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State comptroller cites issues in Long Beach budget

Long Beach City Hall on March 28, 2013.

Long Beach City Hall on March 28, 2013. Credit: Tara Conry

The New York State comptroller's office has concluded that Long Beach city officials, in their initial proposed budget, underestimated overtime costs; overestimated revenue from refuse, garbage, water and sewer charges; and allocated unauthorized contingency appropriations.

The report about the city's $84 million budget for fiscal 2014-15 is the first of several reviews required under state law after the city was authorized to issue up to $12 million in bond deficit financing.

The comptroller's review was prompted after the bond deficit financing was approved by the State Legislature and signed by the governor in April. The comptroller will review the city's budget for 10 years or as long as the bond is outstanding.

"As an administration we welcome the enhanced oversight and review of our budget process by the state comptroller," said City Manager Jack Schnirman, adding the comptroller certified that the new administration inherited a $13.87 million accumulative deficit through June 2012 from the previous administration.

The Long Beach City Council on Tuesday unanimously adopted the $84.61 million revised operating budget for fiscal 2014-15 that stays within the state tax levy cap and reduces city property taxes by 1.2 percent. The earlier proposed budget was $84.45 million, with a 0.95 percent property tax decrease. The city's current operating budget is $74.4 million.

According to the May 13 comptroller's report, city officials told auditors that they plan to raise additional revenue with an increase for refuse and garbage charges, and a 6 percent increase in metered water rates.

Auditors cautioned that increases for refuse, garbage, water and sewer charges "will likely not be realized without the passage of a resolution authorizing the planned fee increase." The proposed new rates are scheduled to be passed before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, city officials said. A hearing is scheduled for June 17.

The review also found that overtime costs in the earlier proposed budget were below historical levels, which averaged more than $2.9 million for the past five fiscal years. In response, city officials indicated that overtime cost savings will be realized through internal operating controls.

The city had also budgeted $300,000 in contingency appropriations in its earlier budget proposal, but the review found that the city charter does not authorize it. In order to include a contingency appropriation in its budget, the city must pass a law to amend its charter to allow such an authorization, an idea city officials said they were exploring.

In addition, the City Council is expected to hold a hearing on June 3 at 7 p.m. in City Hall to consider an ordinance authorizing financing $8.2 million through the issuance of bonds.

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