Tomorrow is Election Day for 157 of Long Island’s special taxing districts, which cover municipal services such as fire response and sanitation pickup.
These districts don’t conform to neat geographic lines on the map but they do add up on the bottom line of Long Islanders’ property tax bills. Yet, sparse turnout is the norm—and Tuesday’s forecast of heavy rains doesn’t promise to reverse that apathetic trend.
According to a recent phone-poll conducted by the Center for Survey Research at Stony Brook University, almost three-quarters (73 percent) of Long Islanders contacted by the researchers said they had not voted in a special district election in the past year. But 76 percent of them said they would favor moving the elections to May when school budget votes take place—a decision for New York State lawmakers to render.
In the meantime, to help motivate voters to participate in these little noticed but very impactful elections, the Long Island Index, a project of the nonprofit Rauch Foundation, has updated its interactive, online tool—first unveiled last year—to help people navigate through the maze of overlapping districts and find out which elections they’re eligible to vote in, because there are often more than one.
“With such an extraordinary number of elections taking place on one day, it’s hard to know where to vote,” said Ann Golob, Director of the Long Island Index. “This online tool lets Long Islanders know in an instant, based on where they live, which elections they can vote in.”
“Public participation in elections is crucial to democracy,” said Nancy Rauch Douzinas, president of the Rauch Foundation and publisher of the Index. “This new online tool makes it easier for voters to know how to participate.”
These special districts provide basic services such as fire, police, sanitation, water, schools and libraries and they are managed by publicly elected commissioners who oversee the services and determine the taxes to pay for them. And they tend to overlap. According to the Long Island Index, there are 665 of them on the Island.
The tool—available free of charge at http://mydistricts.longislandindexmaps.org—lets users in Nassau and Suffolk counties to enter their address and learn which special districts serve them, if their elections are on Dec. 9, as well as any information about polling locations and the hours that the polls are open.
“It’s not that people don’t care—it’s that people don’t know,” said Laura Mallay, executive director of Residents for Efficient Special Districts (RESD), a citizens’ action group based in South Hempstead. “Special taxing districts have flown below the radar for years.”