At last Wednesday's public meeting of the Village of Mineola Board of Trustees, Trustee Linda Fairgrieve proposed appointing a fact-finding commission to ascertain why it took until the independent audit was completed in December to find out the village had a $536,000 deficit in the General Fund of the 2002-2003 budget, which closed on May 31, 2003. However, Mayor Jack M. Martins criticized Trustee Fairgrieve's proposal as a political ploy.
Trustee Fairgrieve believes there are still questions that need answering as she proposed the fact-finding commission, which, according to the proposal, would consist of the four trustees who would each appoint a person and then the eight would agree on a ninth person.
The trustee pointed to two documents prior to the discovery of the deficit in the audit in December that she said should have raised red flags. The first document from when the village converted all of its short-term debt into long-term bonds was the bond prospectus dated Aug. 14, 2003, which lists revenues in the General Fund to be $14,796,865 but expenses to be $15,098,267. The second document is the annual update document sent by the village treasurer to the state comptroller. The document, dated Sept. 22, 2003, reflects total revenues as $14,809,665 with total expenditures of $15,088,808.
Trustee Fairgrieve believes the village has a credibility problem with the state and Moody's. When the village went before Moody's, it estimated its fund balance to be $252,000 and it closed the fiscal year with a negative fund balance. The annual update document reflects an operating deficit of negative $279,143, and states the General Fund balance at the beginning of fiscal year 2002-2003 to be $442,814, but includes the revenue of $134,500 from the sale of land to the MTA that the village never received.
"There's a lot of questions to ask and that's why I wanted the commission," said Trustee Fairgrieve, whose motion was seconded by Trustee Lou Santosus, but was ultimately defeated by the board.
Mayor Martins believes the proposal was a political ploy used to take a cheap shot at him. The mayor points out that there were questionable budgetary practices in the past that should be investigated instead of why the deficit in the General Fund wasn't discovered earlier than December.
"If she wanted to have a credible proposal, she should be asking why we have a deficit, why we have had five years of deficits, why the board of trustees was not able to keep track, what were the mechanisms and what was missing. There are obligations that the board has to keep track of what's happening," he said. "Who does she think she is to think she's in a position to sit on a fact-finding committee. She should be investigated. What was she doing on the board for four years?"
Village Treasurer Richard Dwyer was questioned by Mayor Martins at Wednesday's board meeting as to why there was a delay from June to December in informing the board that there was an operational deficit in the General Fund. Mr. Dwyer said the village has had a past practice, which has been done the last four or five years, of transferring money from capital project funds into the General Fund and at the end of the 2002-2003 fiscal year, there was enough money to transfer from the capital funds into the General Fund to wipe out the deficit.
"Going on past practices, you made those transfers and there wouldn't be a deficit. But those transfers are not automatic. They have to be approved or directed by someone," said Mr. Dwyer.
In the past, when the village ended a fiscal year with a negative fund balance in its General Fund, a transfer would be made from money that was borrowed for capital projects but was not used into the General Fund to offset the deficit in the General Fund. These transfers were made in the past without board resolution.
When this fiscal year ended with a negative fund balance of $536,000, the money was transferred from funds left over from capital projects, which totaled over $800,000 into the General Fund. However, it was done this year with a resolution from the board.
Mayor Martins made it clear that the past practice of transfers into the General Fund from Capital projects to cover for items in the General Fund that did not either meet expected revenues or were overspent will not continue.
However, if an interfund transfer other than those that appear as part of the budget is made, as was the case last month when $536,000 was taken from the Capital funds and used to plug the deficit in the General Fund from the 2002-2003 budget, it will be with approval from the board with a resolution that will be voted on in public. "It absolutely kills me that she [Trustee Fairgrieve] feels the need to try to take a cheap shot when we're the only ones out here trying to do something to keep everybody on board, to keep everybody advised as to what's going on," Mayor Martins said.
Trustee Fairgrieve said she proposed a fact-finding commission not as a political ploy but as a way to correct the situation so that it doesn't happen again and the board is aware when the village is in danger of a budget deficit.
