Supervisor Petrone Votes For CSEA Layoffs, Elimination of Jobs, Increased Fees & A Raise For Himself
Supervisor Petrone called for a special budget meeting that took place on Thursday, November 15. For those who regularly attend town board meetings and follow the shenanigans of the way our town operates under supervisor Petrone, this meeting and the budget process should come as no surprise. The environment of the meeting was hostile as usual. It was poorly attended and the audience was primarily made up of press and appointed town employees.
At the start of the meeting, it was immediately evident that Supervisor Petrone, Councilman Cuthbertson, and Councilwoman Berland had successfully shut Councilmen Cook and Mayoka out of the process. It seemed obvious that the three had rehearsed what would and would not take place at the meeting. This is a shame since Mark Mayoka is a CPA and Mr. Cook who is a successful businessman could have contributed in a meaningful way. Shutting them out goes against the will of the people. Just last year Councilman Cook had received more votes than Councilwoman Berland during the 2011 election process.
For those who don’t follow closely, at most town board meetings, Councilmen Cook and Mayoka publicly state that pertinent information is intentionally withheld from them and they do not get cooperation from various appointed town employees. Berland, Cuthbertson and Petrone typically express disingenuous shock and outrage by such a notion. There are several documented cases where Councilmen Cook and Mayoka needed to FOIL for information that directly impacted their ability to serve the public. There are documented cases where even after FOIL requests were filed the information was either denied or given in an incomplete format. Councilman Cook confirmed that he tried to receive information from Comptroller Andy Persich regarding this budget and faced the usual stonewalling.
One particularly outrageous aspect of the meeting was when Supervisor Petrone voted in a raise for himself moments after stating that CSEA employees would need to give back or else. (CSEA employees are Town of Huntington union workers that fall under the Civil Service Employee Association umbrella). We believe that Supervisor Petrone voted in his own raise because he had no choice. He no longer has 3 other people on the board to do his bidding since Councilwoman Jackson was replaced by Councilman Cook last year. Had things been different we believe that Supervisor Petrone would have recused himself from voting for his own raise. This seems like political suicide, but in the Town of Huntington, who knows?
During the meeting, Councilman Mark Mayoka asked for clarification regarding an item that was described as a $1.2 million in other personnel savings. He said it was his understanding that conversations with the union were taking place regarding this issue and he wanted to know what the status was.
In response to Councilman Mayoka’s inquiry, Town Attorney John Leo chimed in almost like a child in a play who was waiting anxiously for his part to come up. “The negotiations are ongoing and they are very sensitive”, stated Leo. “As a matter fact we have a meeting this week with CSEA”, continued Leo.”The union is being very cooperative with us and we are working and we hope to come to a settlement that will show a significant savings in that”.
Councilman Mayoka responded by stating, “Is it reasonable to include in a the budget a hope item?” John Leo attempted to continue but he was abruptly cut off by Supervisor Petrone who explained that although the negotiations were not completed, the CSEA had no choice but to come up with 1.2 million in savings. “That’s why the figure says personnel savings,” Petrone explained. “It could be through layoffs, it could be through contract negotiations or it could be a combination of both.” He continued, ‘That dollar amount is in this budget and it will have to be realized. It could be realized through a combination of different means and ways.”
Originally, the trio of Petrone, Cuthbertson and Berland tried to push through a raise for the entire town board. After public outrage they agreed to a raise only for the supervisor.
Councilmen Mayoka and Cook did not feel that a pay freeze was enough while others are being asked to give back so much more. The Councilmen asked for a 10% pay cut for the entire Town Board. To this notion Berland rolled her eyes, Petrone and Cuthbertson expressed outrage that such an idea would even be considered.
Cuthbertson came up with some convoluted logic that Councilman Mayoka was picking on the Supervisor by even suggesting such an idea. Mayoka’s response was “I am not picking on anybody, I am including myself in that pay cut”.
Cuthbertson repeatedly expressed that he couldn’t understand why the Supervisor should be taking a pay cut when Town Clerk Jo-Ann Raia, Highway Superintendent William Naughton and Receiver of Taxes Ester Bivona were not being asked to do the same. Cook and Mayoka tried to explain to the Councilman that since the budget was the responsibility of the town board they should be setting an example.
“We are leaders of the town, in a leadership role and we should be setting an example,” Mayoka stated. Cook chimed in and stated that we are responsible for this budget and if we are asking for give backs from others we should certainly be ready to give back too. “We vote for policy and we should lead by example,” Cook said.
