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LI Briefs: Fitch downgrades financial outlook


Fitch downgrades financial outlook

Bond agency Fitch Ratings has downgraded the Town of Islip's financial outlook to negative because of worries over "structural imbalance" in the town's budget.

Islip's bond rating remains at the highest level, AAA, according to the agency's news release Friday.

"The town's operating funds continue to be structurally imbalanced despite attempts by management to control expenditures and raise revenues," Fitch said in the release. "Town management currently projects a $7.3 million net operating deficit after transfers across the operating funds in fiscal year 2014 (despite budgeting for an $11.3 million deficit). This would reduce unrestricted operating fund balance to $41.7 million, a still strong 33.4% of budgeted operating fund spending."

Fitch also raised concerns that the town is relying too much on its reserve fund, which could hurt future ratings. "The continued use of reserves to support town operations without a clear strategy for restoring balance between recurring revenues and expenditures would result in a downgrade," the agency said.

Town spokeswoman Patricia Kaloski said in a statement that the administration "inherited severe budget shortfalls, but has worked tirelessly over the last several years to get the town back on solid fiscal ground, making tough decisions along the way which have included consolidation of departments and services. We are committed to this and will continue to work toward this goal."

Last month, Islip's board raised taxes by 5.8 percent for its $134.4 million budget next year.

Fitch said the town's potential to generate revenue through "further tax increases ... may be politically difficult, limiting the town's ability to independently raise revenues." Potential revenue may come from the Islip Pines and Heartland projects beginning construction in the next few years, the agency said.




$50,000 grant to resurface pavement

The Lindenhurst Fire Department has received a state grant that will be used for pavement resurfacing projects.

State Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) secured $50,000 in state capital grant funds for the department. The money must be used for capital projects, village officials said, and not other uses such as equipment.

The funds are to be used for the following: resurfacing a section of Heiling Boulevard that runs through Firemen's Memorial Park, resurfacing and pavement markings for the parking field off South 1st Street for the main firehouse on Wellwood Avenue, and resurfacing and replacement of pavement markings at the South Delaware Avenue firehouse main parking lot adjacent to East Hoffman Avenue.



New fire truck comes from bonus fund

A new $1 million fire truck with a 75-foot ladder will be purchased by Mineola at no taxpayer expense.

The village board voted unanimously 5-0 at its Dec. 10 meeting to buy the truck with money in the Incentive Zoning Bonus Fund.

Village Clerk Joseph Scalero explained in a telephone interview Thursday that the fund is made up of voluntary contributions by developers with projects that are part of the village downtown master plan.

Scalero said the incentive zoning program allows those downtown developers who want a "fast track" through the zoning application process to pay for it by putting money into the fund.

"Instead of having to go to the zoning board for approvals, their zoning application would be voted on by the village board," Scalero said. He said money collected through the fund can be used for projects or purchases that in some way benefit the public.

Scalero noted contributors to the fund also have the choice of making cash or other donations, such as paying the for village streetlights or some other need.

He said that while it can take at least two years for developers to make their way through the normal zoning process before they can build, under the incentive program it could be less than a year before construction work on a project can get started.

The amount contributed to the fund varies with each developer, and the amounts are offered by the developer and then submitted for approval to the village board.

Scalero said the new truck is being purchased because the ladder truck it will replace is 20 years old and can no longer be properly maintained.

He said that because of the incentive fund, "the village is getting a $1 million, 75-foot ladder truck, which it needs, without taxpayers having to pay."



S&P increases village credit rating to BBB

Standard & Poor's Ratings Services upgraded its credit rating for the Village of Amityville last week, a sign of increased confidence in the village's finances as it narrows a six-figure general fund deficit.

The rating increased a notch to BBB from BBB-, the minimum threshold for investment-grade bonds.

"The upgrade reflects the village's strong budgetary performance leading to improved, albeit still weak, internal liquidity as reflected by its reduced cash flow borrowings," said Standard & Poor's credit analyst Hilary Sutton in a Dec. 15 release.

Amityville officials announced late last summer that the village had closed out its 2013-14 budget with a $188,000 surplus, cutting its general fund deficit to $356,318. It was the second straight annual surplus for the village, which kept property tax increases under the state-imposed cap for both 2015 and 2014.

