By Quari Alleyne and Donovan Alexis
HEMPSTEAD, NY–Tempers flared and verbal jabs were thrown at Hempstead’s town budget hearing on Oct. 30. After nearly six weeks of deliberation, the budget aims to cut back on vacant positions at the township level, council legal fees, reducing printing and postage and eliminating weekly newspaper advertising.
The council passed the budget in front of nearly 100 community members, resulting in a 6-1 vote in favor of the town’s $432.5 million budget and 3.5 percent tax cut; much to the dismay of town supervisor Laura Gillen.
“When we opened up this budget hearing I believe budgets are about more than just numbers on a page,” Gillen said in opposition to the board’s decision.
Feuding on both sides, most notably Gillen’s criticism of the majority Republican town board whom she referred to as, “An entrenched, corrupt majority,” in an LIHerald interview on Aug. 23, has led to vitriol among the board councilmembers, often resulting in a shouting match between the council.
The main point of contention for Gillen and Hempstead town comptroller, Kevin Conroy, was the ‘less savings’ method, which Conroy admitted is a confusing concept.
Conroy explains this method as a reduction in the salary line as a result of what retirees anticipated to retire during the course of the year saving their salary for the remainder of the year that they are retiring.
“We budgeted $12 million in less savings in 2018,” Conroy said. “We’re currently at $11,300,000 through the third quarter. The confusion lies in that it’s a somewhat complicated and difficult concept and I think once everyone is able to digest it accordingly, it will no longer be an issue.”
The less savings method is fiscally irresponsible and banks on money that does not exist yet, Gillen said.
Unsatisfied, Gillen proposed a $442 million tentative budget on Oct. 3, which would cut taxes by 2.39 percent saving residents an average of $14.28 per household, without using less savings.
Her proposal was ultimately shut down by the board and councilman Bruce Blakeman, said that a failure to compromise had more to do with Gillen’s disparaging comments aimed at the town board.
“We have a disagreement and the disagreement affects less than 2 percent of the budget,” Blakeman, who initially endorsed Gillen during her campaign last November, said. “Yet again, you characterize the six members on this board as being irresponsible. When you complain that the board doesn’t work with you, that could be the reason.”
Echoing the sentiments of Blakeman, Republican majority leader, Erin King Sweeney, said that her unwillingness to compromise partially stems from Gillen’s ridicule of her and her counterparts.
“I’m not going to compromise on a tax cut, but I will say that there’s been a lot of fake news lately about our unwillingness to meet [Gillen] or reach across the aisle,” King Sweeney said. “It’s categorically false. I offered to meet the supervisor, I sent her a memo, she chose not to share that with people and instead chose to trash me on Facebook.”
The town supervisor said that she never received a memo and was scheduled to meet with all members on the town board the day before on Oct. 18, but the meeting was cancelled last minute without warning.
Following the meeting, Valerie Lampe, a resident of Nassau, addressed the ongoing in-fighting within the town council, deeming it unnecessary.
“There is a lot of name calling, things like ‘reckless’, ‘irresponsible,’ ” Lampe said. “I’m severely disappointed in [Laura] because of a lot of her broken promises, the way she treats the board, as well as the way she’s treated us if we disagree with her.”
Community members were also given the opportunity to express any questions or concerns they had with the budget at the top of the meeting.
Founder of Veterans Entrepreneurial Development Initiatives Inc. (VEDI), Meta J. Mereday of Baldwin, expressed her disdain with the town’s lack of initiative to help war veterans in the town of Hempstead who are losing their homes due to a lack of job opportunities.
“I just hope we can look at the veteran community and the lack of resources and and services that they continue to get on Long Island a little differently,” Mereday said. Long Island has the largest veteran population in New York State and we still have a number of our veterans from a wide range of age groups who are struggling to survive here.”
Goosby refuted Mereday’s claims by speaking on initiatives that she put into action to address this issue.
“We have a program that has been written for the MWBE’s (Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises) but it has to be checked out first,” Goosby said. “I have somebody in my office [working on it]. Once it’s completed and checked out by the town attorney to make sure everything is legal, then we will implement it.”
Although Gillen’s budget proposal wasn’t passed, she said she saw this process as an opportunity for the town to grow.
“Since taking office, I have been challenging the status quo here in Hempstead,” Gillen said. “It’s making a difference. Things are changing, the town council is engaged in a way they have never shown before and it’s good for our town.”