Freeport drops tax hike down to 5%
Freeport Village has scaled back its tax increase for the coming year from 9 percent to less than 5 percent.
The four trustees and Mayor Andrew Hardwick made the decision during a contentious five-hour-plus budget hearing that ended at 1 a.m. Tuesday. The 4.84 percent tax increase is part of the village's $69.2 million budget for 2013-14.
Hardwick had proposed a $70.4 million budget with a 9 percent tax increase -- blaming, in part, superstorm Sandy's damage to the village -- but trustees and residents opposed it. The scaled-down budget passed, 4-1, with Hardwick opposed.
The village scaled back the tax hike by enacting cuts to numerous departments. But Hardwick and trustee Robert Kennedy, who is running against Hardwick for mayor, spent much of the night criticizing each other for mishandling the process.
"This election cycle, politics are being played," Hardwick said.
Trustee Jorge Martinez said the village put politics aside long enough to pass a less painful tax increase.
"We found a way to spread the pain equally," he said.
The village board -- Hardwick and the four trustees -- had to approve a budget by Feb. 1.
Hardwick's original budget proposal stated that rising pension and health care expenses, as well as costs incurred because of superstorm Sandy, necessitated the tax increase.
The trustees voted earlier this month to exceed the state tax cap, saying some increase was needed. However, the tax levy increase of 2.91 percent is within the state-mandated tax cap of 2.97 percent for Freeport, village officials said.
Hardwick's original proposal would have increased taxes by about $316, to about $3,834, for the owner of an average single-family home in Freeport. The approved budget will increase taxes by about $171, officials said.
The budget hearing drew about 200 people to Village Hall -- more than can fit in the 180-capacity meeting hall, leaving some to listen from the hallway. Several residents were ejected from the hearing by Hardwick after they spoke out of turn or quarreled with trustees.
Many residents said they felt the budget process was rushed.
"Why weren't they made back in December?" resident Charles McEneaney said of the approved budget cuts.