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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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It’s Drawing Board Time in Nassau County

Village borders were neither etched into stone nor handed down from some mountaintop. Numerous adjustments have been made. Sometimes rationales weren’t very compelling. The borders of Upper Brookville, created in 1932, weren’t exactly deeply reasoned. Surrounding estates had recently incorporated into three separate villages and this one pocket was left out. Exactly one resident showed up at the town hearing to present the incorporation petition. Port Washington North was also an unincorporated pocket, and some residents didn’t want to be part of Manorhaven, which was planning additional expansions.

This isn’t a criticism of village government. We need to expand village government here. The advantages of community-level control should be extended to hundreds of thousands of residents who make do with absentee town governments and all their layers. We can separate neighborhood from more regional decision-making, applying a sensible matrix that fits the modern Nassau County.

What an eye-opener Hurricane Sandy should be. While there may be working agreements and understandings between governments, when push comes to shove, we have more than five-dozen emergency management operations in place. Sandy showed that we are vulnerable on many levels, and mounting a rapid, coordinated response to crisis is one.

Now that our local public finance system is truly melting down (we may see a few actual nervous breakdowns at budget hearings in 2013), we need to reconsider the drawing board. What we have now was far from inevitable. We can make choices.

The Nassau County Charter, effective in 1938, still discourages creation or extension of villages by reserving some zoning powers to towns. It can be amended. Most serious efforts to create villages since the Second World War involved issues other than zoning.

The impetus to incorporate Atlantic Beach, finally realized in 1962 after 15 years of lawsuits and rancor, was Hempstead’s poor maintenance of the boardwalk.

It took the use of every legal technicality by town officials, including deployment of raw political power in the state legislature, to block the popular incorporation plan of the Hicksville Home Rule Committee in 1953 and 1954. Residents of Lakeville Estates, Hillside Heights, Harbor Hills, Roslyn Heights and other boom neighborhoods wanted and needed village government at the end of the 1930s, but lost out by months because of the new County Charter. Woodmere’s incorporation referendum went down by 11 votes in 1918. People in West Hempstead, Uniondale, Oceanside, Carle Place and Roosevelt tried to get added to villages and got pushed aside.

Several attempts to merge villages into independent small cities were thwarted. This is just a sprinkling of what went on.

So that’s that? The people in these communities and others are locked into choices made before anyone had seen television?

No. We can make better choices. We have to.

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net