GROUPS OPPOSE CUTS TO LI BUS

New York— A coalition of civic, transportation, business, labor, planning and environmental groups joined together to oppose MTA cuts to Long Island Bus.

In particular, the groups called the MTA’s proposal to eliminate its funding contribution entirely to Nassau County’s LI Bus system a misguided attempt to balance its budget and a system killer.  If enacted, thousands of bus riders would be left with no alternative to get to work and school, possibly forcing riders to pay for expensive taxis or lose their jobs. 

“The MTA’s proposed cuts will obliterate the LI Bus system as we know it,” said Kate Slevin, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.  “These cuts could very well mean that Nassau County will not have a viable bus transit system as soon as the next few years.”

“But the MTA is not the only entity at fault,” continued Slevin. “Nassau County and the State are not living up to their obligation to fund Long Island Bus and ensure riders have affordable and reliable transit service.”

She noted that Nassau County is contributing half as much as it was in 2000. Both the County and State cut support last year resulting in the service cuts that were implemented in June. 

LI Bus serves over 32 million riders a year, over 100,000 riders a day, and is an integral cog in Nassau County’s transit system, fostering economic development, reducing congestion and protecting the environment.

The groups called on the MTA to retract the proposal, and for Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and state elected officials to work together to find a long term solution to Long Island Bus’ funding problems.

“If ultimately LI Bus would cease operating, it would have a devastating effect on the business community in Nassau and Queens County as well as their workforce,” said Daniel R. Perkins, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Long Island Association. “Let’s hope that the MTA, the State of New York and Nassau County can work together to find a solution so that doesn’t happen.”

“Yet another moment of crisis offers us the opportunity to rethink the way that bus service is delivered and paid for in the metropolitan region,” said Bob Yaro, President of Regional Plan Association. “The current inefficient and fragmented bus system should be consolidated into a single Regional Bus Authority, as was recommended by the Ravitch Commission. Until then, the MTA and Nassau County need to come up with solutions that don’t leave riders stranded.”

Eric Alexander, Executive Director of Vision Long Island said “Brainstorming can be a useful tool. However, some ideas have unintended consequences for the health and economic well being of working Nassau County residents. This is one idea the MTA should scratch from their list.”

“This is outrageous. This is a very short sided proposal. Long Island roads will be plagued by horrible congestion and people are not going to be able to get to work. The MTA cannot balance their budget problems on the backs of Nassau bus riders,” stated Lisa Tyson, Director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition.

“For thousands of working people in Nassau County, Long Island Bus is irreplaceable,” said John Durso, president of the Long Island Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO. “It is essential for the economic health of our region that a viable transportation system is available for people who need it.”

“These service cuts will impact over 100,000 Long Islanders who commute to and from work,” said Sarah Lansdale, Executive Director, Sustainable Long Island.  “The idea is an unrealistic approach to help funding woes that the MTA faces. The people of Nassau County deserve better, they deserve available mass transit that is safe and affordable.”

Sources: Compromise plan may keep LI Bus rolling

Updated: Jul 20, 2010 07:09 PM
By ALFONSO A. CASTILLO

While the MTA does not plan to set any money aside to fund Long Island Bus in the future, agency officials may be willing to keep the system moving temporarily if Nassau County shows a commitment to stepping up its financial support for the ailing bus company, transit sources said Tuesday.

Transit sources said Monday that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority intends to withdraw all financial support from Long Island Bus in its 2011 budget. Long Island Bus is owned by Nassau County but largely subsidized by the MTA.

Without the $40 million that the MTA usually kicks in – roughly a third of LI Bus’ budget after fare revenue – experts say the system could afford to maintain only sparse service, or it could cease to exist altogether.

But transit sources said Tuesday that the MTA may soften its stance if Nassau agrees to a schedule of increased subsidies over the next several years that would eventually lead to the county covering the full $40 million.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano has not said whether he would consider increasing the county’s subsidy to Long Island Bus, but has noted that, when including the state payroll tax enacted last year to support public transportation, Nassau is paying more than it has in years to the MTA.

