Last Wednesday, the Village of Mineola Board of Trustees passed an operating budget for fiscal year 2002-2003, but not before a heated discussion ensued during a board work session prior to the regular 7:30 p.m. public meeting.
The board voted 4-1 in favor of the proposed budget, with trustee Jack Martins casting the objection. Prior to the vote, however, a heated debate took place after Martins voiced his displeasure at some items in the budget, he felt, did not reflect sound fiscal management.
The 2002-2003 budget passed by the board reflected a 4.9 percent increase from this year's operating budget. Residents and other land owners will pay a total of $16.08 per $100 of assessed valuation. However, not all members of the board feel the budget put forth is in the best interests of residents.
One point of contention between Martins and the four village board members who voted in favor of the budget was the sale of real property. The village agreed to sell a parcel of land near Mineola's Long Island Rail Road station for $134,500, which was put into the revenues portion of the budget's General Fund.
Martins argued that the sale of real property should be put into a separate capital project fund and used for projects to improve the village. "I don't think it's responsible to use the proceeds from the sale of real property to fill a hole in the budget," Martins said. "Monies from the sale of real property should be reinvested into this village and should not be used to pay for electricity, telephone bills, paper and typewriter ribbon."
Mineola Mayor John P. Colbert and Deputy Mayor Lou Santosus, who was the most vocal in debating with Martins during the work session, argued that the village board has a responsibility to residents to keep the tax rate as low as possible and using any revenues to offset a greater tax increase than 4.9 percent was the right thing to do.
"I'm not going to increase the taxes if I don't have to," Colbert said.
Martins, however, sees the sale of the parcel of land to the MTA as a one-shot revenue that is just delaying the need for recurring revenues. "We have a responsibility when we put these budgets together to make sure that the monies that we need do not rely on one time revenues and all we're really doing is deferring a tax increase to next year by taking advantage of a one-shot sale of real property. The monies from that should be reinvested in the village," he said.
Mayor Colbert, however, said that the village should not increase taxes any more than it has to. If the $134,500 from the sale of the property was not used in the General Fund, residents would be seeing a higher tax increase than 4.9 percent in 2002-2003. "I'm not going to go with a tax increase for something for next year when I don't need it for this year," he said. 'There is no way in hell I'm going to charge anybody an extra nickel that I think I won't have to charge them the following year."
The $134,500 the village is receiving before May 31 from the state for the use of an entranceway on the east side of Mineola Boulevard so commuters will not have to cross Mineola Boulevard to get to the railroad station is part of the Mineola Boulevard Bridge portion of Operation Downtown. "My feeling is that the people should be able to take advantage of that $134,500 in the budget."
Martins also questioned a transfer of $300,000 from the Water Fund into the General Fund, $40,000 more than this year's budget.
In January, the village board voted to increase water rates because of the increasing costs to produce quality water. By increasing the water rates, the board felt it was ensuring that the Water Fund would remain self-sufficient.
However, Martins feels that by transferring an additional $40,000 from the Water Fund into the General Fund, part of the increase in the water rates is going toward supporting the General Fund. Martins feels the 4.9 percent tax increase in the 2002-2003 budget is misleading since part of the increase in the water rates is going toward the General Fund.
"Before we have an opportunity to see the impact of the increase in the water rates on our Water Fund to make sure that we are able to cover those increases in expenses [to produce quality water], we go into the Water Fund for an additional $40,000," Martins said. "The whole point of raising the Water Fund was not so we could pull money out and put it into the General Fund. The whole point of raising the rates in the Water Fund was so that we could cover the expenses that the Water Fund has, not so we could gratuitously go in there and take $40,000 out."
Mayor Colbert and Deputy Mayor Santosus argued that there are expenses in the General Fund that are incurred because of water. For example, if a water main breaks, workers used to fix it are paid out of the General Fund so the General Fund needs to be reimbursed out of the Water Fund. The board is increasing the fund transfer from the Water Fund to the General Fund because monies contributed from the General Fund to the Water Fund are also increasing.
Mayor Colbert said the village's 2002-2003 budget is tight and the 4.9 percent tax increase is needed because the village's assessed valuation decreased by $1 million, the salaries and benefits of union employees have increased and the village's liability insurance has also increased because of Sept. 11. The mayor said he also cut administrative costs to offset any more of a budget increase and the line in the budget for tax certiorari payments was increased by $50,000 to $450,000.