Mayor Martins and Trustee Fairgrieve seem to be on the same page in the respect that the board should be kept aware if budgetary lines are overspent or under in revenues. The mayor promised to keep the board apprised of the 2003-2004 budget with a monthly treasurer's report, something Trustee Fairgrieve proposed and the rest of the board agreed with. The mayor also invited any member of the board to ask questions and request information since he said he believes strongly that an elected official's responsibility is to manage the finances of the village.
The village's rental registration law became official and will apply to multiple dwellings such as apartment buildings and apartments over stores. Landlords of such apartments will be required to register those apartments with the village. The building department will then conduct inspections of the apartments to make sure they are safe and adhere to village code.
"I believe that the law will adequately address a concern that I have and I believe residents have expressed as to over-occupancy in living conditions in the village, specifically multiple dwellings and mixed use properties," Mayor Martins said.
"I also think the rental registration law will go for the safety of our legal residents of this village and also for our emergency service people," said Deputy Mayor Werther.
Trustee Santosus, an ex-chief and current active member in the Mineola Fire Department, knows the problems unsafe conditions can cause in an apartment and voted in favor of the law as did trustees Fairgrieve and Franzini.
There will be forms mailed to property owners who will then be given a time frame in which to submit the paper work. Mayor Martins said the village is hoping for a deadline of March 31 for property owners to register their apartments. Once the applications arrive, they will be processed, reviewed and the building department will arrange to conduct the inspections.
If a dwelling is in compliance, a permit, which will be good for two years, will be issued.
Application fees for a permit are: one dwelling unit - $150; two dwelling units - $300; three dwelling units - $550; four dwelling units - $700; more than four dwelling units $700 plus $100 for each unit in excess of four.
There is a hearing scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 11 on whether to expand the rental registration law to include apartments in two-family homes.
The mayor and the board of trustees voted unanimously to deny the application by the owners of Creative Lighting to maintain two storage containers in the rear of the property. The containers had been there for over 20 years and were used by the lighting company for storage. However, they were against village code.
Mayor Martins said the board established a precedent in the past not allowing containers. The mayor believes that if the business needs space, it could use one of the stores in the shopping center that it owns. The stores are currently being rented. "In this case, we have a business that has expanded beyond its limits, but there is space in the building, which is owned by the business owner, that they can expand into," he said, adding the business should consider taking over some of the space it rents instead of burdening the community with containers.
Deputy Mayor Werther said that the containers are eyesores and even if they weren't seen, approving them would be setting a precedent that other businesses could use for installing containers in other areas.
Trustee Santosus said containers are unsightly and can become canvases for graffiti artists. Trustee Fairgrieve also agreed not to establish a precedent against the village's code. Trustee Steve Franzini also voted against the application.
The village board passed a law that would give it some say in the future before a group home such as the Seafield group home on Grant Avenue opens. The mayor said there were concerns regarding group homes and whether the village code allows for group homes to have to come before the village board before opening.
The board passed a local law, which defines a family. Group homes would have to come before the board of trustees before opening since they do not meet the village's requirements for a family.
The new local law amending Chapter 30 of the code states that "there shall be a presumption that four or more unrelated persons living together in a single dwelling do no constitute the factual equivalent of a natural family. Any four or more unrelated persons living together in a single dwelling may, at their option, apply to the board of trustees to establish that they are in fact the equivalent of a natural family. The establishment of the following facts, among others, may be utilized to rebut this presumption: the four or more unrelated individuals use all rooms and housekeeping facilities within the dwelling in common; the four or more unrelated individuals cook together as a single housekeeping unit; and the four or more unrelated individuals share expenses for food, rent, utilities or other household expenses."
According to village code, it is unlawful to park a commercial vehicle in a residential area overnight. However, this law did not pertain to business districts. However, there are some residential homes in business districts. The board voted to close the loophole making it unlawful to park a commercial vehicle in the driveway of a residential home even if that home is in a business district.
The original contract price for the project was just over $74,000. The board approved a changed order for another $2,889 for items that were needed and unforeseen. However, the price of the project will only be $50,300 plus the $2,889 for a net decrease of approximately $20,981 from the original bid. The budgeted amount was $100,000. The net savings over the budgeted amount is close to $47,000.
