Amityville Village paid about $1.3 million in separation pay for police retirements this budget year from its general fund instead of bonding for the amount, as officials had originally intended.
In a loud work session Thursday morning, trustees offered two sharply different interpretations of the change. Trustee Nick LaLota, who prepares the village budget, said it was the result of improved finances and smart fiscal management.
Trustee Kevin Smith, who has said that he has been shut out of Village Board decisions by LaLota and his allies, called for a forensic audit of village finances.
Four village police officers, including the former chief and lieutenant, retired last year with accumulated vacation and sick time entitling them to cash payments. Trustees voted in December to ask for the necessary New York State approval to bond for the payments, with LaLota saying at the time that the alternative — paying out of the general fund — would mean a 10 percent tax hike for residents.
Sen. Michael Venditto (R-Massapequa) introduced a bill in January that would have permitted bonding for the full $1.3 million. The bill was amended May 10 to permit bonding only up to $815,000 at the request of the state Assembly, reflecting a $485,000 line item for separation pay already written into the village’s 2015-16 budget.
Then LaLota circulated a resolution earlier this month rescinding the appeal altogether. Village officials contacted Venditto and Assemb. Kimberly Jean-Pierre (D-Babylon), who had been working to pass a matching bonding bill, “to let her know they were opting out of the legislation,” according to Jean-Pierre’s chief of staff, Kristi Reynolds.
“Since they didn’t need to bond, the legislation is moot,” said John Banville, a spokesman for Venditto. “We were just trying to be helpful in case they needed it.”
A divided Village Board voted to end the bonding effort Monday night. LaLota, Mayor James Wandell and Deputy Mayor Jessica Bernius voted to pass the measure, with trustee Dennis Siry opposing and trustee Kevin Smith abstaining.
At Thursday’s work session, Smith pounced on the reversal. “Where are you making up” the amount? he asked.
LaLota went on to list a number of ways the village saved money, including $485,000 in separation pay written into the 2015-16 budget and $350,000 from the elimination of the police lieutenant’s job and the termination of health care benefits for retired part-time officials. The balance, he said, came from assorted smaller savings in village government operations and the contingency fund.
“Why did you withdraw” the bond? Smith asked.
“Because we didn’t need it!” LaLota yelled.