By Shoshanna McCollum
Corneille Estates, NY – There was a slightly larger audience sitting in the Woodhull School gymnasium for this meeting. Perhaps it was the milder weather, or maybe it was the draft budget with a proposed 5.6% increase posted on the village website several days prior that had already become the stuff of Facebook chatter.
Either way the assembled mayor, trustees, clerks and attorneys moved through the 16-item agenda swiftly. In less than a half-hour, Mayor James Mallot mentioned an additional $5.8 million FEMA award in his mayor’s report, but that $500K of it was taken away from the agency a few days later. Then the board passed a $47,678 modification on its present budget before opening the public hearing to consider a future one.
“A small increase” was how Mallot described the proposed budget, and a forecasted 5.6% increase is less than the 7.8% passed in 2014/15 or the 13.5% passed in 2013/14. Combined they would total a 26.9% tax increase for the people of Ocean Beach over a three-year period. But with more than $16-million worth of capital projects on the table, Mallot said it was necessary to “keep moving in the right direction.”
Trustee candidate hopeful Christopher Norris was one of the first to ask questions about the budget appropriations, including Special Items A1925.482 designated as “Ferry Contract Stuff” that has jumped to $7,500 in 2013/14 and jumped to $35,000 in 2014/15. This number holds stable in the tentative budget for 2015/16.
Longtime resident Larry Litoff had suggestions about anticipated revenues, including the idea of imposing a resort tax for property renters to strengthen municipal coffers.
Village Administrator Steven Brautigam then mentioned that the budget’s Sewer Fund is in a state of “financial distress” to the tune of $350,000. The reason for the deficiency being that it costs $750,000 to operate the sewer fund and prior year budgets had not made adequate allowance for repairs. The complete rehabilitation of the village sewer system listed on the labyrinth of capital projects on the plate rounds out to an estimated $6 million.
This is a stark contrast to the island-wide sewer district that Ocean Beach announced investigating for feasibility last month. However Mallot emphasized they are separate issues. One for the situation at present, the other for planning into the future.
Administrator Brautigam’s salary also was one of the items under scrutiny at the meeting. If the draft budget is passed he will receive an annual salary of $130,000, an increase of more than 18% over the past two years.
“That social media stuff is not even worth a comment,” said Mallot. “Salaries range from $90,000-$160,000 for village administrators in New York, and he is worth every penny. I would not be here without his guidance and help.”
“But the cost of living has gone up only about 2%,” rebutted Litoff. “This is a huge increase in our present economic environment.”
Study of the proposed budget reveals several other sharp spikes. Under Culture & Recreation A7110.421 “Bathrooms,” which has been a zero-dollar appropriation for the past two years, is now penciled in at $20,624. Marina Repairs under item A7989.444 has gone from $3,643 in 2013/14 to $415,000 in the corresponding draft appropriation. And the total Capital Project Transfers appropriation under the Water Fund’s A9950 900 through 906 has gone from $50,000 in the present adopted budget to a proposed $300,000, with $350,000 worth of actual expenditures in the present fiscal year to date.
Examination of anticipated revenues is also sobering. Once thriving income sources, including non-property gross tax receipts, jet-ski slip rental fees, and calculations of state and federal aid, has simply dried up or no longer exists. Much of this the lingering effects from a great storm that was over two and a half years ago.
“We are looking after your money, spending your money, trying not to waste your money,” said Mallot, as the hearing was drawing to a close. “We hope to invest so that the value of your property holds and increases going forward.”
The Public Hearing on the Draft Budget continues on April 25, 2015, when formal adoption of the same is also scheduled. The full 2015/2016 Tentative Budget can be viewed on www.villageofoceanbeach.org where formal comments and questions may also be received.
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