Several new faces stared back at meeting goers April 6 as Garden City's 43rd mayor and three new trustees officially swore in.
"I hope everyone is ready to move forward," Mayor Rob Rothschild said.
Rothschild, a 26-year resident, stepped up to the plate when his Estates section counterpart, Trustee John Mauk, announced he did not want to serve as mayor.
"My hope for the next two years is for this board to work as one. That doesn't mean we'll agree on everything or even get along but I think this board needs to build consensus on a number of issues. And we need to do that in a very civil manner. And I do want to emphasize 'civil manner,'" Rothschild said.
Mayor Rothschild told fellow trustees that over the next two years, they must support and challenge village staff and Garden City's department heads. "That is going to be a very difficult thing to do over the next two years because we as a village are heading into unchartered waters," he said.
He acknowledged the village's long list of resident volunteers, admitting Garden City didn't achieve the status of being a great place to live without them.
He recalled a statement read in a New York Conference of Mayors publication that stated: "Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain." Mayor Rothschild thought it summed up the situation the village finds itself in today.
"If we as a board cannot take a positive perspective, we're probably sitting in the wrong chairs," he said, alluding to the various issues facing trustees now, including, but certainly not limited to, budget cutbacks, St. Paul's, the HUB, the Lighthouse project, union contract negotiations and more. The firefighters' union contract expired in May 2008, the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) contract is due to expire next month and the CSEA contract is up for negotiations in May of 2010.
Newcomer Trustee Andrew Cavanaugh, who hails from Garden City's Central section, stated, "We need to take a disciplined look at all renewals and all negotiations in order to conform our working agreements with our employees to the new reality."
In its first order of business as a new board, trustees passed Garden City's $52,728,207 budget 5-2, which includes the elimination of five police officer positions, two career firefighter positions, one civilian dispatcher, one building inspector and one Public Works employee, at a village savings of $171,297. With a 5.91 tax rate increase, residents will pay an extra $302 a year. Deputy Mayor Don Brudie and Second Deputy Mayor John Watras voted against the budget; Trustee John Mauk was absent.
Trustee Dennis Donnelly of the East thinks the approved budget is fair. "We took a long, arduous look at every single department in the village. If you look at reality of the 10 employees that are cut from the budget, there's one fireman and four police officers who were not here last year. So the reduction in services of the four police officers that weren't here were covered last year. It's what we're not hiring going forward; ... We can't restore things going forward you cant erase them once they're in place," Donnelly said.
Second Deputy Mayor Watras, who works in the financial services industry, thought it unfair to impose such a high tax rate increase on residents in these tough economic times. "I think the 5.91 percent increase is tough especially in today's economic climate, which we are all acutely aware of. I work on Wall Street ... and I'm getting a ton of résumés every day from people that live in our town," he said.
Deputy Mayor Brudie opposed cuts to the fire and police departments and voted against it. "I don't mean to demean the hard work of John Mauk, the Finance Committee, Mr. Schoelle and the staff, the CBC [Citizens Budget Review Committee] but I'm not in favor of cutting the fire department and I'm not in favor of cutting the police department," he said, also voicing disappointment in the failure to reach a 20 percent tax increase.
Trustee Nick Episcopia was surprised some trustees thought a 20 percent increase was even possible. "In order to do that we would have had to make cuts far in excess of what we did," he said. "I think what we did was make alterations to our budget when it came to our fire and police services. We didn't make any massive cuts. We arrived at a compromise," he said.
"What happens next year?" Trustee Watras shot back.
"We had an opportunity here to generate millions of dollars in income from the development of St. Paul's. You specifically said you didn't want to do that. In fact, you specifically said you'd prefer to spend $14 or $15 million mothballing it. That's going to come to debt service of a $1.2 million or a $1.4 million a year. Then you sit there and ask us what we're going to do next year?," Episcopia said. "We had opportunities to raise revenue. We didn't take it. That's all I have to say."
Newcomer Lawrence Quinn likes the direction the board is going in. "I don't see how we could've made it much less than we had ... I don't think any of us like paying more taxes. I think we all understand this is a difficult process but at least we're going in the right direction."