Patchogue's Village Board last month adopted a $12.9 million budget, despite its public meeting notice not listing the compensation of the mayor and board. It also didn't inform residents that copies of the budget were available at the clerk's office.
New York State Village Law section 5-508 governs the village budget process. It reads, in part, that the notice to the public must state "that a copy of the tentative budget is available at the office of the village clerk" along with "the compensation proposed to be paid to each member of the board of trustees."
Two other Suffolk villages -- Mastic Beach and Bellport -- nearly adopted budgets before realizing they didn't follow the full letter of the law. Both later passed their budgets after properly advertising budget notices.
"This provision has been on the books since 1973. There is no excuse for not following the requirements," said Robert Freedman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government.
Patchogue Village Mayor Paul Pontieri and village attorney Brian Egan, who also represents Mastic Beach and Port Jefferson, defended their public notices as meeting all legal requirements. But Mastic Beach Mayor Bill Biondi said he thought the village could do better.
"If somebody brings it to my attention and I didn't know about it, we'll address it," Biondi said.
New York State Public Officers Law, which governs executive body meetings, states that board members may be required to take a training session regarding public meetings if a court deems a budget is invalid. And New York State comptroller spokesman Brian Butry said that adopting a budget without properly advertising it could be cited in an audit.
For his part, Bellport Mayor Ray Fell said he was not aware of the state law. Fell rescheduled a public hearing on the budget when he realized the village's legal notice for the meeting failed to list trustees' salaries.
"I never paid any attention to it," Fell said of the state law.
He said it cost roughly $189 to publish a legal ad that conformed to the state's requirements. He said the postponement and the added expense were worth it to avoid a possible court challenge.
"What if somebody brought you to court because it wasn't advertised properly?" Fell said. "That would be a disaster."
With Carl MacGowan