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Lawrence Keeps Tax Rate Flat

Trustees shoot down mayor's proposal to lower taxes in face of numerous contingencies.

Despite an impassioned speech from the mayor of the that delve into the philosophy of government and taxes, trustees last Thursday rejected his proposal to lower the tax base, opting to keep the rate the same.

“We have no right to tax and keep people’s money when it doesn’t serve our interests,” Mayor Martin Oliner said in his argument to lower the village’s tax rate to $68.98 per $100 of assessed property value, which would have saved taxpayers’ $60 a year. “We’re not in a position to use this $7 million for whatever we want. We can’t continue this way or we’ll self-destruct.”

The tax rate will remain at $71.60 per $100 of assessed value. The adopted $6,173,460.62 budget is 5.82 percent lower than this year’s financial plan. The new fiscal year begins on June 1.

The board members cited numerous contingencies — the declining revenues of the , upcoming negotiations with the and the uncertainty behind Nassau County’s deal to take over the — that may require the village to dig into its about $6.9 million bank account.

 “The motivations are altruistic, emotional or political — they’re not financial,” Trustee Michael Fragin said about Oliner’s proposal to lower the tax rate. “We’re staring at the face of great uncertainties. There’s too much uncertainty to go ahead.”

He added, “We should be accurately predicting what we would spend.”

Although the tax rate is unchanged, many village residents will see their bills go down due to lower property assessments.

Oliner pointed to the departure of six village employees who will not be replaced as a savings of half a million dollars as a sign the village is committed to saving money. Still, the village will have to pay more in 2011-12 for retirements.

A declining club

The village has put in approximately $2 million in the country club in the last couple of years. At one point, Lawrence had about $11 million in its bank account. The club has not brought in a profit since 2007, according to Village Administrator David Smollet.

“We are going to be moving personnel and cutting back on overtime completely,” Oliner said. “The golf course poses a significant challenge to us. If it were non-municipal, it wouldn’t exist. We can only subsidize it to a point without putting a burden on our taxpayers. We haven’t even begun to resolve it.”

Oliner added that employees who work a full year at the club would only work nine months in the private sector.

Recently, the club has introduced a in a bid to boost membership, and the village approved to its facilities a few months ago.

Rochelle Kevelson, head of the Lawrence Association, questioned whether the village should remain in the country club business.

“The community has changed, and a tremendous amount of people are not interested in golfing, yachting or socialization,” she said. “The time has passed for it.”

The board of trustees also had the chance to vote on a sewer fund to cover the the county has passed on to non-profits, and also an enterprise fund for the country club. Both were tabled.

Other unknowns

The five-year contract of the Lawrence-Cedarhurst Fire Department will soon come to an end, and part of the negotiations includes expanding the firehouse to make room for two new bays. It is unclear how much this will cost the two villages and the districts the department covers.

Also, it’s not certain what will happen with Nassau County’s plan to take over Lawrence and Cedarhurst’s sewage plants, as the Ed Mangano administration said it will not happen until it feels the Bay Park plant can handle the extra waste.

“Even though we have $6.9 million in the bank, I can imagine us being under $5 million given all the contingencies,” said Trustee Joel Mael. “I’m not saying we’ve wasted money. Most villages we’ve been talking to have a rate going up 7 percent. I think it’s a great argument, but I don’t think this is the right year to have a tax cut, even in a symbolic move.”

Historically, Lawrence has budgeted beyond what’s necessary, Fragin said. And although the village’s financial plan is in place, it may end up spending more or less this coming fiscal year.

“We’re living in unpredictable times now. I feel very jittery,” Trustee C. Simon Felder said. On Oliner’s proposal, Felder added, “In a year from now, if we stabilize, we should revisit. I want to stay the course.”

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