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Town reviews 2020 budget

Spending plan to increase, but tax levy to stay the same

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The tentative 2020 Town of Oyster Bay budget proposes to keep the tax levy — the total amount the town must collect in taxes to meet expenses — flat.

Meanwhile, the $306.5 million budget would increase spending 2.2 percent over this year’s budget, which was $299.8 million.

Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino and Robert Darienzo, the town’s finance director, said the majority of the budget increase would go to fulfill contractual obligations to meet union standards that call for raises to the city’s employees. The raises would represent about $4 million in increases, bringing total salary costs up to more than $87 million.  

The Town Board is expected to vote on the budget Oct. 29.

The raises, Darienzo said, “are mandated expenses. It’s out of the town’s control.” 

The budget proposes to keep the tax levy at just under $233 million, similar to last year’s budget. Saladino and Darienzo touted the town’s commitment to keeping the levy flat and cited a July report from Moody’s Investors Service that gave the town its first “positive outlook” status in nearly 20 years. They also said the town had eliminated its $44 million deficit and the town’s $8.2 million surplus would nearly double next year. 

Despite the supervisor’s projections, Moody’s also reported this year that the town ended 2018 with a $5.5 million deficit. An audit this year by the New York state comptroller’s office showed that the deficit was actually $10.2 million. The comptroller’s report was based on year-end general fund balance, short-term borrowing, operating deficits and cash on hand. Saladino refuted Moody’s findings and said that the reports did not look at all of the town’s finances. 

“They only looked at our general fund,” Saladino said. “We have 13 other funds. With all due respect to Moody’s, they didn’t check everything.” 

He also criticized the comptroller’s report and said the report looked back three years, so it included information from before he became supervisor in January 2017. The report did have some data from 2016, but most of it was from 2017 and 2018. According to the report, the town would still be designated as “under stress,” even if only the data from 2018 was analyzed.

The report did indicate one positive outlook about the town’s operating deficit, which was erased in large part due to an increase in revenue that started in 2017, which was the year the town raised taxes by more than 11 percent to increase revenue by about $20 million. The tax increase was the main reason why Standard & Poor’s upgraded the town’s credit rating in 2018.   

Darienzo said that an independent audit of the town’s finances proved that the deficit was gone and turned into a surplus, but Oyster Bay Town Clerk James Altadonna, who is challenging Saladino for supervisor, said he believes the town was not following generally accepted accounting principles and mislabeling items as revenue. Darienzo and Saladino said the town was following proper principles, with Darienzo saying that the town only did not follow them in 2013. Altadonna added that while property taxes were being frozen, fees have gone up in the town. 

“Parking fees at the commuter lots have gone up by 300 percent, building applications fees went up 100 percent,” Altadonna said. “He’s using fees in place of taxes.” 

Two other items of note in the 2020 budget were the slight increase of the highway projects budget from $19.1 million to $20 million, as well as a million-dollar increase in the town’s legal fees to $2.6 million, as the town continues to defend itself against and pursue several lawsuits.

Aside from the town’s budget, another big change to Oyster Bay might come in the form of a walk-on resolution presented by Councilman Anthony Macagnone, a Republican who is not seeking re-election this year. The resolution would effectively bar elected officials, appointed commissioners and deputy commissioners, as well as any annually appointed officers — including members of the zoning, planning, housing and ethics board — from holding positions as political party leaders, political club officers or any political organization beginning on Jan. 1, 2020.

The measure took several Town Board members by surprise, and Councilman Lou Imbroto feared that the proposed legislation might infringe on First Amendment rights. Saladino asked the town attorney to look over the legislation to ensure the town could vote on such a resolution. Saladino’s and previous administrations have often been accused of appointing leaders of Republican Party clubs to commissioner positions in the town.

“I think this is an important thing to consider, and I’d like the board to vote on it before I leave office this year,” Macagnone said.

The Town Board is to vote on Macagnone’s resolution Oct. 29.