Councilwoman Doreen Banks shocked her colleagues on the North Hempstead Town Board with last-minute amendments to the budget she submitted at the last town board meeting.
Just prior to voting on a date for a public hearing on the preliminary budget, which is be to on Nov. 8., at town hall at 7:30 p.m., Councilwoman Banks handed out a sheet of proposed amendments to the budget to Supervisor May Newburger and Councilmen Angelo Ferrara, Anthony D'Urso and James O'Connor.
Both Supervisor Newburger and Councilman D'Urso said that they could not possibly rule on any amendments received at such a late date, which sparked an outcry from both Councilman Ferrara and O'Connor stating that they have been making this point since being voted to the board. They both said that on many occasions they are expected to vote on proposals that they were not privy to prior to the meeting.
One of Banks amendments was based on the fact that the Department of Parks budget is constantly losing money and that the projection of losses was so much more than originally stated. She said that she felt that Commissioner Olsen had miscalculated his budget drastically and because of that she said she felt that any increase in salary, in the budget, for Commissioner Gerard Olsen should be withheld.
In response to that statement Councilman Ferrara said he felt strongly that any such comments about salary should be made in executive session and certainly not in public. He said, "To withhold the commissioner's increase of about $3,000 a year when other commissioners and the supervisor are receiving $20,000 increases, I just find that absurd."
Later in the evening, during the public portion of the meeting, Marietta DiCamillo, of New Hyde Park, made a very strong statement to the board praising the work of Commissioner Olsen and stating that he was always very easy to work with, always very cooperative and keeps all the parks in marvelous condition. She criticized Councilwoman Banks for making such a statement in public, stating it was 'mean spirited', especially since the commissioner was in the audience at the time of the statement.
In presenting the amendments Banks said, "Since raising fees for athletic fields, parking at beaches and entrances to pools, the projected revenues are lower for 2001 than for 2000. If the town is estimating that these revenue increases will reduce attendance then we should repeal the increases and return the revenue projections to the 2000 levels."
"Conversely, " Banks continued, "If the town doesn't reduce fees to increase attendance then we should be reducing expenses. With reduced attendance, we should be reducing staff."
Banks went on, "Since the Commissioner of the Parks Department has not been hitting any revenue goals and has not been cutting expenses at the parks, it is my recommendation that there be no salary increase to a commissioner that is this far off budget. When the performance at the parks department improves then a salary increase could be considered."
Banks then said that losses in the Parks departments have been increasing since 1992 starting at $3.3 million; in 1993 losing $3.4 million; in 1994 losing $3.6 million; in 1995 losing $3.8 million; in 1996 losing $3.9 million; in 1997 losing $3.8 million and in 1998 losing $4.0 million.
Banks continued, "The budget does propose to spend money for advertising and a new camp program for children and these are reasonable expenditures to try and reverse the trend documented."
Banks concluded on the subject of the Parks Department, "Although no one expects the Parks Department to make money, these losses are alarming. All these losses, by the way, are exclusive of the Harbor Links Golf facility.
The other amendment proposed by Councilwoman Banks was to reinstate the original $80,000 tree planting budget rather than to cut it down to $50,000 since as it now stands there is a two and one half year wait for a tree.
She said she also felt that the town should make a commitment of $20,000 for the Port Washington/Manhasset Acquifer Study Project being coordinated by the Residents For a More Beautiful Port Washington. She explained that it was a serious examination of possible saltwater intrusion by using United States Geological information. Several water districts, she said, have committed money to the study as well as grants from both Senator Michael Balboni and Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli. She said she felt the town should also contribute to the study as it is one of the principal governments for the Port Washington community.
Supervisor May Newburger commented, "After hearing all of Councilwoman Banks amendments and the discussion from the other board members, I would ask that she withdraw these amendments until we have the hearing. From my own perspective, and this is my budget at the moment, I feel that all of these things, some of which may be terrific and we may end up with them in the budget, require evaluation. My responsibility is to make sure that the budget is balanced and I cannot make that decision at the last minute. I need to take the time to study these suggestions."
However, Councilwoman Banks did not withdraw the amendments as requested.
Councilman O'Connor said that he will ultimately vote no on the resolution of holding the budget hearing on Nov. 8 after the election because he said he and Councilman Ferrara have been asking for years to hold the hearings prior to the election. When the vote was taken both O'Connor and Ferrara voted yes to include Councilwoman Banks first two amendments to the budget, but they voted no on her amendment regarding the parks department.
Councilman Anthony D'Urso said in good conscience he could not vote for the Banks' amendments so he abstained and so did Supervisor Newburger and Councilwoman Banks, of course voted yes.
Therefore the first two amendments are to be included in the preliminary budget but not the last.
At the end of the meeting President of the Parks Civic Association, James McHugh, of New Hyde Park, said that he originally wanted to make a statement about opening Tully Park to the public and proposing a dome for it to be run by an independent contractor. But, he said, he would discuss all of those things at the Nov. 8 budget public hearing.