Until about 10 years ago, Nassau County made up the difference of Long Island Bus’ budget after fare revenue and state aid. But over the years, the county has gradually decreased its subsidy. Last year, Nassau cut its subsidy for the bus system from $10.5 million to $9.1 million.

The MTA has made up the difference for years, but has said that in its current economic crisis, which includes an $800-million budget deficit, it can no longer afford to do so.

While Nassau may look to the state for help in paying its share, Assemb. Richard Brodsky (D-Westchester), who chairs the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, said the request would come as several other counties, which receive far less state aid for their bus systems, are also looking for help.

New York State contributes about $44 million a year to Long Island Bus. Suffolk gets about half that for its bus system, and no help from the MTA.

“They do better than any other county in the state,” Brodsky said of Nassau. “I just think other counties are starting to ask why they have to pick up the burden of their own system, plus Nassau’s.”

Lisa Tyson, executive director of the nonprofit Long Island Progressive Coalition, said it would be “irresponsible” for the MTA and Nassau not to reach a resolution.

“Nassau County would shut down without the bus system,” Tyson said. “With the amount of cars it takes off the roads and the amount of people it brings to jobs, it would clearly devastate the county.”

Consolidation Advocates Demand Special District Audits

By Christopher Twarowski
Long Island Press
April 2, 2010

Holding signs and demanding action, a consortium of civic organizations and residents from throughout Nassau County gathered Thursday in front of a county government building in Mineola to protest a recent announcement from county Comptroller George Maragos regarding his stance on special districts, aka, the more than 200 taxing units—such as water, fire and sanitation, for example—layered within Nassau’s network of county, town and village municipalities.

Residents and civic groups from throughout Nassau staged a protest Thursday, April 1 in front of Republican county Comptroller George Maragos’ office in Mineola to demand he continue auditing special districts.

The more than a dozen protesters, which included members of the Residents for Efficient Special Districts (RESDI), Long Island Progressive Coalition (LIPC), Long Islanders for Education Reform (LIFER), among other groups, as well as residents, demanded Maragos conduct audits of these special taxing districts “and protect taxpayers.”

They raised banners and posters declaring, “April Fools Taxpayers: Maragos Supports Special Districts” and “Stop Special Treatment for Special Districts,” among other slogans, while shouting their message to media outlets and passers by.

“We are here today to tell the comptroller that this new policy is unacceptable,” said Laura Mallay, executive director of RESD. “We the people will not stand by and allow our elected officials to pass the buck. It is the responsibility of our comptroller to act as the fiscal watchdog over not just county government, but special districts as well. Comptroller Maragos must understand that the taxpayers of Nassau County will not allow him to cater to these special interest groups.”

“The happiness has been taken out of Long Island by municipal government that is out of control,” declared Fred Gorman, a local civic leader and founder of LIFER, a school tax protest group. “It’s gotta stop.”

“It’s an outrage,” added Pat Nicolosi, president of the Elmont East End Civic Association. “We cannot afford the tax burden. Our children are leaving, our seniors can’t afford it, we can’t afford it anymore. This is insane—talk about duplication of services!”

The rally was sparked by Maragos’ March 23 announcement that: “The Comptroller’s Office will not be advocating broad consolidation or dissolution of special districts. I have not seen any credible formal analysis that would support the wholesale consolidation of special districts and villages in Nassau County.” Maragos had said his office would not be auditing special districts until possibly next year.

Critics stressed that Maragos’ stance contrasts sharply with that of his predecessor, Democrat Howard Weitzman, who audited numerous special districts aggressively and discovered “widespread abuse, patronage, mismanagement and financial waste.” One such case in point, they said: Sanitation District No. 7 in the Town of Hempstead.

