DiNapoli & Suozzi Propose Legislation to Increase Transparency and Accountability in Special Districts
Taxpayers Will Have Meaningful Input on How Their Money is Spent
State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli and Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi today proposed reform measures that would bring greater public accountability and transparency to the many special improvement taxing districts that dot the state from the Hamptons to Buffalo.
“Special districts provide an important service to taxpayers,” DiNapoli said. “But there needs to be more transparency and public accountability. Taxpayers have become frustrated and angry, especially when their taxes go up and they don’t know why. This legislation will help change that. Nassau County Executive Suozzi and I have been working together for increased local government accountability, and this is a major step in our effort.”
“This legislation is a no brainer. It will bring much needed transparency and accountability to government entities that often operate in the shadows,” said Suozzi. “With property taxes crushing our homeowners and businesses, taxpayers should be getting as much information as possible about the many levels of government that their taxes support.”
Towns establish special districts so they can offer services in a particular area – such as lighting, water, sewer, refuse collection, park and drainage. State law provides the framework for how special districts can be established, financed and operated. There are more than 6,900 special districts statewide, the majority of which are funded through property assessments and user fees. Provisions of DiNapoli and Suozzi’s proposal focus on those special districts that are governed by independently elected boards of commissioners, and include the following:
- Establishes a uniform date for public hearings conducted by the board of commissioners on district budget estimates before these budgets are submitted to the town.
- Requires that budget estimates, annual financial reports, public notices and audit reports are posted on the websites of both the district and of the town in which the district is located.
- Requires adequate notice to the public for annual budget hearings including the time, date, location, purpose of the hearing and the availability of an estimate of the proposed expenditures and revenues.
Under the current system, special districts with elected boards of commissioners submit estimated revenues and expenses to the town, just like any other town department. However, unlike other departments, the town board can’t reduce revenue estimates without a request from the commissioners. Nor is there a requirement for these special districts to have their own budget hearing for the public. The majority of other special districts around the state are governed by the town board and their budgets and operations are under the complete control of the town board.
The legislation applies to special districts with elected boards of commissioners, which includes about a third of Nassau County’s special districts. While Nassau County’s 140 special districts and Suffolk County’s 200 special districts represent less than five percent of districts statewide, they are responsible for half of the $1.3 billion in revenues for special districts around the state.
DiNapoli released a report last year on special districts, which found:
- Revenue raised from special districts statewide accounted for $1.3 billion, or nearly a quarter, of all town revenues in 2004;
- On average, taxpayers pay $257 per household for special districts in New York State. Taxpayers in Nassau County pay the most statewide ($946), while residents in Suffolk County pay $512 annually;
- Special districts accounted for the majority of all real property taxes and assessments collected by towns in Nassau County (65 percent) in 2004; and
- The 160 refuse and garbage districts, which represent about 2 percent of all districts statewide, accounted for almost 29 percent of the revenues collected for special district purposes. Nassau County’s 24 garbage districts are responsible for 14 percent ($181.1 million) of all special district revenues collected statewide.
Click here for a copy of the report.