Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A NYTimes Editorial : Is It Something in the Water?

from the NYTimes -

Is It Something in the Water?

Recent notes from Long Island’s wide, wacky world of special taxing districts, courtesy of the Nassau comptroller, Howard Weitzman:

Water commissioners in Franklin Square and Hicksville were apparently so dedicated to their duties that they met two or three times a week during the two-year period in 2004 and 2005 that Mr. Weitzman’s office audited their districts. Every time they met, each pocketed the $80 per-diem payments that the state allows commissioners of such districts to receive when doing the people’s business.

But the meetings were apparently so urgent and action-packed that the commissioners were unable to keep adequate records of how many hours they worked, or what actual district business they performed. The cost of two years’ worth of per-diems to taxpayers: $76,400 in Franklin Square and $55,120 in Hicksville.

The Hicksville district gave free Costco memberships to its three commissioners and their spouses. They told auditors that they used the memberships to buy bottled water.

¶The commissioners in both districts are part-timers, but received full medical, dental and vision benefits during the audit period. The Franklin Square commissioners got life insurance too. Three Hicksville commissioners went to American Water Works Association conferences in Orlando, Fla., and San Francisco, for dubious reasons and for about $20,000 in taxpayer money. They were reimbursed for meals at rates that were sometimes nearly double what the federal government allows its employees in those cities.

¶Of the 15 people on the Franklin Square district’s payroll, seven are related to one another, suggesting that blood is indeed thicker than water. (Think of it as a riddle: If a commissioner’s son is the district superintendent, the superintendent’s nephew is a water plant attendant, a commissioner’s daughter is an account clerk, and the business manager’s son is a water plant attendant, then who gets robbed? That’s right: you, the taxpayer!)

We’re no experts in fluid dynamics, but it does not take a hydrologist or even an unlicensed plumber to realize that tax money, like water, will disappear if leaks are not plugged and people are not watched every minute. On Long Island, nobody seems to have been watching, except for Mr. Weitzman, whose full audit — the latest of a series of wince-inducing reports from his office — can be obtained from the Nassau County Web site, nassaucountyny.gov.

There are a couple of chilling lessons from Mr. Weitzman’s perennially fruitful search for small-bore atrocities committed by these little-known, largely unaccountable cul-de-sacs of elective government:

First, that these petty inefficiencies, wastefulness and abuses of power add up to significant amounts on any New Yorker’s tax bill.

And second, that the Hicksville and Franklin Square Water Districts are only two of almost 7,000 town special districts across New York, in addition to 4,200 other local governments.

Mr. Weitzman deserves applause, again, for casting a withering eye on special-district shenanigans. But at some point, it’s the voters who must wake up to stop the steady drip, drip, drip of tax dollars down the drain.

No comments: