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Hempstead supervisor Santino gives State of the Town address

Hempstead Town Supervisor Anthony Santino's State of the Town address, followed by response from Democratic Supervisor candidate Laura Gillen. (Credit: Newsday / John Asbury)

Hempstead Town Supervisor Anthony Santino delivered a wide-ranging State of the Town speech Wednesday, touting his administration’s accomplishments but not mentioning his ethics reform package that the town board passed just a week ago.

Santino’s address at Hempstead Town Hall covered a range of topics from the budget, cost-saving purchasing agreements and community initiatives such as adding automated electronic defibrillators to parks and completing the new Sept. 11 memorial in Point Lookout. He is seeking re-election in November.

“When I assumed the office of Town Supervisor, I committed myself to accountable budgeting and aggressive cost control,” Santino said in the address. “I am proud of the accomplishments that we’ve made together in 20 short months.”

Santino noted a 3 percent cut in spending in 2017 over the inherited 2016 budget, and said a $23 million draw down of reserves was turned into a $5 million operational budget surplus. He said it was the first structurally balanced budget passed in more than 30 years, with revenue equal to expenses.

He cited three consecutive upgrades in the town’s financial outlook from Wall Street bonding agencies, awarded for not borrowing from town reserves.

Santino promised a 2018 budget, to be presented later this month, that would be lower than this year’s budget of $422.7 million.

The 2017 budget cut salary costs by $14.6 million, and Santino projected that overtime at the end of 2017 would be cut by $2.5 million since the end of 2015, when he became supervisor.

“Overtime costs have been public enemy No. 1 during my tenure as supervisor,” Santino said.

The speech was attended by a number of village officials as well as council members Dennis Dunne, Anthony D’Esposito and Dorothy Goosby, the board’s sole Democrat.

Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, who said she was not invited to the address, did not attend, nor did council members Bruce Blakeman and Edward Ambrosino.

Santino did not mention the recent ethics reform package passed Sept. 5 by a divided town board. The measure, which Santino had unveiled at a July 21 news conference, bars consultant work related to town business, requires online posting of all contracts and bids, prohibits elected officials from voting on matters regarding their family members and adds a $125,000 outside income cap for elected officials.

“I thought if this was one of his proudest moments as a supervisor, it seemed curious to me he would omit it,” said King Sweeney, who watched a livestream of the address online. “It’s disappointing he excluded the members of the board who voted against him from this event.”

Town spokesman Mike Deery said no formal invitations to the address were sent, and that ethics reform was just one of many topics Santino did not choose to discuss in the address.

At a news conference in front of Town Hall Wednesday afternoon, Democratic supervisor candidate Laura Gillen criticized Santino for holding the address with no notice to the public and some council members.

“Things are not rosy in the town government. Our town government has become completely dysfunctional,” Gillen said. “It’s become clear from these crazy meetings the last few months that democracy is dying in the town of Hempstead.”

Gillen criticized Santino’s budget history, which she said was backed by large raises for staff members and executive assistants, and she noted three consecutive bond rating downgrades by Moody’s Investors Service.

“He would like you to believe he’s slashed costs for taxpayers. Tony’s cronies get big pay raises,” Gillen said. “Those in Santino’s inner circle are plundering the budget for their own benefit.”

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