The Oyster Bay Town Board voted to issue more than $5 million in new bonds Tuesday as Supervisor John Venditto and other officials maintained their financial policy was sound in the face of growing debt.
The board held three public hearings and voted to issue bonds for capital improvements. $210,000 will go towards improvements to Town parking facilities, $1.1 million towards solid waste removal and $4.1 million to go towards parks.
Town Comptroller Bob McEvoy said that about $1 million of the park funds will go to Syosset-Woodbury Park, with another $1.3 million going to parks in Plainview. Most of the remainder will go towards upgrading lights, electrical systems, bike paths, playgrounds, and parking areas as well as the installation of a new pool liner in Bethpage Community Park.
The town also voted to create a new retirement incentive for their employees and held a hearing on a proposed law which would give the town the ability to exceed the New York state tax cap and charge a one time assessment, in order to pay for cleanup in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
The moves all come after a recent downgrade by Moody's of the Town's credit rating, in line with a similar downgrade by Standard & Poors last year, based on a debt reported to be more than $800 million.
Venditto insisted the Town has made wise spending decisions and is on a sound financial footing.
"We're saddled with this debt that has to be repaid" he said. "We're going to repay it, and we're going to repay it happily because the money's been well spent."
The Supervisor said that the town's spending decisions have been based on necessity and maintaining the quality of life in the area.
Syosset resident Laura Schultz spoke during the public comment section of the hearing and told Venditto she was concerned about the potential for rising interest rates going forward.
"It appears there's a bond bubble on the horizon," she said. "We may be OK today, but with the debt service we're going to be encumbered with for the next year, I feel we're going to have a problem.
Venditto countered saying, "Even our harshest critics at the bonding companies have no problem with the debt in this Town and our ability to pay."
McEvoy said the Moody's downgrade from Aa3 to A2 was expected and that he felt it was done to keep in line with the Standard & Poors downgrade of the Town's rating from AA to A. He pointed out that Standard & Poors recently re-rated the town and didn't change their rating.
The comptroller said that the proposed law to exceed the tax cap will likely be necessary to pay for costs related to storm cleanup, unless the Town receives more federal aid.
"I have no problem with our debt and I have no problem piercing the tax cap if necessary," Venditto said, arguing that the Town's share of a resident's tax burden is relatively small.
The new retirement incentive plan, the Town's third in the last three years, will offer eligible employees, mostly 55 and older, $1,000 for every year of service and pay them health benefits they're entitled to under the Town's bargaining agreements.
The meeting had a new voice as deputy clerk Christine Wiss called the roll for the first time since Steve Labriola stepped down to take a job with the Nassau County Comptroller. A Town spokesman said that Venditto will appoint a replacement at a future meeting who will be expected to run for election in November.