The effort to dissolve Sanitary District 2, one of Nassau County’s special taxing districts, took a major step forward Monday when 5,386 signed petitions were submitted by a coalition of residents and activists to the Hempstead Town Clerk’s office.
The clerk now has 10 days to certify the petitions and then a referendum must be held 60 to 90 days after the clerk’s approval. If the voters approve, then the district has to create a plan to dissolve itself and reallocate its duties—and that plan must then be approved by the voters for the process to be complete.
“It’s a long process,” said Lisa Tyson director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition, admitting that it’s still far from over.
This effort began several years ago when South Hempstead resident Laura Mallay realized that she and her neighbors were paying hundreds of dollars more a year for trash pick-up than people living across the street who were getting comparable, but less expensive service from the town.
That’s when she discovered the world of special taxing districts include little-known fire, water and sanitation service agencies layered within the network of county, town and village municipalities but whose practices are opaque at best. There are reportedly some 200 in Nassau, and an estimated 4,200 of them statewide.
Two years ago Mallay, leader of Residents for Efficient Special Districts, joined with LIPC to assist local residents in dissolving Sanitary District 2 and let Town of Hempstead handle the garbage for hamlets of Baldwin, Roosevelt, and South Hempstead and parts of Uniondale, Rockville Centre and Freeport.
It would be the first such referendum on LI since the Government Reorganization and Citizen Empowerment Act passed in 2009. Under the law, either 5,000 registered voters within a special district or 10 percent of the district’s residents could sign a petition to put the dissolution measure on the ballot, depending on which figure is smaller.
“We did the 5,000 to be safe,” Mallay tells the Press, adding that her group thought the Sanit 2 district had 36,000 residents but the district would not confirm the total.
Before going to the Hempstead clerk’s office, members of RESD and the LIPC had set up a table in the shade next to the main entrance of the town building to show the 15 piles of “precedent-setting” paperwork, each stack carefully sealed with rubber bands and special “pilfer proof” cellophane tape.
This petition drive is the largest undertaking in the state so far to use Cuomo’s new law. Last year on Fire Island, the Lonelyville Fire District dissolved into the Fair Harbor Fire District after both boards approved the measure, which affected fewer than 600 homes.
Both Mallay and Tyson stressed that the petition drive was not aimed against the sanitation workers.
“They deserve better management than what they get from a hand full of bureaucrats who are unaccountable,” Tyson said. If the district is dissolved, the workers would presumably join the town’s sanitation department.
“It’s not about people losing their jobs,” says Wilhelmina Funderburke, a 47-year resident of Roosevelt and a member of RESD’s board.
On hand to show her support for the citizens’ initiative was Rosalie Hanson, who’s been trying for years to consolidate the Gordon Heights Fire District in Brookhaven Town, home of the highest fire taxes on LI. Her group was unable to use the benefits of the Cuomo law because it took effect after they’d submitted their petitions.
“We’re still waiting for the town of Brookhaven to act on our petitions to dissolve the fire district,” said Hanson.
Mallay said that Brookhaven has “taken more than 10 months—Hempstead has 10 days.”
Moments before the activists were set to hand-deliver their petitions to Hempstead Town Clerk Mark Bonilla, he and his assistant were spotted getting into his vehicle parked in full view of the table brimming with the stacks of signatures. He left his administrative supervisor, Nasrin Ahmad, to receive them in her office next to his.
Before Bonilla took off for lunch, he told the Press that the residents are “certainly entitled” to petition for Sanit 2’s dissolution and “certainly we will do our job” to review them.
But the issue, Bonilla added, is “for the public to decide.”
When the residents will get their chance remains to be seen, but the clock is now ticking.
“This is a question of fairness,” said Mallay. “Special districts have operated under the radar for over a hundred years. It’s not okay. It’s time to change—and the change starts here.”