Weitzman’s “Limited Review of Compensation and Fringe Benefits” for the district, released Oct. 29, 2009, found it was devoid of written policies and procedures covering its election process, had no conflict of interest policy governing employees related to one another, and a “virtually unlimited” leave buyback program for employees, among other taxpayer-costly discoveries.

LIPC Director Lisa Tyson characterized Maragos’ statements and no-special districts-audit policy as a waste of taxpayer funds in itself—and a shirking of his job responsibilities.

“We have to make sure the residents of Nassau County understand that [Maragos] is saying he is not going to do his job, and that’s protecting taxpayers and auditing special districts,” she told the Press. “It’s outrageous for this county comptroller to say, ‘No, I’m not going to do this,’ and, ‘No, I don’t believe there’s a problem,’ which, really, throws away thousands and thousands of dollars the county has spent on doing these audits. They had many staff people auditing for eight years, and so, basically he’s throwing all of that into the garbage—and that’s irresponsible.”

Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos

Maragos defended his position in an interview at his office immediately following the protest, saying that protesters misinterpreted his words and policy.

“I think that’s just a misunderstanding,” he said of the protest.

The comptroller explained that in light of the state Legislature’s June passage of legislation empowering residents to consolidate or dissolve special districts, the decision to do so should be left up to the taxpayers. Proposed by New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, Gov. David Paterson made it law. Known as the New York Government Reorganization and Citizen Empowerment Act, it became effective March 21.

“Certainly when I took office and also during the campaign, I indicated that my policy would be that I would leave it up to the local taxpayer, to the local residents, to decide which districts were not effectively delivering services and were not delivering value, and leave it up to the residents whether to decide whether consolidation or dissolution of the district made sense for them,” he said. “What I indicated [was that] the comptroller’s office would not be leading the charge for countywide consolidation.”

Instead of special districts audits, Maragos said his office’s focus this year would be to “to look internally” at various agencies to “streamline” their efficiency—with balancing the budget its top priority. Next year, he added, “we may go back and start looking at some of the special districts again.”

If requested, his office would provide whatever information it could to assist local groups to “put their case forward for consolidation,” he said.

As for Weitzman’s prior work on special districts, Maragos stated: “My analysis of the prior comptroller’s studies that were performed were not supportive of a broad, countywide consolidation effort. Some districts, I pointed out, were being run very, very economically and very efficiently. Others were not. So it wasn’t appropriate for the prior comptroller, I felt, to advocate a broad consolidation across the total county.”

But that’s not what protesters are even asking of Maragos, they charge.

“We are not asking for this office to work toward consolidation, what we’re asking this office to do is to continue auditing and to release the information of these audits, so that we as the citizens and the residents can take our action now to consolidate the ones that are dangerous and then the ones that are doing their job correctly,” said Tyson. “But if they don’t do their job, we can’t do their job. So he’s basically saying to citizens, ‘I’m not going to assist you by giving you the ammunition to see where the problems are.’”

“The audits are absolutely integral to the whole process,” added Andrew Calderaro, director of the Nassau County Government Efficiency Project project at LIPC. “And it’s important to know, unequivocally, that those audits showed the waste, favoritism, poor practice and lack of internal control that is conducted in these special districts.”

“We need this office to audit,” continued Tyson. “The special district abuse in Nassau County is the worst in the whole state. And for our one county comptroller who is in charge of this area to say he’s not going to do it is just outrageous, and we have to stop that, so we’re going to do whatever we can to make him get back on to his auditing.”
Related website: http://www.longislandpress.com/2010/04/02/consolidation-advocates-demand-special-districts-audits/

Nassau comptroller's special district policy knocked

By William Murphy

About 20 civic activists gathered outside the Mineola office of Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos Thursday to protest his decision to reduce the auditing of special taxing districts, which have been criticized by his predecessor for waste and abuse.

