy College’s athletic program for $3 million up front and field maintenance costs for up to 30 years. This decision begs the question, why?

· Why was this proposal brought up in the Rules Committee instead of the Parks Committee?
· Why did the Republican majority ignore calls for further data that would insure an informed vote?
· Any logical reading of the agreement shows it to be, in fact, a lease and not a permit. Giving a private entity total use and control of most of a county park for up to 30 years is a lease, nothing less. Calling this a permit is just a way of avoiding scrutiny under the Alienation of Municipal Parklands case law which would require approval of the NYS Legislature. So, why was this done?

The vote was along party lines with the Republican majority outvoting the Democrat minority. (Will we ever see voting in accordance with personal knowledge and belief? Apparently not in Nassau County.) Testimony by PARCnassau and Vincent Esposito, former president of the Bay Park Civic Association against the proposal, stimulated a lively debate among the legislators about public access to the fields. A motion to table the matter until glaring omissions of public rights and access were investigated was totally ignored.

So who is the real loser in all this? The taxpaying Nassau County resident who will now have to finance a $3 million capital project bond to improve the fields for a private college to play on to the exclusion of the general public. The same residents will have to pay tax moneys to maintain those fields for up to 30 years for the private college’s sports and continuing exclusion of the public.

The only remaining hope is that either NIFA will nix this expensive agreement as not in the public interest or that the NYS Department of Parks will bring action to have this agreement brought under jurisdiction of the Alienation of Municipal Parklands case law. Any and all citizens of Nassau could and should petition NIFA and the State to weigh in on this issue.

For too long the very government entities charged with the fiduciary responsibility for our county parks have instead either violated or ignored that responsibility at the expense of the public that voted them into office. Shame on Them!

Park Advocacy & Recreation Council of Nassau
Bruce Piel, Chairman
246 Twin Lane East, Wantagh, NY 11793
(516) 783-8378

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Town of Hempstead Tries Harder

Redevelopment of Avis Site Begins on Old Country Road

It may have taken nearly a decade, but the long-abandoned former headquarters of Avis, the car rental company, situated on Old Country Road in Westbury, is coming down, making way for commercial and retail space, a stone's throw from the Roosevelt Field and Source malls.

Long ripe for redevelopment considering its decade-old brownfield status, it will be wonderful to see the old eyesore of the Avis site reinvented. It is also heartening to see the Town of Hempstead partnering with Equity One, a major player in the development of commercial properties, this toward the removal of what has long been a blight upon Old Country Road.

Hopefully, the new space, once completed, will be utilized wisely, and we will not see merely the addition of vacant storefronts and retail space that has plagued not only Old Country Road, but Main Streets across Long Island, since the economic downturn. Just down the road, the half empty Source Mall is floundering.

If "build it and they will come" heralds in a new era of prosperity for Old Country Road, the project may well be a boon for the local economy.

Clearly, the Avis building had to go. What was left of it was a ramshakled shell of its former self. Breathing new life into that Old Country Road could only be for the better.

Turning the corner, heading just south, lies yet another major corridor in desperate need of a facelift. Hempstead Turnpike, where another brownfield, the dilapidated Nassau Coliseum and the surrounding desolation of the Nassau Hub, awaits a renaissance of its own.

Onward and, one can only hope, upward!
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From the Town of Hempstead:

Knocking Down Old Offices & Building Up the Economy - Hempstead, Equity One Kick Off $100 Million Development at Former Avis Site

A decade after Avis Rent-A-Car moved its headquarters from Garden City to Parsippany, New Jersey, Hempstead Town and Equity One, Inc. knocked down some of the last remaining walls of the car rental giant's decrepit former corporate headquarters. At a media event attended by Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray, Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby and Jeffrey Olson, Chief Executive Officer of Equity One, Inc., the officials announced the upcoming construction of an impressive 330,000 square foot retail, banking and restaurant development that will boast a $100 million investment into the local economy through direct construction related expenditures. Also at the press conference were Hempstead Town Clerk Mark Bonilla, Receiver of Taxes Don Clavin.

"As we knock down this office building, we are building up our local economy," stated Murray. "While significant development projects have stalled across the nation during this economic crisis, Hempstead Town is proud to have worked together with a highly respected developer to bring about a progressive project at this Old Country Road site. At the same time, I would like to commend Equity One for investing in America's largest township."

Impressive in scale and aesthetically attractive, the new development will restore luster to a major Long Island commercial thoroughfare. The projected composition of the buildings will include over 315,000 square feet of retail space, almost 11,000 square feet of restaurant area and over 3,200 square feet designated for a financial institution.

Increased tax revenues, positive economic impacts as well as the creation of construction jobs and long-term employment are key benefits of the Equity One venture. Sales tax receipts totaling over $4.5 million are anticipated.

Permanent employment in management, retail service, business and financial operations, among other fields, is expected to result in over 600 jobs. During the construction phase an annual average approaching 500 workers will be employed. Finally, the total economic activity that would result from the construction of the former Avis site is projected to be in the range of $160 million.

"Creating jobs, stimulating the economy and generation of tax revenues are important, particularly in a difficult economy," stated Murray. "This Equity One venture will beautify Old Country Road, create a great new destination and expand our economy," added Goosby.

"We're thrilled to be here celebrating with Supervisor Murray and other elected officials. The Town of Hempstead has been a tremendous partner during the entire development process, and we look forward to working with them as we prepare to start construction on this wonderful project," stated Olson.

Officials from Hempstead Town and Equity One called the project a uniquely positive emblem of the resiliency of the area's economy, the strength of Hempstead Town's finances and the ability of Equity One to successfully develop vibrant construction projects through strategic planning and comprehensive economic analysis. Many developers have pointed to the importance of governments that are fiscally well managed with stable tax bases in selecting sites for economic investment. Hempstead Town boasts the highest Wall Street credit ratings available, and Supervisor Murray has already commenced work on a 2012 budget that will freeze all town taxes. Additionally, the resiliency of the town's tax base has been evidenced through increased sales tax revenues over the past three quarters (year to year comparison).

"We're pleased that Equity One has selected America's largest township for this important project," said Murray. "Progressive and reasonable development like this contributes to our stable tax base and bolsters the town's top-notch finances."

Olson noted, "Between this project and our recent acquisition of Westbury Plaza, Equity One will invest more than $200 million in this municipality. Old Country Road is one of the strongest retail corridors in the nation, and we believe our commitment to this area will be beneficial both to our company and to the surrounding community."

Hempstead Town officials played an important role in facilitating the development at 900 Old Country Road. Murray and the entire Town Board reviewed and approved the developer's site plan for the project. Ensuring that the development was consistent with surrounding real estate uses, determining that the construction could be accommodated by the local infrastructure and reviewing aesthetic impacts of the project were all issues that the Town Board considered when they approved the site plan. Additionally, the town's Board of Appeals granted variances that allowed for a reasonable increase in the allowable density of the development as well as relief from other zoning restrictions.

"Today we're knocking down walls and building up the economy at the same time," concluded Murray. "Working together, Equity One and Hempstead officials are beautifying a major business corridor, bringing about progressive development, creating jobs, stimulating the economy and generating tax revenues. This major project shows that even in difficult economic times, quality developers and financially strong governments can accomplish great things together."