Williston Park votes 3-1 to override tax cap in budget

James Galloway

The Williston Park Board of Trustees vote 3-1 on Monday to override the state’s property tax cap and dissent by adopting a budget for next fiscal year about $65,000 over what the cap would allow.

Two trustees and Mayor Paul Ehrbar voted in support of the budget, while Trustee Teresa Thomann voted against.

“Most of the board members felt the thing to do this time was to go over the 2 percent tax cap and try to maintain the services that we’re trying to provide to our residents — and I think our residents want it,” Deputy Mayor Kevin Rynne said.

The $4.8 million adopted budget for 2015-16 represents a 3.13 percent increase over the 2014-15 budget. The tax cap allowed for a 1.62 percent increase, which would result in a $4.73 million budget.

Village Clerk Julie Kain roughly estimated the average person might see an increase of $75 in his or her taxes.

“I do not support overriding the tax cap,” Thomann said. “Our budget practices have been prudent and appropriate the past few years…we are fiscally healthy. It is my position that we can continue on that path within the tax cap allowance.”

Ehrbar said the village needed to override the tax cap or cut services.

“I thought we did the best we could without cutting services,” he said. “In order to keep services at a reasonable level, I believe we have to go over the cap, though I regret having to do so.”

Overriding the tax cap required a 60 percent supermajority by the five-person board of trustees. Overriding the tax cap for school districts requires a 60 percent popular vote by residents.

Trustee Michael Uttaro could not attend the hearing because he was working as a fire coordinator at a Manhasset brush fire at the time. But he said in an email that he supported the budget.  

“I fully support the budget passed last night as a responsible budget that continues to make improvements to village infrastructure…and provides services that our resident enjoy and want to see maintained,” he said. “I think that residents want to continue to see their tax dollars at work, but at the same time expect their elected officials to work diligently at keeping budget increases to a minimum; and I think this 2015-2016 budget does just that.”

The $45,154 increase in debt payments for 2015-16 alone accounts for nearly a third of the adopted increase and more than half of the allowed increase under the tax cap.

The village borrowed $2.5 million in 2013 when interests rates were low to renovate the roads, Village Hall, firehouse and Kelleher field, Kain said.

“If we didn’t do the bonds for the roads, the park, firehouse and Village Hall it would be no problem to be below the 2 percent tax cap, but we all benefit from those things,” Trustee William Carr said. “I don’t regret that, but I do regret we’re going over the cap.”

Ehbar said he looked at two similar properties, one in the village and one just outside the village in an unincorporated area, and that living in the village cost about $300 extra in taxes.

“But that $300 goes a long way within the village,” he said.

Most budget lines outside debt services remained stable, with a slight drop in pension contribution costs, except for a $13,000 decrease in library funding.

Ehrbar said the library would compensate for the decrease in funding by using its unappropriated fund balance and looking to its money market.  

“It shouldn’t affect the library going forward,” he said. “The understanding is that those monies will cover those expenses.”

But Mary Cross, a trustee for the Williston Park library, said the fund balance should not be used for the day-to-day operations of the library.

“The money balance is supposed to be used for special situations, not the ongoing operations of the library,” Cross said.

No residents beside Cross spoke at the hearing.

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