The Town of Oyster Bay Board voted unanimously to pass its 2021 budget on Tuesday. The budget is set to be $311.7 million, a roughly 1.7 percent increase over last year’s budget, which was $306.5 million.
During a public budget hearing on Oct. 20, town finance director Robert Darienzo said the tax levy — the total amount the town must collect in taxes to meet expenses — would stay at $233 million.
The town, he said, has also proposed to freeze taxes for the fourth year in a row, which would result in a total of $5.2 million staying in taxpayers’ pockets from 2018 until the end of 2021. He said the increase in the budget comes as a result of town salaries being up in the 2021 budget, largely due to contractual expenses, state-mandated increases in minimum wage and an increased reliance on part-time employees.
One way in which the town plans to save money in 2021, Darienzo said, is by taking 75 town employees off the payroll. These employees agreed to take the retirement incentives offered by the town, he said, and new employees will be brought in at lower salaries. This, Darienzo said, could save the town roughly $5 million.
Debt service costs will come down in 2021 by roughly $2 million, Darienzo said, as debt has been significantly reduced over the past few years. The town’s budget for outside legal fees is expected to drop, he said, from $2.5 million to $1.5 million as well.
The coronavirus pandemic has increased costs in several town departments, Darienzo said, most notably in general services, which is in charge of purchasing personal protective equipment. He said additional employees have also needed to be brought in this past summer to enforce pandemic-related rules at parks and beaches, something which is expected to continue into 2021.
Darienzo said the town can have $5 million more in expenses and not have any additional taxes because of how conservatively the budget has been in terms of revenue in the last few years.
“There are certain non-tax revenue items that we have purposefully, conservatively kept lower than in the past years’ budgets,” Darienzo said, “so we were able to increase those revenue lines in 2021 while still maintaining the tax levy at the exact number that it has been for these past couple of years, which is $233 million.”
“Not only have we continued to move forward in terms of improving our services,” said Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino, “but we have not budgeted for more revenue. There are no tricks, there are no gimmicks — it’s 100 percent balanced.”
The State Controller’s office initiated a fiscal stress monitoring system program in 2013, Darienzo said, which uses a series of metrics to determine the fiscal stress of municipalities. The town received high scores of fiscal stress in that program in most years between 2013 and 2018 but its fiscal stress is now low enough to be taken off the list entirely.
Darienzo said the town has also received a bond rating increase this past year from Moody’s and a credit rating increase Standard & Poor’s.
Councilman Steve Labriola noted that the town is doing its best to keep taxes down during and after the pandemic. The City of Glen Cove, he said, has proposed a tax hike of nearly nine percent in 2021. He added that he would not be surprised if the City of Long Beach followed suit.
“Obviously, having a no tax increase budget is first and foremost on a lot of people’s minds,” Labriola said. “It’s a very difficult thing to raise taxes in a period of time where we have an economic downturn due to this pandemic, and I know that other municipalities around us are raising taxes.”
“At a time when other municipal budgets are going out onto thin ice,” Saladino said, “the Town of Oyster Bay continues to get stronger and stronger with another year of no tax increase.”