It is evident that Hempstead Town Board Republicans have learned nothing from the humiliating defeat of GOP Town Supervisor Anthony Santino to Democrat Laura Gillen in 2017.
Last November, voters clearly expressed their disgust with Republican rule that was more concerned with rewarding favored contractors, campaign contributors and cronies than being the guardian of taxpayers’ interests.
Voter outcry, however, fell on deaf ears.
GOP bosses immediately took care of has-been Santino — at taxpayers’ expense of course. He was appointed a Board of Elections administrative assistant for the ludicrous salary of $160,000 a year. Councilman Anthony D’Esposito also got a plum, part-time job at the same Board of Elections.
Before Republicans lost control of the Supervisor’s Town Clerk’s offices on Jan. 1, they rammed through resolutions that protected their political lackeys from being fired. Hacks that were at-will employees were reassigned to civil service jobs even though various department budgets could not handle the additional salary expenses.
Since Gillen took office, Republican Town Board members have been obstructionists. They have opposed common sense good government policies solely because they were proposed by Gillen.
These Republicans even blocked Hempstead bonded debt refunds that would have saved several hundred thousand dollars in lower interest costs.
That’s not all.
Now the Republicans are attempting to pass an operating budget for fiscal year 2019 loaded with the same-old “smoke and mirror” gimmicks that have been leading the Township to the edge of the fiscal abyss for years.
First some background.
Inheriting a GOP lard-laden budget when she took office, Gillen devoted her energies to curtailing “skyrocketing costs and the prior administration’s addition of millions of dollars to the Town’s payroll after the adoption of the 2018, budget.”
Rejecting the fiscal antics of her GOP predecessors, Gillen’s 2019 budget was guided by more conservative accounting principles that would lead to a truly balanced budget that did not include long-term borrowing to fill in the fiscal holes created when assumed, non-specific “savings” were not realized.
Gillen’s $444 million budget proposal is a prudent one that calls for a 0.74 percent tax increase, well below the legal 2 percent cap.
Four of the town’s 24 special districts will be hit with tax levy increases to raise $2 million. Overall, Newsday reported about “83 percent of residents will see a tax reduction by about $14, lowering the average residential tax bill from $760 in 2019.”
Gillen conceded that achieving “a fair and balanced budget that keeps essential services intact [was] no small undertaking.”
That’s because she has no control over “obligatory contractual labor, legal and other non-controllable increases (i.e., health insurance) that [the Town] must absorb.”
Reacting, unrepentant Republicans not only delayed approving the Gillen proposal, they refused to negotiate a bipartisan plan and proposed instead an alternative sham budget that employs the fiscal sleight of hand illusions that got Santino booted from office.
GOP board members have made the ridiculous claim that their budget is leaner, while protecting the $2 million in holdover patronage employees and beefing up their staff allowances to the tune of $500,000.
The key to this GOP shell game is the assumption that there will be $8 million in savings from 100 retirements.
This claim is a specious one. It does not include the costs of separation and accrued vacation pay, assumes none of the positions will be filled and that 100 people will actually call it quits.
And when the gig is up on their phony inflated revenue and savings projections, to avoid raising taxes they will drain rainy day funds and issue long-term bonded debt to cover the rest.
In other words, like the poorly exemplary Nassau County before it, Hempstead will claim to balance its budget by counting borrowed money as “revenue”— and we know too well how that approach has worked.
Encumbering present-day taxpayers, as well as their children and grandchildren, with long-term debt to cover current expenses, has been a favored Republican ploy for decades and brought Nassau County to its fiscal knees.
Apparently, the GOP will not be happy until they do the same to the Town of Hempstead.
Supervisor Gillen is attempting to right the “fiscal ship” by eliminating the dishonest and irresponsible practice “that puts millions of dollars on the taxpayers credit card.”
Sadly, like Nero fiddling while Rome burned, Hempstead Republicans are fiddling while taxpayers are forced to pay the highest combined state and local taxes in the nation.