Freeport to send out checks returning tax increase
The Village of Freeport’s unusual budget year starts on March 1, while most villages start on June 1. In many years, that’s nothing more than a peculiarity, but the passage last year of criminal justice reform for the state, and the later reforms of those reforms, caught Freeport in a fiscal calendar pickle.
According to Village Attorney Howard Colton, when Freeport drew up and passed its budget, it opted to include a $2.7 million tax increase to cover the cost of changes to discovery laws that he estimated would have required the village to pay significant overtime to police, hire new attorneys and potentially create a third village justice position. The increase, a 5.23% hike, equated to $187 annually on the average home.
Then, in April, the tweaks to those discovery laws that Colton, who lectures on the issue for the New York State Conference of Mayors, and others were fighting for, were enacted.
Freeport doesn’t need the $2.7 million anymore, and Mayor Robert Kennedy, who never wanted to enact the village’s first tax increase in eight years anyway, thought keeping the money was unfair.
It will be sent back to taxpayers in rebate checks mailed by the second week of November, according to Colton.
"What they passed originally, discovery of all information related to a prosecution within 15 days of arraignment which was actually 10 days because the Nassau County District Attorney’s office wanted five days to look the material over, was an extraordinary burden," Colton told The Point. "We have about 30,000 village court violations we handle each year including parking tickets, and about 1,100 cases that go to the district attorney. In the past, we’d only have to do discovery on maybe 50 of those 1,100, because the rest would plead out or end in some way. But now the DA needed them all, almost immediately, and a lot more village violations would have demanded them, too."
So has Freeport considered changing its budget cycle to June 1 to match that of other villages, one that would be responsive to changes in state laws?
"We looked at it a few years ago," Colton said, "but ended up not thinking it made sense. It causes some real hiccups to make that change."
Hiccups, of course, are treated with sugar, and this year those rebate checks are just the spoonful to erase the medicinal taste of last year’s hikes.
—Lane Filler @lanefiller
Silver lining for the MTA
There hasn’t been much good news recently for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
For months, the MTA board has had to ponder dire financial forecasts, especially because Washington can’t agree on COVID-19-related help for state and local governments. On Tuesday, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli issued a report that describes the MTA’s fiscal situation as the "greatest challenge in its history."
So, the news that emerged Tuesday that the Long Island Rail Road’s third track project has reached its halfway point ahead of schedule and – amazingly – under budget, was a rare bright spot for the agency.
Four of the eight LIRR grade crossings have been eliminated, and six of seven bridges have been replaced or upgraded, according to an update from the MTA, through the project’s A Modern LI communication effort.
MTA Capital Construction President Janno Lieber told The Point Tuesday that the third-track project stayed on schedule and budget during the height of the pandemic thanks to remote monitoring and factory inspections and to the work done during weekend outages, which has often involved "piggybacking" efforts along the 10-mile stretch between Floral Park and Hicksville at the same time.
The next steps, said Lieber, are to finish station upgrades and improvements and to start laying the new track itself.
Among the highlights: the School Street crossing will open in November, months ahead of schedule, and the elevators at the Floral Park station are nearing completion, too.
All of that comes as the MTA has tried to manage community concerns and questions through a new ambassador program, even shifting schedules at times when necessary. That, too, has changed in light of the pandemic. Earlier this month, The Point learned, the MTA briefly stopped work on a weekend afternoon so a backyard wedding on Charles Street in Floral Park, right near the tracks, could take place without construction noise.
The same team that’s handling third track is also handling the construction of the new LIRR Elmont station, and the railroad is using the same outages to do work there, too, Lieber said.
East Side Access also remains on schedule for a 2022 completion, Lieber said, though he noted that that project has been "more of a struggle" because some of the work was indoors and therefore more difficult to do during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the money for third track and the East Side Access effort to connect the LIRR to Grand Central Terminal remains in place, because it was part of the last capital plan, which has been unchanged by the MTA’s current woes.
"They’re both funded, with no drama about that," Lieber said.
—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall
On to the next
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- Some of the men arrested and charged with plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer were among the armed protesters at the Michigan Capitol in the spring condemning Whitmer’s COVID-19 restrictions. File that under totally unsurprising news.
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—Michael Dobie @mwdobie