Suffolk County Sherriff Errol Toulon

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Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon discussed his background in law enforcement. His father was a warden at Riker’s Island and he also joined Riker’s as a corrections officer. During the crack epidemic of the 1980s, the jail held 25,000 inmates.

He joined the New York City Department of Corrections in 1982. In 1996, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and, in 2004, left his job to undergo a round of cancer treatments. He later returned to the Corrections Department and stayed there until 2017, when he said he was “forced to resign.”

With just 53 days before Election Day 2017, Sheriff Toulon mounted a campaign for sheriff against Larry Zacarese. What made the election more interesting was that Toulon was not declared the winner until December 4, 2017 – almost one month after Election Day – because of all the absentee ballots that needed to be counted. The previous month, it had been too close to call.

His goal as sheriff is to reach out to as many children in the county as possible. He said he would rather see these children now than later, when they are arrested and facing jail time. He visits local schools to address issues facing today’s students, including drugs, gangs, crime and bullying. He also addressed concerns from school faculty and administrators about school safety since the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14. Sheriff Toulon said school districts operate autonomously so they decide how to handle school security, whether it is armed guards or private patrols.

In August, the sheriff’s office began to work with Sandy Hook Promise, a group formed by parents whose children were killed in the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, to talk to students about reporting anything that can lead to a classmate’s suicide or a school shooting. If they know something, he said, they should tell a trusted adult.

In handling the prison population, Sheriff Toulon emphasized rehabilitation – helping those who are incarcerated in turning their lives around and giving them a positive role model and getting them the treatment they need. According to the sheriff, 80-90% of those in jail may be suffering from substance abuse or mental health issues or never had any positive role models in their lives. To protect the older inmates, those 55 and older have been moved into a new facility so that they are not in the same facility as the younger inmates.

Among some of the changes next year are that, as of April 1, 2019, all incoming prisoners will begin rehabilitation immediately. Also, effective October 2019, no inmates younger than 18 will be incarcerated; this was part of Governor Cuomo’s “Raise The Age” program. However, once those at least 18 years of age enter the prison system, Sheriff Toulon said they will be given instruction and have discipline instilled in them.

Sheriff Toulon said that, if the organization within his office fails, that falls on him. In an effort to improve training and morale, he has all deputies and corrections officers undergo two-day training on how to properly restrain prisoners or suspects and proper usage of firearms. He has also met with the female police officers to see what concerns they may have working in a male-dominated police force. He has also instituted an Employee of the Month program, in which a deputy, civilian employee and corrections officer are each chosen for the honor by their respective supervisors.

Meeting Recap – Dr. Sam Stanley from Stony Brook University

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Dr. Samuel Stanley came to LIMBA to share his thoughts on what is happening at Stony Brook University and what the future looks like.

Stony Brook University has an annual budget of $2.7 billion. A major part of that is healthcare, which is $1 billion. The university’s extensive medical practice comprises of $500-600 million of that budget.

The university’s economic impact on the region is $5.5 billion. Stony Brook is the largest, single- site employer of Long Island, with 14,000 employees on its main campus alone. It also added 1,500 more employees when it took over Southampton Hospital.

There are currently 27,000 students who attend Stony Brook. Dr. Stanley pointed out that the university is becoming more competitive academically; last year, the university received 38,000 applications for 3,300 slots. Of the student body, 1,500 are transfer students, mostly from Suffolk County Community College. In addition, Stony Brook is accepting more New York State residents than it has in the past, and is accepting more international students as well.

Dr. Stanley said Stony Brook has been able to increase enrollment while maintaining quality of education. In the last five years, the on-time graduation rate increased from 40% to 60%. The retention rate has also remained high.

He also said that Stony Brook is a nationally recognized when it comes to quality and value. Forbes ranked Stony Brook No. 25 among STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) based universities, and 18th among all public universities nationwide. Money magazine ranked Stony Brook No. 22 in value.

