2012-11-28 / Editorials

Letters to the Editor

Input From The Trenches

To The Editor:

In this time of Thanksgiving and upcoming holidays we can be proud and thankful that there was no shortage of caring individuals, of acts of selflessness through Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath. The true spirit and resilience of New Yorkers shone through these past weeks. What was in apparent shortage, besides gas, was a coordinated response from the various levels of government, especially the FEMA response.

We’ve all seen numerous private groups and individuals taking charge and helping the hardest hit areas by cooking meals, donating time to clean up, giving money and supplies and generally being fantastic neighbors. What we have also seen is a lack of a cohesive plan by various agencies, the reinventing of the wheel and the provision of insufficient and lackluster services.

We’re not here to cast blame or aspersions, just to ask you, the general public, what you’ve seen that’s worked in this emergency and what you would like to see in the city’s future plans as concerns our response to natural disasters and emergent situations. We know there’ll be commissions set up to examine the government’s response to this disaster, but they won’t focus on your individual contributions, and actions; we are.

As the director of the New York Anti Crime agency and the Public Safety chair of Community Board 1, I know from experience that a backup emergency plan’s success is directly correlated to how long it takes for essential services to be returned to normal; by this criteria, there was a lot to be desired in the official response. For example, one thing I learned, when helping our NYPD Community Affairs officer maintain order on a mile long gas line in Astoria right before the shortage eased, is that communication is key. We told the people when gas was going to be given out, we marked the last car in line one hour before closing the line so people didn’t wait for no good reason and we made sure to be visible with reflective gear and flashlights for night traffic control and directions. Only three people out of about 300 caused any real issue; 99 percent remained civil and cooperative, and many told us how important being informed was to their experience.

The point is, we want you to give us ideas; we want to know what worked on the ground, what should be done differently. There is no better source than the people in the trenches. If you have a concrete idea for improvement, let us know; please, don’t just send complaint letters. We will collect and disseminate valuable information or ideas to our elected officials and emergency personnel if it has merit. Don’t assume someone knows or is doing it already. One of the biggest complaints we heard was that people didn’t know what was needed or who was really helping at the sites. Along those lines, if you saw exemplary actions by a certain group, let us know who they are.

Again, this event did show the caring and resilient nature of New Yorkers and I’m proud to say that the residents of Western Queens, realizing how lucky we were in our area, were right at the forefront in helping those who suffered most. Let us keep doing it but in a more efficient and organized manner. Tell us of the good deeds and actions you saw or did and tell us what could have been done better. Please send the information to the New York Anti Crime agency /CB 1 Safety Chair, 24-40 Steinway St., Astoria, NY 11103. Or e-mail me at Meloni25@iasny.org

Thank you, stay safe, God bless New Yorkers Tony Meloni

CB 1 Safety Chair, CERT member, NY Anti
Crime Director

Preserved Armories

To The Editor:

Now that Sandy has devastated us, we should remember this, that certain parcels of real estate should not be touched, such as state military armories. Many, many of these armories have been declared not useful and have been destroyed…what a pity! Our forefathers intelligently knew just where to build them, from the ravages of the weather.

Hurricane Sandy is what brings this up and my argument is armories are a godsend when needed…they were destroyed and should have been mothballed to store vital equipment which could have been useful when Sandy hit us. Existing armories however, should be sustained for emergencies as this.

Charles J. Lercara
Flushing

QEDC Helping Helpers

The following letter was received by the Gazette the day before Thanksgiving. To The Editor:

By the time daylight broke on October 30, the city’s landscape had changed, literally and figuratively. For some, there were minor inconveniences caused by Hurricane Sandy; but for others, life as they knew it had changed forever.

When we arrived at work the morning after the storm, we sent a call out to Queens Tourism Council members and received countless donations, including a mother lode from the USTA consisting of more than 20 pallets of water, clothes and other items. I will be forever thankful to Wolfie, the manager of USTA’s loading dock, who knew “a guy with a truck” who transported everything to a distribution site.

Back at the Queens Economic Development Corp (QEDC) office, Alison compiled a list of small business assistance programs; Franklin and Nick got ready to help contractors seeking to get city Department of Consumer Affairs licenses and planned a Home Improvement Contractor Training (HICT) class in Rockaway; and Rob became a travel agent, helping federal agencies such as FEMA and the Pentagon find hotel rooms for their field staff. Ricardi spent time in Far Rockaway with a volunteer crew.

I went to Rockaway Park to meet a group we are working with to offer a HICT program. Rockaway Beach Boulevard near 114th Street was the site of one of the terrible fires—the devastation is overwhelming. But what is also overwhelming is the amount of people: residents, volunteers, government workers, Rockaway Waterfront Alliance, Occupy Sandy, and Greenpeace teams cleaning, clearing, distributing and preparing to rebuild.

The Sunday after the storm, I was down at the beach picking up debris. Forget the usual pieces of flotsam and jetsam on the coastline, there were medicine vials, torn photos, bits of children’s toys—all ripped away from cupboards, walls and tiny hands. It was a beautiful late autumn day with bright sun, light breeze and a calm ocean, but the peacefulness was deceptive. It was hard to believe that only a few days prior the same waters devoured our communities and destroyed so much. While walking along the beach picking up the pieces one is reminded of our insignificance. But as human beings we do have purpose: to help each other and to allow ourselves to be helped. As we work together to rebuild our city we will have many opportunities to attend to this purpose.