Petrone cut off the discussion and made the following statement, (this is exactly word for word what he said), “There are many many ways we could dissect this, I am certainly not going to get into this because it effects my salary personally, but all in all there are so many things that we should probably consider in following that train of thought. Maybe consider this legislation in terms of our outside work and what we do and the work we do that relates to this town. Maybe municipalities or in any other vein. Maybe that’s something that now we should begin to look at if we are so concerned with tax payer and if we are so concerned with us setting the policy. So I’m going to be looking into that and I think that just begins to stimulate this to the point to where I thinks it’s worthy of us looking at that very very very closely.” …and then he voted for his own raise.
Mr. Mayoka put forth his amendment for the town board to take 10% pay cuts. Councilman Cook seconded the resolution. Cuthbertson, Petrone, and Berland simultaneously leaned forward towards their mics and just below a shout, bellowed out an emphatic NO! Berland, Cuthbertson, and Petrone all voted yes for the raise for the Supervisor. Councilmen Cook and Mayoka voted no.
Another noteworthy point was that a significant portion of the savings was directly related to the management of the Highway Department. This department typically ends up with a surplus. Yet, just weeks ago, the Supervisor was trying to make the leader of the Highway Department an appointed position. His logic was that if it was under his control there would be cost savings and better management and control over the department.
The commuter parking fees are now going from $50 to $75. Cuthbertson expressed that the commuters are still being subsidized. To which Mark Mayoka stated “I think the residents understand that there needs to be some sort of a reasonable fee increase in the parking fees to maintain the facility properly. The issue is going from $50 to $600, which is a 1200% increase’. To which Supervisor Petrone abruptly cut off Councilman Mayoka to say “well that’s not in this budget,” disregarding that he tried to push it through in the original proposal.
Councilman Cook asked for clarification about there being a $117,000 savings in the Supervisors office and wanted to know what position would be eliminated. “I get to pick between two or three positions, Supervisor Petrone said, “and I haven’t decided yet. But the dollar amount will be offset.” Unconfirmed rumors are that the person who is eliminated from the Supervisors office will be shifted elsewhere in the town.
Below is the version of reality that town spokesperson A.J. Carter put out to the press. You will read his exact words in other media sources.
The Huntington Town Board today approved a $181.2 million operating
budget for 2013 that trimmed $500,000 from the preliminary budget
presented in September, freezes the salaries of Town Council members and
eliminates the proposal to implement a separate permit fee for parking
in the garages at the Huntington Long Island Rail Road station.
The budget was approved 3-2, with Supervisor Frank P. Petrone and
Council Members Mark Cuthbertson and Susan A. Berland voting in favor.
It calls for only marginal increases over 2012 in spending and taxes,
even in the face of difficult financial pressures and mandated increases
in employee health and pension costs, while maintaining the programs and
services residents demand. The 0.83 percent increase in the Town's
total tax - or about $19 for the average homeowner - falls well below
the State-mandated 2 percent tax cap limit and reflects both difficult
decisions in spending for Town functions as well as a $1.5 million
decrease in capital spending.
"This is a budget that we can live with - a realistic plan that balances
responsible spending with maintaining necessary services," Supervisor
Petrone said. "I thank Council Members Cuthbertson and Berland for
working with me to evaluate the comments the public offered about the
preliminary proposal and making the hard decisions to arrive at the
budget approved today."
Among the major revisions from the preliminary budget was a decision to
eliminate the proposed $600 permit fee for parking in the train station
garages. The 2013 commuter parking permit fee will be $75 for Town
residents and $150 for non-residents, with no distinction between
surface parking and the garages. This amendment to the original proposal
took into account the comments and suggestions from the more than 2,000
permit holders who responded to a survey seeking input on the proposal.
Other changes from the preliminary budget include imposing a freeze on
the salaries of Town Council members, who also will be required to
contribute to their health insurance; the identification of $175,000 in
health insurance and $110,000 in Highway Fund debt service savings from
the original estimate; and the elimination of two positions in the
original budget - one in the Supervisor's office and one in the
Information Technology department. Overall, spending was trimmed by
$500,000 from the preliminary budget.
Unchanged from the preliminary plan are a capital budget that is $1.5
million less than in 2012 and the expectation of $1.5 million in
white-collar personnel savings that are the subject of ongoing
negotiations with CSEA, the union representing the white-collar
The projected 0.83 percent overall tax hike reflects increases in the
General and Refuse Funds, offset by savings in the Highway and Part Town
Funds. A mild winter, coupled with reimbursement from FEMA for Tropical
Storm Irene expenses, as well as a healthy reserve account to draw upon
all contributed to the reduction in Highway taxes.
The Town also will continue to realize the savings from Supervisor
Petrone's plan, approved by the Town Board earlier this year, to
refinance approximately one-quarter of the Town's outstanding debt.
The Town was able to sell the re-issues at rates of less than 1
percent, which will generate more than $2-million in saving over the
next seven years. In total this judicious approach to managing
capital spending translates to a decrease in debt service of
$130,000 in 2013.