Venditto defends Oyster Bay Town spending

Republican John Venditto is Oyster Bay Town supervisor. Republican John Venditto is Oyster Bay Town supervisor. Photo Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

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Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto Tuesday launched into a heated defense of town taxing and spending at a meeting where officials approved a new round of buyouts to combat debt.

Venditto said because the debt funds top-notch services and can be repaid, he is "happy to incur" it.

"I would never spend unreasonably, but I would spend appropriately to advance legitimate town purposes," he said, and " . . . protect the quality of life that we enjoy here."

The town faces $878 million in overall debt, but Venditto said sound infrastructure gives it an edge over other cash-crunched governments.

He spoke at a town board meeting dominated by actions impacting finances.

Board members Tuesday approved a new round of early retirement incentives, issued $5.4 million in bonds for capital improvements and considered a law to override the state-imposed property tax cap.

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While officials said 235 employees are eligible for the buyouts, they did not say how many they hope will retire.

Some at the meeting questioned the town's borrowing.

"We may be OK today, but with the debt service that we're going to be encumbered with for the next years, I fear we're going to have a problem," Laura Schultz, of Syosset, said.

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Jerry Fitzgerald, 64, of Locust Valley, said officials are saddling taxpayers with the "unforeseen costs" of the lifetime medical coverage offered through their buyout program.

Officials said they are obligated by contract to provide some retirees with the lifetime health care.

Others at the meeting complimented town operations.

Al Lawn, 87, of Jericho, spoke proudly of living and raising his children in the town.

Carol Meschkow, of Plainview, applauded the quality of the parks, saying her son grew up playing soccer in them.

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Venditto said critics' anger is misdirected.

"I'm really getting tired of people assailing and attacking the town as if the Town of Oyster Bay is somehow the cause of all your tax woes," he said.

Town taxes make up a small portion of overall tax bills and fund resources that few can complain about, he said.

He also criticized rating agencies that have stamped the town with a negative outlook.

Standard & Poor's in a report last week referenced the town's "financial deterioration due to operating deficits in each of the past seven fiscal years." But the agency noted that last year's general fund operating deficit -- an estimated $1 million -- is less than previous years'.

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