“We are here today to tell our comptroller that this policy is unacceptable. We the people cannot stand by and allow our elected officials to look the other way or pass the buck,” Laura Mallay of Residents for Efficient Special Districts said.

Maragos had said he would not conduct any audits of special districts this year, and would limit those audits next year to districts where problems had been uncovered in an audit by his predecessor, Howard Weitzman, a Democrat. He said he had “not seen any credible formal analysis that would support the wholesale consolidation of special districts.”

Maragos, a Republican, said in an interview after the demonstration that while he did not see the need for widespread action, he did not oppose consolidation of districts that had been shown to operate wastefully.

He said some of those districts had been identified in Weitzman’s audits, but he refused to say which ones should be dissolved or consolidated. “That is up to residents of the district,” he said.

A new state law creates a uniform way for localities and voters to consolidate or dissolve special districts, and Maragos said he made public his position two days later to clarify the role he would take.

At the demonstration, Lisa Tyson of the Long Island Progressive Coalition said Maragos was abdicating his duties. “We need this comptroller to do his job, which is to audit special districts,” she said. Fred Gorman of Long Islanders for Educational Reform said political leaders should push for consolidation of district functions to save money.

“We have over 700 districts sucking the life blood out of us and it’s got to stop,” Gorman said.

Pat Nicolosi of the Elmont East End Civic Association said private firms are consolidating during this economic downturn, and government should also.
Related website: http://www.newsday.com/long-island/politics/nassau-comptroller-s-special-district-policy-knocked-1.1842798

Nassau activists urge special districts reform

Protesters pressed Nassau’s new comptroller Thursday to pick up where his predecessor left off on special tax district consolidation, but he is adamant against the idea.

Former Comptroller Howard Weitzman reported finding countless examples of waste in the county’s special tax districts, like fire, police, water and sanitation. He said taxpayers end up paying much more than they need to.

George Maragos, who now holds the job, says his first priority is fixing the county’s $250 million deficit.

“Advocating consolidation of special districts on a broad level, on a county level, for us makes no sense,” Maragos says.

Protesters say the tax districts should either be combined or eliminated.
Related website: http://news12.com/articleDetail.jsp?articleId=247100&position=13&news_type=news&rand=45960090

Group distributes guide on fixing taxing districts

By SID CASSESE sid.cassese@newsday.com

August 27, 2009

A guide on how to eliminate or streamline special taxing districts on Long Island was released Thursday by a bi-county social activist group.

The “Long Island Citizen’s Guide to Coalition” is similar to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s recent Citizen’s Guide to Reform, according to Jeff Guillot of the Long Island Progressive Coalition. He headed the group’s Nassau County Government Efficiency Project that produced the guide that centers on Long Island’s special taxing districts.

“Some special districts on the Island are not found anywhere else in the state, notably commission-run garbage and sewer districts, which most often are the ones abusing their taxing powers,” Guillot said.

Nassau Comptroller Howard Weitzman, County Executive Thomas Suozzi and other Nassau opponents of most special taxing districts – like garbage, sewage and water – have said such districts account for 75 percent of taxes paid for town services and often are redundant and wasteful.

Laura Mallay of South Hempstead, the head of Residents for Efficient Special Districts, said: “We need to use these tools to fix this broken system.”

Guillot outlined the process, which calls for getting at least 10 percent or 5,000 – whichever comes first – signatures of district registered voters. The district’s town officials will verify the signatures within 10 days.

Officials said that once verified, the move to close or consolidate the district goes on a ballot in 60 to 90 days.

If it passes, the town and public must come up with a plan within 210 days. If the public does not like the plan, it can be rejected with 25 percent or 15,000 registered voter signatures and the process starts over.

Should it fail, no new attempt can be made for four years, officials said. The full local guide is found at fixmypropertytaxes.org. The law allowing it is effective March 22, 2010.
Related website: http://www.newsday.com/long-island/nassau/group-distributes-guide-on-fixing-taxing-districts-1.1400134