Have a peaceful, meaningful Thanksgiving! Seth Bornstein

Executive Director
Queens Economic Development Corp.

Condo Tax Abatement

To The Editor:

Recent news reports indicating that the New York state Legislature may not reconvene this year could be bad news for Queens co-op and condo owners. At the end of the legislative session in June, leaders reached a deal to extend and enhance the co-op and condo real property tax abatement, which was due to expire. Unfortunately, the Legislature adjourned without enacting the measure, instead planning to take up the issue at the end of this year. If the Legislature does not meet before the year is out, co-ops and condos may face skyrocketing tax bills in January 2013. This cannot be allowed to happen.

In 1996, as a state Assemblymember, I sponsored the original version of the co-op and condo real property tax abatement, which partially addresses the real property tax code’s adverse impact on co-op and condo owners. The Legislature has continually renewed the benefit until this year, and the agreement that was reached in June would allow the continuation of the abatement. While New York state still needs to conduct a top-to-bottom evaluation of the real property tax system and reform it permanently in a way that is fair for all New Yorkers, the abatement goes a long way toward providing some relief for beleaguered co-op and condo taxpayers.

The bill would, for the first time, increase the value of the tax abatement for middle class owners while limiting the tax break for those who own apartments that they do not use as primary residences or those who own units valued above a certain level. These measures would help local residents to deal with the outrageous real property tax assessment increases that the New York City Department of Finance has imposed over the past few years. I have successfully fought alongside co-op and condo leaders to limit the increases, and the passage of the co-op, condo tax abatement bill by the state Legislature represents our best opportunity to stabilize the situation in the short term.

For most Queens co-ops and condos, the tax abatement is vital, and its elimination would surely wreak havoc on the budgets of co-ops, condos, and the middle-class families who make their homes therein. I urge Governor Andrew M. Cuomo to call the Legislature into session as soon as possible to address this matter, and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to do everything in his power to avoid sending out painfully high property tax bills to co-ops and condos next year.

Councilmember Mark S. Weprin
Founder of the New York City Council Caucus
on Cooperative and Condominium Housing, represents the 23rd Council District in Eastern
Queens.

Fix It Right

To The Editor:

I have been an appliance repairman for 40 years. My natural inclination is to fix things. As I look at the state of national affairs today, nothing seems to be working right. One hardly knows where to begin the repair.

May I suggest tax reform?

The income tax discourages investment and productivity. It penalizes exporters who must add the cost of taxes into the price of everything they export. People with high incomes are leaving the United States in droves to avoid income taxes. Working people have up to 25 percent of their income confiscated before they even see their paychecks. The IRS intrudes into our private affairs. We waste hundreds of billions of dollars and millions of hours every year, in compliance costs. People defraud the system for undeserved refunds. Hundreds of billions in revenue from the underground economy and tax cheating is left on the table.

The FairTax changes everything. Because it is a tax on consumption, it sidesteps that entire list of evils associated with the income tax. The FairTax however goes beyond mere reform. Sometimes when I am called upon to repair an appliance, the cost exceeds the value of the unit in question. That’s what’s happening with the income tax today. The income tax cannot be repaired. It must be replaced. Of all the plans being discussed on Capitol Hill, only the FairTax can bring the kind of fundamental and comprehensive change that will allow for a permanent fix.

David Boone
Houston, MN

Liu Offers Help

In a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, City Comptroller John C. Liu offered the expertise of his award-winning Audit Bureau to assist city agencies in obtaining and retaining Federal disaster funds associated with Superstorm Sandy.

“As we rebuild after Superstorm Sandy, our agencies must cross all of their ‘T’s and dot all of their ‘I’s to ensure that the city gets and keeps every single federal dollar to which it is entitled,” Liu said. “My team of audit experts has been working directly with FEMA and stands ready to advise city agencies on how best to maximize federal reimbursement. At the end of the day, paperwork does matter.”

The city comptroller’s office has made its experts available to advise city agencies on the process of recouping federal funds. In some instances, municipalities that have received federal funds in times of disaster later have had to return money because of poorly filed paperwork or lack of proper records. Liu is seeking to ensure that this doesn’t happen to New York City in the case of Sandy.

A copy of the following letter was received at the Queens Gazette.

The Honorable Michael Bloomberg
Mayor
City Hall
New York, NY 10007

Dear Mayor Bloomberg,

As New York City continues its relief and rebuilding efforts following Superstorm Sandy, it is imperative that agencies have the resources and expertise they need to ensure that New York receives all federal funds that are available to it.

I am writing to offer the services of my Audit Bureau to assist city agencies seeking federal disaster funding.

As you are aware, funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other federal agencies come with an array of requirements and restrictions that, if violated, can result in forced repayment.

In the past, municipal agencies here and elsewhere in the country have forfeited federal funds after they failed to follow the rigorous guidelines that govern contracts, purchases, and accounting for federal dollars. In Fiscal Year 2011, for example, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued 54 reports that identified more than $300 million in questionable costs related to disaster funding grants.

It is critical that New York City enact internal controls to avoid some of the common mistakes that can lead to forfeiture of federal disaster funds.

Our auditors have expertise in the assessment of internal controls. They are willing to work with agencies to provide recommendations that can help decrease the risk of fraud, waste, and abuse and to ensure compliance with federal disaster relief requirements. Feel free to have your office reach out to my Deputy Comptroller for Audit Tina Kim, at 212-669-8459.

Sincerely yours,
John C. Liu

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