Many of the students receive financial aid. According to Dr. Stanley, 46% attend the university tuition-free as the result of Pell Grants, Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and the Excelsior program, and one-third of the students are eligible for a Pell Grant. When asked if most of the students are taking advantage of the Excelsior program, Dr. Stanley said that 850 students are in the state-run tuition-free program; he added the number is so small because there are other forms of financial aid that students can qualify for.

With the growing interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) among current and graduating high school students, Stony Brook has seen a 70% increase in enrollment of its engineering program. However, because there is not enough classroom space in its engineering buildings, many qualified applicants are turned away. To expand its program, the university is undertaking a $100 million project to construct a facility that will house more of its engineering department.

Dr. Stanley said the major focus points for the university are research and medicine. In the research department, he said Stony Brook is putting an emphasis on generating knowledge. This, in turn, brings money to Long Island through National Institutes of Health grants. He added the university has attracted top academic talent in its assistance. Eight faculty members have been awarded by major federal agencies.

Stony Brook is looking to modernize its buildings for its medical department. This includes the construction of a medical research and translation building featuring classrooms and a state-of- the-art cancer center, as well as the first stand alone children’s hospital, in which each child gets their own room and beds for the parents to stay with their children overnight.

In looking to expand its medical and scientific research, Dr. Stanley said he is reaching out to form partnerships and collaborations with other Long Island institutions – including Northwell Health, the Feinstein Institute, Brookhaven National Laboratory and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

Dr. Stanley did not want to finish without mentioning its athletic program. He pointed out that the Seawolves are the only Division I football team on Long Island; last year, the team finished 10-3 and went to the FCS. This past spring, the women’s lacrosse team was ranked No. 1 in the country. Dr. Stanley predicted they will be named champions of the 2019 season.

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart

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Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart spoke about her career in law enforcement. She spent 21 years with the FBI. She was assigned to the FBI’s Manhattan office, where she worked in the Organized Crime Unit.

Before Tim Sini became Suffolk’s police commissioner – and now its District Attorney – Commissioner Hart said there was no communication between Suffolk police and the FBI. After Sini became police commissioner, he was able to facilitate communications and information sharing between the two agencies on the MS-13 gangs, counterterrorism and the Gilgo Beach murders.

Over the past year, violent crime in Suffolk County has gone down 20%, while property-related crime has decreased by 10%. Despite those encouraging statistics, Commissioner Hart said, more needs to be done.

As police commissioner, her top priorities are cracking down on gang-related crime, dealing with the opioid crisis and school safety. In addressing the first priority, Commissioner Hart said the FBI is working with the Long Island Gang Task Force; she is also encouraging the officers to become involved with the community. She said that community relations should be in the DNA of every officer. Most recently, some police precincts took part in the National Night Out as a way for the officers to interact with the public.

In speaking about the opioid crisis, she said they will prosecute the dealers, while those who are addicted to these painkillers can receive help. The police department is partnering with LICADD (Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence), which, in turn, will reach out those who need help. This program, she said, will provide treatment for addicts instead of sending them to jail.

The third priority – school safety – was widely discussed. Those in attendance asked how the police can make schools safer. Commissioner Hart said the schools and the SCPD are working together as part of the SHARE program. She said all transmissions from the schools’ cameras go directly to a centralized location where SCPD personnel can monitor it. From their location, they can get control access to the schools remotely in the event of an active shooter; they can also assess the building to make sure the school is not a soft target.

Commissioner Hart said her agency is staying on top of potential attacks on schools by viewing real-time video, responding to social media posts, establishing a robust intelligence center that is vetting all threats and making sure everyone communicates with one another. She pointed out that, nine times out of 10, an active shooter makes their intentions known before committing the act, so she urged everyone that, if they see or know of a threat against the school, to contact the police immediately.

One of the audience’s concerns was the overtime pay collected by the officers. The commissioner addressed the problem by stating that overtime costs are down by $5 million compared to last year and more officers will join the force after completing academy training. Further, many of the police academy graduates have a four-year college degree or higher.

