The Oyster Bay Town Board has approved spending as much as $450,000 on environmental consultants in 2017 — less than half of what it spent in the past two years.
The town previously had contracted with a single firm — Hauppauge-based Cashin, Spinelli & Ferretti — for special consultant services to the Department of Environmental Resources. The 2017 contract is with Cashin as well as D&B Engineers and Architects of Woodbury.
“In reviewing the proposals, the Department of Environmental Resources felt both firms offered various levels of expertise that could be beneficial for different projects,” town spokeswoman Marta Kane said in an email.
Leonard Symons, the town’s deputy commissioner for public safety and a former Oyster Bay councilman, said at the Dec. 13 town board meeting that both firms have scientists, engineers, architects and planners who are experts on environmental issues.
The town issued requests for proposals to seven firms and received proposals from three, Symons said.
Robert Freier, a former Democratic candidate for the town board, asked at the meeting why the town doesn’t hire its own environmental expert.
“I think you’d spend a lot less money than it would be with an outside consultant,” he said.
Symons said town officials have discussed using hired staff for such services to save money, but some technical matters still would need outside expertise.
The $450,000 maximum for next year’s contract “represents a significant reduction from some of the historical practices of this town,” Symons said.
In 2015, the town paid Cashin more than $1.57 million for special consultant services, and in 2014 the town spent more than $1.46 million, Kane said.
The reduction in fees comes as Oyster Bay continues to struggle financially.
In April, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the town’s credit rating to junk status, which increased borrowing costs. In November, in an effort to stabilize finances, the board voted to pierce the state tax cap by increasing the property tax levy 11.5 percent.
Officials said they hoped that measure would provide enough money to reach an agreement with unionized town workers, but on Dec. 9, CSEA Local 881 members narrowly rejected a four-year contract that included a no-layoff clause but also called for a 2 percent, two-year pay cut and reduced overtime pay for sanitation workers, along with other union concessions. Town officials said the defeat left the town with a $3.5 million hole.