Gov. David A. Paterson yesterday unveiled several new measures for his proposed 2010-11 budget, including a change in the way special districts on Long Island and the rest of the state are run.
His proposals would impact Long Island's more than 300 special taxing districts for garbage, water and other services. They've been a source of controversy in recent years, particularly since Newsday exposed several officials who collected large salaries or were involved in other alleged financial abuses. In one case, the wife of a Plainview water commissioner got the braces on her teeth fully paid by the district.
Under Paterson's proposals, special districts would be barred from paying commissioners, making them more like unpaid school board members and fire district commissioners. They would only be reimbursed for their expenses in performing official duties. The proposals also would transfer management responsibilities to town governments.
"It's a step in the right direction," said Lise Bang-Jensen, a senior policy analyst at Empire Center For New York State Policy, an Albany-based think tank. "It will correct some of the abuses that Newsday wrote about. The savings are not very large, but I think there are savings that you can identity."
Former Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman estimated a transfer of garbage districts' responsibilities to the Town of Hempstead could save "approximately $20 million for about half the homeowners in the town alone." He said paying large stipends and benefits to special district commissioners doesn't make sense when school board members and library trustees aren't paid at all.
But John Kiernan, a former North Hempstead supervisor and lawyer who has recently represented special districts on Long Island, called the governor's proposals similar to those that have failed in the past. He doubted that making commissioners serve without pay would save much money, and said that special district commissioners generally have more responsibilities than school boards.
"It's an unfair comparison," Kiernan said. "The school districts have an extensive underlying administrative staff, including superintendents, principals and department chairs. The school board member provides policy but not the actual administration."