Days after “closing the books” on its 2016 budget, the Town of Hempstead held a press conference to highlight the results of the financial report. According to Supervisor Anthony Santino, the strict fiscal discipline and cost-cutting measures he initiated upon taking office on Jan. 1, 2016 resulted in transforming the $23.5 million operating deficit into a $5 million surplus.
“I inherited the [$436 million operating] budget from the previous supervisor [Kate Murray] and upon assuming office I thoroughly reviewed the financial document to determine where costs could be cut, and how we could ensure that all the revenues due the town could be accounted for,” Santino said. “In short, I was determined to eliminate the use of reserve funds to balance the 2016 budget.”
Saladino, flanked by councilmembers Dorothy Goosby and Anthony D’Esposito, and Town Clerk Nasrin Ahmad, went on to detail how fiscal measures resulted in what he called “an amazing $29 million turnaround.”
“I held managers strictly accountable, demanding across the board 20 percent or $9 million cuts in discretionary spending,” Santino stated. “The town also trimmed its work force, implemented an early retirement incentive and aggressively monitored revenues. I also limited the amount of hours part-time staffers could work, saving the town $5.5 million, and trimmed the part-time workforce by 8.5 percent, saving another $1.8 million.”
Labor costs, budgeted at $181.6 million in 2016, were cut by $7 million, and discretionary costs (those not mandated by the state or contractual obligations) were cut by $10.9 million.
The purchase of low-mileage, slightly used vehicles, replacing streetlights with LED lamps and using a brine/beet juice solution (instead of straight salt) to prep roads for snowstorms also resulted in significant savings.
The 2017 budget which he shaped, according to Santino, was the first in decades in which anticipated expenditures matched revenues, without the need to dip into reserve funds. It slashed expenses by $13.4 million compared to the 2016 budget.
“The importance of our financial victory belongs to the taxpayers,” Santino pronounced. “It means that the taxes can be held at reasonable levels.”
This budget management has helped the town earn three outlook upgrades from bond rating agencies over the past 15 months.
“These upgrades result in a lower interest cost on government borrowing, and that’s a direct savings to the taxpayers,” Santino noted.
D’Esposito, who took over Santino’s old council seat, commented, “The proof is in the pudding. He really has done more with less. He is respecting the taxpayers and doing right by the taxpayers.”
Santino praised the town clerk for running a large department involved in a great deal of revenue generation.
“She was given a tough task, we’ve put a lot on her shoulders over the past 15 months, and she’s been able to do it without adding significantly to overtime,” he said.
Santino summed up, “Every day we work very hard to watch every tax dollar and watch every expenditure.”
Laura Gillen, tabbed by the Town of Hempstead Democratic Committee to challenge Santino this November, held a press conference criticizing Santino for approving the budget he later felt the need to modify. Noting that Santino has been on the Town Board for more than 20 years, she stated, “Only a career politician would call this a win.”
Responded Town of Hempstead spokesperson Michael Deery, “The role of the supervisor is much more significant in shaping and crafting, as well as administering budgets during the year. Councilmembers don’t control day-to-day operations. He inherited [his predecessor’s] budget and had the ability to improve the outcome.”