The Mineola Village Board of Trustees passed an operating budget for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, which begins June 1 and ends May 31, 2010. The $23,385,918 spending plan calls for a 2.15 percent tax increase for residential properties and a 3.06 percent tax increase for commercial properties on the village portion of tax bills.
Mayor Jack M. Martins, Deputy Mayor Larry Werther and Trustees Tom Kennedy and Paul Pereira passed the budget with a 4-1 majority while Trustee Paul Cusato voted against the budget.
Cusato complimented the mayor on the budget, but a subject of contention was salary increases for the mayor and the trustees. The budget called for raising the mayor's salary from $18,000 to $29,000, a 61 percent increase, and the trustees' salaries from $9,000 to $14,500, a 61 percent increase.
When the trustees discussed the raises initially, all agreed to put them in the budget, but at the budget hearing last week, Cusato changed his mind, as he explained that he didn't feel right about voting for the raises. Cusato said he thought of his friends who have lost their jobs and those who have seen their retirement savings dwindle and couldn't vote for a budget that included raises for the trustees.
Village attorney John Spellman said he wanted to claim some responsibility for the board raising its salaries. Spellman explained that increases in salaries would make it more attractive for people to want to serve on the village board, but the salaries aren't so high that people would want to serve for financial gain. Last month, the mayor and two trustees ran unopposed.
Mayor Martins explained that the trustees' salaries were so low that they were not receiving a full year's pension credit in the state retirement system. The mayor also pointed out that the board's salaries haven't been increased in 16 years. The mayor and the trustees feel that the village is on solid financial footing and this was the appropriate time for the raises.
Mayor Martins felt the salary increases unjustly took attention away from the great work that was put into the village budget in recent years to get a tax increase to just over 2 percent during a time when many governments are struggling to close budget gaps. In giving the background behind the budget, that mayor explained that the budgeting was done conservatively so that the village would make its revenue projections.
The village budget does not include $53,487 in sales tax revenue Mineola usually receives from the county since the county executive and legislature is discussing eliminating village's shares of sales tax revenue.
In addition, the village budgeted $100,000 in revenues instead of $150,000 for interest on deposits because of the recession and $325,000 instead of $425,000 for revenues on building permit fees because there may be less construction work because of the recession. In addition, the village budget also anticipates less mortgage tax revenue because of the downturn in the housing market.
Mayor Martins and the board feel the village is well prepared to handle any shortfalls in revenue that may come because of the current economic climate. The mayor pointed out that the village has reduced its budget costs for tax certioraris from $1 million to $850,000 as a result of the village's reassessment and the village, over the last six years, has paid down about $10 million of its $33 million debt.
"As we move forward, we stand in a pretty unique place," said Mayor Martins. "Our village, financially, is very sound."
When it came time for public comment, residents Dennis Walsh, Vincent Lupinacci and John Curry all spoke in favor of the raises, saying the mayor and the trustees deserved them. Nobody at the budget hearing, which was not well attended, spoke out against the raises.