Balancing Glen Cove's tight budget, piece by piece

Council considers cost cuts, new revenues


A week after Mayor Tim Tenke’s proposed budget — which would have pierced the state limit on its tax levy — was met with the ire of council members and the public alike, Tenke presented a revised draft budget to the council at a working session on Tuesday night.

The draft proposal will not be released until Monday, Tenke said, the day before a scheduled hearing on it. As a result, the figures quoted below are limited to those that council members discussed at the meeting.

New revenue

The new budget relies on increases in various city fees — some of which have not been raised in two decades — to boost total revenue closer to expenses. For example, a “street opening” fee, which utility companies pay when they want to work on their infrastructure underneath the city’s roadways, has not been raised in 22 years, Tenke said.

The council also discussed fees for nonresidents who use city beaches. If a fee were introduced at Pryibil Beach, the proposal estimated, an extra $18,000 in revenue could be generated.

After Councilwoman Pamela Panzenbeck noted that Pryibil Beach — and specifically, the parking lot — was usually filled to capacity during the summer months, Tenke suggested that similar revenues could be generated at Morgan Memorial Park. But because the park is leased to the city with the stipulation that it be used by residents of Glen Cove and a select few neighboring areas, City Attorney Charles McQuair said, implementing fees there would require an amendment to the lease agreement.

In order to balance the budget, the city would have to stop subsidizing children who attend its summer camp program. Parks and Recreation Director Darcy Belyea said that the rates for the camp would have to be raised by about $200 across the board. Councilman Kevin Maccarone asked whether the increased price would reduce attendance, negating the anticipated extra revenue. No one offered an answer.

McQuair noted that the city could expect roughly $100,000 in extra revenue this year — and up to $200,000 in years to come — thanks to changes in contractual agreements with telecommunications providers, who rent city property for their cell towers. At a City Council meeting on Sept. 25, the council approved a resolution to work with Bench Strength Partners, a consultancy firm that helps municipalities negotiate such agreements. McQuair said that the additional revenue was not related to the firm’s efforts.

Cutting costs

The meeting grew heated when McQuair defended his office against a plan to replace his position with a full-time “corporate counsel.” The proposal hearkened back to a Jan. 1 meeting at which Tenke and Councilwoman Marsha Silverman, the council’s two Democrats, voted against reappointing McQuair, whose Republican allies on the council characterized the move as an attempted partisan ousting.

On Tuesday, McQuair, who does his work for the city at his firm’s office in Sea Cliff, argued that his position was, in fact, full-time. Tenke countered that there were occasions when he had sought McQuair’s advice, but he was not immediately available. In response to the mayor’s assertion that such missed connections would be avoided by having a city attorney who worked at City Hall, McQuair noted the lack of office space, and said that Tenke had rarely asked for assistance. Deputy Mayor Maureen Basdavanos noted that while the mayor doesn’t usually reach out personally, she often makes requests on his behalf.

Given the lack of detailed information about the draft budget, it is difficult to know whether the change would save the city money, although several council members sought clarity on the question. Councilman Joe Capobianco asked City Controller Sandra Clarson to run projections on both options to get a more complete picture of the financial impact of such a change.

The city pays McQuair’s firm — McQuair and Associates — a monthly retainer of $8,583 for his services. In addition, he receives a $1,000 monthly salary, and an additional $195 per hour for work he does for the city outside the scope of the retainer agreement, which includes litigation, preparation for bonds, and code enforcement prosecution.

Silverman criticized McQuair’s stewardship of the city’s legal matters. “I believe there are over-expenditures in the legal department,” she told the Herald Gazette after the meeting, “because we’re using so much outside counsel and we don’t have the proper in-house representation.”

Also excluded from the list of expenses was CPG Consulting, a firm run by Chris P. Grella, a retired Glen Cove police officer. In 2017, the city paid the firm a little over $47,000 to “assist the city’s code enforcement division with investigative support for its housing litigation and prosecution.” In addition to that work, Grella, who left the force in 2012, continues to draw a $103,000 pension from the city. Capobianco noted that the litigation Grella helped with was a source of income for the city.

Kristina Hauser, the deputy county attorney, who works with Grella on illegal housing prosecutions, said that she has worked about 30 such cases this year, and that “the prosecutions are certainly down from prior years.”

Even though the new draft budget did not exceed the state tax levy cap, Silverman said that the presentation was not the bare-bones spending plan, devoid of all costs beyond keeping the city running and keeping its contractual obligations, she and other council members had asked for. “We can do better,” Silverman said, “because the budget still has inefficiencies.”

The proposal was cut just enough to bring the projected tax levy increase under the city’s 1.8 percent limit, she said, adding that she would like to see more of an emphasis on building a surplus, or on dramatically reducing wasteful spending.