Members and supporters of the Clarkstown Taxpayers on Wednesday discussed their petition demanding an eight-year term limit for the Clarkstown Town Board.
“Our group has been working to reduce taxes for the last two years,” Clarkstown Taxpayers President Guy Gervasi said during the meeting. “While we have had some positive results in keeping taxes constant, we’ve not had any results in reducing taxes. We feel the only way for long-term tax relief is to allow future boards to again work for the average citizen and not for the party bosses and special interest groups.”
Attendees were each given a copy of a petition with spaces for five signees. They were then trained on how to properly get signatures and split up into groups based on how they will be getting these signatures. The Taxpayers will go door-to-door, use the Internet, contact local civic and religious associations, and stand outside local supermarkets to try to get people to sign. But they promised not to try to convince someone to sign who does not already support term limits.
The goal is to get 3,000 signatures on the petition by the Town Board meeting on August 16. The Clarkstown Taxpayers then plan on presenting this petition at the meeting in hopes that the council will pass a term limits resolution right there. If they do not, the members will seek to have the proposal made into a referendum that the public could ultimately vote on in November.
“If [Clarkstown Supervisor Alexander] Gromack sees 3,000 signatures, he’s going to realize that the town people and the Clarkstown Taxpayers are a group to be reckoned with,” Gervasi said at the meeting. “If we come up as a failure because we don’t get signatures and we do it all wrong, then we’re going to look like paper tigers, and he can just ignore us for the rest of his life.”
Any registered voter who is a Clarkstown resident is eligible to sign the petition. And Gervasi made sure to point out that their proposal has nothing to do with disapproving of a particular party or politician.
“This is not Democrat, Republican, Conservative, Independent,” he said during the meeting. “This is us against the political machines. We’re not against Gromack; we’re not against anybody.”
Joining the Taxpayers at the meeting at the New City Library on North Main Street.meeting was Rockland County Legislator Ed Day. He just introduced legislation that would create term limits at the county level. Day noted that he was able to break through and win an election despite not being an incumbent, but he feels this is the exception and not the rule.
“I ran in an election in 2005 that I was not supposed to win,” he said during the meeting. “[…] It was an arduous effort, it was a unique and different effort. […] You have such an advantage being in office. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but you should not be there for life.”
He also cited specific recent cases of incumbents like New York State Representative Charles Rangel who might act unethically but still get re-elected because of the great amount of money they have to spend on their campaigns. He then stated that these incumbents focus too much on trying to stay in office and not on doing what is right.
“When you get so tied in to this system, you tend to start doing things to stay in office as opposed to doing things that you should be doing,” Day clarified in an interview after his speech. “I think that’s a temptation that affects too many politicians.”
The Clarkstown Taxpayers was started by Mike Hirsch in 2009 when he saw a story stating that the top 50 earners in the town were all members of the Clarkstown PBA. He felt that this was wrong and eventually got 400 citizens to attend a Town Board meeting to voice their frustrations.
Today the group has around 1,100 registered members, and their main goal, besides term limits, is to reduce the Clarkstown budget and taxes. They also hope to elect three Town Council members, including a Town Supervisor, in 2011 who will reduce property taxes in particular.
Members like Frank Occhiogrosso are glad that the organization is focusing on a small number of issues.
“I love that they’re limiting their objective to a simple thing right now, which is term limits, which is a great place to start. It will eliminate all the cronyism by having term limits. It will take care of the cronyism, it will take care of a lot of issues.”
Already the group claims responsibility for several accomplishments in the town over the past few years. They state that they are the reason for the zero percent tax increase in 2011 and the reason the Town Board members took a salary freeze in 2010. They also say they persuaded the town to consolidate the Receiver of Taxes and Town Clerk positions, a proposed law which will be voted on in a referendum on November 8.
Clarkstown Taxpayers Corporate Secretary Thomas Leonard said before the meeting that these are all changes in patterns that did not occur until after their association was formed.
Now the organization’s attention has turned to term limits, which founder Hirsch thinks will improve the government as a whole.
“The main issue is responsible government,” he said. “[…] We think that if we get fresh people in the government who are in it not for themselves but for the people that elected them, that they’ll be more responsible […].