No tax increase in proposed town budget

Proposed budget keeps tax levy flat

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The Town of Oyster Bay voted to move forward with its proposed 2022 budget at Tuesday’s board meeting. The spending plan will be the focus of a public hearing later this month. Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino’s $311.6 million proposal — the same total as the current budget — would increase spending while keeping the tax levy flat.

The plan would extend the $1.3 million property tax cut approved by the Town Board in 2018, freezing property taxes for the fourth straight year. In total, some $6.5 million will stay in the pockets of taxpayers rather than being turned over to the government, Saladino said.

“This tax freeze is once again possible [because of] the spending restraints, efficiencies and debt reduction initiatives put in place by the Town Board,” he said. “The proposed budget for 2022 will continue to pay down record amounts of town debt while enhancing the delivery of our quality town services.”

When Saladino, a Republican, became supervisor in 2017, the town’s debt had reached $763 million. Since then it has been reduced by $165 million — more than 20 percent — without raising taxes, the largest debt-reduction initiative in the town’s history.

As a result of that effort, debt service will be $8 million lower in 2022 than in 2021, and $15 million lower than in 2017, helping to alleviate pressure on the operating budget and allowing for more spending.

In 2017, before the property tax cut was approved, residents paid a total of $68.4 million in property taxes. Last year they paid just $55.6 million, a reduction of nearly 20 percent.

The town plans to continue focusing on initiatives that enhance its suburban quality of life, Saladino said, investing in roads, parks, pools and beaches while also jump-starting environmental remediation, even with the decrease in taxes. Thanks to fiscally conservative budgeting over the past few years, Oyster Bay has produced four consecutive budget surpluses, and this year has its largest reserve fund ever, nearly $50 million.

Local Democrats oppose the budget proposal, saying that the current debt-reduction initiative is not enough, and that residents are due more tax relief. Some, including Amanda Field, the Democratic candidate running against Saladino in the upcoming election, say that tax revenue should be used to make improvements to the town, instead of increasing town employee salaries and producing election literature.

“The Town of Oyster Bay remains almost $600 million in debt and residents continue to pay for it — that’s an average of $7,000 in debt owed per household,” Field said. “That’s unacceptable. The town’s debt and continuous spending is what keeps taxes high year after year. Saladino and his administration are spending taxpayer money, doling out almost $700,000 in raises during the pandemic and promoting themselves with political mailers, while they could be paying down the debt or repaving our roads that are in desperate need of repaving.”

Oyster Bay is among the most financially stressed municipalities in Nassau County, with only 16 communities assigned worse fiscal scores, according to the New York State Fiscal Monitoring System, a data-collection program that was implemented in 2013 to keep the public informed about the factors impacting local governments’ financial health. The system evaluates local governments’ finances, using indicators including year-end fund balances, cash on hand, short-term borrowing, fixed costs and patterns of operating deficits, and creates fiscal stress scores.

The Town Board will officially vote on the budget after the public hearing on Oct. 19.

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