Long Beach mulls another tax increase

Long Beach City Hall is on Park Avenue.

Long Beach City Hall is on Park Avenue. The police station and fire department are attached to the building. (June 21, 2011) (Credit: T.C. McCarthy)

Long Beach will consider a midyear tax increase, hoping the move will send a message to the State Senate that the city needs deficit financing assistance.

The city council approved a 7.9 percent tax hike in May in anticipation of deficit financing, which would allow the city to borrow money to pay down its $10.25 million deficit over 10 years at a low interest rate.

But the State Senate, which must approve deficit financing requests, shot down the plea in June.

As a result, said City Manager Jack Schnirman, the city is now considering an additional 6.6 percent tax increase that would allow it to pay down the deficit over three years. He said the city will pull back on the tax increase if the Senate -- which reconvenes in January -- approves deficit financing.

"We're hoping the Senate will see this burden is just too much," said Len Torres, the city council's president, who supports the move. "We've done just about as much as we can do."

Long Beach officials have called on Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), who represents the city in Albany, to advocate for deficit financing. But Skelos opposes the idea.

"We continue to believe that every level of government should be balancing its budget by reducing spending, not by raising taxes or taking on additional debt," said Skelos spokesman Scott Reif, adding that the Senate approved legislation allowing Long Beach to spread out its early retirement costs.

John C. McLaughlin, a Long Beach city council member, said the midyear tax increase is not the best answer to the city's fiscal woes. The city should instead consider cost-cutting, he said. "It seems like it's being laid completely on the taxpayer," said McLaughlin, a Republican. "It seems like government isn't doing its share."

The city's request for deficit financing passed the State Assembly, 134-6, earlier this year. More than 40 New York municipalities -- including counties, cities, and school districts -- have been granted deficit financing since 1994, state records show.

Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach) and other Long Beach Democrats have said it appears Republicans opposed the bailout of Long Beach, a Democrat-controlled city, because Democrats in the Assembly opposed a measure to aid Republican-led Nassau County.

"We're going to give the State Senate every opportunity to act," Schnirman said.

The tax increase approved in May boosted annual city taxes for an average homeowner from $2,475 to $2,694. The figure would jump to $2,877 if the city approves the proposed tax increase Wednesday night.

Of the original 7.9 percent tax increase, 2.6 percent was a general fund tax hike and 5.3 percent was a 10-year special tax to pay down the deficit over 10 years.

The proposed 6.6 percent tax increase is a three-year special tax designed to pay down the deficit over three years.

Wednesday night's meeting begins at 7 at City Hall.

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