North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena was critical of the Democrats on the town board majority following last week’s budget workshop.
The town board unanimously approved amendments to the tentative budget for the year 2023 that include a 5% tax cut during the special meeting.
The amendments were submitted on Oct. 24 by Town Councilwoman Veronica Lurvey.
Prior to unanimously passing the amendments submitted by Lurvey, the four Democrats, who make up a majority on the seven-person board, abstained from voting on amendments DeSena submitted on Oct. 11 to her original budget, which includes an 11% tax cut.
“Last night’s budget hearing was incredibly disheartening for our Town residents, as the majority Councilmembers refused to approve my amendments to the budget which would have delivered an 11% tax cut for all residents. I’m even more disappointed that they didn’t even have the courage to vote no to my proposal, and instead abstained from voting at all, leaving my proposal one vote shy of passing and blocking millions of dollars of tax relief for our residents,” DeSena said in a statement last week.
“Not only did Councilwoman Lurvey reverse course and deliver budget amendments that increased taxes and spending as compared to my proposal, but she and her fellow majority Councilmembers went on to callously and cold-heartedly mock the financial impact that an 11% tax cut would have had for our residents.”
Lurvey said in a statement to Blank Slate Media the amendments allow for capital improvements and maintain a stable fund balance.
“After first proposing a tax increase, the supervisor’s tax cut proposal was irresponsible and essentially guaranteed extreme tax increases in future years. I believe the taxpayers will recognize quality-of-life projects in the form of street paving, road repairs, flood mitigation, caring for trees, and beautification initiatives are more valuable than the $18 she is suggesting means “much more” for the average homeowner,” Lurvey said.
The councilwoman continued by adding that DeSena’s actions have not delivered on the most transparent process in the town’s history that she promised ahead of the budget workshops.
“First, she offered up her tax-increase budget. Then, after it had been public for two weeks, she implemented a bait and switch with a brand-new budget book while board members, department heads, and residents were reviewing her original budget,” Lurvey said in a statement. “Then, she came out with a calculated political stunt, blaming her about-face on an allegedly withheld fund balance policy. When that was exposed as untrue at a board meeting, she never explained her real reason for changing course. The taxpayers need to know that she has been called out on this calculated political stunt.”
When DeSena proposed her additional amendments, she said “once this information came to light, we sharpened our pencils and found a way to deliver this massive tax cut,” while describing the town’s reserve funds, in a press release.
During the Oct. 20 budget hearing, town Democrats pointed out that in a March 1 review given to Moody’s Investors Service by Deputy Supervisor Joe Scalero, the supervisor’s Director of Finance Paul Wood and Director of Governmental Research Steven Pollack, the town’s fund balances and their status were presented.
In 2011, the town board enacted a fund balance reserve policy for the town’s general fund, requiring the town to maintain a fund balance reserve that is at least 10% of the town’s total general fund budget for the year.
“The supervisor also refused to offer her proposed revisions in an itemized list. We were supposed to trust she wouldn’t alter any other changes. Again, that was proven to be false as there were dozens of changes, including a new section at the end, modifications to the Harbor Hills tax levy, and more,” Lurvey added.
Democratic Councilwoman Marianna Dalimonte also said during the Oct. 20 hearing she could not vote on DeSena’s amendments without seeing changes to each line item in writing.
Democratic councilmembers during the hearing said that DeSena’s revised budget that was provided to them was on paper, not digital and more difficult to evaluate compared to years past.
“Supervisor DeSena has yet to provide us access to editable, electronic budget spreadsheets,” Lurvey continued. “Town Board members must have access to the same information that she does. It is wrong of Supervisor DeSena to deliberately withhold documents from us, keeping her colleagues in the dark. She keeps playing politics with the budget process, and that makes it difficult for me to trust her administration.”
On Oct. 11, DeSena called for an 11% tax cut to be included in the $158.4 million tentative budget for 2023 she had previously proposed.
The amended budget includes $89,235,036 in expenses for the general town budget, a $136,882 increase from the tentative budget due to the addition of four employees that includes laborers, an enforcement officer and an animal warden. Additional funding was also included for the town’s oyster program.
General fund revenues are projected at $61,319,927, a $200,000 increase from the tentative budget due to the addition of a code enforcement officer for the town.
For amendments to the town’s outside village fund, which covers services for residents who live outside incorporated villages, the budgeted expenses are $44,772,898, a $4.25 million increase from the tentative budget.
The increase was the result of $2 million being allocated for street paving, $1 million allocated for concrete sidewalk and road repairs, $1 million allocated for tree trimming and removal and $250,000 for beautification projects.
Lurvey said the general appropriated fund balance will be at 19.57% of the general fund budget, which complies with the 2011 policy mandating it be at least 10%.
The fund, she said, gives an approximate two-month cushion for emergencies that bond rating agencies recommend, which is 15% or 16%.
For the town outside the village fund reserve balance, the amendments would leave it at 17.09% of the town outside village fund, which complies both with the policy and also gives a two-month cushion for emergencies, Lurvey said.
DeSena added that residents are “misled” and that the town board is saving money for proverbial rainy days.
“I am in disbelief that the majority councilmembers would stand in the way of millions of dollars of tax relief for our residents, and instead peddle falsehoods about how these bloated reserves came to be,” DeSena said. “The truth is, interest rates are soaring, inflation has hit 40-year highs, and our residents need as much tax relief as possible, something that the majority Councilmembers seem to struggle to understand. Instead, they are intent on putting politics ahead of people.”
The North Hempstead Town Board will be voting on the 2023 budget on Thursday, Nov. 3.