The recent political chatter about “Obamacare” before the Supreme Court of the United States got a great deal of media attention. President Obama added fuel to the fire when he declared, “Ultimately, I am confident the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”
For someone who was a law professor those words were absurd. Even if a bill passed unanimously in the house and senate, it could still be overturned – if the law was in violation of the Constitution.
Giving up is not “reform.” County Executive Ed Mangano’s proposal to transfer property assessment from the county to the towns might possibly speed up assessment decisions by replacing one large and overwhelmed bureaucracy with several somewhat smaller ones. It will likely recreate problems that were major motivations in creating our highly centralized county government 75 years ago.
The 1938 county charter merged the town Boards of Assessors and the County Board of Equalization, ending three decades of complaints, lawsuits and hard feelings about the lack of specific, uniform levels of property assessments between the towns. In a tax system screaming out for simplification, clarification and a sense of certainty, spinning off assessments to the towns will reintroduce “equalization” as an annual issue. Tens of thousands of residents are still trying to figure out why their assessment went down but their tax bill still went up. The division of taxes heading up the tax food chain in an equitable manner is the most complex subject in local government, and it’s all going to make people very sad, particularly in villages and school districts that are split between townships.
Manhattan District Attorney (D.A.) Robert Morgenthau was facing a spirited Democratic primary challenge from a former judge in 2005, but his opponent had trouble finding anything substantively negative to say about Morgenthau.
The reason I know this: a city-based tabloid newspaper reporter called me weeks before the election, asking whether it was legal to have a Manhattan driver’s license while at the same time registering and insuring a car in Dutchess County, where auto insurance premiums are much lower. The answer: yes, so long as the insured vehicle is primarily garaged in Dutchess County. I was the director of public affairs for the New York State Insurance Department at the time and knew immediately the question pertained to Morgenthau because he met those criteria.
Written by Michael A. Miller Wednesday, 20 February 2013 13:04
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.