I would like to thank the Port Washington Sanitation Commissioners for recognizing the "terrific job" my office has done on the issue of special taxing districts. I appreciate the points made in their letter to the editor dated Jan. 25, "Port Garbage Commissioners Respond to "the Weitzman Agenda," and I would like to offer some comments and kudos to them as well.
Port Washington Sanitation District Commissioners Bill Scaglione, Doug Augenthaler and Mary Giordano have done an outstanding job for the benefit of the taxpayers in their community. I certainly hope that they continue their exemplary service. Nor are they alone. There are many commissioners who take their jobs seriously with no agenda except to serve their fellow residents.
Unfortunately, their attitude is not universal. As our audits and media coverage have made clear, reform of special taxing districts is needed. That is why the recommendations we have made to the governor, which he has included in his 2008-09 budget plan, are so important. Taxpayers will benefit if we end the culture of waste and abuse that has existed for so long in too many special districts.
The governor has proposed two changes. He would eliminate commissioner pay and benefits so that service is on the same volunteer basis as service on a school board or fire commission. The second proposal is town takeover of sanitation services. Here is how I think the second proposal, having the towns operate sanitation services, would work.
The effect on the Port Washington garbage district, in fact most North Hempstead garbage districts, will be small. The Port Washington garbage district will continue to exist and the taxing district boundaries will remain. The commissioners will remain in place (and I hope the Port Washington Commissioners will continue to serve) to oversee the quality and level of sanitation service. The town will take over responsibility for sanitation operations. Since the operation of the Port Washington district consists primarily of bidding out the carting contract every few years, this is the only "operation" that would be taken over by the town and could still be performed with commissioner input. I have discussed this matter at great length with Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman.
While I believe the bulk of the millions of dollars in savings for taxpayers resulting from the elimination of unnecessary insurance, professional fees, no-show jobs, and no-bid-contracts will occur in the Town of Hempstead, there are benefits to be achieved in the Town of North Hempstead as well.
Town control over the bidding process throughout the town can lead to lower costs. Consideration of boundary changes to the existing districts to make them more efficient will give carters the ability to lower their bids. I would recommend to Supervisor Kaiman that he work with the Port Washington Commissioners who have shown to be able stewards of the district to achieve these savings townwide.
Town administrative fees charged to the district is a real issue. I have discussed this too with Supervisor Kaiman and he has agreed that it needs to be reviewed. However, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that townwide administrative charges which increase district costs also have the effect of reducing town costs. The impact on our taxpayers should be the same. Town operation will also lead to savings in most districts since the districts will no longer need to spend taxpayer money on professional fees, insurance and other administrative costs which the town is already incurring.
Commissioner-run special districts are a leftover from our rural past. The need for statewide reform has been demonstrated by the many abusive practices that too many commissioner-run districts, other than the Port Washington district, have engaged in for years. When the towns can provide sanitation services using existing town resources and the change will save Nassau County taxpayers millions of dollars, it is time to stand up and back the governor's proposals.
Nassau County Comptroller
Howard S. Weitzman