On Aug. 26, Oceanside Sanitation District 7 Commissioner Austin Graff took to Facebook to announce the department’s proposed 3.9 percent tax increase for the 2022 budget, citing “rising costs like insurance, gas and salaries.”
Graff estimated the tax increase would cost between $17 and $42 per household for 2022. Graff also said that he and the other commissioners wanted to avoid using their reserve funds for situations like another wave of Covid-19 or a hurricane.
The reserve funds total around $4.5 million and were used in 2020 and 2021. “The expenses are going up, and as opposed to drawing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the reserve fund, we’re raising the taxes in order to preserve the fund for a rainy day,” Graff said. “There can be another Sandy or another Covid, and we have to protect the taxpayer and make sure we cover our costs.”
According to Graff, the sanitation district has incurred more than $200,000 in Covid-19 costs that he had hoped would be reimbursed by the Town of Hempstead through the CARES Act and federal funds. To date, District 7 has not received any funds, with Graff calling it “the forgotten sanitation district.”
When reached for comment on the matter, Town of Hempstead Communications Director Greg Blower provided the following comment: “Sanitation District 7 never filed an application for Town of Hempstead to provide Covid-19 federal CARES Act funds. Many other government entities and front-line agencies, including hospitals, universities, fire districts, libraries and schools, requested and received funding.”
Graff responded by saying the district had reached out to Town of Hempstead Councilman Anthony D’Esposito and not been made aware of the application process for financial aid.
On the same day of Graff’s Facebook post, Oceanside resident and former Sanitation Commissioner Joseph Cibellis posted a video from one of the district’s meetings of district board member Joe Samoles advising Graff to raise taxes this year instead of next, when Graff will be up for re-election. In the video, Samoles said, “If you want to protect yourself, that’s how I would do it.”
Cibellis ran against Graff in 2018, losing by 587 votes to 540 for the seat vacated by Ed Scharfberg.
“Politics doesn’t mean anything to me,” Graff said. “The most important things are having a balanced budget, keeping the taxes low, and to make sure we fund the district the way it needs to be funded.”