Empowering Voters. Defending Democracy    JOINDONATE
Empowering Voters. Defending Democracy    JOINDONATE

We all know that living in Nassau County is very expensive and those of us living on the south shore seem to be bearing the brunt of it. Do you ever wonder why?

In the early 1900s Nassau County was largely rural with a few centers of population handling the collection and trans-shipment of farm produce. Where no municipality existed to provide needed services, the New York State Constitution made provision for the establishment of Special Districts to provide those services and only the people receiving those services paid for them.

Thus, Special Districts are semi-autonomous, quasi-governmental bodies, empowered to request that the town issue bonds on their behalf and to levy taxes provided that the town approves their budgets. Taxes and bonded indebtedness, while approved or issued by the town, are paid for only by the properties served, and only for specific services. Each special district was empowered to be run by commissioners, accountants and attorneys.

Special Districts prepare their budgets, which are presented to the town for acceptance at a public hearing. The districts levy taxes and assessments for capital improvements and for operations and maintenance (O & M). However, the residents receiving these services have no say and do not vote for or against the budgets.

Since the size of a special district could not be increased, more and more special districts were established, and so as of 2005 in Nassau County alone, there were 213 Special Districts with 109 just in the Town of Hempstead. Examples of Special Districts are:

  • fire
  • fire prevention
  • fire hydrant rental
  • water supply
  • water pollution control (sewers)
  • lighting
  • garbage collection
  • garbage disposal
  • drainage
  • sidewalks
  • libraries
  • library funding
  • police
  • police headquarters
  • town parks
  • business improvements, and
  • a moving staircase district at an elevated LIRR station.

Those who live in full service villages, such as Valley Stream, Rockville Centre and Hempstead, have many of their services handled by the village at a much lower cost.

In 1909, just one special district, Sanitation District No. 6 which services North Valley Stream, Elmont and Franklin Square and run by 6 commissioners, had a budget of $24 ½ million. Sanitation District No. 1 which services the Five Towns area had a higher budget.

Since 1938, all new special improvement districts are town-run and do not have commissioners. However, the towns are permitted to charge an administrative fee for managing a district – a fee that is sometimes much higher than the commissioners’ annual fee. Since the towns collect the taxes for all districts and receive a percentage of the fee for doing that, it is a money maker for the towns. Some of these special districts, particularly on the north shore, function very efficiently in terms of cost and service. Others, unfortunately, particularly on the south shore, have succumbed to abuses, leading to escalating costs, and causing dissatisfied taxpayers in these areas to demand change.

Look at your tax bill. Only “County-General Purposes” and “Town-General Purposes” are not special districts. Everything else is, although they are not specified as such.

Who looks at the line items in the special district budgets? Who checks to see that the amounts of each item is accurate? What can we do about that?

Marjorie Latz

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