Long Island Eye: Where are Nassau and Suffolk Headed in 2012 and Beyond?

With a few days left in 2011, Long Islanders can look back at the year and marvel that we got through it. The snow finally cleared, Nassau County didn’t collapse into bankruptcy, Suffolk County went back to the Democrats and our property taxes rose again.

(Photo: Reuters / Suffolk County Police Handout)
The locations where eight of 10 bodies were found near Gilgo Beach since December 2010 are seen in this Suffolk County Police handout image released to Reuters on September 20, 2011. Police investigating the 10 bodies dumped by a possible serial killer near a Long Island beach said on Tuesday two of the victims may be a mother and her toddler daughter. Police suspect some of the remains, found near New York’s Gilgo beach since December, belong to victims of at least one serial killer preying on prostitutes who sought clients on the Internet, including on Craigslist.

What’s ahead for 2012? Obviously, change, some for the better and others for worse. Fortunately, the Island’s unemployment rate fell to 6.7 percent from 7.2 percent a year ago, the state labor department said. But its principal Long Island economist, Michael Crowell, said that may reflect a declining work force, with too many “discouraged workers” who’ve given up looking.

While shaky, both Suffolk’s $2.6 billion budget and Nassau’s $2.5 billion budgets were approved; Nassau’s got a reluctant OK from the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, which could pull the plug on Republican County Executive Ed Mangano at any time.

NIFA even OK’d the risky sale of LI Bus to France’s Veolia Transportation even as member George Marlin, a veteran Conservative Party activist, said, “We held our nose and approved the contract because it’s the last minute and we cannot permit there to be no business service on Jan. 1st,” Newsday reported.

Here are some questions to consider as we turn the calendar pages:

Why did Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy retire? It’s not really clear why the two-term politician, an apparent success at his job, decided to step down instead of seeking a third term. He’s turned over more than $4 million in campaign funds to District Attorney Thomas Spota. But there’s a cloud there.

Indeed, it was never clear why Levy, 52, bolted from the Democratic Party to the Republicans in early 2010 nor why he thought for a minute he could be the party’s nominee for Governor versus Andrew Cuomo. Is it possible there was some quid-pro-quo by Spota, by which Levy agreed to step down in return for not being prosecuted? Could we see Levy in court next month copping a plea for some offense, with a penalty waived because he’s no longer in office?

Who killed the people found around Gilgo Beach? Suffolk cops have now found and identified Shannan Gilbert, 24, the prostitute reported missing a year ago whose disappearance led to the discovery of nine more bodies of people missing since 1996.

Steve Bellone, Suffolk’s new Democratic County Executive, has fired Police Commissioner Richard Dormer, who has stated repeatedly there was one killer. Spota had criticized Dormer’s statements, too. It will be up to new Commissioner Edward Webber to transform the probe and find the killer – or killers.

What happens with criminals convicted on bad evidence from the Nassau crime lab? Nassau’s police crime lab had been shuttered for months and an investigator appointed by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman characterized it as inept and bureaucratic.

Now it’s reopened under a special panel headed by former Sen. Michael Balboni, (R-East Williston). But hundreds of defendants convicted in Nassau could potentially seek to have their cases reopened because of it. Thankfully, only two convictions have been thrown out so far.

Are our high schools unethical? Twenty Nassau teenagers have been arrested in the SAT cheating scandal that began with the September arrest of Samuel Eshaghoff, 19, of Great Neck, who was charged with receiving as much as $3,600 for taking the tests for as many as 15 students. The school roster includes Great Neck North H.S., Great Neck South H.S., Roslyn H.S., North Shore Hebrew Academy H.S. and St. Mary’s H.S.

Trials are pending. The College Board hired former FBI director Louis Freeh to investigate exam security. If the cases are actually tried, it will be fascinating to see what arguments the defense makes about difficulties of college admission and the “everybody does it” phenomenon.

Will we ever save money by consolidation? Since 2008, New Yorkers have had the power to petition to consolidate special districts, including school, park, sewer and fire districts. But with 124 school districts and hundreds of special ones, virtually none have been merged.

Suffolk’s Gordon Heights Fire District residents have been trying to abolish it for three years but haven’t succeeded. Their fire taxes are quadruple their neighbors. Most other districts ran public relations campaigns, hired lobbyists – often defeated politicians – to mount big anti-consolidation campaigns.

All these districts are expensive, along with our dozens of villages. Using the Freedom of Information Act, I found documents that showed Great Neck lawyer, Stephen G. Limmer, is pulling in annual fees exceeding $675,000 serving as Village Attorney for Great Neck, Kings Point and Roslyn Estates as well as counsel for the Water Authority of Great Neck North plus a $62,500 state pension as a reward for 20 years’ service. That’s in addition to compensation from his law practice.

Will consolidation come? Don’t hold your breath.