Apr 08, 2011
The scene is being played repeatedly all over the country, at every level of government. Budgets are under severe pressure and tax revenues are down. At the same time, expenses keep rising, as labor contracts, awarded in flush times and mandates for services, imposed by the federal and state governments, inflict ever higher costs.
Who can argue with the idea of helping the old and disabled travel? Everyone agrees that youth programs are important. We all enjoy having beautiful and well equipped parks and beaches. Of course, we must educate our children. And, obviously, we have got to maintain a robust and effective public safety infrastructure.
Then, all of a sudden, we have to focus on paying for all of this. We cannot simply borrow the money. That is a path to disaster, as anyone that runs a business or family knows. Just raising taxes won’t work anymore. Here, once again, we have almost universal agreement that money should be gotten elsewhere, captured in the late Senator Russell Long of Louisiana’s pithy observation that accurately summarized the typical attitude as “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax that fellow behind the tree!” We have encountered the legendary “perfect storm” in 2011 combining increased demand for services, economic weakness, decreased borrowing ability and already too high taxes.
Nassau is a microcosm of the national problem. It is one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, and it is flat broke, to the extent that there is a state control panel involved in our finances. How is this possible? Simple – Over the ten years that Democrats controlled the County before 2010, spending was out of control, and left us with a terrible hangover that we now must confront. You should know that County taxes are actually only 17 percent of your total property tax bill. The overwhelming majority of our taxes go to the schools – 77 percent of all real estate taxes. However, the County, being the largest and most visible government unit is often blamed for the terrible tax burden in our County.
Notwithstanding that most taxes are not paid to the County, the new Republican majority has pledged to not to raise County taxes (we don’t control the other taxes) under any circumstance, in recognition of the distress faced by our residents and businesses. Instead, we have pledged, together with our new County Executive, to balance our budget by means of cuts and efficiencies. This is what our residents have told us that they want, and it is what we are doing. However, every cut, or failure to fund a particular need, elicits cries of pain, and many, if not most, of them are justified.
So, what do we do to reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable For my part, I will not vote for increased taxes in this budget cycle. The empty stores and offices and cries of pain that I constantly hear from residents prove that we cannot afford it. Instead, I am searching for ways, some big and some not as big, to improve our lives here in the 7th District, using funds already committed for capital expenses. Here are just a few examples:
- I succeeded in having the long neglected sidewalks along Branch Boulevard replaced. Construction should start soon, and mothers should no longer have to push carriages in traffic.
- The Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant is finally being rebuilt, after years of appalling neglect. Sewage is not a sexy subject, but it is a necessary part of our infrastructure. This will ultimately clean our waterways, and ease the burden of citizens who live nearby and suffer from intolerable odors.
- I am actively involved with the County Department of Public Works to ensure that needed construction projects do not unduly inconvenience residents or endanger health and safety. That is why, for example, I insisted on recent construction at Peninsula and Rockaway take place at night.
What can you do?
- Pay attention to local politics – local is where we all live, and where our quality of life is largely determined.
- Stay in touch with your representatives on every level. Tell us what you think and want them to do on issues such as spending and taxes. Politicians will pay attention and respond to public opinion.
- Attend community meetings and, especially, your local school board meetings. Remember that the schools are where the vast majority of local taxes are spent. Make sure that you are happy with the members of the Board, and what they are doing.
- Above all, go out and vote! The turnout in local elections is dismayingly low. When people are elected with only a relatively few votes, they will do as those few voters wish. If that is not what we want, and we didn’t vote, we have ourselves to blame.
Howard Kopel is Nassau County Legislator for the 7th District, which covers all of the Five Towns and other areas. He is also a Principal in Sutton Alliance, a national Title Insurance Company located in Valley Stream.
Filed Under: Howard J. Kopel
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