Steve Levy on Budgets and Deficits

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Steve Levy talked about how taxes are affecting Long Islanders and why they are so high. He addressed the 2% tax cap, which, he said, is not a permanent cap. It gets renewed every four years because the elected officials in Albany need to stay in power and will make that campaign promise to renew the cap. The last time the cap was renewed was in 2015.

Mr. Levy said there is a struggle in the state Senate between the suburban legislators, who are looking to keep the cap and the urban legislators, who are interested in rent stabilization rather than the cap. He said, if control of the state Senate flips to the urban legislators next year, there is no guarantee that the tax cap will be renewed.

To get around the tax cap, more school districts are bonding, or borrowing, money to pay for special projects. In the end, he said, school district residents will pay more from bonding, He pointed out that the Port Jefferson School District bonded for $29 million for a project, resulting in a 5% tax increase. Mr. Levy added that most bonds are legitimate, but they need more scrutiny; he proposed that bonding for projects should be voted on the same day as the school budget.

Suffolk County recently bundled a series of bonds for infrastructure projects and put them to a single vote. Mr. Levy said bundling of the bonds takes away the opportunity to debate each bond individually and make a decision on each bond.

School districts, meanwhile, have hoarded excess money in their coffers. Many districts have reserves in excess of the 4% allowed in escrow. This extra money is not given back to the taxpayers, thereby keeping taxes artificially high. A solution is to use the MTA Rule, in which any excess money would be taken back by the comptroller.

This morning, it was announced that the GDP grew by 4.1%. Mr. Levy said that tax cuts generate more revenue, not less. As examples, he cited John F. Kennedy’s tax cuts by 20-30%, resulting in 5% growth over the next eight years, and Ronald Reagan cutting taxes by 40-50% from 1983 to 1989, income for the upper class and the middle class rose by 12%. He also disabused the notion that tax cuts lead to budget deficits; he said the budget deficits are caused by overspending. When the budget deficit grew under the Reagan administration, Mr. Levy said that was the result in spending, especially within the military. Chairman Fazio pointed out that when JFK reduced taxes the highest tax rate was 90% and that was the reason the effect was great.

On the topic of renewable energy, Mr. Levy said he supports alternatives to fossil fuel, but at the same time, he does not believe these goals proposed by Governor Cuomo and other elected officials of 50-100% renewable sources within 10 years is not achievable. He also said offshore wind power would not be economically feasible because it would cost seven times more than what New Yorkers are paying now for energy costs. Mr. Levy added that Long Islanders are currently paying $7 billion to bail out a nuclear power plant in upstate New York; he reminded the audience that, when Shoreham closed down, no one else in the state offered a bailout.

Mr. Levy concluded his presentation with councilmatic districts. He mentioned the lawsuit that was filed by a group of Latino residents and activist groups against the Town of Islip, claiming the town’s at-large voting system does not properly represent the Latino population. Mr. Levy said all of the current town board members live on the southern part of Islip Town, with none of them living in Brentwood or Central Islip, which is predominantly Latino. He said the town residents should vote for a councilmatic district and that, if it is good enough for a Republican-controlled town like Islip, it is good for a Democrat-controlled town like Babylon. Chairman Fazio suggested that councilmatic districts in more homogeneous towns probably work better, and that all remedies may not work everywhere.

Making the LIRR Better – Phillip Eng, Long Island Rail Road President

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Since accepting the role as president of the LIRR in April 2018, Phillip Eng has looked for ways to improve service for the 300,000-plus riders that use the trains every day. For example, he described the proposed addition of a second track that would improve service between Ronkonkoma and Farmingdale. In addition to alleviating stress on the existing first track, the second t rack would be built without the need to acquire additional property, provide more choices for commuters and more reliable service.

LIRR Forward is the initiative Mr. Eng is bringing to the LIRR. He asked, “What do our customers deserve?” to which he replied “A seamless, safe, comfortable ride.” He said the LIRR is adapting a “fix it now” attitude, taking a proactive (rather than a reactive) approach. In addition, he wants to accelerate best practices and find new practices to make the LIRR more cost-efficient. This includes identifying and attacking the causes of delays and making improvements in relaying real-time information to riders so they can make better commuting decisions.

