Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen last week submitted her 2019 budget for the town. The roughly $443-million spending plan — Gillen’s first — should make for a small tax reduction for 80 percent of residents, the supervisor said.
Gillen, a Democrat, said that her budget would “right the town’s fiscal ship,” after prior fiscal management. Gillen pointed to unbudgeted salary costs her administration faced after former Supervisor Anthony Santino, a Republican, and a majority of the board approved a number of controversial, last-minute transfers and raises at the board’s last meeting in December.
“My administration absorbed millions in unbudgeted costs head-on,” Gillen said, “and actually delivered a savings for most taxpayers.”
Gillen has a lawsuit pending against the town, seeking to overturn the board’s 2017 actions.
In Gillen’s plan, base taxes — general, part-town, lighting and waste disposal — should go down by almost 2 percent, compared to their 2018 taxes, she said. The town’s overall tax levy is set to increase by 0.74 percent. In 2018, the levy went up by 1.9 percent — roughly $20 per homeowner.
At the town board’s Oct. 3 meeting, Gillen immediately faced some pushback from the Republican-majority board, which delayed a vote on giving the preliminary budget its first approval.
“We need a chance to look at this budget, which was just filed on [Sept. 28],” said Republican Majority Leader Erin King Sweeney, adding that she was concerned that the budget did not provide for a compliance officer.
In an interview on News 12 on Tuesday, Gillen said that there was no departmentally-based request for a compliance officer line in the budget, and that officials at Town Hall are looking for the right person to appoint to the position.
The board voted to appoint a compliance officer to keep an eye on the town’s contracting process and root out possible corruption at the same December 2017 meeting at which Santino’s labor measures passed.
King Sweeney had proposed an independent inspector general, but her bill was voted down. Santino then offered the compliance-officer measure, which was approved 6-1. King Sweeney called it “a good first step,” while Republican Councilman Bruce Blakeman said it was “nothing more than a watered-down version of what an inspector general should be.”
Responding to King Sweeney on Oct. 3, Gillen pointed to a July 18 memo sent to all council members and department heads “urging them to be involved in the budget-making process,” and another on Sept. 28 reserving a day to meet with council members and their chiefs of staff.
“As I prepare the 2019 budget, I naturally wish to consider items you feel are important, as advocates for your district,” Gillen wrote in the memo. “To ensure adequate time for consideration of your feedback, please submit this information to me in writing no later than Aug. 17. Of course, if you would like to meet to discuss, I would be delighted to do so.”
Republican Councilman Anthony D’Esposito, apparently taking exception to a newspaper headline on Gillen’s budget, said on Facebook on Oct. 3 that the claim that the budget lowered taxes was a “flat-out lie.”
“Taxpayers deserve better,” D’Esposito wrote.
In a statement, Gillen responded that “numbers don’t lie,” and that D’Esposito likely did not read or did not understand the budget.
“The figures provided by our town comptroller unquestionably indicate that the majority of homeowners (i.e. Class 1 properties) will see a decrease in their town taxes in 2019,” Gillen said.
Gillen’s budget also does not include a salary line for Mike Deery, who serves as “confidential assistant” to Receiver of Taxes Don Clavin, a Republican. Deery served as Santino’s communications director before being transferred to Clavin’s office when Gillen took over. He handles publicity for Clavin, and is one of the town’s highest-paid employees.
Mike Fricchione, spokesman for the town, said on Tuesday that, “Whatever the tax receiver submitted for his budget is what was included.”
Deery had not responded to a request for comment by press time.
Gillen will host a series of public information sessions on the budget before the board takes first steps toward adopting it on Oct. 15 (See sidebar).
“This is a fair and balanced budget that keeps essential services intact and in-line with spending,” Gillen said. “We accomplished this goal by first identifying the town’s ‘needs’ versus a host of ‘wants,’ and by carefully reducing certain expenses including postage, overtime, part-time and seasonal costs.”