Nassau Comptroller Weitzman Urges Town to Publicly Review Budgets of Special Tax Districts

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 18, 2006

COMPTROLLER WEITZMAN URGES TOWNS TO
PUBLICLY REVIEW BUDGETS OF SPECIAL TAXING DISTRICTS

Special Districts Receive 75% of Town Taxes, Need Greater Scrutiny, Comptroller Says

Saying that “no town should simply rubber-stamp special district budgets,” Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman today sent a letter to the Town Supervisors of Hempstead, North Hempstead and Oyster Bay urging all three towns to review upcoming budget submissions by the towns’ approximately 200 special tax districts.

The budgets, for districts including sanitation, water, fire, and other municipal services, are expected to come before the Town Boards within the next two weeks.  So far, only Oyster Bay and North Hempstead have requested that the districts submit their budget plans in advance so that they may be reviewed prior to public adoption of the budgets at Town Board meetings.

“Special district taxes make up approximately 75 percent of Town taxes paid by residents,” Comptroller Weitzman said.  “In my view, every Town Board has an obligation to the taxpayers to review how 100 percent of their Town taxes are used.”

In the next two weeks, the special districts will bring their 2007 budgets before the Town Boards, which must approve them before they take effect.  In his letter, Weitzman wrote, “I understand that the Towns of North Hempstead and Oyster Bay are encouraging special districts to submit their budgets on the same timetable as Town departments, to enable budget analysts to carefully review the spending plans before they are finalized.  This is a very encouraging development – just the promise of such a review may impose a greater degree of discipline on district spending plans, to the benefit of our taxpayers.

“Considering that special district taxes make up approximately 75 percent of Town taxes paid by residents of unincorporated areas,” the letter continues, “no Town should simply rubber-stamp these budgets.  All our Towns should exercise their right to review special district budgets before including the amounts in their own budgets. Moreover, in the public interest, the Towns should publicize the meeting date and time when the Town Board will review these budgets, so that members of the public can raise concerns about special district spending, just as they might about other types of spending.”

Comptroller Weitzman urged the supervisors to “take concrete steps to begin to make special district government more cost-effective and responsive to the taxpayers.  I believe that the plans announced by North Hempstead and Oyster Bay to increase public scrutiny of special district budgets are a laudable and essential step to increase the districts’ accountability.   I strongly encourage all the Town Boards to publicly review the special district budgets before voting to include them in the Town budgets,” he concluded.

Comptroller Weitzman organized the first-ever Conference on Nassau County Special Districts last June at Hofstra University to examine how the districts contribute to high property taxes in Nassau.  At the conference, a distinguished panel of public officials, including the three Town supervisors, joined policy experts and nearly 400 Nassau residents to discuss why Nassau more has so many taxing districts.  The conference considered various approaches to increasing the efficiency, transparency and governmental oversight of the special districts.

In the fall of 2005, Comptroller Weitzman’s audits of five town sanitary districts found millions of dollars of waste by some special districts, and a general lack of accountability, transparency and oversight.

This fall, the Comptroller’s Office expects to issue audits of four water districts, a study of the cost disparities for similar municipal services in various communities in Nassau, and a report recommending cost savings for the special districts that can be accomplished in the short term.

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