“Under the tax cap, the best we can do is maintain the services we have,” North Hempstead Deputy Town Supervisor Aline Khatchadourian said in a front page Newsday story last September about how a state law that caps increases in property taxes was pinching Long Island municipalities.
Khatchadourian said North Hempstead was under a directive from Supervisor Judi Bosworth to stay at or under the property tax cap for 2016 — and to do it without layoffs.
But a month after Khatchadourian’s comments in the news story, she approved a proposed renovation of the town attorney’s offices. “Ok let’s do it,” she wrote in an Oct. 23 email obtained by Newsday’s Scott Eidler under the Freedom of Information Act.
Where was the money to come from?
An email sent an hour before Khatchadourian’s approval provides the answer.
“ ... The town has borrowed $75,000 out of the $200,000 for various Town Hall Improvements,” Steven Pollack, who handles town finances, told Khatchadourian and town attorney Elizabeth Botwin.
Why did the town pull $75,000 out of a borrowing that had been authorized for up to $200,000? The decision, Pollack explained, had been in the works since August and involved multiple town employees acting under the assumption that the money would cover the cost of the furniture.
But by October, that sum would not be enough.
“We would need to make up $33,138.20 if we would like to go with the current price proposal,” Pollack wrote. After doing a check of town finances, he offered up a potential Plan B. Pollack wrote that a “budget report ran this morning indicates a healthy amount of contingency,” funds. “Money can be transferred out of this account if need be, pending other projects I am unaware of.”
To be clear:
Pollack was saying that North Hempstead — which, Khatchadourian told Newsday could only “maintain the services we have” — could dip into its rainy day fund, if necessary, to help finance a furniture purchase.
Using borrowing — which more typically goes toward infrastructure projects, such as roadways and parks — is bad enough. But the town’s rainy day fund?
As it turns out, the town — wisely — didn’t do that.
But it didn’t do much better either.
In 2015, it passed a 2016 budget raising property taxes at a rate under the state’s mandated tax cap — while, at the same time, borrowing money for a renovation that will end up costing taxpayers $186,000, plus interest. The borrowing included $103,000 for furniture.
North Hempstead’s defense is that the town attorney’s office needed to be renovated.
Really? With extras, like metallic paint, that, according to documents included in the FOIL request, upped some item prices by 10 percent?
And with a law library, which in the internet age still lacks computers, that seems to get more use as a conference room? And let’s not forget about the $4,869 for kitchen renovations.
North Hempstead has eight town attorneys, which puts the renovation cost at $23,250 per attorney. Even if the three full-time support staffers are added, the cost drops to $16,900 per employee — at a time the town was pleading tax-cap poverty.
There’s no good defense for the timing, the cost and borrowing money for this furniture.
No good defense at all.