By Uri Kaufman
It is one of those truisms of politics that everyone is entitled to their own opinions but no one is entitled to their own facts. I am running for Lawrence Village Trustee — elections are on September 15 — and though I have been running for one local office or another since 2006, I must confess I have never seen a race quite like this one.
The 5TJT has been kind enough to allow me to set forth my vision for the village in a piece that will run next week. I’ll reserve my opinions for then. As for the facts, well, quite a few of those have been making the rounds. And I’d like to set the record straight.
One ad has surfaced making the claim that there has been “a 17% tax increase” in the last four years. I come in for criticism in the ad, complete with citation to a resolution in which I ostensibly voted to raise taxes. So here are the facts: on my four-year watch, taxes have gone up exactly 5.6%, from $2,486,646, to $2,635,950. In that period there has been overall inflation of 7.6%, so in real terms there has actually been a tax cut. Your income tax bill and sales tax bill probably rose in the last four years without you even realizing it, because as incomes and prices rise with inflation, income taxes and sales taxes rise automatically as well. No one ever calls this ordinary inflation a “tax hike” because it isn’t a tax hike. Income taxes and sales taxes would have had to be cut to achieve the outcome we achieved in the Village.
So where does this “17% tax increase” figure come from? And what about the resolution cited in the ad ostensibly showing that I — and others — voted for a tax increase?
Here are the facts: it is true that the tax rate went up 17% (actually 17.7%). But that is because Nassau County reduced property assessments. Thus, we had to raise the tax rate to collect the same amount of money. If your house is assessed at $100,000 and the rate is 10%, then you pay $10,000. If your house’s assessment suddenly drops to $50,000, you have to pay at a rate of 20% to get the same $10,000. In short, we didn’t raise your taxes, just the way we calculate them.
As for the resolution cited in the ad, we did not raise taxes; we did something far more innocuous. New York State has a 2% tax cap. We can only override the cap if we give ourselves the authority to do so. Each year we give ourselves that authority as a matter of course, just in case we run into an emergency and need the additional revenue. So far, we have never actually exercised that authority. Even in the midst of COVID we managed to hold the line and not raise taxes. If the ad had quoted the entire resolution, it would have included the following words: “[the resolution] is insurance against the remote possibility that the Village needs to exceed tax cap … This is not a raise of taxes and does not indicate a raise of taxes is contemplated.”
A long op-ed written by one of the trustee candidates includes some misstatements of fact as well. It is no secret that I want to recreate the success of The Regency on Central Avenue, and see the sewage plant site (on the corner of 878 and Rock Hall Road) sold to a developer to build luxury condominiums. My opponents would like to see it developed as eight houses. The op-ed claims that the Village conducted a study which concluded that “the best option for the treatment site would be residential houses.” There is no such study. If the author has one, I would ask him to please produce it. A different study conducted by the Village concluded that although golf is in steady decline across the country, the country club can restore itself to financial health if it builds a multi-sports complex because “the more diversified the activity mix is at golf courses, the more financially sustainable they are, the decline in rounds play can slow or level off.” The study then recommended building a complex with indoor swimming, a gym, golf simulators, weight rooms, and other activities. That is the only study the Village ever conducted.
But hold on, says the op-ed. The country club is doing fine financially. In fact, says the article, it “has managed to repay over $2.75 million back to the village.” That is technically true but deceptive. The $2 million was paid through a one-time payment received from FEMA, related to Superstorm Sandy. The other $750,000 was paid in only the last few months, which is certainly good news, but the club needs a new $1.4 million irrigation system — and take a guess who they want to pay for it. I will digress momentarily and wander into the realm of opinion in stating that when asked, “Should village taxpayers pay for it?” my answer is “over my dead body.” For most of my tenure on the board, the country club’s debt to the village has hovered around $4 million, which means that every man, woman, and child in the village has paid $615 to keep it alive.
The op-ed also says that if the sewage plant site is developed for luxury condominiums, like The Regency, “they will be gunning to get their hands on the country club as well.” The author then cites the Woodmere Club for what could happen in thevillage of Lawrence.
What happened to the Woodmere Club cannot happen to the Lawrence Country Club because the Woodmere Club was held privately, whereas the country club is a state park. We would need two acts of the Legislature and the governor’s signature to sell it to a developer. I have been told that this has never happened in the history of the State of New York.
The limits of space force me to conclude here. But allow me to say the following. I decided to run independently this time. But my last time out, I had the privilege of running together with Michael Fragin. We fought the good fight and lost — no shame in that — but I never regretted the decision. Every single thing that Michael Fragin said was true.