Hempstead Town Supervisor Anthony J. Santino has presented his second budget as Chief Executive of America’s largest township, continuing his rehabilitation of the municipality’s finances by cutting costs, reducing staffing levels, holding managers accountable and slashing the 2018 budget in a manner that demonstrates the highest level of respect for taxpayers. What’s more, Santino is “walking the walk” in his 2018 balanced budget by cutting the Supervisor’s own office budget, as well as his office’s payroll. Moreover, the 2018 operational budget proposed by the Supervisor on September 29th comprises a $3.7 million or .88% spending cut in comparison to the town’s 2017 financial document.
“There is a wise adage that cautions, ‘don’t ask anybody else to do something you wouldn’t do yourself,’” said Santino. “I fully embrace this philosophy in my approach to budgeting, and that is why I have cut my own office’s payroll by almost 6% at the same time as I’ve cut overall spending in the town’s 2018 operational budget by $3.7 million.”
Where Your Tax Dollars Go
In detailing his 2018 budget, Santino described Hempstead Town government as the best value for the tax dollar. In fact, the township provides the lion’s share of local services, excepting public education and police protection, while constituting only 9₵of every property tax dollar for homeowners. Those who live in incorporated villages pay just over 2₵of their tax dollar to Hempstead. The following chart details the allocation of resident’s property tax dollar:
What Are You Getting for Your Tax Dollar?
Programs, services and facilities under the town’s jurisdiction include several beaches, pools, parks, two golf courses, four public marinas, nature preserves, a colonial-era museum, a camp for children with special needs, a senior enrichment department that services 191,000 mature residents, a water department, a highway department that maintains 1,200 miles of roadway, a sanitation department, a bay constables division, public safety offices, a bustling building department and a Town Clerk’s Office which handles a host of licensing duties and maintains public records.
Cutting Costs, Reducing the Workforce, Declaring War on Overtime
Santino’s 2018 budget endeavors to run government more like a business, focusing on the “bottom line,” cutting costs, making the workforce leaner and more efficient and declaring war on runaway overtime costs.
Indeed, Santino is credited with reforming the 2016 budget that he inherited from the previous administration upon taking office as Supervisor. The Supervisor transformed a budgeted 2016 operational deficit of $23.5 million into a $5 million operational surplus by implementing aggressive cost control measures. Slashing discretionary spending by 24% and cutting actual overtime costs by 56% in 2016 versus 2015 (excludes premium pay) were part of Santino’s fiscal reform agenda in 2016.
Crafting his inaugural budget as Supervisor in 2017, Santino produced the first structurally balanced spending plan (budgeted revenues were equal to expenses) in over 25 years. The spending plan had no reliance on “one-shot” revenues or other fiscal gimmicks. The effort caught the attention of Wall Street credit analysts. In March of this year, the town earned its third consecutive upgrade in its financial outlook from independent and non-partisan credit raters. Wall Street credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s observed “…the town has begun to restore fiscal stability and to work toward stabilizing its financial position and improving and restoring reserve levels.” The rating agency went on to note if the town continued to maintain structural budget balance, it could earn a credit rating upgrade.
The Supervisor’s 2018 budget continues his trend of reducing salary costs and shrinking the workforce. In fact, the town’s administration is on track to slash salary costs by $14.6 million in 2017 compared to the 2016 budgeted amount. And, Santino’s 2018 spending plan will further trim salary costs by $200,000 below the 2017 total of $162.5 million. A key component of keeping a tight rein on salary costs lays in “rightsizing” the workforce. In 2018, the Supervisor will cut the number of full-time positions for the second consecutive year. The 44 person workforce reduction in his 2018 proposal represents a 2.3% cut compared to the 2017 figure. The following chart illustrates a 4% reduction in staffing levels of just two years ago:
The Supervisor has dubbed overtime costs “public enemy number one” during his tenure as the town’s top administrator. At the end of 2015, prior to Santino becoming Supervisor, total overtime costs amounted to $5.5 million. At the end of 2017, overtime costs will be constrained to $3 million. The Supervisor will again hold overtime costs to $3 million in 2018.
“In brief, I cut spending in the 2016 budget, which I inherited; I slashed the 2017 budget by $14 million below the 2016 amount; and my 2018 budget represents a further $3.7 million reduction from the 2017 spending plan,” said Santino. “Residents have called for accountable budgeting, and I have received their message.”
The Bottom Line—Cutting the Budget Again,
Maintaining Structural Balance
Santino’s proposed 2018 budget cuts $3.7 million or .88% from the 2017 amount, producing a sound and sensible $418.6 million spending plan. Expenses in the budget are reduced over 2017 figures in the areas of pension and workers compensation costs, as well as personnel costs.
“This 2018 budget proposal continues my commitment to ‘doing more with less,’” stated the Supervisor. “Cutting overtime, trimming the workforce, reducing payroll and holding managers accountable is ‘part and parcel’ of delivering high-quality government services at the lowest possible cost.”
State Comptroller Recognizes Santino’s Reform
At the same time as Santino was preparing his 2018 budget proposal, Hempstead Town’s dramatic financial turnaround caught the attention of budget watchers, including New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. In a just-released “fiscal stress” report by New York State’s “fiscal watchdog,” Hempstead Town’s level of “fiscal stress” has dropped from 62.5% in 2015, the year prior to Santino becoming Supervisor, to 28.3% in 2016, the end of his first year at the helm of town government. The 55% improvement removes the township from the state’s designation list of municipalities with “moderate fiscal stress” and places it in the most favorable “fiscal stress” category available, which is entitled “no designation.” The report is a key indicator of the fiscal stability of local governments.
Quality of Life in Hempstead
While Hempstead Town is achieving impressive financial and budgetary success, the town is also partnering with the private sector on life-enhancing initiatives. The partnerships are minimizing the fiscal impacts felt by taxpayers. This summer, 25 free sunscreen dispensers were placed at local pools and beaches in an effort to combat skin cancer. The full cost of the initiative was underwritten by South Nassau’s Communities Hospital. Also this summer, a spectator’s life was saved at a local sporting event thanks to one of 50 new Automatic External Defibrillators that the town acquired through the generosity of Mercy Medical Center and St. Francis Hospital. Enhancing literacy, the town is partnering with local libraries, placing “little library boxes” at area parks and pools.
Come See Our 9/11 Memorial Park
This year, Hempstead Town unveiled a stunning 9/11 Memorial Park at Town Park Point Lookout. “While budgets help fund our work in government, projects like the 9/11 Memorial Park serve as sentinels of our values and priorities,” said Santino. “I encourage neighbors to visit the site with friends and family.”
“Walking the Walk” For Our Taxpayers
“A lot of government officials ‘talk the talk,’ but in Hempstead Town my administration is ‘walking the walk’ with a structurally balanced 2018 budget proposal that continues to cut spending, reduces payroll costs, cuts discretionary spending, shrinks the town’s workforce and drastically curtails overtime costs,” concluded Santino. “Perhaps the most personally rewarding feature of this budget, however, is that it includes cuts to the Supervisor’s Office budget and the Supervisor’s Office payroll because ‘leading by example’ is the only way that I know how to govern.”