Amityville relies on tax anticipation notes for cash flow, which the ratings agency said was a credit risk, although the amount it borrows through the notes has dropped over each of the past two years. The village will owe a $600,000 tax anticipation note next May.

"We have plucked most of the low-hanging fruit," said trustee Nick LaLota, the village's budget officer, citing decreased payroll for noncontract village employees, refinanced debt, streamlined operating expenses and several cash settlements in the village's favor.

But long-term success still depends on renegotiating the village's contract with the union representing its police officers, LaLota said.

Talks between the two sides are ongoing but sporadic, he said.



Public hearing set for apartment complex

A Jan. 14 public hearing has been set for a proposed nine-story, 296-unit apartment complex on a 1.5-acre parcel near the Long Island Rail Road station in Mineola.

According to plans submitted by the New Hyde-Park based Lalezarian Properties LLC, the Mineola Village Green would be situated between Mineola Boulevard and Main, Second and Front streets. The address would be 199 Second St. A bank on the site would be razed.

Proposed is a horseshoe-shaped building with a rear facing the railroad tracks and a 100-foot-wide by 200-foot deep village green with pedestrian walkways and a fountain at its center. There would be three subsurface parking levels.

A rooftop swimming pool would be constructed on the multitiered building's south side, and a roof deck and rooftop bar would be located on the structure's east and west sides.

Stephen Jacobs of the Stephen B. Jacobs Group of Manhattan, the main architect for the project, said in a telephone interview Wednesday, "We're waiting for zoning approval -- we could potentially break ground in the fall."

If the project receives the green light, it would be the second Lalezarian project to be constructed in Mineola. Another is about 20 percent complete -- a rental complex at 250 Old Country Rd.

Lalezarian did not return calls for comment on the project.

Mineola Village Clerk Joseph R. Scalero said, "The board cannot comment on a proposal while the hearing is still open."



Roslyn High School crosswalk proposed

A parent of two Roslyn High School students in East Hills is proposing a crosswalk in front of the school at Round Hill Road and Willow Gate, and local officials support the idea.

Elissa Elkowitz, whose daughters, Rachel, 15, and Allison, 17, attend the school, in October wrote to East Hills Mayor Michael R. Koblenz and the board of trustees about her concerns.

"It's been an issue for a while," Elkowitz said last week. "Round Hill Road is highly trafficked -- it's a cut-through from Roslyn Road to Glen Cove Road.

"It takes us forever to get across the street," she added. "It's also dark now [in the afternoon], and all we need is one accident. I want to prevent that."

Koblenz said last week that the county would have to decide whether to place a crosswalk at the intersection because Round Hill Road is a county road. But he added that he thinks a crosswalk is needed.

"It would be safer for the kids to walk to the high school and back," Koblenz said. He added, however, that "others, like the school board and the principal, have to join in" before any effort proceeds.



Charity group seeks donations of all kinds

The We The People United Corp. Facebook group is seeking donations of goods, services and time. The charity organized in September has 100 members who seek to make the lives of those in need a little easier.

"A lot of people on Long Island are having a hard time," said Melville resident Judith Boggio, who founded the organization at her home. "There are a lot of working poor; what we try to do is ease the burden even just a little bit."

For diapers, furniture, wheelchairs, car repairs and even heating oil, Boggio said if the need is sincere, the group will find a way to help.

"There is such a need out there," Boggio said. "I know a lot of people think it's only the people in Wyandanch and Hempstead, but the need is all over Long Island. It's your neighbors. I see it."

In addition to collecting goods and donating to those in need, Boggio also posts requests for goods and then someone from within the group either steps up with the donation or connects the person with someone who can fulfill the request. Boggio said it doesn't end there. She said she tells everyone who receives that they are also expected to contribute.

"They are expected to give back in some way," Boggio said. "You don't have to give back in money or items, but you have to find a way to give back, whether driving somewhere, calling someone to make sure they are OK, there are many ways to give back."

This fall, the group helped 135 kids with school supplies, provided Thanksgiving dinner for 65 families and gave 350 winter jackets to children, women and men. Boggio said she expects to gift about 234 children with toys this holiday season. The giving won't end with the close of the holiday season.

"We are led by what is needed," Boggio said. "So next up is a drive to collect blankets."

Those who would like to donate or join can visit the Facebook page We The People United Corp.



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