From shameful illegal dumping in Islip to land deals that reek of cronyism in Bethpage, it’s just embarrassing at this point. Time and time again we see well-meaning reports that tout we need more development to fix our regional woes, but our problem isn’t the brain drain, lack of housing or not enough smart growth.
Suburbia itself isn’t the problem. We are.
The system created here on Long Island has been so fundamentally skewed and poised to benefit a collective elite few, that the rest of the region’s residents just sit there and pay their taxes, continuing to feed the machine. This very same machine is so corroded with cronyism and patronage that the system doesn’t work. Remember the blizzard of 2013? If you live in Brookhaven you do; the system failed during that storm, and the roads weren’t plowed near quick enough to the point they became dangerous. All those taxes paid, just to sit there and wait for days.
Back to the illegal dumping in Islip. How can truck after truck dump 32,000 tons of waste without one municipal official noticing? It seems that time and time again our system is positioned to advance those who are connected, while the rest of us foot the bill.
People often wonder why Long Island is so expensive, but the answer is right in front of us. It’s because the little fiefdoms we’ve allowed to manifest all cost money in one way or another.
A small, but powerful example from the Long Island Index: Long Island has “more fire apparatus than New York City and the city and county of Los Angeles combined, which protect almost three times as much land and six times as many people, while answering more than 12 times as many calls for help.”
This fire equipment costs money, and that money comes from residents’ pockets. Fire departments are critical for public safety, but why so much overlap? Why does New York City do more with less? And this is just one small, but significant piece of why our region is so pricey.
We have a multitude of school districts, each with multiple administrators who collect pensions and benefits. Why do other areas do more with less? Multi-million dollar RFPs being issued by Suffolk County, with a hasty “bidding” process that few even are informed about? Not only does it happen, but apparently we foot the bill.
A new power plant is being mulled in the heart of Yaphank, right next to the first Caithness that was recently constructed. If it’s built, who gets to pay for it? We do. We don’t even know if Caithness II is necessary, but it’s still being considered anyway. Why? Long Islanders apparently haven’t had their fill paying for Shoreham, so it was decided that we should build another monument to our own ineptitude. We should be insulted.
The question is: Who is making these decisions? Unfortunately, everyone is. There is no cohesive, unifying vision for where this region is headed. Home-rule is a valid concept – it helps to define sense of place and protect communities, but lately it’s been bastardized by unsavory intentions and profit motives.
The recession hit Long Island hard. The housing market crashed, purchasing went down and suddenly both Suffolk and Nassau counties had difficult fiscal decisions to make. The recession caused us to take an inward look at our fragile fiscal systems, and, to be frank, it is ugly. It should be no surprise though, because when your economy has only one main sector, and your government is supported by sales tax, you’re particularly vulnerable to economic downturn.
If Long Islanders truly care about the region beyond NIMBY sentiment and cries of “no more taxes,” then we should pay more attention. Many feel local elections and government in general are silly, and often they are, but they are critical to the region’s future. In Islip, it’s no coincidence that one local planning official was ousted, and under the new leadership, the massive Heartland development is suddenly gaining momentum despite the decades-worth of traffic questions that remain. In Nassau County, a connected insider’s property is on the brink of foreclosure, and yet the nearly bankrupt county is seriously considering purchasing the land for an “education center” while existing centers are left fallow. In Suffolk, why was an ousted IDA official even in the position to get $10,000 to “consult?” What’s going on?
Our indifference is beginning to hurt us. The system is broken, but only because we allow it to be.
Pay attention or it will cost us all.