Two Republicans are vying to lead the Town of Oyster Bay and each is certain that they would be the most effective. Supervisor Joseph Saladino, a former state assemblyman, who was appointed in January 2017 and went on to win handedly in November of that year would like to continue his mission to improve the town’s finances and reputation. His challenger James Altadonna Jr., a lifelong Republican who is running on the Democratic party line, was appointed as town clerk in 2013 and elected twice. He would like to see major changes in the town and believes he’s best qualified, based on his experience as former mayor of Massapequa Park for 12 years and his work as the town clerk.
We asked the candidates a few questions to assist voters when they go to the polls on Nov. 5.
Herald Guardian: How would you improve transparency of town operations and decisions? Would you support open work sessions for the public?
Joseph Saladino: My administration earned awards from two independent good government groups for our efforts to enhance transparency. Reclaim New York named us a leader in online transparency and accessibility. They had sued the town under the prior administration for lacking transparency but changed their position under my leadership due to the reforms we made. Additionally, the Empire Center recognized our progress, awarding us with a “Grade A” for transparency and accessibility. This is the type of independent credibility that further proves our commitment to turning things around. Improvements include enhancing live-streaming of meetings and increased public participation. We also improved the town website to make it informative and user-friendly. Furthermore, decisions impacting zoning and policy are discussed and voted on in complete transparency before the public eye.
I support open work sessions and have done them. When it came time to select new vendors for the concessions and restaurant operations at TOBAY Beach, the Town Board spent hours in front of the public, before the media, and live streamed online hearing proposals, deliberating and ultimately voting. And residents were welcome to comment. This process occurred several times when new vendors were being considered for town establishments. Similarly, when a local community was the recipient of a state grant to help revitalize its downtown we hosted public meetings which were also live streamed.
James Altadonna Jr.: Believe it or not, there is an open meeting law in New York, which requires all Town Board business, except for some important exceptions, to be done in public. I support real transparency and do want to hear from the public on all issues that are voted on by the Town Board. When I am supervisor, Town Board members will be invited to state their opinions at Town Board meetings and we shall listen to the public so that they can hear how we arrive at a vote on issues.
Herald Guardian: There have been accusations of censorship from the New York Civil Liberties Union in regard to the town’s removal of negative posts on Facebook. Would you consider turning the responsibilities of managing the town’s social media site over to someone who is not affiliated with any party and not an employee of the town?
Joseph Saladino: The town does not delete comments or block users from its Facebook page. Any suggestion otherwise is a lie by political opponents.
James Altadonna Jr.: I don’t believe it is necessary to spend taxpayer dollars on additional hires to address a problem that has other options for a solution.
The current supervisor does not allow criticism at any level. To avoid this from happening it is important that we put laws in place that would require elected officials to be transparent on social media. This would include restrictions on the deletion of posts on official town pages. The only things that should be removed from any elected official’s social media page are profanity laced messaging and threats. Additionally, no public official should use a public social media account for personal gain. We would need to put these laws in place to bring the transparency that the constituents deserve to social media and other 21st century digital platforms. Lastly, we need to reconstruct the way the town operates its public pages.
Herald Guardian: What kind of tax reforms can you suggest that will ensure that town taxes are reduced?
Joseph Saladino: I made a pledge to cut taxes and kept my promise in 2018 by delivering the first town tax cut in decades. This year we froze taxes and my 2020 budget continues to freeze property taxes. As a result of the property tax cut that we previously approved, nearly $4 million will be back in the pockets of taxpayers rather than in the coffers of government. While cutting taxes, I also implemented spending restraints and contracting reforms. My administration fully eliminated $24 million in budget deficits left behind by the prior administration. We turned the deficit into an $8.2 million surplus — the first surplus in seven years. We eliminated short-term borrowing for the first time in 10 years. Two independent Wall Street credit rating agencies upgraded the town under my administration for improving finances, including a historic reduction of long-term debt. Town debt will be down $160 million by years-end.
James Altadonna Jr.: As the people of the town know, fees have become the new taxes. To combat the need for these fees, we need to improve our bond rating and restructure our debt. This will bring down our bond expenditure and will enhance our operating budget giving us many years of positive returns. This will allow us to hold the line on taxes.
Additionally, I will consolidate non-union managerial positions that have been very costly to the taxpayers. One example of which is the current deputy supervisor receiving a $30,000 salary increase after just 6 months on the job. We have spent a large amount of money from our budget on legal fees. Some of them are totally unnecessary. By reducing these types of expenses, we can begin to alleviate the tax burden.
Herald Guardian: The state comptroller’s office has recently found that the town is under significant fiscal stress based on year-end general fund balances, short-term borrowing, operating deficits and cash on hand. What will you do to change this?
Joseph Saladino: The State Comptrollers report creates confusion among residents about the current state of finances in the Town of Oyster Bay, which is strong. The prior administration accumulated a deficit that hit $44 million just three years ago. The recent release of the Town’s 2018 Independent Audit proves that the deficit has been fully eliminated by my administration, and one year ahead of schedule. The Town now has an $8 million surplus – the first surplus in 7 years. One gets to this end result by looking at all 13 funds that comprise the Town budget. Unfortunately, the State Comptroller only reviewed a handful of budget funds and also incorporated old data that predates my administration. One must look at the most recent data, and all 13 funds to obtain the current day status which indicates that we eliminated $44 million in past budget deficits, reduced debt by $135 million and cut property taxes by millions.
James Altadonna Jr.: My opponent denies these findings, despite the comptroller’s office reaffirming the situation time and time again. We need to have an objective discussion with the residents of Oyster Bay to include a restructuring of our current debt, which is $623 million, as well as a layered approach to reducing the existing debt. The situation we find ourselves in under the current administration is unsustainable.
To begin to understand our budget it is critical that we use a Generally Accepted Accounting Principles model, which will introduce objectivity. During my tenure as mayor of Massapequa Park I increased the bond rating to the highest possible rating that a village can receive. This saved thousands of dollars annually over the course of many years. We need to apply this method to the town’s budget to ensure that we can rise out of the current fiscal crisis we find ourselves in.