In 2017, there were 205 switch failures; 10 of those switches caused 44% of all failures. To fix that, Mr. Eng said, those switches will be upgraded within six months. Also last year, 417 trains were delayed as the result of vehicles on the tracks. The problem was addressed by installing high-visibility delineators all of the 29 grade crossings this year. The LIRR also worked with the company that made the Waze app to prevent motorists who use the app from accidentally coming onto the tracks.

Last year, Mr. Eng said, over 2,600 trains were delayed due to extreme weather conditions. To remedy the situation, the agency has cleared 180 miles of overgrown vegetation to reduce the number of track incidents and installed 60 snow switch covers – a project that was completed two years ahead of schedule – and added 14 third-rail heaters. He is also working with PSEG to replace 80 utility poles along with the right-of-ways; as of this writing, 51 have been replaced so far. He is also looking to have the door components that have failed during winter months; these repairs will reduce delays and liability.

He concluded by emphasizing the importance of providing access to the state’s airports via trains, citing the AirTrain that is connected to JFK Airport. He said he is looking to improve access to other airports such as LaGuardia and MacArthur.

Mr. Eng said the programs that are put in place can work, but they cannot be successful unless his customers – the commuters – are satisfied.

Make America Great Again – Ernie Fazio

Recently in the new budget we added $64 billion to the defense budget. Does that contribute to the notion that America is great? I don’t think so. I am quite aware that it is important to protect the country, the question is how is that protection best achieved?

Here is an observation that may be controversial. America is more protected by the fact that it is admired and has allies. In 1947 America made an enormous investment in the same places that we had recently vanquished. We invested $112 billion in today’s equivalent to rebuild Europe and Japan through the Marshall Plan.

It made a certain amount of sense to rebuild our allies, but Germany, Italy, and Japan? Yes! In one grand move we showed the world that we were ready to change conditions so radically, that further conflict made little sense. The result has been peace in Europe that has lasted more than 70 years.

When we elected John F. Kennedy in 1960 he took an idea from Representative Henry Reuss of Wisconsin. It was called the Peace Corp. President Kennedy created the Peace Corp by Executive Order. Later it was written into law. As a promoter of peace and cooperation the program is an on-going success. The entire cost of the Peace Corp in this year’s budget is $318 Million. That price-tag is less than one B-1 Bomber ($388 million). Which of those expenses increased the security of the US more? I’ll let you guess. The legions of effective leaders that returned to the US over the years has been remarkable. Leaders that went into various fields such as medicine, politics, and business created a culture of Americans that are a well-respected fraternity.

Here is a suggestion that will help the country. America has 10 Giant nuclear powered aircraft carriers and 2 more on order. In addition we have 9 conventional aircraft carriers. All of them are huge vessels with about 5000 service people on board. By the way, Russia has one aircraft carrier and it is a candidate for the scrap yard.

What if we took several of these vessels and converted them to FEMA vessels. They would be outfitted with a variety of heavy construction equipment, a hospital section, urban rescue trucks, electrical restoration equipment, deck equipment that could lower small vessels to enable rescues. Large scale generators and large refrigeration units. These ships would carry only light armaments. Protection would be accomplished with the usual fleet complement.

When disaster strikes these vessels would be deployed to the stricken area. This worldwide rescue force would be devoted to saving human lives whether the country be a friendly nation or not. As long as these vessels were not already in use serving an American city or territory.

The ancillary benefits of this endeavor would be very substantial:

  • The service will train many skilled workers at approximately the same cost as military training
  • Personnel would have the choice of going out to industry after 2 years
  • The program would give the young people who would participate a meaningful work experience
  • I could easily see these vessels of mercy working in a tsunami in the Pacific, a hurricane in the Caribbean or a big assist to a city as large as New York
  • The service would tend to draw talented men and women from all over the country in an enterprise that would foster a feeling of unity among our citizens

My vision- The effort once established could invite other wealthy nations to participate. This would truly lend itself to making “America Great Again.” Ernie Fazio

Meeting Recap – Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter

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Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter discussed the recent developments at Long Island-MacArthur Airport. She said one of the main factors in ensuring that the airport is managed properly is that person must exhibit not just leadership experience, but experience in airport management. After conducting a nationwide search, Shelley LaRose-Arken – who was in attendance – was chosen to oversee the operations at MacArthur.

