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Lawrence Mayor Hopes to Fix Village Finances and Better Quality of Life

Mayor Martin Oliner offered two frames of mind in his first State of the Village address.

The Village of Lawrence is “not an island,” but it has a lot of work to do internally to correct errors that were made in the past, its mayor said during his first State of the Village address.

Mayor Martin Oliner offered these two thoughts while touching upon many other subjects at the last Wednesday night. In the past, village officials have stuck to issues within its boundaries, but Oliner said that has changed with his administration, and Lawrence officials now try to lobby to better the community or fix issues that affect residents, like traffic on Rockaway Turnpike.

“For me, and the board, we believe the village is not an island,” he said. “By that I mean there are things that are not in our control. We’re surrounded by a county and a community of different governing bodies. All of these groups have some affect on the village.”

Meanwhile, the mayor has also turned his attention within, trying to correct the errors of his predecessors, he said. A state audit of the village is expected to be released soon.

As one example, Oliner said, there was a backlog of some 100 open cases in the building department, which has been reduced. The board is also dealing with the lack of a labor contract, a three-year-old problem, which does not allow raises to be given to village employees.

“We’ve had a series of situations where we had people in house and elevated them, and that had a negative impact on the village,” he said. “We’ve reviewed those policies. A series of procedures that may have been arcane may have been lost. We’ve made sure those checks and balances will be put back into place.”

Trustee Michael Fragin said Oliner inherited problems from previous administrations, but “is doing a great job in taking the necessary corrective actions.”

“The village had some issues over the years,” he said. “Those people are no longer with us and we’re addressing what needs to be addressed.”

The mayor also told the audience about his effort to , which did not have the backing of the board of trustees. The board voted to keep the rate flat.

“We’re sitting on $7 million and I don’t think it’s right,” Oliner said. “I suggested a reduction because I didn’t want an increase. Every year up until the last four of five, we’ve raised taxes.”

An increasing difficulty for the village — and one of the reasons trustees were reluctant to reduce taxes — is its country club, which has been losing money for the past few years. Membership is down a quarter from where it was five years ago, Oliner said, and in response the board has imposed a cost reduction program that focuses on labor — specifically overtime.

“I expect we’re going to make important decisions on the club in the next 30 to 45 days,” he said. “Something dramatic has to happen here.”

Ron Goldman, incoming president of the Lawrence Association, said the mayor covered all the important topics in his speech. “He’s involved, knowledgeable and sincere, and that’s reflected in everything he says and does,” he said. “We have some disagreements, as in any family. In terms of whether there’s affection for that family, there’s no doubt.”

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