I am honored to serve once again as the chairman of the board of commissioners of the Great Neck Park District, and to work with commissioners Ruth Tamarin and Ivar Segalowitz. Together with Superintendent Neil Marrin, Deputy Superintendent Peter Renick and our dedicated staff, I feel that we provide our residents with a premier park system. We pride ourselves as being a unit of local government which understands our community and its concerns. We work openly and will continue to seek involvement and input from our residents in all of our endeavors. The public's participation both at our meetings and on our various advisory committees is always welcome.
The state of our parks is excellent. During 2005, our programs were well attended and reached thousands of our residents of all ages and interests. This included a second season for our summer camp which featured tennis, boating and swimming. Our new optimist sailboats introduced youngsters to sailing in a way that is immediately rewarding, and the program allowed us to expand the use of our marina. Most important, the camp is self sufficient with no tax support.
The summer concert series at Steppingstone was perhaps the best ever. The Wednesday evening films at the Village Green were well attended. We were encouraged by the turnout of those who live in the southern portion of the park district for the film shown at Cutter Mill Park. Our recreation staff provided programming both daytime and in the evening at each of our neighborhood parks throughout the summer. And, the recreation center at Parkwood operated all summer from morning into the late evening.
And let's not forget the haunted walk through the Village Green on Halloween; it was enjoyed by young and old alike.
All this was made possible by our professional, hard working staff whom we thank for a job well done.
The Stergiopoulos Ice Rink thrives with excellent attendance at our skate school, hockey teams and general skating sessions. It was a pleasure to watch the many local skaters who performed with precision and skill at the annual holiday ice show in December. We were so proud to see Great Neck's own Emily Hughes on the ice; she truly gave everyone a world class presentation.
In 2005 our capital projects included renovation of the athletic field at Allenwood Park, continued upgrading of playgrounds to assure compliance with safety codes, and replacement of the wading pool at Steppingstone Park.
Last fall we started work on the restoration and modernization of Great Neck House. Unfortunately it was necessary to disrupt the busy class schedule there which inconvenienced those who utilize those programs. For this we apologize and we thank everyone for their patience. We are happy to report that Great Neck House will reopen very shortly and it will be better than ever.
As we look forward to 2006, capital projects will continue with funding made possible by the repair bond approved by the Town of North Hempstead. The playground at Kings Point Park will be replaced as will the basketball court. Additional playground equipment will be installed at Manor Park, and we will replace two water spray areas at Firefighters' and Cutter Mill Parks.
Presently, work continues on installation of the co-generation system, which will render significant savings for the cost of electric power at Parkwood. These savings will also provide at no charge better HVAC inside the rink, a new chiller for making ice, a Zamboni dump pit and a source for hot water for the entire facility.
With the help of the Village of Great Neck Plaza, the beautification project for Firefighters' Park will be completed with the installation of new fence and landscaping.
Perhaps the most significant event for 2006 will be the celebration of the 100th anniversary of Great Neck House. This important piece of Great Neck's history which once served as the main library will shine with grand elegance. We hope to have a large turnout at what will be an exciting event in June. Please watch for information as plans are completed in the spring.
During the coming months we must finalize plans for repairs and improvements at the Parkwood Sports Complex, both at the pool and the rink. The good news is that although the smaller pools need replacement, the engineers have concluded that the main pool has many years of life left with only some repair required. The cost for the project will now be many millions of dollars less than originally forecast. Further discussion by the community will be sought as definitive alternatives are developed.
We look forward to a busy and successful year in 2006, but it won't be without serious challenge. The ever increasing burden of property taxes, the scandal in the Roslyn School District and the continued pass down of uncontrollable expenses places a serious strain on the park district as well as all local government.
Without question, we can assure our residents that the fiscal integrity of the Great Neck Park District is solid. The checks and balances already in place make misappropriation or stealing of funds impossible without the involvement of several players. Unlike Roslyn, no one individual in the park district has the authority or ability to spend money alone. Nevertheless, we have already taken steps to adopt the recommendations in the New York State Comptroller's report on the Roslyn Schools. Our goal is to be the model for others to follow.
Although the park district operates efficiently, we recognize the critical importance of preventing waste in today's economy. We are analyzing every aspect of the park district to cut costs without reducing services or programs. We will consolidate where possible, institute additional energy conservation and require thorough justification for the expenditure of every dollar. We will continue to perform repair work in-house with park district staff wherever possible which already has saved thousands of dollars. As commissioners we fully understand that the money we spend belongs to the taxpayers, and it is our job to get the best bang for the buck.
But at the same time, there are issues outside of the park district which continue to drive our costs up while shifting the tax burden to the private homeowner. It is now time for us to reveal some facts.
For example, the New York State Employee Retirement System, which lost billions of dollars of their investments in 2002, continues to pass this loss to every level of government at a rate which far exceeds the costs for retirees. Utilities are challenging their responsibility to pay property taxes. And, the formation of the Long Island Power Authority, a tax exempt entity, reduced the tax base across all of Long Island; in return, it agreed to compensate some government agencies through payments in lieu of taxes, known as PILOTS. This charge appears on homeowners' electric bills. It even appears on most electric bills of the park district, but we receive none of the revenue as we did when LILCO was a taxpayer. Although the actual amount paid is relatively small, the fact is that, through LIPA, a portion of park district taxes are re-directed to other governmental agencies.
However, the genuine root of the problem lies within the re-assessment debacle and the four-class property tax system. Quietly, as the system has been manipulated to avoid New York State restrictions on assessment increases, private homeowners have been allocated a higher proportion of the total property tax while other classes, especially commercial properties, have been effectively lowered.
The problems that these factors have created must be addressed or the fact is that we will be forced to reduce the level and quality of service that our residents have enjoyed for so many years. Our ability not just to make improvements but to maintain the status quo will become severely handicapped if the trends in tax allocation continue. Local government, town, county and state officials as well as the public all need to work together to achieve change if we are to maintain the basic quality of life which makes our communities in Great Neck and on Long Island so special.