As City of Glen Cove elected officials walked into Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, protesters, many of whom were city employees and members of the CSEA union, yelled, “Shame on you!”
Hours later, after a heated public hearing, the City Council passed Glen Cove’s $64.3 million 2021 budget, which cuts six jobs, abolishing their titles, and raises residential property taxes by 7.32 percent, exceeding the state’s property-tax levy cap for the city of 1.56.
The council needed a supermajority to raise taxes above the cap. The council voted 5-2 to exceed it. Council members Marsha Silverman and Gaitley Stevenson-Mathews voted against piercing the cap, while Dr. Eve Lupenko Ferrante, John Perrone, Danielle Fugazy Scagliola, Rocco Totino and Mayor Tim Tenke voted for the measure.
The mayor, as per city charter, abstained from voting on the 2021 budget.
Tenke said he did not want to raise taxes, but if the council had not voted to exceed the cap, that would have left a budget deficit of roughly $2.3 million. He added that cutting six positions will save the city $550,000 a year, including salaries and benefits.
Among those who will be laid off are Parks and Recreation Director Darcy Belyea and a laborer in the department, as well as a roads laborer, a sanitation laborer, a personnel clerk and a finance clerk. The positions of food service helper at the Glen Cove Senior Center and golf course administrator, currently unfilled, will be done away with as well.
“To me, it’s a slap in the face,” Department of Public Works employee Ralph Conitino said. “When you think about it, what’s going on with the Covid and all the layoffs and all the people getting sick, we were out. We were working, collecting garbage and cleaning the city. This is a slap in the face. It hurts because you don’t want to see anybody lose their jobs, especially in a time like this.”
Tenke said in a statement that the City of Glen Cove is in the financial condition it is now because of Covid-19-related loss of revenue, including the loss of state and county aid, as well as what he called the financial mismanagement of the past administration.
“It takes strength and financial understanding of the city’s needs to make the right decisions, as tough as they may be,” Tenke said in a statement. “I realize this is not the popular thing to do, but it is the responsible thing to do — it’s what others were afraid to do.”
But many are not convinced that layoffs and raising taxes are the right move, and blaming the past administration’s mismanagement for the current financial crunch also did not sit well with some.
Former City of Glen Cove Mayor Reggie Spinello and former deputy mayor and Executive Director of the Glen Cove Industrial Development Agency Barbara Peebles attended the protest that preceded the City Council meeting to support the CSEA workers. “Union workers are the backbone of our great city and should never be considered as items on a spread sheet that become expendable when an administration fails to keep their finances in order," Spinello said.
Spinello refuted claims by the current mayor that the budget deficit was the past administration’s fault, adding that Tenke was a councilman for over a decade. In fact, of the four years Spinello prepared the budgets, Tenke voted against his proposed budgets only once, which was in Spinello's last term.
In a 2019 debate for mayor, Spinello said that during his administration, Glen Cove had received two credit upgrades from Moody’s Investors Service and praise from the state comptroller’s office for his budgeting. “We were in the best financial shape we’d been in two decades,” Spinello said.
Although the state comptroller’s office had a favorable view of the city’s finances in 2016, it backtracked in 2018, after an audit of the city budget during the Spinello administration slammed the handling of the city’s finances, noting that city assets were sold and money was withdrawn from the water fund, calling those actions short-term solutions to solve budget deficits.
“As all [of the prior administration’s] one-shot revenues have been exhausted and questionable budgeting practices, such as using interfund transfers, are no longer part of our practice,” Tenke said, “we must act accordingly and be champions of fiscal responsibility and prudence.”
Even so, Stevenson-Mathews and Silverman, along with several city workers and residents, said they believed cutting jobs and raising taxes were not solutions.
“We have a lot of Downtown Sounds and fireworks,” Conitino said, referring to city recreation events. “You know what? Cut that for a year. I know that we didn’t have it this year, have it next year.”
Stevenson-Mathews said he wanted to explore different avenues to raise and save money for the city, such as charging a fee for parking at Glen Cove parks and reducing the City Council’s pay by 10 percent.
Silverman said that she believed the fiscal crisis was due to the failure of Tenke’s administration to adhere to financially conservative practices. “Our people are hurting,” she said. “Jobs have been lost. Businesses have failed. Lives have been lost, all due to the pandemic. Now is not the time to do business as usual. Now is not the time to raise taxes at this amount.”
“It is true that we were non-stop driving the controller and the mayor kind of crazy” with questions and emails, said Danielle Fugazy Scagliola, who said she did not take the decision to vote for the budget lightly. “I do want to have a balanced budget, but the decisions to do that are tough ones, and they are not necessarily all the decisions I agree with in totality.”
“The truth is, the other options that the public brought up, and we brought up, for whatever reason, they weren’t viable,” she continued. “I do understand the concerns of the public, and I have concerns, but I do know we have to right this ship.”
Ronny Reyes contributed to this story.