Freeport mayor calls for 9 percent tax hike
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Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick has proposed a 9 percent tax increase for village residents, prompting criticism from village trustees who have vowed to fight the mayor's spending plan.
The proposed tax increase comes as part of Hardwick's tentative $70.4-million budget for the coming fiscal year. The village board, made up of Hardwick and four trustees, must approve a budget by Feb. 1.
Hardwick wrote in his budget proposal, which he presented to the board members on Monday, that rising pension and health care expenses, as well as costs incurred because of superstorm Sandy, necessitate the tax increase.
"The residents of the village deserve a zero increase budget, but to deliver such a budget would be irresponsible and against my oath of office that I took when I was sworn in as mayor," Hardwick wrote.
But Hardwick does not appear to have the three votes needed to pass the budget proposal, as at least three of the four trustees have said they will not approve it as it stands.
Board member Jorge Martinez said the trustees will spend the next few weeks meeting with department heads to search for potential budget cuts to lower the tax hike.
The trustees voted on Monday to exceed the state's 2 percent tax cap, because some tax increase is needed, Martinez said. However, the 9 percent increase is too much for residents who are struggling with costly Sandy repairs, he said.
"There's no way you can have a 9 percent increase," Martinez said. "I just find it irresponsible."
Hardwick's budget proposal, which increases spending by 8.8 percent, would increase taxes by about $316, to about $3,834, for the owner of an average single-family home in Freeport. The tax rate would rise 9 percent, to $64.76 per $100 of assessed valuation.
The total tax levy would increase 6.98 percent, to $44.2 million.
Residents are counting on the trustees to scale back the tax increase, said Peggy Lester, who lives in Freeport.
"I'm confident that they're not going to let that go," she said. "That's totally unacceptable."
The trustees' next scheduled meeting, when they could amend or approve the budget, is Jan. 28.