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Oyster Bay Town finances need state oversight, two Dem lawmakers say

Charles D. Lavine, a New York State assembly

Charles D. Lavine, a New York State assembly member, during a public hearing in Manhasset Public Library, on Aug. 27. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

Long Island state legislators plan to reintroduce a bill to impose a state fiscal monitor on the Town of Oyster Bay in 2019, its Democratic sponsors said last week.

“The Town of Oyster Bay needs its own NIFA,” Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove) said, referring to the Nassau County Interim Finance Authority. NIFA is a state authority that has overseen the county’s finances since 2000. “I remain gravely concerned over the manner in which the Town of Oyster Bay is being governed.”

The bill would authorize the state comptroller to appoint a monitor with the power to approve or reject town budgets, issue reports and recommendations, override board actions that hurt the town’s fiscal stability and have access to all town records.

Lavine and State Sen. John Brooks (D-Massapequa) introduced the measure in January 2017 but without support in the Republican-led State Senate, or from the all-Republican Oyster Bay town government, it did not advance. Lavine and Brooks said that with the Democrats taking over control of the State Senate next year they are confident the measure will pass.

“It's a good idea to have somebody from the comptroller's office looking over what's going on," Brooks said.

Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino said in an emailed statement Lavine and Brooks “should instead work to help the town by reducing unfunded state mandates which increase property taxes to our residents.” The statement also touted the town’s recent reduction of debt, bond upgrade and reduction of operating deficits.

In March, Standard & Poor’s upgraded the town’s credit rating from junk status to the lowest level of investment grade, largely due to an 11.5 percent property tax levy increase and union concessions in the final days of former Supervisor John Venditto’s administration. The report said the town’s management was “weak, but improving” and that better monitoring and “realistic” budget assumptions had helped stabilize its fiscal operations.

In September, the state comptroller’s office announced that Oyster Bay was under “significant fiscal stress” and tied with Suffolk County for the fourth worst stress score among municipalities in the state for the 2017 fiscal year. The town didn’t have fiscal stress scores the previous three years because it missed deadlines to file its audited financial reports.

Ahead of last year’s election, Saladino embraced the idea of an inspector general to oversee the town’s contracting, including the position in the town’s 2018 budget. That position has never been filled, however, prompting Councilwoman Rebecca Alesia to boycott votes on contracts for much of this year.

U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has also called for additional monitoring of Oyster Bay's finances. Last year the agency charged the town and Venditto with securities fraud related to its municipal bond disclosures in a civil suit that is pending in the U.S. District Court Eastern Division in Central Islip. In that lawsuit, the SEC called for a court-appointed consultant to oversee the town’s municipal financial reporting and to impose restrictions on its ability to borrow money for five years.

Brooks' and Lavine’s original proposal called for the state monitor to be appointed for five years with possible extensions through 2026.

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