Hempstead OKs $437 million 2020 budget

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Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen was the sole dissenting vote on a amendment cutting fulltime positions from her staff saying that she did not receive the amendment until the meeting began. (Photo by Tom McCarthy)

The Hempstead Town Board unanimously voted to pass a $437 million town budget on Monday that will result in a 3.8 percent tax cut for residents.

Debates intensified over budget management between Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen, a Democrat, and the Republican majority Town Board after the board submitted  amendments to Gillen’s proposed $438 million 2020 budget in October.

“Two years in office, two years of tax cuts for residents. I am proud of presenting a budget proposal that cuts taxes for residents and I am delighted that the town council has decided to follow my lead on that,” said Gillen, who was up for re-election on Tuesday.

Gillen said that holding a budget vote the night before Election Day was “political theater” after the board delayed it twice.

“Never before to my knowledge has it taken five separate meetings of the Town Board to complete the annual budget process,” Gillen said.

A vote on the budget was delayed last Wednesday after Town Board members raised concerns that the town might lose up to $3.8 million in state aid known as Aid and Incentives for Municipalities after its reduction in the state’s 2019-20 budget.

Councilman Bruce Blakeman said that both County Executive Laura Curran and Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park), presiding officer of the county Legislature, have assured the board that the town will still get the funding.

“We also consulted with our financial people and we feel that in the unlikely event it’s not there, we would be able to develop a contingency plan to make up for that,” Blakeman said.

Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, a Democrat who often sides with the Republicans on the board, said that the board would not have known about any missing state aid until it was alerted by Assemblyman Ed Ra (R-Franklin Square) before last Wednesday’s meeting.

Curran spokeswoman Christine Geed said in an email last Thursday that Curran has introduced legislation that will allow the return of $7.9 million in state aid, which includes the Town of Hempstead. This legislation would allow the county’s finance board NIFA to return sales revenue accrued to the state comptroller’s office rather than the county for aid for towns and villages throughout Nassau County, Geed said.

At the beginning of Monday’s meeting, the Town Board submitted a last-minute amendment which Gillen voted no on because she had not seen it until the beginning of the meeting. The amendment cut two full-time positions from Gillen’s staff, two full-time positions from the board and part-time positions from the offices of the receiver of taxes and town clerk.

Gillen said that the amendment, which was approved, targeted her office disproportionately.

“I’ve just been handed this amendment, by the way, and I asked for it. There was a press conference about it this morning. We asked for a copy of it but I did not get it until right now so I have to vote no against the amendment because I haven’t even had the chance to read it,” Gillen said.

She continued, “It seems to target my office disproportionately which has a budget of about $1.7 million less than the town council even though collectively we represent the same amount of people.”

Gillen spokesman Michael Fricchione said that budget amendments resulted in an overall $322,100 cut in the supervisor budget and $281,651 in the Town Board’s budget.

Councilman Anthony D’Esposito said that Gillen is not responsible for tax cuts over her first two years, saying that during her first year in office there was a tax cut proposal that she “proudly voted no” on.

“She’s taken that no vote and over the last two years, especially over the last six or seven months has decided to tell the Town of Hempstead, the largest township in America, that she in fact, cut taxes. Just continuing to spread lies,” D’Esposito said.

D’Esposito commended Goosby for “reaching across the aisle” to work with the Town Board on budget amendments.

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