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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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The Way Things Are

1. Birmingham, England set a standard for public input and openness in a major planning project with its “Big City Plan.” Birmingham has a population comparable in size to Nassau County, with an additional population the size of Suffolk County in the surrounding suburbs. The City Council declared that they want Birmingham to become one of the world’s 20 “most livable” cities. Big City Plan is an attempt to create a world-class city centre area (“greener, smarter, fairer and more appealing”) that increases employment and leisure opportunities into the future. Every part of the work in progress and every public comment has been viewable online and many thousands of residents have actively participated. The city will even provide reports in another language (“We aim to supply what you need within 10 working days.”) and important elements of the developing plan were generated from the general public. My favorite line: “Birmingham is big enough to challenge the way things are.”…

 

2. Based on a single polling question, Newsday claimed on its front page that “LI Says Yes” to the proposed 150-acre Lighthouse Project at Mitchel Field. Maybe we do, maybe we don’t, but that survey doesn’t tell us. With the survey’s margin of error, as many as 52 percent don’t affirmatively support it (not the “solid majority” of support claimed in the article). Question No. 49, the one and only Lighthouse question, gave respondents a single specific piece of information about the plan: Nassau Coliseum would more than double in size. That’s it. There was no attempt to measure how strongly respondents felt about it, the appeal of alternatives or suggested revisions to the plan, whether opinions were trending one way or another. They used at least 25 questions to measure opinion on health care reform, but one question satisfied editors regarding the controversial Lighthouse plan. If officials are looking for guidance on this issue, that poll is a rather slim reed on which to lean.…

3. A new Zillow study shows that foreclosures are rising precipitously in the country’s more expensive housing markets. Unbudgeted costs of maintaining vacant properties (“foreclosure blight”) are being felt by villages and towns in Westchester, Rockland and other places that might surprise. It is particularly important that homes with swimming pools not become breeding havens for insects.…

4. Have you seen this innovation in your neighborhood? House with “For Sale” sign sits empty, and political parties cover the lawn with campaign signs.…

5. There is a section of the state’s election regulations that attempts to deter the use of partial or bogus opinion poll results in order to manipulate public opinion. Section 6201.2 says if a candidate, party or political action committee reveals part of a poll, they must reveal all of it, including details about methodology. It’s violated all the time, as is much of the Fair Campaign Code.…

6. The interpretation of ancient laws regarding the payment of property taxes has to be rethought from scratch. What exactly are we prepared to do if thousands suddenly can’t pay property tax bills? California. California.…

7. The Nassau Interim Finance Authority was created to be a watchdog for Nassau County finances. Because it’s a state agency, it has a website (www.nifa.state.ny.us) where you can find virtually every report and analysis, and can even watch Authority meetings on your computer. Early in October, NIFA released a detailed analysis of the county’s five-year fiscal plan that describes a county at financial risk, with a structural budget imbalance that may go critical in 2011, when reserve funds that have been falling since 2004 could run out.…

8. The Governor has proposed $5 billion in spending cuts for 2009-2010.… 9. If we want to maintain services and programs, then at least some of us are going to have to pay a little more in taxes of some kind. If that’s off the table, then we will need to discuss major changes in how we provide and manage services. If both of these are off the table, then we will need to discuss what we are willing to do without, all at a time when we need to make some serious investments in local infrastructure, from the Coliseum to the wastewater system. These are the unpleasant choices facing all levels of local government, whether or not our political leaders want to say it, think it or do anything about it.   

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. He lives in New Hyde Park.

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