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Mayor reveals 2020 budget

City Council members express doubts, worries over estimates

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The tentative 2020 city budget presented by Glen Cove Mayor Timothy Tenke at an Oct. 10 City Council meeting would raise taxes for the average homeowner by $78, and would not lay off any employees or offer raises for department heads.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on the budget next Tuesday, and members said they hoped to hold a special pre-council meeting on Friday to discuss the spending plan further.

City Officials said that the budget is currently estimated at more than $50 million.

The tax levy — the total amount collected in taxes to meet expenses — would rise 1.8 percent, in line with the state’s 2 percent cap. 

“The tax cap doesn’t give us a lot of money for wiggle room,” the mayor said. “I essentially gave a haircut to every department . . . and there was no raiding money from the water fund or selling of the city’s assets. It’s a bare-bones budget, but it’s a fair budget.”

But some City Council members and residents voiced their concerns, saying they believed the mayor was being overly optimistic about budgeted revenue and expenses. Councilman Kevin Maccarone said he was confused by the inclusion of the city’s planned ferry service when Glen Cove has yet to finalize a contract with Hornblower N.Y., the ferry operator, with which the city is still negotiating a deal.

According to the budget proposal, the city’s share of the ferry service revenue would be nearly $1.9 million, but Maccarone said that was unrealistic. Al-though he said he hoped the ferry would succeed, he added that Glen Cove’s history with failed ferries, and current estimates from a city consultant, gave no indication that the city could make a profit on the service. “We were told that there was a 99 percent chance we wouldn’t get any money out of it,” Maccarone said. “Why would we break even?”

Tenke said the budget numbers were possible, but the ferries would have to be packed with 250 regular customers from the projected launch date of May 2020 to the end of the year. Councilman Joseph Capobianco said that with ticket prices set at $45, it was unrealistic to expect to fill every seat on the ferry.

At a follow-up pre-council meeting on Tuesday, Councilman Nicholas DiLeo also took issue with certain budget estimates — particularly the total for termination pay, $600,000, when it was originally estimated at $1.2 million. Tenke said that the new number was set at the advice of the Human Resources Department, but DiLeo responded that the figure should not be underestimated. He pointed to the fact that last year’s budget called for $1.4 million in termination pay this year, and the city had already spent more than $1.5 million as of this month. DiLeo warned Tenke that if he were to underestimate this expense, and others, it could force the city to borrow money to make up the difference. 

“Borrowing is a possibility,” Tenke said. “But the alternative is worse.”

DiLeo also expressed frustration that Tenke had not initially disclosed who was helping him on the budget committee: Councilwoman Marsha Silverman, the lone Democrat on the council. Silverman said she was qualified to help Tenke because she has decades of experience in financial planning.

One of the focuses of the current budget, she said, is to avoid the one-shot revenues of the past and the use of the city’s water fund to make up for shortfalls, two tactics that were heavily criticized in a 2018 audit of the city’s finances by the state comptroller’s office. The audit report said that those practices offered only short-term solutions, and that city officials shouldn’t rely on them to cover recurring expenses.

Residents expressed mixed feelings about the budget and how it was assembled, with some criticizing the two-person team and others saying they had no problem with Tenke and Silverman working on the plan together. But residents and City Council members complained about information that was missing from the spending plan. There was no estimate, for instance, of what the 2020 property tax rate would be for commercial areas. Tenke said that he had yet to receive all the numbers from the city’s controller, Sandra Clarson, who was not at either meeting.

Clarson had not responded to a request for comment by press time.

Several people said they believed the sour relationship between the mayor and controller, who are involved in litigation over Tenke’s attempt to fire Clarson, made it difficult for them to work on the budget together.

Republican City Council members also said that because of the missing information and the fact that they had not had enough time to look over all budget changes with the mayor, a vote to approve it could be delayed.