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Long IslandNassau

Hempstead Village board goes above tax cap to add cops, save jobs

Hempstead Village trustees voted Thursday night on a budget compromise to prevent five layoffs and allow six police officers to be hired while raising taxes more than 6 percent.

The board voted to pierce the state's 2 percent tax cap during a contentious meeting packed with residents opposed to a tax hike.

The authorization was needed for board members to then vote on a new $79.9 million budget that would raise village property taxes by 6.67 percent, fueled primarily by police retirements.

Residents packed Village Hall and peppered the village board for nearly two hours, arguing against the tax hike while they said other village services were lacking.

The board approved the measure 3-2, with trustees Don Ryan and Perry Pettus dissenting. The board was shouted down after the vote.

Mayor Wayne J. Hall Sr. said the tax increase was necessary to pay to hire six new police officers planned in the budget to backfill the expected retirements of 15 police officers, who face a 7 percent penalty from their pension for serving more than 20 years.

The village covered about $1.8 million in retirement payouts for the next year through an employee pension fund in order to avoid additional tax increases.

"We were elected for public safety. I have to think about the future," Hall said. "I can't lose all of these police officers and have a deficit where I don't have police to cover what may happen."

Ryan said police shouldn't be penalized for retiring, which was negotiated in their last contract.

"I don't believe a tax increase exceeding the cap is necessary," Ryan said. "We need to ease the tax burden on the people."

Longtime resident Ida Jackson told the board that taxes will drive up the cost of living and force people to leave.

"The poor people of Hempstead are hurting, do you want to tax them out?" Jackson said. "Find something to cut and find some relief for the people."

Board members voted to go above the tax cap to avoid an alternate budget with $3 million in cuts and layoffs that would have eliminated the six vacant police positions. Trustees on April 13 defeated a measure that would have raised taxes 9.5 percent.

Residents would have still faced a 4.5 percent tax hike if the budget remained under its tax limit. The village tax levy increases property taxes because assessment values are down about 18 percent, officials said. About a third of downtown properties are tax exempt.

The new budget includes about $1 million in cuts across all departments, but saves five full-time jobs as well as part-time workers. It allows the village to fill six vacant police officer positions and keep a summer jobs program.


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