The Town of Oyster Bay has passed its $289.6 million final budget, about a month sooner than it normally does.
The early adoption of the budget, which keeps taxes flat, deprived Democratic opponents of the all-Republican board of a campaign issue, after last year's postelection unannounced tax hike.
Supervisor John Venditto said the town would emerge from its financial troubles in better shape.
"When the sun comes out again, the cash will be there, the money will be there, and guess what, the Town of Oyster Bay will have great roads and great parks and great property values. But we have to weather the storm," Venditto said at the hearing Tuesday morning.
Venditto declined to be interviewed.
The ahead-of-schedule budget was a win for an administration rocked by scandals: planning and development Commissioner Frederick Ippolito was indicted on federal tax evasion charges involving a town contractor in March; and last month town concessionaire Harendra Singh was indicted on federal charges that include bribing an Oyster Bay official to obtain loan guarantees from the town.
The budget adoption followed packed hearings in the morning and evening where Venditto supporters praised the town's quality of life and parks system while critics complained the town's budget materials were difficult to understand. Oyster Bay is alone among towns and cities in Nassau County in that it does not provide detailed summaries of spending in its budget proposals.
Robert Freier, a Democratic candidate for town board and a vocal critic of Venditto, said after the vote that the board had heeded his party's call to pass a budget before the election, but he was unhappy with the budget presentation. "I'm disappointed the budget was not thoroughly explained to the public," he said. "The average citizen can't understand it."
Last year, town Comptroller Robert McEvoy said at the budget hearing that this year's budget would "look different" and include "summary pages." But this year's budget format, pages of line items, was virtually the same as last year's, though it contained a single table summary with five categories: town salaries, benefits, contracts, equipment and debt service.
The budget is about $10 million more than last year's, primarily because of increased spending on debt service -- $80.7 million compared with $71.7 million in the current year. The town plans to reduce its long-term debt by $10 million next year.
The town has $841.9 million in debt, including $30 million of short-term cash flow borrowings, according to a July debt prospectus. Venditto defended the town's debt level, which roughly doubled since the financial crisis of 2008, as being a necessary investment to maintain infrastructure.Some speakers raised concerns about the town's credit rating, which has deteriorated in recent years. Venditto said the town had taken a hit from the financial crisis of 2007 and
2008 but it was "asset rich" even if it was "cash poor."
Most towns in Long Island have seen their credit ratings improve over the past 10 years. Only Oyster Bay and East Hampton have a lower Moody's Investors Service rating today than they did in 2005. Moody's rates Oyster Bay A3.END