Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The School Property Tax Paradox

Where Is Albert Einstein When You Need Him?

“The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.” — Albert Einstein, physicist

Apparently, Professor Einstein never had to deal with school taxes on Long Island. Unfortunately, we do!

This blogger attended a meeting of the local school board Tuesday evening, during which a discussion ensued (as it often does) on school budgets, past, present and future.

While the school board, and its attorney, did their best, we suppose, to explain the impact of assessments, valuations and tax rates upon the actual school property tax, confusion, and much frustration, was clearly evident.

Compound what is, on its very face, a system of taxation that would turn the heads of NASA engineers, with costs (such as transportation, insurance, utilities, salaries and pensions, to list a few) that are constantly rising and rarely contained, and you've got trouble, with a capital "T" -- which stands for "TAX."

A letter circulated at this meeting, from an attorney who handles tax grievances, attempted to explain the school tax dilemma as follows:

"It is important for property owners to understand the Level of Assessment (LOA), which is the fraction by which an assessment is converted to an equalized market value. Even though your assessment may remain the same, or even be lowered during the assessment freeze, the LOA may change. As a result, the equalized market value of your home may increase. While the assessment may currently seem accurate, a change in the LOA may mean you have a meritorious case for a reduction.

"New York State Law allows a taxpayer to challenge the LOA along with the market value, as part of the same process. The taxpayer is entitled to present evidence regarding the correct LOA at a Small Claims Assessment Review (SCAR) hearing. Statistical studies can determine whether the LOA selected by the Assessor accurately reflects the true LOA. These statistical studies rely on appraisals, actual sales data, or econometric models. Example: If a house is valued by the County at $350,000, which translates to an original assessment of 875 (350,000 x .0025 = 875), and it is proven in a SCAR hearing that the correct market value is $310,000, the owner is entitled to a reduction in assessment. If the LOA is .25%, the new assessment would be 775 (310,000 x .0025 = 775). However, if the homeowner also successfully challenges the LOA, and shows the correct LOA to be .22%, the new assessment would be even lower still at 682 (310,000 x .0022 = 682). The school tax rate is then applied. Assuming by way of example a school tax rate of 400%, thereby lowering the owner’s school taxes from $3,500 (875 x 4 = $3,500) to $3,100 (775 x 4 = $3,100), for a savings of $400 ($3,500 – $3,100 = $400) in school taxes. After successfully challenging the LOA, however the new school taxes will be $2,728 (682 x 4 = $2,728) for a total annual savings of $772 ($3,500 - $2,728 = $772). The additional savings in school taxes as a result of successfully challenging the LOA will be $372 ($3,100 - $2,728 = $372). General taxes are similarly affected."

Ah. So that's what it all means! How's that for clarity, folks? About as muddy as the Mississippi during the height of crawfish season. All of this would be quite amusing, if the implications -- and the impact upon our wallets -- weren't so serious.

Anyway, many of us -- dare I say, most of us -- left this conclave more confused (some even dazed) than before, wondering just when, and how, a system of taxation that can neither be understood nor explained, and which is, in so many instances, forcing Long Islanders out of house and home, will be reformed.

We can hardly wait until January, 2012, when the next round of Tentative Assessed Valuations come out, or for shortly thereafter, when local school boards begin to formulate -- and attempt to justify with straight faces and fingers crossed -- their proposed budgets for 2012-13.

The income tax, by comparison -- with sincere apologies to Professor Einstein -- is mere child's play!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Extreme Makeover, Hempstead Turnpike Edition

A Call To Take Back The Turnpike

Forget Occupy Wall Street. Smack dab in the middle of the road, bisecting hamlets from Elmont to Wantagh (actually, Farmingdale), is that once venerable (really? when?) biway that, quite literally, carves its way through the very heart of America's largest, if not most blighted township -- Hempstead Turnpike.

Good old NY 24. Once described by The New York Times (as later adopted by this blog) as Twenty Miles of Ugly, and oft times, with its hodge-podge of ill-placed brownfields and dilapidated storefronts, as an open sewer, Hempstead Turnpike cries out for renewal, revitalization and a rebirth.

If the Champs-Élysées, with its cafes, cinemas, luxury specialty shops, and stately horse chestnut trees is the pride of Paris, and one of the most beautiful boulevards in the world, then Hempstead Turnpike, with its dilapidated streetscapes, leaning utility poles, gangle of overhead wires, and structures that are one side or the other of condemnation-worthy, is the bane of Hempstead Town.

Don't get us wrong. While the Champs-Élysées has its cinemas, luxury shops and sidewalk cafes (from which, it is said, one can watch the entire world go by), Hempstead Turnpike has the ruins of the Old Argo theater and the wasteland that is the parking lot of the Nassau Coliseum, and more after hours clubs, storefront iglesias, and purveyors of shlack than Paris could have laid claim to during Napolean's Reign of Terror. The Turnpike is where the masses run from, not throng to.

Decades of what can only be characterized as "turn-the-other-cheek" (not to mention checkbook) zoning, lackluster (if not entirely absent) planning, and sheer neglect by municipalities and commercial property owners alike, have given us today's excuse for a major bisecting roadway that transverses the township, leaving in its industrial waste-filled wake a scene straight out of The Great Gatsby. [They may, to a great extent, have reclaimed the Flushing Meadows of F. Scott Fitzgerald's day. Not so Hempstead Turnpike!]

