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Oyster Bay Town $311.6M budget hikes worker salaries, keeps tax levy flat

The Oyster Bay Town Board on Tuesday approved

The Oyster Bay Town Board on Tuesday approved a $311.6 million budget for 2021.   Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

Oyster Bay Town Board on Tuesday approved a $311.6 million budget that keeps levies subject to the tax cap flat in 2021 while increasing spending on salaries and employee benefits.

Salaries will go up to $91.9 million from $87.4 million in the adopted 2020 budget — a $4.5 million increase — and employee benefits will increase to $68.2 million from $67.7 million. Town officials said they expect to achieve millions of dollars of savings on salaries from a retirement incentive but the budget neither reduced spending nor taxes in anticipation of those savings.

Sea Cliff resident Arthur Adelman, 69, asked the board to revise the budget by rolling back more than $665,000 in raises approved for 151 town employees since the pandemic hit full force in March.

"I can't comprehend why we're giving raises," Adelman said to the board before the vote. "If we have a budget surplus why not, with the surplus, return the money to the residents instead of giving it to the select few?"

Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino suggested the raises were to retain workers with competitive salaries — echoing comments made last week to Newsday by Councilman Steven Labriola — and cited public works and highway commissioner Richard Lenz as an example.

"We must hire someone to run the department of public works who is a professional engineer and quite frankly [Lenz] could make a lot more money out in the private sector," Saladino said.

This year Lenz received a $6,500 raise, bringing his salary to $175,361, a $57,761 increase from when he was appointed in 2017. After the board meeting, Saladino did not respond to an interview request.

The town imposes dozens of tax levies on properties but only counts 27 levies for purposes of compliance with the state tax cap. Some levies, such as those for water districts with semi-autonomous governing structures, are not included toward the cap. Levies hit particular properties depending on their geographic location and no properties are subject to all the levies. While some property owners will see tax decreases, others will see increases.

Those combined 27 levies rose sharply in 2017 to $234.2 million from $210.1 million as the town hiked taxes by $24.1 million to reduce a cumulative operating deficit. Though town officials have said the deficit has since turned into a multimillion-dollar surplus, under Saladino those levies have remained at an elevated level compared to 2016. The levies totaled about $233 million in 2018, 2019, 2020 and again in 2021, keeping the tax levy essentially flat for next year.

The general fund levy will be cut to $55.6 million from $61.8 million, a 10% decrease compared to 2020, but still the fourth highest levy in the past decade during which it rose from $30.1 million in 2011 to a high of $67.7 million in 2017.

The combined levies of two garbage collection districts will rise to $65.1 million, a $6.4 million increase compared to 2020 and their highest level in the past decade, town records show. Taxes for the town’s parking district will rise to $9.9 million, a $2.4 million increase despite a 2018 fee hike on parking permits that was supposed to reduce the tax by shifting the burden onto users.

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