Village of Manorhaven Mayor John Popoleski falsely claimed Wednesday that the Port Washington Times published wrong budget information in a recent story, singling out the author of the story and pointing her out during a Board of Trustees meeting.
“This whole article is bogus. It’s 100% wrong,” Popeleski said. “The editor or the newspaper reporter should have contacted me, because we are not at a 5.6 increase. We are under our tax cap, which is 1.9%. And also, this article doesn’t even discuss about the other revenues that we get in this village, which is rental registration, which is also our village justice.”
Popeleski also said the story was a political tactic of former Mayor Jim Avena and part of “the smear campaign that the Dejanas won.” The reporter has never been in contact with either Avena or Peter Dejana, a Manorhaven businessman and philanthropist with connections to Avena.
Popeleski has since spoken with the reporter and confirmed that the information included in the story is correct. He was offered the opportunity to provide comment about the incident and has yet to do so.
The reporter recorded the audio of the meeting, which is permitted under state law, and can be listened to or read via transcription.
The disputed story, which appeared in the March 17 issue of the Port Washington Times and was published on theisland360.com website, does not state that Manorhaven’s taxes are increasing or decreasing.
The original story states: “The tentative budget documents do not include a breakdown of the 2023-24 tax levy. The village clerk did not respond to multiple requests for the information.”
Popeleski provided the tax information Saturday night, which shows a proposed tax levy of $3,509,147 for 2023-24, about a 2% tax increase. The tax levy for the 2022-23 budget is $3,440,340.
Blank Slate’s original story about the village’s budget used information from the tentative budget proposal provided by the village. These documents are on the village’s website and a printed copy was provided to the reporter at the village’s March 8 workshop meeting.
The story states that the proposed budget, which has not been adopted by the board yet, is increasing by 5.6% compared to the current budget. It is made clear that this is the total budget increase, not alluding to taxes increasing.
This calculation is based on the village’s tentative budget documents, which show a proposed $5,177,498 in expenses in the 2023-2024 tentative budget, a $274,030 increase over the $4,903,468 in the 2022-2023 adopted budget. This is a rise of 5.6%.
The story also states that the village’s total property taxes and tax items revenues are projected to rise by about $69,000. This information was in the budget, pulled from the budget line of “Total 1000 · PROPERTY TAXES AND TAX ITEMS.”
The information does not make assumptions taxes will be increasing or increasing by a certain percentage. It only states the village projects to collect more money in taxes.
Upon receiving the printed-out budget documents at the March 8 meeting, the reporter asked Village Clerk Alex Kovacevic about tax information as it is not included in the documents. The clerk said he was unable to provide it at that time but to follow up with him to get the information the following day.
The reporter emailed Kovacevic twice on March 9 and March 10. The reporter also called his office on March 9, 10 and 13. The reporter left voicemails for the office to return her calls. Nobody responded to any of her emails or phone calls.
As the tax information was not included in the budget documents and getting the information from the village clerk was unavailing, the story was published without tax levy information and explained why the information was not available.
Between the March 8 meeting when the budget was discussed by the board and the time of publication, the budget documents the village provided had not changed. It has been confirmed by Popeleski that this is the village’s tentative budget proposal.
Before the March 22 meeting, the reporter was approached by the village’s attorney, Genevieve Lopresti, about the story. She asked the reporter if she wrote a story about the village’s taxes increasing by 6%. She said she had not. The original story from the reporter does not state the village’s taxes are increasing, nor does it state that the village’s taxes are increasing by a certain percentage.
Once the general meeting convened, Popoleski publicly confronted the reporter about what he contended were false claims in the story. The reporter replied that she would speak with him after the meeting to address the issue, assuring him and the board that the information in the story was sourced from their budget documents.
After the meeting concluded, the reporter asked Popeleski what information was incorrect and if he could provide the correct information. She told him and the board that if provided with the information that was wrong and the correct information to replace it, a correction would be made on the newspaper’s website immediately and printed in the paper as per policy.
Popeleski would not provide the correct information at the time and told the reporter to text him about it.
The reporter followed up with Popeleski immediately to address any issues and was able to speak with him on the phone Saturday afternoon.
Popeleski confirmed that the budget information in the original article was correct during their conversation. At that time he offered to provide additional information about the village’s proposed tax increases and taxy levy, which was not available before.
The information included in Blank Slate’s original story about Manorhaven’s budget has been reviewed and Blank Slate is assured that the information is accurate based on the village’s provided budget documents and by confirmation from Popeleski.