John Venditto (R)
Having recently completed his 18th year at the helm of the Town of Oyster Bay, Supervisor John Venditto has seen the town experience rough financial times, as well as times of budgetary success. And while he said each campaign year has its own personality, there are issues that run a common thread from election to election.
“When I first became supervisor in 1998, the town was in dire financial straits. We were looking down the barrel of a $30 million deficit in the budget and as a result, the infrastructure was sorely neglected,” he said. “As time went on, we recovered and we were able to turn our sights on improving the infrastructure.”
Those improvements included the town investing hundreds of millions of dollars to “take the town out of the dark ages and into the new millennium in terms of the infrastructure,” according to Venditto. Improvements were made to roads, new parks were built, old parks were refurbished and beaches were cleaned up and made more of an asset for the town.
And in the process, according to Venditto, the quality of life in the town began to improve and it became more and more of an important issue to the public.
“The public expects the town supervisor to protect their quality of life,” he said. “There is a suburban lifestyle that my residents enjoy. That doesn’t mean we do not develop and improve, but we do so in a manner that is keeping with the characteristics of the town.”
There is a price to improving the town, however, and since he became supervisor, the town’s debt grew from around $300 million to the $700 million range. But Venditto said that for a municipality this size, a bond rating agency still characterizes the debt as moderate.
“When things go bad I get the blame and when things go well I get the credit, and I probably don’t deserve either one, but that is the job,” he said.
In protecting the quality of life, Venditto cited the nearly 20-year battle to secure the former Cerro Wire site in Syosset. Venditto said the town fought against a plan by Taubman Centers Inc. to build a massive mall on the land.
“Corporate America came to the Town of Oyster Bay and spent millions calling [the town] crooks and saying we were stuck in the mud and had no vision,” he said. “The fact is, the last thing we needed here was a giant mall. And Taubman sold the property, packed their bags and left.”
The property was sold to Simon Property Group, which Venditto said is formulating plans to develop the site in a sensible manner with mixed use housing and retail in a downtown-type of setting.
In addressing the town’s efforts to build workforce housing for the younger generation of homeowners, Venditto said the demand for home ownership among young people is not nearly as pressing as the need and demand for senior housing. However, Venditto did concede that the demand for rental apartments is growing.
“We are at a crossroads in the town now in identifying the cry for apartments and the equally vociferous cry against apartments,” he said, adding that the demand is especially high in Hicksville, with its Long Island Rail Road station. “I have been against apartments based on my experience with the town, but when there is an overriding interest of residents, I have to listen.”
And Venditto has listened to residents in terms of taxes and the high cost of living in the town. Venditto said that when he first bought his Massapequa home in 1992, the town tax was $1,100 per year. Now in 2015, it is $1,800.
“In that time, my school taxes went from $2,000 to $9,000. And the federal and state income taxes have gone up,” he said. “In terms of real dollars, the town increase is small. It does count for something, but when you figure in the services in the town, I believe it is worth it.”
In speaking about the town’s relationship to restaurateur Harendra Singh, who was indicted on a slew of federal charges, Venditto said that he can assure taxpayers that the town will not be on the hook for any more money.
“The town is not responsible to pay any more than the $2 million we fairly owe him for the renovations he made at the Town of Oyster Bay Golf Course,” he said. “Depending on the investigation, we might end up with zero liability.”
Another barb tossed Venditto’s way by his opponents is allegations that he paid outside consultants outrageous prices to take cases when he could have handled them in house. Venditto dismissed those allegations entirely.
“Time to time, issues come up that our town attorneys are not trained to deal with,” he said. “If you don’t have experience in a federal trial and you go into a federal court, good luck. That is not meant to disparage our town attorneys, but you don’t go to a cardiologist when you need brain surgery.”