Dozens of Oyster Bay residents gathered at Town Hall to hear Supervisor Joseph Saladino deliver his third annual State of the Town address on Tuesday. The speech, which highlighted the town’s work over the past year to improve its finances, also focused on restoring the public’s trust and participation in government.
The town’s finances were at the forefront of the presentation, as Saladino celebrated a $17.7 million budget surplus as of the end of 2018, the second straight surplus produced by his administration. He added that the town had eliminated a $44 million deficit a full year ahead of projections, while also accruing $8.2 million in reserves.
“This is the first time we’ve had a rainy-day fund in over seven years,” Saladino said. “There has [also] been no borrowing for cash-flow purposes for the first time in 10 years.”
The town’s healthier finances, he said, were evidenced by the fact that Moody’s Investors Service gave Oyster Bay its first “positive outlook” status in nearly 20 years in July. The Moody’s report highlighted the administration’s work to reverse a “past history of poor budgeting,” and added that if the town continues to manage its finances prudently through the end of 2019, it would mark a major milestone in the town’s efforts to restore its fiscal strength.
Town Councilman Steve Labriola, who previously served as Nassau County comptroller, said that the news from Moody’s was evidence of a growing confidence in the town’s finances that would ultimately help attract bond buyers.
“In two short years,” Labriola said, we’ve managed to take steps forward to fix our finances and try to bring ourselves back to the AAA [bond] rating we once had.”
The financial good news, Saladino said, would help residents move past the corruption that plagued the town under former Supervisor John Venditto, who pleaded guilty on July 26 in Nassau County Court to charges of corruption and official misconduct.
To create better oversight, the town appointed Joseph Nocella, a former federal prosecutor, as the town attorney, and became Long Island’s first municipality to create an Office of Inspector General, which will oversee contracts and vendors in the interest of preventing corruption. And to further build trust between the town and its residents, Town Councilwoman Michele Johnson led an initiative to make the monthly town board meetings more accessible to residents.
“I worked with Supervisor Saladino to enhance the live streaming of town board meetings and ensure an unedited-video archive exists on the website for anyone who wants to watch from the comfort of their own home,” Johnson said in a phone interview after Saladino’s address.
Reclaim New York, a nonprofit that help citizens understand and navigate their local governments, sued the town in 2017, when it was under Venditto’s leadership, for lacking transparency. Now Reclaim New York has named the town a leader in online transparency and accessibility. Empire Center, a statewide think tank, also recognized the town’s efforts, awarding it a grade of A for transparency and accessibility.
“This is the type of independent credibility that further proves our commitment to turning around the town,” Saladino added. “We are moving the town forward financially, ethically and we’re delivering quality services that residents expect and deserve.”
He also discussed Oyster Bay’s efforts to speed up homeowner projects through its same-day permit program, which streamlined the building department’s permit-approval process for solar panels, pools, generators, fences, plumbing and other home-improvement projects. The town board hopes to waive the department’s fee for sidewalk reconstruction projects in October.
Turning to the environment and quality of life in Oyster Bay, Saladino touted the growth of oyster and shellfish gardens in the Long Island Sound, which act as natural seawater filters. He also mentioned plans to add decorative paver crosswalks and a safe zone for pedestrians and bicyclists in the hamlet of Oyster Bay, as well as recent upgrades to Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park and Beekman Beach, where a new overlook, benches, pavers, plants and a flagpole were installed as part of a beautification project coordinated by the Lions Club.
After Saladino’s address, the board unanimously voted to begin the bidding process for the construction of a new park manager’s building at Roosevelt Memorial Park.
Saladino said he would unveil his proposed 2020 budget before the end of the month, and that it would extend the property tax freeze the town enacted this year.