Written by Dagmar Fors Karppi Friday, 19 November 2010 00:00
A 75-year-old resident of Oyster Bay and living on a fixed income spoke before the Oyster Bay Town Board on Tuesday, Nov. 9, asking, “With a 3.5 percent tax increase from the town, I am being taxed out of my home. Is there another way to balance the budget?”
“We would if we could,” said Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto. He said the town tax was small in the total tax picture, usually only 10 to 12 percent of real property tax. He said, “In exchange you get all the services the town provides. The 3.5 percent increase people can blare about saying – ‘He’s killing us” but by common sense appraisal, it is a cost of living increase caused by the price of gasoline, and trucks, etc. In real dollars it is only $30 a year for each person. That is $30 to protect the infrastructure, the quality of life and to continue to give you all the activities and programs – it is very reasonable. Other levels of government ask for funds in the hundreds such as the schools, Mineola, Albany and Washington. I, and the town board, refuse to allow the Town of Oyster Bay to get into the trouble that we have seen in Mineola and Albany governments. Everything is broken because elected officials did not have the fortitude to tax people fairly.” He said he refused to operate in the red. “When I talk to residents they agree. We are cut to the bone.”
Mr. Venditto equated the $30 tax figure as what people would spend at McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts over the weekend.
Councilman Chris Coschignano added the board agonized over the decision.
Mr. Venditto said the town’s portion of taxes is so relatively small in dollars while the school taxes are in hundreds of dollars. He said the 3.5 percent “wasn’t a lot to keep the activities and services provided in one of the finest towns in the U.S.”
Terrance Kelly of East Norwich, too, commented on the budget saying that “Seven out of 10 towns have held to no increase in taxes.” He asked, “Did you consider other things, including layoffs?”
“No, I have a great workforce and need them to do the work,” said Supervisor Venditto.
Mr. Kelly asked if the town was overspending on items such as on parks.
Mr. Venditto said the town has a high bond rating and they spend for legitimate public services such as garbage pickup. He said when they make improvements they enhance property values and added. The supervisor said, “The Town of Oyster Bay leads the rest of the Northeast region in property values.” He said that other municipalities that have not raised taxes find they have a deficit.
When asked if the town has gone out to bond to borrow money, Mr. Venditto said only for capital investments.
Mr. Kelly, a resident of the unincorporated hamlet of East Norwich, said, “I pay for garbage pickup.” Mr. Venditto said, “If you get together with the community we will pick up your garbage.”
Mr. Kelly brought up the cost of the new Town of Oyster Bay Department of Public Safety.
Mr. Venditto said other towns have had public safety departments and Oyster Bay decided they, too, needed to create one. Mr. Venditto said one of Public Safety employees ran into a burning building before the alarm sounded and saved someone. He said they do crowd control at concerts in conjunction with the NCPD; and that the OB DPS helps the stressed-out NC Police who are working with fewer people. He said the department also helps when there is an accident.
Mr. Kelly asked why the town gave the board raises a year ago when the private sector were all taking cuts? Mr. Kelly added, “I’m just a little unhappy and thought it was time to come and speak out.”
The supervisor said he believes he is in touch with the pulse of the town through being out on the streets of the town from morning to night and meeting with people. He said he is accessible by fax, email and the telephone. He said he keeps tabs on residents and believes they overwhelmingly agree with him that $30 is not too much to pay, in terms of money today.
In terms of what is happening today, Mr. Kelly said, he is a lifelong Republican, and he has seen the Tax Revolt party come about and asked about the possibility of layoffs.
“I won’t do it,” said Mr. Venditto. He added that he wasn’t afraid that someone was going to bump him out of office because he believed a tax increase was needed. He said, “If I lose, I lose. I will do the best job I can.” He said the most important thing was not to let the town get into financial difficulties.
“I don’t see it as one way or the other,” said Mr. Kelly.
