Residents Seek to End Sanitation District

By: Aisha Al-Muslim

Those circulating a petition to dissolve the sanitation district based in Baldwin hope to trim property taxes, but district representatives say the change would cost jobs and save little money.

Spearheading the effort with taxpayers in the district are two grassroots groups: Residents for Efficient Special Districts (RESD), based in Baldwin, and Long Island Progressive Coalition (LIPC), of Massapequa.

Members hope to collect 5,000 signatures from residents to call for a referendum to do away with the nearly 84-year-old Sanitation District No. 2 that serves Baldwin, Roosevelt, South Hempstead and sections of Freeport, Rockville Centre and Uniondale.

“These districts are not economically sustainable,” said Laura Mallay, RESD’s executive director and a 20-year Baldwin resident who lost a bid for district commissioner in 2005. “Services will go down if we don’t do anything now.”

The New York Government Reorganization and Citizen Empowerment Act of 2009 gives residents a mechanism to consolidate and dissolve local governments. If advocates can secure the signatures of 10 percent of registered voters in the district, or 5,000 residents, the issue can go on the ballot.

Advocates wanting to get rid of the sanitation district have collected more than 3,000 signatures since March, Mallay said.

“Many of the residents of the area have been saying taxes are high,” said Serena Liguori, coordinator of LIPC’s Government Efficiency Project. “We certainly want to help support residents and help them save money if they can.”

State Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) introduced a bill last January to amend the consolidation law to require a detailed alternate plan when there’s a vote on consolidation. Now, if residents vote to consolidate a local government, it must formulate a plan on how the services will be picked up. “Residents should know how those services are going to be provided and the cost of providing those services after the special district is eliminated,” Martins said.

Residents in the district would pay half of what they pay now if the district is dissolved and the Town of Hempstead picks up the sanitation services, Mallay said. A home assessed at $400,000 serviced by the Town of Hempstead paid $267 in sanitation taxes in 2010, while an identically assessed home in District 2 paid $509, advocates said.

“We feel that in one town there should be one tax rate,” Mallay said.

Hempstead Town spokesman Michael Deery said it’s “premature” for the town to consider taking over the district because no detailed plan has been made.

Former district board secretary Bob Noble, who spoke for the district, said the advocates’ claims are misleading. He said it appeared that their taxes are higher because insurance costs are calculated in the district budget. “Their cost analysis is faulty,” he said. About 70 people could lose their jobs if the district were abolished, he said.

“Is bigger always better?” Noble said. “We are small enough and responsible enough to get to people right away. Most people are not willing to give that up.”

Advocates Petition for Vote on Garbage Taxes

By: Spencer Rumsey

A fraying flag hung forlornly on a pole outside the Grand Avenue offices of Sanitary District 2 in Baldwin Tuesday afternoon, as a small group of organizers and area residents assembled on the sidewalk near the entrance to announce that they were “halfway there” in their petition drive that would put the future of this special taxing district on a referendum. It would mark the first time on Long Island that the “Cuomo Law,” or more formally known as the Citizen Empowerment Act, would be put to the test.

Gov.  Andrew Cuomo helped draft this law when he was New York State attorney general and it was enacted last year. Under its provisions, New Yorkers can vote to dissolve special districts, which are the taxing entities that provide services such as water, fire protection and sanitation—and are seen by some as the “invisible government” contributing to high taxation.

In Baldwin members of Residents for Efficient Special Districts and the Long Island Progressive Coalition announced that they have collected more than 2,500 signatures of residents in the Sanitary 2 district; their goal is 5,000.

“It’s not about the service,” said Laura Mallay, RESD executive director, who first got involved in this issue in 2002 when she discovered that because she lived in South Hempstead she was paying about $543 in garbage taxes that would only cost her $263 if she’d lived in nearby Merrick. “It’s about the price and fairness.”

Once the petitioners get the required number of signatures—either 10 percent of the registered voters in the particular district or 5,000 residents, whichever number is smaller—the issue can go on the ballot and must be voted on within 90 to 120 days. And if they approve the district being dissolved, then the residents could see a significant reduction in their tax bill as these services would be picked up by the towns, rather than by a special district.

If Sanitary District 2 were eliminated, local residents would pay the same rate as those already served by the Town of Hempstead—half what they pay now to have their garbage picked up.

Leroy Roberts, one of the Sanitary District 2 commissioners, watched the press conference from the sidewalk but declined to comment, although the district’s opposition to being dissolved is well known. Their defense is that a lack of a viable commercial base in the district causes assessments to be low, necessitating higher taxes.

With rain clouds closing in, two local residents added their names to the petition: Natalie Singleton and Van White, who are neighbors in Woodland Estates, a community of townhouses in North Baldwin.

“I just want fair and equal service,” Singleton said, adding that she wasn’t aware of the Cuomo law until she was contacted by organizers from RESD and LIPC. “This is information I did not have. How would we know?”

“We’re here today because people of Long Island are paying too much money for their services,” said Serena Liguouri, LIPC’s coordinator of the Government Efficiency Project.

“By consolidating sanitation pickup into the Town of Hempstead, citizens will save tax dollars and maintain excellent services,” added Mallay.

The petition drive, which started this summer, has no deadline, organizers said, only the obstacles of bad weather, ignorance and fear. Certainly the special district commissioners would stand to lose their salaries, benefits and pensions, if the district is dissolved.

One organizer said that some residents have expressed concern that if they signed the petition, their garbage wouldn’t be picked up in retaliation. But so far, that service disruption hasn’t happened.

“We’re getting great feedback from the taxpayers,” said Liguori. “We don’t want to vilify the workers. We don’t want to get workers fired.”