Days before the Town of Hempstead’s pair of public budget hearings, Supervisor Laura Gillen proposed what she called a “compromise budget,” incorporating some of the additions and cuts the Republican-led Town Board forced onto her budget at an Oct. 16 meeting.
The town's comptroller, Kevin Conroy, recently analyzed Gillen's new proposal, and determined that it would lower the average resident's tax bill by 2.4 percent.
The Town Board's plan, members said, offered a 4.2-percent tax cut to residents, but relied heavily on savings that Gillen said may never materialize.
Gillen announced areas in which she would agree to cut or add, in exchange for a bit of give from the Town Board, at an Oct. 23 news conference. However, based on Gillen’s proposal, and an interview with Republican Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney on Tuesday, there may be little room for compromise.
Gillen agreed to cuts in workers’ compensation, legal fees and postage, according to Mike Fricchione, her spokesman. However, she insisted that the director of the Town Board’s proposed new Department of Resident Concerns be moved out of the councilmanic-majority budget line, to ensure the department would remain bipartisan, according to Fricchione.
King Sweeney declined to comment Tuesday on the budget line for the director, but said she would look into it.
Gillen stressed, however, that she would not compromise on the “less-savings” included in the Town Board’s budget — $8.15 million worth.
Gillen said that by projecting a certain number of retirements, and the savings from not filling those positions, the Town Board was “banking on money that does not exist yet,” in their budget.
“After consulting with numerous budget experts on different levels of government, it’s very clear that the practice of budgeting less money by guessing the number of employee retiring at the beginning of next year is not prudent or fiscally sound,” Gillen said. “Especially when those employees will require contractually obligated separation pay.”
King Sweeney on Tuesday said that the Town Board was “totally committed” to using the less-savings to lower taxes.
“We stand by it, and we are actually proud of it,” she said. “We’re absolutely not running away from it. We’re very prepared to discuss it at the Town Board meeting.”
King Sweeney conceded that the retirement savings was an estimate, but an educated one, that generally works out for the town. The Town Board, working with former Comptroller John Mastromarino, also based their estimate on a five-year average, and rounded conservatively, King Sweeney said.
“Admittedly, you’re estimating, but you’re also estimating how much snow is going to fall,” she said.
Gillen’s compromise proposal followed a weeklong publicity tour of sorts for Town Board members, who visited businesses within their districts, posting videos on social media of them promoting what King Sweeney dubbed “#TaxCutBudget2019.”
King Sweeney said that she sent a memo to Gillen on Oct. 19 inviting her to meet, with no response yet. Gillen said, in a statement, that on Oct. 18, she was set to meet with Town Board members, until the meeting was abruptly canceled 30 minutes prior.
Gillen and Tax Receiver Don Clavin, a Republican, also engaged in a lengthy social media scuffle over canceled meetings, and Clavin’s office budget. Clavin helped the Town Board prepare their budget, appeared at their news conference and criticized Gillen’s “tax hike.”
Nevertheless, as of Oct. 23, both sides seemed ready to meet, with the Oct. 30 budget hearings fast approaching.
“I submitted those amendments in good faith, because I believe our budgets are not far apart,” said Gillen. “And I believe there’s still hope to reach an agreement on a single budget proposal before Oct. 30.”
The Herald published the board’s complete list of the Town Board’s changes to Gillen’s proposed budget online in a Word document on Oct. 19 [Original story and document: bit.ly/2ODwylH]. King Sweeney also posted the document on Facebook on Monday morning.
The public budget hearings will be held on Oct. 30 at 2:30 and 7 p.m.