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Amityville mayor challenges audit

In Amityville's first village board meeting since a state audit faulted its officials for unrealistic budgeting and lax financial oversight, Mayor Peter Imbert fired back, accusing auditors of trying to "crucify" him for working to keep the tax rate low.

"When I first read that report, I thought it was ridiculous," Imbert said Monday.

Still, the village has implemented "virtually all" of the auditors' recommendations, including policies for village purchasing and employees' use of business credit cards, he said.

But he took particular issue with one of the audit's chief findings: that a depletion of Amityville's general fund through spending that routinely exceeded tax revenue had weakened the village's overall finances. He said the depletion was part of a "lean government" strategy to keep taxes as low as possible. "We are trying to run this government on a razor thin line . . . every decision we made was intentional."

The general fund is used to pay for day-to-day operating expenses. During the 2008-2010 period examined by auditors from the state Comptroller's Office, it fell from a $1.9 million balance to a $604,000 deficit. Village administrator Diane Sheridan said that the deficit was $372,520 in May 2011, and that the current balance will not be available until village auditors complete their review in July.

An independent annual audit by a local accounting firm in 2011 noted the depletion but said trustees were "making every effort" to "start to build up the cash reserve." That audit blamed budget overruns on a nationwide economic slowdown. The administration has been "diligent in containing expenses while maintaining services to residents," it said.

In recent years, the village, like many on Long Island, has grappled with swelling employee pensions and health insurance obligations. Anticipated revenue from mortgage taxes and building and alteration fees have also fallen far short.

In August 2011 Moody's Investors Service forecast a warning that "the village's financial pressures will continue to increase and further narrow the village's financial position in the near term."

That assessment, made before a $1.4 million bond issue to buy two new village fire trucks, noted "deterioration of reserves and financial flexibility" could present future challenges.

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