A grassroots effort to lower property taxes by using a new law to dissolve a special taxing district is in the hands of voters as the polls open in four locations in Hempstead’s Sanitation District 2 from 2 to 10 p.m. Wednesday.
Residents of the sanitation district have been paying nearly double the taxes of their neighbors who receive the Town of Hempstead’s garbage service. Petitioners sought a referendum to dissolve the district based on a 2009 law called the Government Reorganization and Citizen Empowerment Act that simplifies dissolving special districts and consolidating municipal services.
“We urge everyone in the district to vote and believe that a reduction in the number of such districts is in the best interests of all Long Island residents, especially those who live in this district,” said Mitchell H. Pally, head of the LIBI, the largest residential home building trade association in the state.
The vote comes after the Long Island Progressive Coalition and Residents for Efficient Special Districts collected more than 5,000 signatures from the residents of the sanitation district earlier this year. The vote will be the largest exercise of the new law in New York State.
It has drawn a diverse group of supporters, from Republicans like former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, who now heads the Center For Cost-Effective Government, to Democrats like Jay Jacobs, the Nassau County Democratic chairman, as well as business leaders and community organizers.
Nassau County has 200 special tax districts—including fire, sewer, sanitation, library, parks and other services—while Suffolk County has more than 100.
The impetus for the new law was the plight of Suffolk residents in Gordon Heights who, according to the state comptroller, were paying $1,500 on average for their fire service protection—the highest rate in the state and four times higher than other residents of Brookhaven township.
Their attempts to consolidate were thwarted for years by those residents who claimed the level of fire service would decline. The town board at one point hired an Oregon consulting firm to study the issue but has yet to decide on plans outlined in the firm’s report.
Supporters of consolidation got a boost on Dec. 11 when they won a three-two majority on the Gordon Heights fire district board.
“There’ll be a new attitude,” sais Paul Sabatino, an attorney who worked with the consolidation supporters, “because they’re not going to have people on the board putting up obstacles. Plus it sends a psychological message to the town board, which has been sitting on [this].”
Unlike the Gordon Heights situation, the new law eliminates “the ability of the town to stonewall” the petitions for consolidation or dissolution, Sabatino said. “You’re able to get to a decision a lot faster… The biggest difference is that the elected officials can’t impede the process.”
But the law does set up a double referenda requirement. If voters approve dissolving Hempstead’s Sanitation District 2, then the special district will have to come up with an exact plan to carry out the voters’ wishes, and that will be voted on at later date.
The four voting locations for this special election are the Sanitation District office, 2080 Grand Ave., Baldwin; Queen of the Most Holy Rosary school in Roosevelt; the Covert School in South Hempstead and the Covert School at Rockville Centre.