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Government Consolidation Bill Passes Assembly, Senate

Gives Residents Power to Dissolve Special Taxing Districts

The government consolidation law that would make it possible for citizens to dissolve town and village governments as well as special districts has passed overwhelmingly in the New York State Assembly and Senate and now awaits the governor’s signature.

The bill, proposed by New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, is aimed at reducing the number of layers of government some residents of the state fall under. However, the bill also includes a mechanism to disband villages, which many believe are the most efficient forms of government.

 

“I commend the state Senate for taking action on such a critical issue and giving local communities the ability to reduce government overhead and cut property taxes,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “New York is now at an historic crossroads decades in the making. Taxpayers may soon be truly empowered to create long overdue efficiencies in local governments and special districts across our state. I thank the governor for his support throughout the process and I look forward to this bill finally giving New York’s overburdened taxpayers the ability, where appropriate, to streamline their local governments and cut their property taxes.”

Some Nassau County residents are served by multiple taxing jurisdictions. For example, some property owners in Nassau County not only pay county taxes and town taxes but also special district taxes such as sanitation district taxes, fire district taxes and water district taxes. The spirit of the bill is to eliminate some layers of taxing authorities as a way to make governments more efficient and more cost-effective for residents.

The law would go into effect 270 days after Governor David Paterson signs the bill. Residents of a government, including special districts, towns and villages, could disband a government by submitting a petition containing 10 percent of the registered voters of the government (or 5,000 signatures, whichever is less) or 20 percent of the registered voters if the government contains 500 or fewer registered voters. The petition then triggers a referendum for the voters of the government. A majority is needed to dissolve.

If the majority of voters within that local government vote in favor of dissolution, the government then must develop a proposed written plan to implement the voters’ decision, followed by the plan’s publican and public hearings. Consolidation or dissolution takes effect when the governing body approves the final version of the plan.

The bill also gives Nassau County the power to force a referendum on abolishing a government. The bill states that “a county may, in appropriate cases, effect dissolutions, mergers and consolidations of whole units of government, subject to the approval of voters of the county in a referendum.”

Some believe that special district should be consolidated in order to provide a more efficient government. Residents for Efficient Special Districts (RESD) is a civic organization that is lobbying for “efficient, transparent and accountable public service providers.” On the RESD website, a 2007 tax bill from a resident in West Hempstead is displayed. The taxpayer’s yearly tax bill included $1,702 in county taxes, $956 in taxes to the Town of Hempstead and $913 in special district taxes. This tax bill, of course, doesn’t include school taxes, which, for a resident in West Hempstead in 2007, could be over $5,000 for the year. The special district tax includes $617 for Sanitation District #6, which picks up garbage, $75 for the Cathedral Gardens Water District and $221 for the West Hempstead Fire District.

The question for those wishing to dissolve special districts is whether the services provided by the special districts can be provided by another governmental entity such as the town in a more cost-effective and efficient manner.

Elmont resident Patrick Nicolosi, who is president of the Elmont East End Civic Association, feels that consolidation could work because there are presently too many layers of government that have become too costly for residents. “People are going to be nervous about it but we’re not growing anymore in Nassau County and our governments have gotten out of control and it’s time to consolidate,” he said.

While the consolidation bill passed overwhelmingly in the state Assembly and Senate, some elected officials feel that districts such as fire and library should be preserved.

"This bill was a complete attack on our fire departments, libraries and the ability of communities being able to govern themselves. It's about neighborhoods and quality of life. People have peace of mind when there is a fire or emergency that the men and women of the Franklin Square, Elmont and West Hempstead fire departments are on the scene in minutes. These volunteers know the community and its people. This bill was an attack on our way of life. This isn't New York City. It's Nassau County,” said Assemblyman Tom Alfano, who voted against the consolidation bill.

New York State Senator Craig Johnson also voted against the bill. “While I am in favor of empowering residents to determine their own future, I believe that many parts of this measure are fundamentally flawed and contain too many pitfalls. Taken as a sum of its parts, it is my belief that this legislation will inflict harm on our communities,” he said.