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Left without a 2020 budget

Glen Cove City Council delays vote on spending plan

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Glen Cove entered uncharted territory on Tuesday when an emergency City Council session to vote on the city’s proposed $60 million 2020 budget was canceled.

According to the city charter, if the council fails to approve the budget by the fourth Tuesday in October, the spending plan is considered adopted, but City Attorney Charles McQuair explained that that would not happen this time around. Unlike the 2019 budget, which passed that way, Democratic Mayor Timothy Tenke’s proposed 2020 spending plan cannot be automatically adopted, McQuair said, because the City Council failed to approve the latest 39 amendments to the plan at a contentious meeting on Oct. 22. The measure failed in a 5-2 vote, with all Republican council members voting against it.

McQuair added that there was nothing stopping the City Council from approving the budget in an upcoming meeting.

Councilwoman Marsha Silverman, the lone Democratic council member, said that not passing the budget would ultimately hurt residents. Silverman, a financial analyst who helped Tenke assemble the spending plan, said that when the city’s tax bills go out in December, they would be based on 2019’s tax levy rather than the proposed 2020 increase of 1.8 percent. The city would then have to bill residents twice, once in December and again next year, to make up the difference.

“Not passing [the budget] would come at a huge detriment to the taxpayers and to the city,” Silverman said.

The issues that the Republican majority had with the budget stemmed from changes Tenke made after he presented it on Oct. 1 in order to balance it, they said. While the initial plan was incomplete, it has remained largely unchanged since an amended version was presented to the council on Oct. 10. But when City Controller Sandra Clarson refuted the mayor’s estimates at a special meeting on Oct. 18 and again at the Oct. 22 meeting, Councilman Joseph Capobianco said that with the mayor and controller unable to agree on costs and revenue, it was unclear what the correct numbers were.

“Who’s right?” Capobianco asked on Oct. 22. “I don’t know. Here I am expected to vote, and I still have questions going around in my head.”

Clarson, who has sued the city over Tenke’s attempts to terminate her, said that while it is the controller’s duty to help create the budget, she was excluded from the process after preparing a preliminary budget for Tenke. Proper procedures were not followed, she said, nor did she agree that it should be called a balanced budget. Clarson estimated that the current version of the plan was underfunded by $1.9 million.

“It should not be voted on,” she said at the Oct. 22 council meeting. “We would do the city great harm. If it passes, I promise you that you will run out of money by April.”

She urged the council to hold off on voting for the budget until January to avoid the automatic ratification law.

Silverman said that the budget, although bare bones, was balanced, and described Clarson’s statements as a scare tactic.

One key element of the spending plan that worried the council majority was the inclusion of the proposed Glen Cove ferry. Although the city has yet to finalize its contract with Hornblower NY to operate the ferry starting next May, Tenke included an estimate of nearly $1.9 million in revenue. Capobianco and fellow council member Nicholas DiLeo expressed their doubts about that number, which they described as overly optimistic.

Capobianco, who has seen two different ferry services fail in Glen Cove in the past, said that every ferry trip would have to be essentially sold out for the city to realize such a profit. DiLeo said he was also frustrated when he heard about the mayor’s plan to front-load two-year subsidies for the ferry tickets from RXR Realty, the developer overseeing construction of Garvies Point, adjacent to the ferry, into the first year. “Then what will you do for the second year?” DiLeo asked. “This isn’t planning ahead.”

Tenke said that if the city didn’t do everything it could to make the ferry successful in its first two years, it would have to pay back the $16 million that it received from the federal government in 2003 to create the ferry. Tenke mentioned that the city could receive additional subsidies from the state, which helps subsidize every ferry service to New York City.

DiLeo also expressed his dismay that the city would need to borrow funds to pay for its termination-pay obligations, estimated at $1.2 million. Tenke said the city would likely borrow $790,000.

“It’s not ideal,” the mayor said, “but we have no other way of doing it at this point.”

The City Council said it would continue to examine the budget at its next meeting on Nov. 7. The council must vote to include all 39 amendments to the spending plan before it can take a final vote on it.