Budget Deficit Worse Than Projected
At a press conference held on October 15, Councilmen Mark Mayoka and Gene Cook announced the formation of the town of Huntington budget task force committee. According to the Councilmen, there are 2 main purposes in forming the committee. The first is to strive to keep the AAA bond rating and the second is to be proactive in making the town government more efficient by actively searching for ways to control costs and to save money.
There were 4 recommendations made by the committee:
1. To drastically reduce or eliminate the proposed Petrone parking fee that will raise fees from $50 to $75. This is a 50% increase. The parking garage fees are being increased from $50 to $600 which is 1200% increase.
2. To eliminate the personal use of town cars. This would involve turning the existing owned town cars into a pool. According to Councilman Mayoka, the town has several hundred vehicles and this could result in significant savings.
3. To reject the proposal to raise the town board salaries. Instead they propose to lower town council salaries by 10%.
4. To control the spending of the reserve accounts. The current proposed budget recommends the spending of $4 million in reserve funds including $3 million of special reserves. They are recommending that spending of the special reserves will require a super majority.
“These are our initial 4 recommendations, but we will have many more recommendations”, stated councilman Mayoka.
Mayoka stated that he invited the other 3 council members to participate in the committee. “I am waiting to hear back from them. They are welcome to part of this in fact I encourage it”. According to sunshine laws you can only have 2 members of the board on committees and then you have to have representatives. There will be approximately 9 or 10 people serving on this committee.
According to the councilmen, the urgency to form the committee grew out of several concerns. Mark Mayoka explained, “Two months ago I reviewed the budget projections that were handed in to the ratings agencies. I found that we were running a $7 million deficit and I realized that something needed to be done about it”. In order to receive the information Councilman Mayoka needed to complete a FOIL request. After receiving the latest budget, the councilmen explained that he found out that the shortfall is not $7 million it is $9 million. Mr. Mayoka described the situation as similar to a run away train.
“We have to take positive action and the first step is the formation of this important committee,” stated Councilman Mayoka. “I am welcoming each of my town board colleagues to be present and to be represented on this committee. Such a committee was around in the late 90’s and its time for us to bring it back”.
Another sense of urgency grew out of the large increase of fees that the town residents will be forced to pay.
The up to date actual spending has not been provided to the Councilmen and has not been included in the proposed budget. “The comptroller does a financial update every 4 months,” explained Mr. Mayoka. “We’ve received one from April but I am very concerned about us not having that information for the period ending August 31st. Since we are already in October we should have that information”.
We asked all 5 council people why the parking fees increased so significantly. In addition, we inquired why supervisor Petrone felt it necessary to raise his salary and other elected officials in the same budget that was significantly increasing fees and laying off union workers. Councilmen Cook and Mayoka informed us that our questions would be addressed publicly at the press conference. We never received a response from Supervisor Petrone, Councilman Cuthbertson, and Councilwoman Berland.
Councilman Mayoka explained, “when we had a pre-budget meeting with supervisor Petrone we were handed 3 summary pages to review and then the pages were taken back from us. It was not until September 28, at 8:15 am that I learned that those salaries were increased. It was when I saw the actual proposed preliminary budget”.
Councilman Cook stated, “We felt it was important for us to say we want a 10% decrease in our salary. During these difficult economic times the tax payer can’t afford to pay for raises and then have huge fee increases to park their cars.
Councilman Mayoka continued, “we have to take the lead. We are the elected officials and we have to lead by example”.
Councilman Cook believes there is a tremendous amount of saving possibilities in the General Services department. Mayoka continued, “we haven’t taken inventory in General Services in 22 years. The last audit we had 17 years ago recommended that we take inventory and it never happened”.
Councilman Mayoka continued, “we are going to get more information from the New York state audit that will help us in our budget plans”.
According to Councilman Cook, the audit which started June 22 was originally supposed to be 3 months and has been extended until January 1.
There will be a public hearing tonight (October 16, 2012) on the proposed budget during the regular Town Hall meeting.