Written by Pat Grace Friday, 20 January 2012 00:00The Village of Flower Hill monthly meeting was standing room only at the Village Hall on Jan. 9, due in part to emails circulated prior to the meeting regarding two issues: first, the board’s inclination to vote to override the State imposed 2 percent tax cap on municipalities and school districts; and second, establishing the termination date of May 31 on a long-term, life and health care package for board members—insurance policies that villagers attending a summer meeting had strongly opposed.
The health benefits confusion stemmed from the realization that health insurance for the board had not been terminated last July when residents opposed it, but were still in force. The board explained to angry residents that the health insurance had remained in force because it had been budgeted, but without a termination date, and they would hold a vote that night to decide whether to terminate trustee benefits on the date of May 31.
To the first issue, Mayor Weiss said it was prudent to adopt a law to override the 2 percent tax cap, that it was not about the desire to raise taxes, but to maintain flexibility should the need arise; he added the last 8-10 village budgets had been under 2 percent. Weiss said it was a bad law, that exceptions to the tax cap are not adequately written, that there is a penalty for going over the cap but the State can’t tell you what it is, it is also unclear, he said, as to what a budgeting “mistake” is. And, Weiss said, no budget factors in natural disasters.
Weiss also said the ability to override the 2 percent tax cap is a “safety valve” and most laws do not come with an “out” as this one does because many in Albany considered it a bad law. He added Munsey Park voted to override the tax cap, as did the Town of North Hempstead, and, he said, Plandome Manor was expected to do so.
Weiss continued, saying the village currently enjoys a reasonable surplus, but with a tax cap coupled with an unforeseen disaster, the surplus would disappear. Then, in a few years, perhaps the village would be unsustainable, disband and be absorbed into larger government when, he predicted, costs would go up and services go down.
As the 2 percent tax cap is written, it can be overridden by a 60 percent vote of the trustees. Weiss said the village should override the tax cap and send a clear message to Albany that it can’t dictate to local government. Weiss added he believed it was a “serious mistake to bow to the State as it consistently looks to take money from municipalities.” The cap, the board said, must be overridden before the budget vote, generally in April.
Village residents expressed their concerns before the board voted unanimously to override the 2 percent tax cap.
Deputy Mayor William Clemency said just because there is an opportunity to override the budget it doesn’t mean the board will. “Worry about the budget in April,” he said, “That’s what counts.”
Residents were skeptical and some indicated they did not trust the board and their reasons seemed tied to the second agenda item.
Residents at the meeting claimed to have learned at a July meeting that the board had been drawing funds for a health care package and that after expressing their disapproval at that meeting residents believed the benefits had ceased. They were still in force, the board said, because they had been budgeted. When budgeted, there was no termination date established. The date when they would cease to withdraw the funds was to be determined at the Jan. 9 meeting.
Outgoing Mayor Weiss said some mayors in the area have salaries and benefits. He said he works 20 hours a week on village issues in addition to his normal job. But residents attending the meeting were opposed to paying trustees for their services; the board countered saying those present were a small representation of the village.
Another villager commented Albany does not listen to a small village overriding the tax cap but that the board should listen to its constituents opposed to a health care package they had voted for themselves.
Finally, when the board voted, Pinto, Hauser, Ryan and Weiss voted against setting the termination date of May 31 so the motion did not pass.
Over the indistinguishable grumbling of the residents could be heard, “This is worse than the U.S. Congress” and a bewildered, “What just happened?”