State Sen. Johnson, Comptroller Weitzman Tapped For Local Government Commission

Craig M. Johnson

April 25, 2007

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Senator Craig M. Johnson, (D-Port Washington) and Nassau County Comptroller Howard S. Weitzman were selected today to serve on the New York State Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness, a panel charged with developing a plan to streamline local governments and end the cycle of continually skyrocketing property tax increases.

The formation of the panel was announced by Gov. Eliot Spitzer today, during an event at the State Capitol.

“I was elected to the State Senate on the promise that I would fight to provide real property tax relief to Nassau's seniors and middle class homeowners,” Johnson said. “Our work on this commission will go toward that end and make government at every level more efficient and affordable for all New Yorkers.”

Comptroller Weitzman said, “I appreciate Governor Spitzer’s commitment to reforming local government – he understands that this is a critical issue if we are ever to get a handle on the high property tax burden we face in New York State, and especially in Nassau County. I am honored to be chosen to assist with this effort. Perhaps now we can attack the problem of wasteful and duplicative special tax districts head-on, without nibbling around the edges.”

Nassau County has more than 200 special taxing districts, which often operate below the radar but are a major contributor to high property taxes and government waste, Weitzman said. “This area is long overdue for a disciplined, serious review with the goal of eliminating waste and duplication, including consolidating those jurisdictions that can be consolidated without diminishing services.”

In the past two years, Comptroller Weitzman has taken a leadership position in addressing the issue in Nassau County. In 2005, a series of audits of town sanitary districts in Nassau County found serious financial mismanagement, a lack of oversight, few written policies and procedures, overspending, faulty contracting, and questionable employment and benefit practices. As a follow-up to the audits, Weitzman organized a Conference on Nassau County Special Districts at Hofstra University to consider ways of making such districts more efficient and accountable. Last December, Weitzman issued a report, “Cost-Saving Ideas for Special Districts in Nassau County,” which found that Nassau’s special districts could save up to $35 million annually through simple cost-saving and expense reducing measures – not including the possible financial impact of consolidation of districts.

New York State has the dubious distinction of having the highest local tax burden in the nation, Johnson said, due largely to the overlapping and multi-layered taxing system that has taken shape over many decades. In addition to county, city, town and village government, these layers include thousands of special taxing districts that manage services such as sewage collection and treatment, water, and trash pickup that operate with very little transparency and accountability. This system of local government has resulted in excessive operating costs and inefficient delivery of services in many cases.

Many of these districts, while having elected boards, also operate with little scrutiny from the public, “creating the potential for mismanagement and abuse,” Johnson said.

The 15-member commission, created via an executive order from Gov. Spitzer, is charged with examining the more than 4,200 local governments and 6,900 special districts in New York State and recommending ways to eliminate, merge, or consolidate some of these districts, while improving services.

Ten members of the commission were appointed by the Governor, with the State Comptroller and the four Legislative leaders each allowed to select one member.

Weitzman was chosen to serve on the panel by Governor Eliot Spitzer. Johnson was selected by Senate Democratic Leader Malcolm A. Smith.

“I thank Senator Smith for allowing me to be his representative on this critically important commission,” Johnson said. “It is my hope that our work will lead to fundamental changes in the structure of local government and will foster the first substantive tax reforms in a generation.”

The commission is mandated to issue a report of its findings within the next year.

The 7th Senate District encompasses the entire Town of North Hempstead. It also includes the communities of Elmont, Floral Park, South Floral Park, Stewart Manor, Bellerose, Bellerose Terrace, and parts of Franklin Square and Hicksville.