Supervisor Carpenter said that, after years of financial underperformance, the airport has begun to see a profit, which provides more revenue for the town. In the past, Supervisor Carpenter said, the town had to resort to selling town-owned properties and one-shot gimmicks to fill the town’s coffers.

Noticing that the airport was an underutilized resource, Supervisor Carpenter formed an Airport Advisory Board consisting of members from various business sectors who meet a few times a year to discuss how the airport can become a major benefit not only to the town, but to Long Island as well.

One of the things Supervisor Carpenter is looking to do is to expand the West Terminal to allow more flights. Currently, Southwest Airlines has used much of that terminal but, at the same time, has acted as a good neighbor in allowing other airlines such as American and Frontier. She added the only complaint she has heard from travelers is that there are not as many places to go; she said that is being worked on.

One of the topics discussed was connecting public transportation to the airport. There was talk of having a monorail or gondola bring people to the airport, but she said those options are too expensive and would not be doable.

Another item on her wish list is to make extensions on the runways. The town recently received $15.5 million from the FAA to replace one of the runways.

In addition to discussing what is going on at the airport, she discussed the latest developments in the town. She said last year, a Parks Foundation was established in which funds would be used to maintain the town’s parks as part of its beautification program. People donate money to the Foundation, which is set up as a 501c(3). For a sizable donation, a person can claim naming rights to one of the parks. She said the state set up a similar program in the 1990s and it was very successful.

In developing the downtown, the town raised $750,000 for its parking management program in Bay Shore. This program, she said, was paid by all the town residents. She is also looking at structured parking at Southside Hospital and adaptive reuse.

The town has also doubled the road repair budget without raising taxes. Instead, the town bonded the money. Islip received a bond rating of Aaa – the highest rating for any municipality. The town could bond more money, but the Fed’s recent rate hike could mean the town may have to pay more money.

She also addressed school taxes. While she believes a consolidation of school districts into counties – like in Georgia, Maryland and Florida – will never happen, she suggested town wide consolidation with one school superintendent per town and a handful of assistant superintendents. That, she said, would reduce school taxes and allow the schools to keep their individuality.

Meeting Recap – County Executive Laura Curran

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In an effort to boost the Nassau County tax base, Ms. Curran appointed a deputy county executive for economic development. She is also looking to promote some of the attractions that people may not be aware of, such as the Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn, the Holocaust Museum & Tolerance Center of Nassau County in Glen Cove, and Old Bethpage Village Restoration. When people visit these attractions, they spend more money, which is good for Nassau. Of its $3 billion in revenue, 40% comes from sales tax.

Ms. Curran expressed excitement with the proposed Belmont Park expansion with the hotel and arena, and the completion of the East Side Access tunnel, which will provide more opportunities for developing communities. She said she wants to see more TODs (Transit-Oriented Developments) to keep families and younger county residents on Long Island. She has seen this transformation at Mineola, Rockville Centre and Farmingdale.

One of the programs used by the county to promote TODs is Great Places, in which local areas seeking to become TODs will be given grants to help make that transformation. This is not restricted to downtowns; it is applicable to hamlets located in historic and waterfront districts. The county executive will work with local officials in those areas to help accomplish this vision.

As county executive, Ms. Curran said she will fix the roads. The county recently received money from the federal government to conduct a study on which county roads are in the most need of repair. There are 1,500 miles of county roads. The county also has a 24-hour pothole hotline in which motorists can report a pothole and the county workers will come out and fill it immediately.

