Six of Great Neck’s nine villages go to the polls on Tuesday, March 15. None of the elections are contested, and it seems everyone is seeking re-election, but it is still important to show up and be counted. Because every ballot is a vote in favor of local government.
Local government is under assault. Like teachers and public unions, local government is being scapegoated as the reason property taxes are so high. Yet there has never been a study which demonstrates how taxes would be affected if local governments were eliminated. On the other hand, there is ample evidence around the country when small governments are consolidated into massive governments – typically, after a brief period of tax reduction, that taxes resume their inexorable rise. That is the case in Jacksonville, FL, which has become the largest city in America, based on geography, as a result of consolidation, where people are just as unhappy as anywhere about rising taxes.
There is also no evidence that big governments do things that much better or more efficiently or more responsively than small local governments. If that were true, Nassau County would just be sailing along, and not facing hundreds of millions of dollars of new debt.
On the contrary, people love their village government, or else they would act to dissolve or consolidate. There are already procedures in place to do that, and in some instances, it makes sense for communities to consolidate . We saw that here on the Peninsula with the consolidation of Great Neck Village’s water pollution control department being consolidated into the Great Neck Water Pollution Control District.
The fact is that even if there is a premium to be paid for being able to march right into village hall to get action on something, more than likely by an official or village worker who is someone you know, rather than have to deal with some anonymous bureaucrat, people are willing to pay that premium.
Saddle Rock Mayor J. Leonard Samansky,who is going for his 10th term, remarked, “Village government is the form of government closest to the people. Anyone can contact the mayor or member of the board at any time directly. We are neighbors. When was the last time anyone was able to contact and sit down on a Sunday with the governor? Every penny raised in taxes goes back in the form of services to the residents.”
Samansky has spent nearly 30 years in his village government, and also currently serves as the president of the Great Neck Village Officials Association. There is no one who can illuminate the details of a waste-management contract as well as he can.
Our village governments have been models in terms of cooperating together in times of crisis or emergency, as they did last June after the microburst caused such devastation to the Peninsula, and their ability to do that was largely championed by Samansky, and the former mayor of Lake Success, Bob Bernstein.
Most village elected officials serve as unpaid volunteers; a few of the mayors, including Samansky, and Village of Great Neck Plaza Mayor Jean Celender – who manages the most congested village in the state – do get some compensation.
But Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state legislators want you to think that the reason for our state’s woes are because we have too much local government.
Cuomo is doing his level best to vilify teachers and other public workers, to force them to give back pay and benefits. We have discussed the disastrous impact of a property tax cap would have on our schools, but this same cap would apply to local governments.
In effect, Cuomo means to take away local control. Our communities will not be able to decide for ourselves the character of our communities – whether that is a community that wants garbage pick-up on a three-times a week schedule or twice weekly, whether it has vigorous recycling collection or not, how vigilant it is about road maintenance, snow removal, street lighting.
Much of the problems in local governments, just as with school budgets, would be solved with mandate relief, but in the present climate, that is step two, instead of “step one and let’s see if caps are even necessary.”
But just recently, our state representatives, state Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel and state Sen. Jack Martins, though from different parties (like in the good old days of Tom DiNapoli and Mike Balboni), won a significant victory in winning passage of legislation they sponsored removing the one of these absurd mandates that would have cost each village thousands of dollars to administer.
They were able to get a two-year delay in the state requirement that local governments (including special districts) rent optical scanners (at a cost of $1,500 versus $150 for the lever machines), and pay as much as a $1 per paper ballot for a required 110 percent of the number of registered voters, and which would have required a 3 percent recanvassing by hand, anyway. That’s for an election where fewer than a dozen people can turn out (as in Kensington). that means that conducting an election might cost each village on the Peninsula $5,000, versus $150.
No wonder Village of Kensington Mayor Susan Lopatkin, along with mayors and deputy mayors representing just about all Great Neck’s villages and many of Nassau County’s 64 villages turned out to a press event at Great Neck House last week, to applaud this “commonsense” legislation.
Both Martins, who was the mayor of Mineola before being elected this past November to the state Senate, and Schimel, who was North Hempstead’s Town Clerk before succeeding Tom DiNapoli as state assemblywoman, bring an appreciation of local government.
