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Letter: Getting Involved

People get involved in politics for many different reasons. During the summer and fall of last year, I watched how “average folk” across this country attended town hall meetings and rallies. With the country in a deep recession, the unemployment rate at a record high, wages frozen (and in some cases cut), the people took notice of how their representatives were spending their money. Their message was clear that “free for all” spending was going to end, or the consequences would be felt at the ballot box. The results of the 2010 elections were historic. The people had spoken, and change would be happening. This is what I thought until I read about the new budget proposal for the Town of Oyster Bay.

I know that government doesn’t live by the same rules as we the people do. We try to save, while they keep on spending. We have to tighten our budgets to survive but theirs just keeps growing. After the 2010 elections, I noticed that the municipalities were starting to see this. No town on Long Island would be increasing taxes in this financial climate, that is with the exception of Oyster Bay. John Venditto and his fellow board members proposed a 3.5 percent tax increase. This was it for me, it was time for me to follow the example of the people and get down to town hall.

In November, I went to the budget meeting and I listened. When it was time for public comment, I went up to the podium and voiced my displeasure with the entire board over their tax proposal. I questioned how they could run for re-election on the Tax Revolt Party line and raise our taxes within weeks. It became very clear to me that they were revolting against themselves, since they were all incumbents.

I went on to question them on the Public Safety Department with their $4.2 million payroll. I asked if they would consider lay offs in the huge town workforce. The board nodded their heads and Mr. Venditto told me he had to spend all this money. In his opinion all the services were necessary, all the employees were needed, and the Public Safety Department was very important. In fact, one of the safety officers called 911 to report a fire. (Not bad for $4.2 million.)

The board thanked me for my comments, and then voted unanimously for the tax increase. My appearing that night didn’t sway the board’s vote, but I felt good speaking up, and I went home to my family.

In March, Newsday ran an article on how, in five years, the Town of Oyster Bay’s unarmed security force has nearly doubled. What was a relatively small expense of $800,000 for private security had grown into a multi-million dollar pension and benefit laden job-mill for members of the board and their friends. According to the article “Most of the 104 staffers are registered Republicans, in a town where Republicans hold all the town-wide elected offices. About two dozen Public Safety staff members are frequent party donors or have relatives who are. At least 10 employees, including three of the four who are paid more than $100,000, were elected recently to a Nassau GOP committee seat.”

There is a commissioner and four deputy commissioners, all making well over $100,000 for a work force of less than 80 people. The services they provide are already handled by the Police Department. We, the residents of the Town of Oyster Bay, are paying twice for the same service.

After reading this, I was back to town hall to question the board at their regular meeting. Numerous people spoke on this same issue, concerned about the cost and the redundancy of the services. This time when it was my turn to speak I was not met with much graciousness. I asked Mr. Venditto what next years budget for the department was going to be. He told me $5.6 million. When I expressed outrage over such a large increase, he told me it wasn’t that big.

Not that big?

I expressed that I will not be getting a 20 percent raise any time soon, in fact my small business is down about 50 percent and my wife hasn’t had a raise in four years.

He went on to tell me that all of his appointees are important and doing a great job, so good in fact that they are all getting raises. The final insult to me (and to all of us) was when he told me these are his and the board’s decisions and if the people don’t like it they can vote them out of office. I think that recommendation is one way to get us all involved.

 Terence Kelly