Reform was one of Ms. Curran’s campaign themes when she ran for county executive. In an effort to promote transparency, she created a new IDA that will operate more openly, removed county officials’ names off all park signs and implemented an edict in which county employees cannot offer gifts to any contractors involved in the bidding process, nor can they be an active participant in a political party or donate to a political candidate’s campaign.

On the subject of property assessments, Ms. Curran said she signed an executive order unfreezing the assessment rolls. In 2011, the assessment rolls were frozen; she said there was a wide disparity in these assessments, making them unfair and inaccurate. To fix this, the state Legislature established a Disputed Assessment Fund, which is an escrow account that pays out to those who successfully grieved on their taxes. During the time of the freeze, more than half of Nassau property owners grieved and 80% of them won. The problem with the DAF is that there is no mechanism to pay it out consistently.

By unfreezing the assessment rolls, Ms. Curran said, the properties will be back to fair market value by January 2019, but it will not happen immediately. For some properties, it will take time to be at fair market value.

The opioid issue has been a major subject among all elected officials on Long Island. Ms. Curran credited the new police commissioner, Patrick Ryder, for his work in fighting this epidemic. The police department has implemented a mapping system which provides real-time reporting on opioid overdoses and opioid-related crimes (such as burglary). As a result, the number of non-fatal overdoses decreased by 29%. She is working on a bill in which dealers would be held criminally accountable, while users who are arrested get help for their addiction.

In the Q&A period it was suggested that a thorough review of public transportation must be made and recommendations for trains, buses, and ferries must be considered if growth is to be embraced. Ms. Curran agreed.

April 6 Meeting Recap – NY State Comptroller Thomas Dinapoli

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Mr. DiNapoli spoke on the state of New York State, and Long Island. This year marked the 25th
anniversary of the greatest achievements – the Long Island Pine Barrens Act. He credited the
resilience of the Long Island residents who fought to preserve the island’s environment.

He pointed out that, while Long Island has a high cost of living and traffic problems on its
highways, the region provides its residents quality health care, a wonderful educational system
and a quality of life, so the benefits of Long Island outweigh the drawbacks.

Since the Great Recession, New York State and Long Island have seen sizable improvements in
the economy and the job market. This year, the state’s unemployment rate is half of that during
the recessionary period. Last year, New York created 850,000 private-sector jobs – the third-
highest behind California and Texas. Over 90% of the new jobs were created in the downstate
area (Suffolk, Nassau, Westchester and Rockland Counties). Further, more than 9 million people
are currently employed – the most since the Great Recession.

Despite the positive numbers, Mr. DiNapoli says the economy and job market in New York State
is “a tale of two cities”; he sees the downstate area thriving, while upstate New York has been
struggling.

Sales tax revenue has gone up as a result of an increase in consumer confidence. Last year, sales tax revenues in the state increased by almost 4% – the highest year-over- year increase since
2013.

The year 2017 was also good for the securities industry, according to Mr. DiNapoli. Profits of
dealer-broker firms rose by 42% last year – twice the amount of the previous year. This is
significant because the state is dependent on the securities industry’s performance for its
economy. His concern was the federal government’s rollback of the financial regulations that
were put in place by the previous administration. He said such regulations are needed to
stabilize the economy.

He also noted that Wall Street has an impact on the state’s economy. In order to stay profitable,
may Wall Street firms have trimmed personnel, resulting in fewer available jobs. He said,
regardless of what people may think of Wall Street, it does great things for the state’s economy.

On the topic of pension funds, Mr. DiNapoli said the state has one of the best-funded pension
funds, behind Wisconsin and South Dakota. Every five years, the comptroller’s office examines
the numbers and determines what the rate of return should be. The rate is currently at 7%,
which has been lowered. Mr. DiNapoli said the rate may be lowered again. Any
recommendation he makes is based on the report from his office’s actuaries.