Superintendent of the Water Department Fred Booher reported that the village had six water main breaks in the last three weeks, some of which were pretty involved. The weather, for example, caused two and a half feet of frost under the roadway that required the water department to use a jackhammer to break up the dirt in order to dig. In some cases, the main breaks did cause an inconvenience. On Columbus Parkway, the water was off for about seven hours. Mr. Booher said the water department is expecting more main breaks. Mr. Booher also wanted to remind the public to clear the snow around fire hydrants, which would assist the fire department. There are flags on the hydrants to identify where they are.
It was good to see Village Attorney John Spellman back at the village board meeting. Mr. Spellman is recovering from thyroid cancer. He looks as though he hasn't missed a beat. He wanted to thank all the people who wished him well while he was recovering.
Thoughts and prayers go out to acting village justice Richard M. O'Callaghan, who recently underwent surgery. We wish him a speedy recovery.
The village board will now be approving the minutes from meetings on the first meeting of the month for the minutes from the previous month. Minutes were approved last Wednesday for minutes for the previous months with the only change coming at Trustee Fairgrieve's suggestion for the May 21, 2003. The minutes stated that the trustee voted "yes" on a motion when in fact she abstained. Also, the minutes were amended for July 16, 2003 to reflect that Trustee Fairgrieve suggested holding a referendum if the village was going to implement its own police department.
The village board to adopt the audit of the 2002-2003 fiscal year. The audit was discussed at a meeting last month.
The village is seeking a children's librarian for the library.
* Pat Tobin, president of the Mineola Volunteer Ambulance Corps (MVAC), said MVAC is trying to increase its membership.
* Bill Urianek noticed that he does see a change in the number of cars being left on the street during snowstorms. Urianek noted that there were no cars on the street on Emory Road. However, the village did issue tickets to those who did leave cars on the street in other parts of the village.
Mr. Urianek also said the new Schakolad Chocolate Factory store at 166 Jericho Turnpike is an outstanding store. The store is owned by Kathy and Rich Marotta of Andrews Road.
Mr. Urianek also expressed his concern over the amount of bonding that has taken place in the village in recent years. Mr. Urianek suggested that any bond over $100,000 should be voted on by the taxpayers of Mineola via a referendum.
* Vincent Lupinacci of the Mineola Civic Association expressed his concern that members of the board may be annoyed when members of the civic association speak. Mr. Lupinacci said that the civic association is the eyes and the ears of the village and can bring to the attention of the board things they hear and see in the village.
* Tim Almeda expressed his concern for the safety of the Mineola Boulevard Bridge. The bridge will not be repaved until the spring which means the four lanes will not open until then.
Also, Mr. Almeda asked if anything further has been discussed regarding Mineola forming its own police department. Mayor Martins answered "no." The mayor has still been meeting regularly with members of the 3rd Precinct. A community forum may be held in Mineola with the 3rd Precinct sometime in the future. If the village does plan on going further with trying to implement a police department, the mayor would most likely appoint a commission to study its feasibility.
* Frank Hoare asked what a reasonable time is for residents to shovel the sidewalk in front of their homes during a snowstorm. Village policy is that residents have 24 hours after the snow stops falling to clear their sidewalks.
* Sandy Clark asked what happens to parking fines that aren't paid. After 540 days from the original court date, all outstanding fines will be reduced to a judgement and filed with the appropriate county clerk. Once outstanding fines go to judgement, they will be revealed during a credit check.
* Sal Cataldo urged the board not to have a fact-finding commission. Mr. Cataldo said he believes the board is doing a good job.
Mr. Cataldo later spoke out against the rental registration law. He believes it is unfair to ask property owners to register their apartments with the village.
* John Carroll posed an interesting question. Mr. Carroll wanted to know that with the village's $33 million debt, how does the village bond in the future if emergencies should arise. It's clear the village must exercise constraints when it comes to borrowing money. Last year, the village board adopted a debt management that sets a debt ceiling.
* Linda Doell said she heard at a recent 3rd Precinct community forum that the numbers being given for the amount of tickets issued by the police in Mineola for violations other than misdemeanors was incorrect. Deputy Mayor Werther said the numbers came from the village justice court, which can ascertain whether tickets were written by the police orw code enforcement officers. The deputy mayor said he is trying to get a report from justice courts as to how many of the tickets were issued by police.