The Town of Oyster Bay's 2011 budget was unanimously passed Tuesday, but not without what Supervisor John Venditto called "healthy discourse" over its 3.5 percent property tax increase.
"It's good to have the discourse we had this morning," said Venditto, who said he believes most residents want the town to keep its programs intact and want improvements, even if it means a small tax hike. "The overwhelming majority I've spoken to understand $30 a year is reasonable to keep us out of the same mess as many other towns."
The Board needed to adopt a budget by Nov. 20, according to the town code. Two hearings were held Oct. 19, but no speakers showed to voice concerns over the $242,878,344 budget, which marks a 1.7 percent spending increase from 2010 and provides funds to fix roads and make park renovations in Massapequa, including work at . However, at Tuesday's meeting, three residents voiced their opposition to the tax hike.
The first speaker, 75-year-old John J. Capobianco, who feels he's being "taxed out of his home," raised the question that the two residents, Terence Kelly and Anita MacDougall, who followed him, echoed: "Is there any other way to balance the budget without raising taxes?"
Venditto and several other Board members held firm, supporting their decision to raise taxes by 3.5 percent or by $30 a year, as Venditto characterized it.
"Is it a tax increase? Yes. We'll say it loud and clear," Venditto said, But he insisted, "A common-sense assessment is that it's a cost-of-living adjustment. It's $30 a year to our residents."
But one resident said the council should have looked at other things.
"I've read seven of 10 towns held off on raising taxes. Did you think of any other ways to meet the budget without raising taxes? Maybe layoffs?" asked Kelly.
"There are no layoffs," answered Venditto, who approximated the town's workforce at 1,200 people. He further stated that other towns are trying to collect lost revenue in other ways, such as by raising fees.
"We're trying to raise our services while trying not to raise fees," noted Councilman Anthony D. Macagnone.
In response to Kelly's comment about why there's a Public Safety force in the town when it he thinks it's "redundant," the Supervisor said, "Public Safety acts as a deterrent, performs crowd control and eases the burden of the police department."
"Our revenues are down. So we start with 2 percent, 3 percent, 4 percent, even 5 percent down, and we have to make that up somewhere," said Councilman Chris J. Coschignano. "We didn't start at 3.5 percent." But it was the bottom line, said the Supervisor.
"We're being candid. We're telling you what we need," he continued. "Thirty dollars a year is such a small proportion in your tax budget. You really have to look at what you're getting."
"Thirty dollars is not necessarily much, but $30 here, $30 there, it adds up," said MacDougall. She called for renegotiating labor union contracts as a cost-cutting measure.
"When I looked at the menu, I knew instinctively what the residents wanted me to do," said Venditto, concluding, "One thing you can't accuse the Town Board of is not being fiscally responsible."