Mr. Venditto countered with, “Twelve hundred people work for the Town of Oyster Bay. That’s not a lot for a town of this size.”
“I just wanted to say my piece,” added Mr. Kelly.
“There’s no way out,” said Mr. Venditto. He said the board kept chipping away at the proposed budget and “we are leaner and meaner and I am not putting people out of work.”
Councilman Macagnone interjected that attrition would cut down the work force itself. Mr. Coschignano said the increase was a result of the loss of revenues.
Mr. Kelly added that this tax is one more tax, added onto everything else.
Mr. Venditto said when you consider the garbage collection, snow removal, and the parks, and beaches that are all maintained, “We should be exempt from tax complaints.”
Anita MacDougall, who for several years has been questioning the constant raise in school budgets through union contracts, said, “Taxes are a real big problem, and add up, a little here and a little there. We are in a fiscal mess in Nassau County, the state and nationally. Political decisions are resulting in 17 percent unemployment over the last year and a half. We need some common sense and reasonableness. Why is the Town of Oyster Bay increasing taxes? It is $30 here, and $30 there, and alleged pennies on the school budget.”
Mr. Venditto said the town is being candid in asking for just what they need. The town is not raising permit fees the way the county is when a pool permit for Nassau County will be $100 and a pistol permit, $300, he said.
Ms. MacDougall asked that they negotiate with the unions on health care and pensions instead of playing a shell game of shifting money.
“It’s labor contracts,” said Mr. Venditto.
Ms. MacDougall said in the private sector health care is paid for on a 50/50 basis. “The public sector is taking the private sector for a ride.” She said taxes keep going up and, “It starts here,” she added.
“It’s our obligations that cause the need for taxes,” said Mr. Venditto, “things like the cost of oil, trucks, uniforms.” He said they have been entrusted to do a good job and it only costs $30 to keep this wonderful town afloat, said Mr. Venditto.
“I think this tax increase process is indicative of what is wrong with the county,” she said, “why not open contracts and re-negotiate contracts?” She said the mantra of the school districts are these alleged mandates that are the result of poor contract negotiations. “We need an attitude and action change from all elected officials,” said Ms. MacDougall.
Mr. Venditto countered by saying when the private sector was making millions that was all right but when they got into trouble the public sector had to bail them out. “When times were good, they were making a lot of money but when there was a reverse, we all had to bail them out,” he said.
Councilman Muscarella added that last year there was no tax increase. He said this year the county couldn’t afford to mow the grass, and the town did it for them. He said the town services are exceptional and the $35 is miniscule. [The assumption is that the rate is determined by property values and the $30 is not a static fee everyone will be paying.]
Mr. Venditto said if he cuts concerts or veteran’s programs, “My phone rings off the hook all day long. My residents will pay the $30 a year to keep the town what it is.”
In leaving, Ms. MacDougall said, “I hope you will be very aggressive in re-negotiating contracts.”
That ended the community comments, and the board went on to vote. Newly elected Oyster Bay Town Councilwoman Rebecca Alesia was absent on Tuesday, Nov. 9, on vacation, for the town board’s budget vote. Ms. Alesia was endorsed by the Tax Revolt Party and town resident Peter J. Clines asked in a letter to the editor if she would vote against the budget. She didn’t, even in absentia.
The board members voted unanimously, to pass the budget of $242,878,344, marking a 1.7 percent increase in spending from 2010.
The town had two budget resolutions, one for the budget itself and the other for special districts the town collects taxes for: Councilmen Pinto and Coschignano abstained from the vote as both have represented water districts, The town board jobs are considered part-time employment.
Mr. Venditto had a comment himself on what experts have been telling the town. He said people have been telling the town that they need affordable housing for the next generation. He said when they tried to provide it, “You’d be surprised how small the list is.” The list for senior housing has 3,000 to 8,000 names and the next generation list has 300 names. He said the ‘experts’ don’t always have the right answer. While they tell others what to do, “They are not in touch with reality,” he said.