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Oyster Bay Town Board votes down calls for a state fiscal monitor

Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino on Monday

Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino on Monday in Massapequa. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Oyster Bay Town Board on Tuesday unanimously voted against home rule messages in support of a fiscal monitor hours before state legislators planned to convene a public hearing on the bill proposal.

The town resolutions against the fiscal monitor were “walk-ons,” meaning they were not announced before the meeting. The hearing on the fiscal monitor legislation Tuesday night at the Plainview Old Bethpage Library was scheduled weeks in advance. About 30 people attended the morning meeting and close to 60 showed up for the evening hearing, not including government employees and officials.

“The bill does nothing to benefit the taxpayers of Oyster Bay,” Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino said at the beginning of a roughly two-hour discussion of the fiscal monitor proposal. “It does not provide any financial relief.”

The bill was first introduced in January 2017 by Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove) and Sen. John Brooks (D-Seaford). They reintroduced the bill in January.

Saladino, a Republican, accused the legislators of “political theater.”

Lavine responded by making the same accusation against Saladinio and other members of the town board. 

"They conducted their own piece of political theater this morning,” Lavine said in an interview, adding that the board resolutions were “never noticed and of which the public was completely unaware.”

His proposal was “conceptual,” Lavine said, and could be modified. If residents want “effective government,” Lavine said, they could petition Saladino and the town board for a home rule message for a fiscal monitor.

Saladino said the town’s finances “are headed in the right direction” and legislators should take note of that. Saladino and former Town Supervisor John Venditto largely followed a fiscal plan crafted in 2016 to reduce debt and deficits through a combination of union concessions, a hiring freeze, reduced borrowing and a tax hike to address long-standing financial problems.

Saladino announced Tuesday that the town had eliminated its operational deficit. Town officials declined to provide information about fund balances to support Saladino's claim of deficit elimination. Following the meeting, town Finance Director Robert Darienzo said the fund balance numbers would not be released because they could change once a 2018 audit is finished.

Speakers at the Plainview hearing Tuesday night were mixed, with a majority saying they favored a fiscal monitor while others opposed it or raised concerns.  One speaker suggested a statewide mechanism to impose a fiscal monitor on any town that failed to address its financial problems.

Lavine said afterward his office would write a report about the hearing and assess the next steps legislators would take.

“You heard it here this evening," Lavine said, "people were upset with the way the government the town of Oyster Bay is conducting itself.”

Under the legislation proposed by Brooks and Lavine, a fiscal monitor appointed by the state comptroller’s office would have the power to overrule the town board. Town Attorney Joseph Nocella compared that to England's rule of the American colonies.

“It virtually goes back to the Revolutionary War when an appointed body has the ability to tax without representation,” Nocella said.

Jarvis Brown, Civil Service Employees Association Local 881 president, told the board the union would not support anyone who was in favor of imposing a fiscal monitor.

Town Clerk James Altadonna, Jr., a Republican challenging Saladino in November on the Democratic ticket, said he opposed the legislation.

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