As readers of the Herald are surely aware, it’s budget season in Long Beach. The unfortunate but inevitable struggle municipalities are faced with is to provide the essential services residents need and deserve at an affordable cost. While school and county taxes account for more than 65 percent of residential taxes, the city government has no oversight there.
However, as your City Council president, I am completely dedicated to ensuring we receive the highest quality City services at the lowest cost. I’m pleased the New York State Comptroller Tom DiNaploi’s office has agreed to conduct a full audit to ensure Long Beach is on a secure fiscal trajectory going forward.
Long Beach is incredibly unique. First, we have made a long-term investment in our public safety, which includes a local police department as well as the only fully-staffed paid fire department on Long Island. We have an amazing recreation center, fun events (like our fall festival and beach concerts), and one of the only local public transportation systems on Long Island. Naturally, we are also responsible for maintaining our beautiful 2.2-mile boardwalk and miles of beach. In the proposed budget, all of the services our city offers continue to play an integral role in securing unanimous praise, including USA Today declaring Long Beach one of the top 10 beaches in the country. Even with all the beach fees we collect, we invest so much to maintain and fully staff our beach that its financial benefits are minimal. These amenities shape Long Beach and set us apart.
Over the last few years, the rise in fixed costs has plagued local governments, and our City is not immune. The acting city manager’s proposed budget — found at longbeachny.gov — reflects increases in those costs, including; healthcare, pensions, insurance and contractual salary raises. Superstorm Sandy masked many of the financial challenges we faced in 2012 when the financial recovery began.
Not only were we able to secure funding to pay for the infrastructure that Sandy destroyed, but the city wisely used our dedicated in-house Civil Service Employees Association labor force whenever possible to do the work. This means salaries, including those processing the paperwork in City Hall, were covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and New York State. Our management team deserves praise for maximizing the grants that were available. Although that process is just about done, we still are fighting for FEMA to cover current expenses, like this year’s three temporary beach bathrooms.
I have worked with my team to determine a series of realistic options that could generate savings by reorganizing some departments, cutting overtime, and the potential for new recurring revenue. It’s easy to say “cut salaries”, but since the vast majority of our employees are covered by contracts, the only way to realize sizable savings is through layoffs. Layoffs mean service cuts and would be devastating to our affected neighbors. Are we prepared to lose services? Some residents are, some are not. We encourage our residents to attend our second budget hearing to let us know your priorities.
Make no mistake, we need to have an honest conversation about lowering the proposed tax increase from 12.36 percent, and that will include cutting millions of dollars from the budget by making really hard choices. Keep in mind a 1 percent tax decrease is equal to about $370,000 in cuts. Ultimately, the City Council will make tough choices, but we are basing our choices on community input. If you can see past the political nonsense, our job is to be your voice. As your neighbor raising two kids and struggling to make ends meet as well, it’s a humbling job I take very seriously.
No one likes taxes, but we certainly need and appreciate the services they pay for. Let us know what you can and cannot live without on Tuesday, May 15, at 7 p.m. in City Hall. We will have a short presentation at the beginning of the hearing and then we would love to hear honest conversation and not political mudslinging — our city’s survival depends on it. If you can’t make it, email me at LongBeachBudget2018@gmail.com.
Eramo is the City Council president