Civic Groups Demand Audits of Special Districts

By Ryan Bonner

Residents gathered outside the office of County Comptroller George Maragos this afternoon to push for continued oversight of local tax districts.
A host of civic groups protested outside the office of Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos this afternoon demanding that he keep up audits of special tax districts conducted in recent years.

Maragos, elected in November, released a statement last week announcing that his office “would not be advocating broad consolidation or dissolution of special districts.”

Maragos has said he will not conduct any new audits of special districts this year.

“Telling them that you won’t audit them for a year is like telling the mice that the cat is leaving for the year,” Merrick resident Derek Donnelly said of Maragos’ decision to instead focus on digging the county out of a $250 million deficit.

Lisa Tyson, director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition, speaking before the small crowd gathered in Mineola said of Maragos: “He’s basically saying ‘I’m not going to do my job.’ We the taxpayers need help now, we can’t wait any longer.”

Members of Residents for Efficient Special Districts and Long Islanders for Educational Reform were also on hand this afternoon.

Maragos’ predecessor, Howard Weitzman, conducted several audits of special districts, which provide services such as water, sanitation and fire protection. Maragos acknowledged that many of those audits exposed corruption and mismanagement, but he said it was “not appropriate for the previous comptroller to advocate broad consolidation across the county.”

“I’ve indicated that my policy would be to leave it up to local taxpayers to decide which districts are not delivering services or delivering value,” Maragos said. “If there is a request to provide [copies of previous] reports, we will do so, but the comptroller’s office is not leading the charge.”

State legislation that went into effect on March 21 allows the consolidation or dissolution of special districts through either a resolution of the special districts’ governing body, a vote of the Nassau County Legislature or a petition of voters in the district, signed by 10 percent, or 5,000 registered voters, whichever is less.

Residents would then need to approve the proposed changes with a majority vote in either a general or special election.

Bellmore resident Stu Weinstein said he believed consolidation of special districts would save taxpayers’ money.

“You shouldn’t consolidate just for consolidation sake,” said Weinstein, president of the Town of Hempstead Civic Council. “Not every one [special district] needs to be consolidated, but when you analyze the numbers and come up with a positive result, it makes sense.”

Maragos said his office may revisit the special district issue next year, but for now, he said he’s focused on streamlining county government and working toward a balanced budget.

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“The county is run so inefficient now, you can’t convince me we can do any better,” he said of the county taking over special districts. “That’s why we have a $250 million deficit.”
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