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Glen Cove council sets emergency session after tabling vote on proposed 2020 budget

The Glen Cove City Council will hold an emergency session next week to vote on a proposed $60 million budget for 2020 after tabling a vote at a contentious meeting Tuesday. Sandra Clarson, Glen Cove controller, urged the city council not to adopt the proposed budget. (Credit: Newsday / Rachel Uda)

The Glen Cove City Council will hold an emergency session next week to vote on a proposed $60 million budget for 2020 after tabling a vote at a contentious meeting Tuesday.

A public hearing was held to discuss the spending plan, which was assembled largely without the help of Controller Sandra Clarson. Clarson, who was fired in August by Mayor Timothy Tenke and temporarily reinstated following a court order in September, called the budget “fiscally irresponsible” and urged the council not to put it to a vote.

“I stand here tonight to inform the city council and the public that what was provided to you is neither a procedurally complete nor balanced budget,” Clarson said at the packed meeting. 

Tenke said he believes Clarson's "figures are incorrect." 

"It's a good, solid budget and she's trying to put fear in people's minds so they won't vote for it," Tenke said Wednesday.

Clarson said that the proposed budget underfunds some of the city’s contractual obligations, including termination pay and tax refunds, by $1.9 million and that if the city doesn’t borrow it will run out of money by April 2020.

Tenke said he plans to cover $1.2 million in termination pay by issuing a bond, a move criticized by Councilman Nicholas DiLeo Jr. 

“That’s deficit financing all over again,” DiLeo said. "You can call this a balanced budget, but if you're not budgeting for certain things that will be coming up, it's not balanced."

Tenke said $1.2 million for termination pay is a "high projection" and that the amount the city will need to borrow is probably closer to $790,000. 

"It's not ideal, but we really have no other way of doing it at this point," Tenke said.

He defended his “bare bones” budget at the meeting, noting that it cut expenses by about $1 million without laying off any employees or cutting services. Taxes would rise 1.88%, which is the state tax cap. Residents with homes worth about $500,000 would see an annual tax increase of $78.11, Tenke said.

Tenke said he found several errors in information Clarson submitted to city officials, prompting him to exclude her from the budget process. He said she also did not prepare a ferry fund and that the omission further undermined his confidence in her.

Clarson said Wednesday that the document was a preliminary draft and that the data "had not been fully checked at that point."

Tenke compiled the spending measure with Councilwoman Marsha Silverman, a consultant with financial experience and the only other Democrat on the council.

Versions of the budget have been presented to the council since it was first introduced Oct. 1, and some council members have complained that they haven’t been given enough time to review the revisions. An errata sheet, which lists the amendments to the budget, was distributed to the council just before Tuesday’s meeting.  

The seven-person council split down party lines, with all five Republicans voting to keep the public hearing open and to table a budget vote.

A work session followed by a council meeting will be held Tuesday, giving the council another chance to adopt a budget by Oct. 29, Tenke said.

The city charter states that if the council fails to approve the budget by the fourth Tuesday in October it’s considered adopted. The 2019 budget was enacted through this quirk in city law, though it was voted down by the council. City Attorney Charles McQuair said Tenke’s 2020 budget can’t be automatically adopted if the council doesn’t meet the deadline, because it’s not yet complete.

Amendments to the budget must be approved separately by the council for the budget to be considered whole, McQuair said.

Clarson recommended the council wait until January to adopt a 2020 budget instead of voting on Tenke’s proposal. This would require the city bill its residents twice for taxes — once in December and again next year to account for the tax levy increase.  

Silverman said “it’d be a huge detriment to taxpayers and the city” to not pass a budget now.   

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