Hicksville Water Commissioner Karl Schweitzer is questioning the details and motives in a report on cost disparities in special districts sent out recently by Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman and reported about in last week's issue of the Hicksville Illustrated News ("Weitzman: Special Districts Costing Taxpayers," Jan. 4, 2008). The comptroller's report alleges that taxpayers are overpaying for services in some commissioner-run districts, including the Hicksville Water District.
While the county comptroller reported that people do not move to Nassau County because of the water quality and expect water service to be delivered at a fair and reasonable price, Schweitzer argues that "potable water is essential to sustaining life and it just may be the most undervalued utility our consumers have come to appreciate."
In Schweitzer's opinion, commissioner-run districts operate efficiently and are held to a high level of accountability all while maintaining local control. He said numerous factors come into play when determining water costs, which is why residents may pay more for basic service in some districts or jurisdictions than others. Water tax rates, said Schweitzer, vary due to several key issues, including varying operational costs based upon levels of contamination, assessment criteria, water usage, debt service and the impact of land development and land use saturation. For example, he said, the costs to treat water in the Town of Hempstead are lower because so are the levels of contamination.
According to Weitzman's report Disparities in Special Districts in Nassau County, which was released late last year, local services such as water aren't being delivered at a fair price in some of Nassau County's commissioner-run special districts. The report states that, in 2006, the average household in the commissioner-run Hicksville Water District (in the Town of Oyster Bay) paid $156 in property taxes and an additional $84 in water charges based on 100,000 gallons per year for a total of $231 while those in the Town of Hempstead's Levittown-based water district paid $58 in property taxes associated with water service and $99 for water usage charges for a total of $157 a year.
"Howard Weitzman's 'wheel of fortune' reference to water district costs ignores valid reasons for disparities in some jurisdictions and also ignores the fact that consolidation will mean that some taxpayers will be called upon to pay more and to surrender their local control," said Schweitzer. "The Hicksville Water District provides water to its consumers at rates lower than most of the United States and has made substantial capital improvements to its infrastructure and operations over the last three years, all while maintaining a zero tax increase." Schweitzer added that "the increase consumers may have seen was due wholly to the current assessment system as levied by Nassau County."
While the report also mentions that the commissioner-run Jericho Water District provided services at the lowest cost across the board with residents paying just $9 in property taxes and $78 in usage charges for an average annual cost of $87, Schweitzer said Jericho has "very minimal contamination, a higher level of ongoing development and water usage rates that are very different from those in Hicksville and which directly affect the taxes set by each district."
Every dollar collected in Hicksville goes back into the consumer's pocket in the way of clean water, and by maintaining an updated infrastructure and facilities, according to Schweitzer. "We also look for all ways to reduce the property tax burden of our residents," he said, adding that he believes that reducing the level of government by taking away the consumer's right to elect commissioners and choose where the dollars generated in Hicksville are spent "is not the big step in reducing taxes."
"Tackle the 'big gorilla in the back of the room' when looking at the tax bill in Hicksville. Only 2 percent of the real property taxes paid goes toward water service," said Schweitzer.
Despite all the talk about consolidation over the past three years, Schweitzer states that the comptroller has yet to produce a single cost study showing just what the county alleges it will save residents. "It's just rhetoric one day after the next," Schweitzer said. "Nassau residents continue to be barraged by press conferences and press releases with nothing but talking points that fail to make the practical connection with how consolidation will save all taxpayers."