At a public hearing Tuesday night at City Hall, Glen Cove residents and City Council members spoke in sometimes heated opposition to Mayor Tim Tenke’s proposal to allow the city to exceed a state-defined 1.8 percent limit on its tax levy increase.
After reviewing budget documents with city finance officials, Tenke had told the Herald Gazette and other outlets that if the City Council did not pass the measure, he would be forced to consider up to 20 layoffs of full-time city employees. At the hearing, Tenke said that layoffs would be “a last resort.”
He explained that the current version of a draft budget, which he characterized as “a document in flux,” would require a tax levy increase of 4.12 percent — roughly double the state limit — in order to rectify a revenue shortfall of almost $900,000.
He blamed the need to breach the state’s limit on the failure of former Mayor Reginald Spinello to raise taxes sufficiently and his reliance instead on one-off revenues from property sales and transfers from the water fund in order to balance the budget. Over the course of the four budgets he oversaw, Spinello raised the tax levy by only $3,000, or about one-tenth of 1 percent.
An increase in the tax levy — the city’s main revenue source — is not the same as an increase in the tax rate, the number that directly im-pacts homeowners’ tax bills. The levy is tied to the budget. The tax rate is determined by dividing the tax levy by the total property value in a given area.
Tenke noted that under his plan, a property worth $500,000 in 2018 would be taxed an extra $129 in 2019. But figures provided by Sandra Clarson, the city’s controller, show that the tax rate listed in Tenke’s draft budget is actually 3.6 percent lower than the 2018 rate, and that an 8 percent increase in property values was responsible for the increased tax bill. The proposed tax rate would be lower than at any time since at least 2014.
Several residents and council members criticized Tenke’s handling of the budget process. Councilman Kevin Maccarone took issue with the fact that, after going on the record with talk of layoffs, Tenke’s draft budget tapped into only $2 million of a $2.7 million surplus projected for the end of 2018. Tenke said that he wanted to keep as large a cushion as possible for emergencies. Maccarone countered that an extra $500,000 would bring the tax levy increase to about 2 percent, much closer to the 1.8 percent limit.
Resident Steve Gonzales chastised Tenke for talking to the press about layoffs, adding that it seemed like the mayor was trying to “tie the hands of the City Council members and saying, ‘If you don’t do this, I’m going to have to lay people off.’”
Councilman Joseph Capobianco agreed. “If it came off that way,” he said, “it’s because that’s exactly how it went down.”
Councilwoman Marsha Silverman said that at the budget work sessions she attended, she and other council members had suggested that the first draft budget — which was emailed to council members on Monday — be a “bare bones” plan, one that kept the city running and met its contractual obligations, but funded nothing else. “The budget I got last night was not bare bones,” she said.
Silverman, who worked in the banking industry during the 2008 financial crisis, drew on her memory of the aftermath of the crash. “We didn’t get raises for three years,” she said. “We didn’t get bonuses for three years. We laid a lot of people off . . . I know what it’s like to be in a situation where we have to tighten our belts.” She added that she, too, blamed the irresponsibility of the previous administration for the city’s current situation.
“To be responsible,” Silverman said, “we’re going to have to face some pain.”
Tenke agreed, saying, “2019 is going to be a painful year.”