The Oyster Bay Town Board voted unanimously on Tuesday to pass its 2021 budget. The spending plan totals $311.7 million, a roughly 1.7 percent increase over the current budget, which is $306.5 million.
The tax levy — the total amount the town must collect in taxes to meet expenses — would stay at $233 million. The town would 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.
The increase in the budget comes as a result of increasing town salaries, contractual expenses, state-mandated increases in the minimum wage and an increased reliance on part-time employees.
At Tuesday’s meeting, firefighter Patrick Graba, from Oyster Bay’s Atlantic Steamer Fire Company 1, received a citation for heroism and selfless service to the community. He was recognized for a water rescue on Sept. 2, 2019, at Mill Neck Creek. He rescued a man and a woman who were trapped in thick mud after getting off their personal water craft.
The pair were unable to move due to the powerful suction of the mud, and Graba entered the soupy mud while tethered by his fellow firefighters to a nearby tree for stability. He piggybacked a traditional backboard and a specialty ice rescue backboard, and crawled out to the victims on them. They clung to the boards to keep their heads above the water as the tide rolled in, and Graba eventually freed them from the mud.
“Our community is indebted to Patrick Graba and all of the amazing first responders who assisted in this perilous emergency,” Supervisor Joseph Saladino said. “We take tremendous pride in recognizing Graba for an ability to act quickly and skillfully when fellow citizens are in need. His alert and essential actions were lifesaving and exceedingly worthy of the town’s highest honor.”
The meeting, which was orderly and calm, changed dramatically during the public session. Syosset resident Kevin McKenna, who had requested an opportunity to speak about three resolutions, instead expressed his dissatisfaction with Saladino and the board.
Appearing very angry and speaking loudly, McKenna began by reminding board members that he has filed a lawsuit against the town. When Saladino told McKenna to speak about the three resolutions, McKenna directed his anger at Councilman Lou Imbroto, who, according to McKenna, had violated the Open Meetings Law.
Imbroto had answered an email from McKenna, who had asked if the resolutions were discussed by board members prior to the public meeting. Imbroto said they were, prompting McKenna to say that the board members, Imbroto in particular, were violating the law because when they spoke there was not a quorum. “You come to a unanimous agreement before the meeting, McKenna said, “and if you don’t agree, you pull it off the calendar.”
Saladino said it is not illegal to speak to the town’s experts on resolutions. Mc-Kenna persisted, speaking louder.
“Police are here because of this kind of behavior,” Saladino said. “It’s obvious that a member of the public is trying to blow up the meeting trying to get himself attention, and it’s childish.”
McKenna, returning to his seat, said, “I got it didn’t I?”
Imbroto said several times during his exchange with McKenna that the rules were not being followed, perhaps referring to a new local law the town passed earlier this month, which states that anyone who disrupts a Town Board meeting can be arrested and criminally charged. It further states that offenders can be subject to up to 15 days in jail. In the past, anyone who disturbed a meeting was asked to leave, but was not charged.
The objective, the law states, is to allow residents to voice their opinions in an “atmosphere free of slander, threats of violence or the use of the Board meeting as a forum for politics.”
Imbroto, reached by phone the next day, said that a few residents often come to board meetings with the intention to disrupt them. “Certain people decided to make a political show out of our meeting on Tuesday and make it a circus,” Imbroto said. “We’ve adopted rules of decorum to protect the First Amendment rights of our residents.”
The councilman said that the new law was needed. “I was present to hear vulgar language at least three or four times at a board meeting,” he said.
Also reached by phone on Wednesday, Saladino was asked if the reason why the law was created was unruly behavior, Saladino said, “Yes.” He added, “A select few individuals come to the meeting every time who have a political agenda. The public doesn’t want this. We have residents, both children and adults, who come to the meeting to be honored. We want them to feel comfortable.”
What it comes down to, Saldino added, is that the meetings have to once again be professional.