DiNapoli and Suozzi Propose Measures
to Reform Special Districts
State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli and Nassau County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi today proposed new measures to make special districts more accountable and make information more accessible to taxpayers. The proposal requires special districts with elected boards of commissioners to obtain public input during the budget process and disclose all financial information and public meetings.
“Special districts provide important services to New Yorkers but they can also add hundreds of dollars to property owners’ tax bills,” DiNapoli said. “The public should have a greater voice in how special districts operate and use their money. This proposal is an important first step in doing just that. We worked closely with County Executive Suozzi on this proposal, I commend Tom on his leadership, and I look forward to continuing to work with him on this important taxpayer issue.”
The proposal is part of DiNapoli’s ongoing examination of special districts around the state. In March, DiNapoli released a report on special districts that found significant growth in the number of special districts statewide and questioned whether special districts continue to be the best delivery method for providing services in urbanized towns.
“I’m pleased to be working with Comptroller DiNapoli to bring transparency and accountability to these government entities that often operate in the shadows,” said Suozzi. “This proposal is an important step forward that will shed much-needed light on the inner workings and taxing authority of these districts that taxpayers know little about but whose actions directly impact our homeowners’ property tax bills.”
Special districts in New York are established by towns so they can offer services in a particular area — services such as lighting, water, sewer, ambulance, fire protection and snow removal. State law provides the framework for how special districts can be established, financed and operated. There are 6,927 special districts statewide, and the majority are funded through property taxes, assessments and user fees.
The proposal announced today 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.
Under the current system, special districts with elected boards of commissioners are required to submit estimated revenues and expenses to the town, just like any other town department. But unlike other town departments, the town board cannot reduce these estimates without approval from the special district’s 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 components of the town and their budgets and operations are overseen by the town board.
The proposed provisions would:
- Establish a uniform budget hearing day in the fall to solicit public input before submission of annual budget estimates by the boards of commissioners to the town.
- Post all budget estimates, annual financial reports, all public notices (including notices of meetings, hearing and elections) and audits of operations on the special district’s and the town’s web site.
While legislation is currently under development for these changes, DiNapoli also intends to look at ways to reform special districts statewide as part of his work as a member of the Governor’s Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness. Areas that DiNapoli has identified for exploring include identifying the various categories of special districts statewide, conducting more detailed cost/benefit analyses of special district operations, examining the financial and internal control structure of special districts, increasing voter participation in commissioner elections, and examining ways to make it easier to merge or dissolve special districts.
The special district’s report released by DiNapoli in March 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.
- The 160 refuse and garbage districts, which represent about 2 percent of all districts statewide, accounted for almost 29 percent of the revenues collected. Nassau County’s 24 garbage districts are responsible for 14 percent ($181.1 million) of all special district revenues collected statewide.