“Politics is local,” Schimel said. “The most important government that impacts your life is the most local government. Village governments are truly the grassroots of democracy.”
“Albany looks at the world from 30,000 feet,” said Martins, sounding almost surprised at his early success at turning back the cogs crushing down on local government. “They see a tapestry of terrain but don’t see people, But the things we do in Albany do impact people locally. My colleagues lack that perspective. ” An amazing statement from someone who now champions a property tax cap which eviscerates local control.
But on to the crux of the matter: the fact that our neighbors who stand for election, who volunteer their time, expertise and concern for their communities, deserve to be shown appreciation by having people come out, spend the few minutes to cast a ballot.
It is counter-intuitive that people should come out when they are satisfied with government; the easiest way to get a turnout is to get people fired up and angry. That is a terrible shame.
This go-around, there are no contested elections, and no major controversies.
Well, except for Great Neck Plaza, where a particular individual has created an industry of bashing elected officials while offering no actual solutions.
In more than 15 years of closely monitoring our local governments, Great Neck Plaza always impressed me as a model of how local government should be run – how much further this board goes to be informed in their decision-making and to engage the community. If residents choose not to participate, well, this is America, and you have the freedom not to engage as much as you have the freedom to be engaged.
Glickman has particularly savaged Village of Great Neck Plaza Trustee Gerald Schneiderman, who (surprise!) is up for re-election this cycle.
But I would put Schneiderman’s record of contributions to the village up against anyone.
Schneiderman, who served (unpaid) for 20 years on the village Board of Zoning and Appeals, as trustee is the village’s liaison to the Nassau County Village Officials Association, Liaison to the Great Neck Village Officials Association, member of Business Improvement District Board of Directors, village representative to the Great Neck Business Circle, Great Neck Vigilant Fire Department Liaison Committee member and a member of Village Art Advisory Group – time-consuming commitments that also require a vast amount of expertise.
Schneiderman was pivotal (along with Trustee Pam Marsheid and Mayor Celender) in not just keeping the Great Neck Library’s branch in the Plaza, but getting an enlarged and superior library, and in the governmental-equivalent of a “blink of an eye.”
Schneiderman also was responsible for the creation of Restaurant Week, “which is now so successful that we now have several of them each year in the warm weather” and was also behind the “Friendly Meter” in the Plaza, which gives you an extra five minutes of parking time after your time is up, before you get a ticket.
In the next term, Schneiderman is working with the mayor and other trustees to craft a new multiple-use law to allow additional residential space in the downtown.”
Somehow, the Plaza board has found a way to improve its infrastructure and services while not increasing taxes for the fifth consecutive year. That’s pretty remarkable in this day and age.
The Plaza board will also be engaged in probably the biggest development to face the Great Neck Peninsula since the decision was made to put the tracks below ground: the prospect of Long Island Railroad access to the East Side, with the extension planned to Grand Central. That will have ramifications for traffic and parking in the village.
Both the Plaza and Thomaston, as well as the Great Neck Village Officials Association, will have to take the lead to be sure that the negative impacts – particularly on some 75 Thomaston residents – will be properly mitigated. The Plaza, too, has to be concerned that such a popular service does not generate much more new traffic and parking congestion. And all of the Peninsula’s local officials need to be battling to stop cuts to the Long Island bus service.
Thomaston Mayor Robert Stern, who is running unopposed for his seventh term, has championed this cause the loudest. He has also been a model of fiscal integrity that others might emulate.
With every level of government hysterical over mounting debt, Mayor Stern has put his village on a path to retiring all its public debt, paying for such things as road maintenance from the operating budget, and training village employees to do the work. The village currently has $13 million in outstanding debt, and is retiring it at the rate of $300,000 a year.
Russell Gardens Mayor Matthew S. Bloomfield, who has served on the village’s board of trustees for 19 years, and is seeking re-election to his second term as mayor.
“As mayor,” Bloomfield said, “I work and will continue to work with our representatives in Albany on village matters, LIPA to reduce the frequency of outages, National Grid to replace a leaking gas main, the Nassau County Police Department on traffic enforcement, Manhasset Lakeville Water District on fire hydrant replacement etc.
Residents of Great Neck Estates, Great Neck Plaza, Kensington, Russell Gardens, Saddle Rock, Thomaston, this is your chance to express appreciation your neighbors who do take on the responsibilities.