Ugly, dirty, outmoded, the very mauling of Main Street. And let's not forget dangerous, too!

Designated as THE most dangerous road in the region -- a dubious distinction that both motorists and pedestrians are reminded of daily -- it is almost as if the Turnpike was made deadly as well as unsightly by design.

The roadbed of Hempstead Turnpike may be under control of the Department of Transportation of the State of New York, and the utility poles and appurtenances the stuff that keep the likes of LIPA in the money, but what lines the Turnpike -- the zoned, the exceptions, and the downright illegal -- all comes under the province (though certainly not the watchful eye) of the Town of Hempstead.

What could have been the pride of every community through which the Turnpike so ignobly passes has instead become the great detractor of suburbia. Rather than a mecca for shoppers, or an oasis for the meandering walker, Hempstead Turnpike has become the antithesis of sustainability. A means to get from here to there (unless it can be avoided). A distinct failure of aesthetics and mobility, the Turnpike is a declaration of defeat rather than a destination of choice.

Vison? None. Viability? Little. Promise? Only the broken.

From drawing board to drafting table, plans to bring new life to an old roadway perenially fall by the wayside. Each year, we hail "the Hub," "the new Elmont," the era of "Streetscape enhancement." And with the passing of the months, we witness only decline, dismay, and the ocassional Victorian-style streetlamp, shedding dim light upon a dreary boulevard of shuttered stores and broken dreams.

And so, having only recently survived earthquake and hurricane (not to mention the return to office of the very folks at Hempstead Town Hall who pride themselves -- at taxpayers' expense -- at giving us the very best suburbia has to offer (cue the white picket fence), we call upon residents to rise up, take to the streets (just don't try to cross Hempstead Turnpike), and join the crusade (call it a "movement," should it stoke the embers of revolutionary zeal) to TAKE BACK THE TURNPIKE!

Call Kate Murray's Helpline at 516-489-6000, and let them know you want a boulevard befitting America's largest (even bigger, when you include illegal renters) township. TAKE BACK THE TURNPIKE from the neglect, the missing Code enforcement, the hands of a Zoning Board/Planning Board which has demonstrated that it is not very good at either.

And as for you, our elected, if not highly exalted officials... No more talk of urban renewal plans, Lighthouse lite, distinctive planters and brick pavers. The time to TAKE BACK THE TURNPIKE has come!

We've tired of the artists' renderings and engineers' sketches. The mock-ups and wink-and-nods won't do it for us anymore. We want -- no, we DEMAND -- a Hempstead Turnpike that is attractive, inviting, open for business, and, yes, safe for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists alike.

Come Chambers of Commerce and civic associations. Rotary and Kiwanis. Lions and Pythians. John and Jane Q. Public. Stand up. Speak out. TAKE BACK THE TURNPIKE. This generation, and the hope of the next for a thriving, vibrant "Main Street," implores you to act today!
- - -
For more on TAKE BACK THE TURNPIKE, email The Community Alliance at, and follow us on Twitter at

The Community Alliance
New Visions for America's First Suburb

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Community Alliance Endorses. . .

Election Day: Tuesday, November 8

Okay. You twisted our virtual arm. So, without further ado, here are our endorsements for the upcoming election.

Take them for what you will -- or won't. Frankly, if you don't know who has been a friend of community and which of the elected or wannabes is in it for themselves, there's little hope that you'll catch on now.

For President of the United States (so what if that's not until 2012 :-): Herman Cain (R)
Yup, Herman Cain. We like his 9-9-9 Plan. That's 9 pizzas with 9 toppings for 9 dollars. You just can't beat that, now can you?

For Town of Hempstead Supervisor: Kate Murray (R)
Do we hear a collective, "Whaaaaaaaaaaaaat?"
Is it the tax freeze? The fiscal conservatism? The experience in office? The smile? The photo ops? The fact that, in each preceding election, we endorsed the challenger, and look what happened? [Read into that what you will!] No. It's the TV ads and radio spots. Anyone who can be that creative in straining credulity, and actually gets the electorate to buy in, lock, stock and barrel, has truly earned our vote!

For Hempstead Town Clerk: Mark Bonilla (R)
He's done a fantastic job in bringing Town Hall to the people, and not just the mobile Passport office.

For Town of Hempstead Receiver of Taxes: Don Clavin (R)
We all need someone to Boooo-Hisssss when it comes to our property tax bills. Who better than Don? :-)

For Hempstead Town Board:
Ed Ambrosino (R) (a true friend of community, even if he no longer returns our telephone calls)
James Darcy (R)
Angie Cullen (R)

For Nassau County Legislature:
Kevan Abrahams (D)
Robert Troiano (D)
Carrie Solages (D) (if for no other reason than we all know what John Ciotti knew and when he knew it)
Denise Ford (R)
Joseph Scanneli (D)
Francis Becker (R)
Adam Moser (D)
Vincent Muscarella (R)
Norma Gonsalves (R)
David Denenberg(D)

Well, there you have it. Remember, it's all about transparency, accountability, and the uncanny ability to avoid either while convincing the public that you're doing both!

And now, like the rest of you, we'll lock the doors, close all the lights, pull down the shades and hide under the covers, hoping against hope that tomorrow never finds us.

Good night and good luck!