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North Hempstead village mayors map strategies for sharing services, cutting costs

East Hills Mayor Michael Koblenz, left, chats with

East Hills Mayor Michael Koblenz, left, chats with Elaine Phillips, right, Mayor of Flower Hill during a "Meeting of The Mayors" event Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014 in East Hills. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Sharing services such as road repaving and fuel purchases were among strategies mulled by six village mayors, who met in East Hills last week to discuss ways to make homeowners eligible for the state's new property tax rebate.

The mayors also discussed sharing road salt storage facilities, street sweeping, basin cleaning, landscaping services and computer purchases.

"It's time to get together, it's time to pool our resources," said East Hills Mayor Michael R. Koblenz, who hosted the event at the East Hills Theater. "The expenses out there are killing every village. East Hills is willing to take the lead in educating villages on working together."

Also at the Thursday night brainstorming session billed as a "meeting of the minds" were the mayors of Roslyn, Roslyn Estates, Roslyn Harbor, Flower Hill and Old Westbury.

The group's objective was to discuss Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's property tax freeze credit initiative, which provides rebates to homeowners in municipalities that work cooperatively and develop joint programs to save money. It also offers rebates to local governments that work individually on cost-cutting plans.

Cuomo "used the carrot of tax cuts to bring together people who should have been talking about their common interests for a long time," said Lawrence Levy, head of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University. "Hopefully, they will get in the habit of working and make progress on a variety of issues. Perhaps one day they might start to consider not just consolidation of services but of entire jurisdictions. That's the Holy Grail of regional cooperation."

During the two-hour meeting, elected officials questioned state representatives including Mark Pattison, director of the Department of State's Division of Local Government Services, about the program. "This is exactly what the governor was hoping would happen," Pattison said. "Nobody knows better how to save money than the local officials who are trying to solve problems every day."

The programs must result in savings of 1 percent annually over the next three years. To receive the rebate, a homeowner's property must be the primary residence, and the combined gross income of all residents in the home cannot exceed $500,000.

During the two years it will take for the program to be phased in, the jurisdiction must stay within the property-tax cap. For the average home in East Hills, for example, the credit would be about $30. Koblenz noted the benefit would be greater once it was added to other program rebates from town, county and school taxes.

Koblenz said the meeting would be the first of several. Cost-cutting plans must be submitted to the state Division of Budgets by June 1.

But Old Westbury Mayor Fred Carillo said cutting costs may come at a price: "I don't want to deny services to our residents."

Roslyn Estates Mayor Jeffrey B. Schwartzberg said his village might be better off going it alone. "I believe we're the only village in Nassau County that had a tax levy reduction for the 2014-15 tax year."

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