The Oceanside Sanitation District No. 7 board of commissioners is mulling a future tax cut after announcing that they had a $589,000 surplus from their 2019 budget and a legal settlement.
“I’d personally like to see a small tax cut because I think our surplus shouldn’t be as large as it is,” Chairman Austin Graff told the Herald after the board’s Feb. 6 meeting. “It’s there for a rainy day, but should be given back to the taxpayers in the form of a tax cut.”
Town of Hempstead officials approved a $9.1 million 2019 budget for the district in the fall of 2018. Graff said that because the board cut back on unnecessary expenses and maintained a tight budget throughout 2019, it achieved a $304,000 surplus. The extra $285,000 came from a settlement with former department supervisors Michael and Charles Scarlata.
In March 2019, the board reached a settlement with Michael and his son, Charles, who were accused of taking $800,000 in illegal deferred retirement payments after the state and county comptrollers completed audits.
The elder Scarlata received $391,000 in deferred payments from 1998 to 2013, according to a report by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. The report found that Charles received $421,353 in payments in 2012 and 2013, after he retired. In addition, the comptroller determined that the district had entered into a series of contracts with Assistance Corp., for which Michael received additional money. In July 2015, the board approved a resolution to suspend Michael and review his contract as well as the comptroller’s audit. That December, the board voted to cut its ties with Assistance Corp.
DiNapoli’s office alleged that more than $800,000 in deferred retirement payments made to the two men violated New York finance law, which is separate from criminal law, and recommended that the district do everything in its power to recoup the money.
With that money and the department coming in under budget, Graff said, the board is hoping to provide relief to taxpayers by lessening their sanitation bill. Like 2019, the sanitation budget for 2020 is also $9.1 million, but Graff said it would likely decrease in future years. He explained that the board finalizes its budget each August and submits it to Hempstead officials for approval in September, so this year’s budget was approved before officials were aware of the surplus.
Some of the money saved will go toward purchasing sanitation trucks. “If you don’t have a truck, you can’t pick up the garbage,” Graff said. “If you’re not picking up the garbage, you’re not doing your job.”
Each truck costs about $200,000, and though the board budgeted for one new truck in the 2020 spending plan, it unanimously voted to use money from its surplus to purchase another in order to phase out two aging trucks that have been in the department for nearly two decades. The process to order and receive each new truck takes eight months, and there are now 13 trucks in operation for the department.
“We said we have more than $500,000 and we need a truck,” Commissioner Pat Doherty said at the board meeting, “and it’s important to get another truck, so if one of them is already budgeted for, it makes sense to use the money for the other one.”
Graff said that once the trucks are acquired, the board will look into giving back to taxpayers. “You always want to have a rainy day fund, but ours is overflowing and I don’t particularly like when the government has too much money,” he said. “I’d like to give some back to the taxpayers. If people are paying $650 per year for sanitation, for example, we would reduce it by a certain percentage so that they wouldn’t spend as much in 2020.”