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Village board approves 2021-22 budget

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The Village of Freeport board of trustees voted to approve a $75.4 million budget for 2021-22 on Jan. 10. 

The spending plan is $1.5 million smaller than the current one, and does not raise taxes for residents. The budget marks the eighth consecutive year without a tax increase. 

“It’s a great accomplishment for our village, department heads and staff that we’re able to go yet another year without a tax increase,” Mayor Robert Kennedy said. 

Although the village had to implement a 5 percent tax increase in last year’s budget to make up for an unprecedented rise in expenses because of the state’s new discovery laws, as previously reported by the Herald, Kennedy and village officials worked together with state representatives to reform the law and distribute tax rebates to property owners in the village. 

This year’s tax levy now resembles that of previous years.    

While the budget covered the usual mandated increases in employee benefits, which account for about $21.5 million, the largest portion of the spending plan, $24.6 million, was allocated to public safety. 

“This budget strikes the proper balance between preserving village services, while stabilizing the tax burden for a majority of village residents,” Kennedy said in a letter to Freeporters.

The mayor and village trustees added that putting together the budget proved to be challenging during the pandemic. 

Throughout the final weeks of 2020, the board held a series of budget workshops with the heads of every department in the village to draft the budget. During those sessions, village officials had to account for all the changing costs and revenues associated with the pandemic. 

Robert Fisenne, head of the Department of Public Works, brought up one such change during a budget workshop in November. Fisenne explained that because a number of DPW employees were furloughed in March due to state regulations, the essential employees who stayed had to work significant overtime salaries to keep everything running. Employees also earned compensation time that they could cash out early, which several did. 

Despite these unexpected expenses and a shortfall of revenue from closing public buildings and suspending parking regulations for months, Trustee Carmen Piñeyro said village officials were able to balance the budget, because the shutdown also afforded the village time to delay capital improvement projects and move around unspent money from last year.

“For instance, we only had one snow storm [in 2020], so we could afford to allocate what was left over to where we needed it,” Piñeyro said.  

While the village was forced to allocate more than $4 million to its Covid-19 response efforts last year, village officials have applied to recoup at least 75 percent of it through reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

They hope to get back some of the remaining monies through the Town of Hempstead via its CARES Act funding, as well as additional aid from the federal government. 

Last summer, Kennedy led the New York Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials in demanding that communities receive economic aid and reimbursements for their costs in combating the spread of Covid-19.   

“Throughout this pandemic, our essential employees . . . have been delivering services and helping our communities and our country through this pandemic,” Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh said. “When you look at what’s contributing to the financial challenges, it is literally a perfect storm of revenue constraints. The only way that we solve this issue is through the federal government providing direct aid to local governments.”     

Freeport officials added that the village would see additional revenue this year through permits for the Lexus dealership that is moving into the old West Plaza at the Sunrise Highway and Church Street and the Hilton Garden Inn hotel bulkheads, as well as renting out a space in the former state armory building to a day care center.