Mr. DiNapoli also pointed out that 60% to 70% of a Long Island homeowner’s tax bill is school
taxes. When he was told of some school districts which carry surpluses in their funds, he said he
has called on those districts to use some of the surplus, but has received pushback. Under New
York State law, a district cannot carry over a surplus of 4%. Although carrying a higher fund
balance is against the law, there is no way to punish the districts. Rather, the comptroller’s
office completes an audit on the school district making recommendations on how districts can
be more fiscally responsible. While school districts are restricted from making certain purchases
with their surpluses, the comptroller cannot tell the school district what to do. If the school
district has a surplus, the comptroller is required to notify the district residents.

The subject of school district consolidation came up. He said that everyone is for consolidation
until it happens in their neighborhood. He does not believe school district consolidation will
happen, but he suggested that district can share personnel at the administrative level in an
effort to save taxpayers money.

Mr. DiNapoli said Long Island taxpayers will be affected by the president’s tax law, as the state
and local tax deductions will be capped at $10,000. In order to alleviate the tax burden,
Governor Cuomo has set forth two proposals: one to replace the income tax with the payroll tax to shift any further burden on the taxpayer, and another to set up a charitable trust so that any
tax payments counts as a charitable deduction.

When asked why state authorities (Metropolitan Transit Authority, New York State Dormitory
Authority, etc.) exist, Mr. DiNapoli said the purpose of the authorities was to let them operate
independent of any undue political influence. Unfortunately, these authorities do not report to
anyone else, no there is no accountability on their part. He said the state will have to look into
reforming these authorities and making these authorities more transparent.

April 21 Meeting Recap – Reclaim NY with Michael Watt

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Michael Watt talked about whet Reclaim New York does. He says Reclaim New York is a nonpartisan think tank. It does not lobby elected officials on behalf or against any legislation they might vote on. Rather, the group’s mission is to get local citizens involved in the political process by engaging with local elected officials or school board members and taking action on issues of concern.

Mr. Watt pointed out that New York State has the second-highest cost of living (next to Hawaii) and is one of the worst in the nation when it comes to the tax burden on its residents. The Empire State is second-highest in personal income taxes, fourth-highest in property taxes, ninth in sales taxes and 12 th in excise taxes. Further, New York is second to New Jersey in having the worst business climate.

More than half of a Long Island resident’s tax bill comes from school taxes. Mr. Watt said a majority of the school taxes go to pay for teachers’ and administrators’ salaries and benefits. It may be difficult to have the school board deal with the issue because some of the sitting board members are also schoolteachers or are with the teachers’ union and do not want to vote against the budget, especially when it comes to reducing salaries or partial contributions to health care.

According to Mr. Watt, senior citizens are the most politically active age group. The younger generation, he said, are very smart and have a great work ethic, but are not as involved in the political process. Although they want to stay on Long Island, they fear that they cannot afford live here. In order for a young Long Islander to live here, that person must make between $150,000 and $200,000 a year.

Reclaim New York is challenging local and state governments on the “fees” that are imposed on residents, such as the $500 mortgage recording fee when buying a house and the five-cent- per-bag fee at supermarkets. He said that, unless the fee is being used to cover the cost of municipal services, it is considered a “tax.” Such fees, he said, are illegal.

Another problem with state government is corruption. In the last 10 years, 36 state legislators have resigned or been removed from office as a result of illegal activity, such as bribery or embezzlement. Mr. Watt spoke about the New York Transparency Project, in which places all information on the website to show if a municipality is being fiscally responsible with taxpayer money. This, in turn, makes government workers more efficient in their jobs.

Mr. Watt said the problem with the cost of living is that it is tied to taxes, which is why many people are leaving the state. He said 1.8 million people have moved out of New York since 2000.Despite home sales at record prices and job growth, there is a lack of good-paying jobs in the state that would allow those to afford a home. He said that, sometimes, we are our own worst enemy because we complain about the high cos tof living and high taxes, yet, at the same time, we admit we will pay more for services if it is totally worth it.

New York State was one of five states in the nation that were negatively impacted by the$10,000 state and local tax cap under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. But the reason these states were impacted was the high taxes.

Mr. Watt urged those in attendance to hold their elected officials accountable, attend a public hearing at the state, county, town and village level and talk to their elected official.