A public meeting on Smithtown's proposed 2014 budget turned political Thursday night after a representative for Long Island contractors said the town has recently spent the least amount of money on roads compared with other towns.
"You are at the bottom of the bottom. . . . Of all the townships, the investments in our highways in this town average out about $25 per resident," Marc Herbst, executive of the Long Island Contractors' Association Inc., told town board members. "Other towns -- the next town is twice that amount. Some towns are over $125 per resident," he said, citing figures from 2008 to 2012.
Herbst urged the board to take steps to invest in road improvements for residents' safety, adding "a lack of investment means a deterioration for the future."
To accentuate his point, Herbst brought a wheelbarrow with shards of broken asphalt to the meeting. "We'd rather not bring the road to you," he said, "but have you build roads that bring Smithtown to the future."
After the meeting, Supervisor Patrick R. Vecchio and Herbst verbally sparred before news cameras in the hallway at the town's senior center.
"When I calculate the budget the way I proposed . . . $220 per house -- average house -- is invested in road infrastructure, including curbs and sidewalks," Vecchio said. "You represent contractors. You are shilling for contractors. You want contractors to make money, so you beat up on the town. . . . I'm through with you, Marc."
As the two men separated, a shouting match ensued. Vecchio told Herbst he was playing politics in the middle of a campaign before the general election, while Herbst said Vecchio "should be a shill for the residents that you protect."
Councilman Robert Creighton and lawyer Steve Snair, who will both face Vecchio in the race for town supervisor on Nov. 5, both said they agreed with Herbst's point of investing in roads.
"We certainly need improvements in the roads. We have tried to bond some money, we should have bonded money, but the supervisor said it is not sustainable," said Creighton, referencing this year's request from Smithtown Highway Superintendent Glenn Jorgensen for a $10 million bond for road improvements.
Snair said Herbst's comments came "as no surprise to anyone who has driven to Smithtown recently. The conditions of our roads are unacceptable and if continued in this direction, it's ultimately going to become a public safety issue."
In an interview, Vecchio said the past three budgets have allocated about $8 million for road reconstruction, including curbs and sidewalks, which translates to roughly $200 per household, or about $60 per resident.
"That allocation has allowed the highway superintendent to pave 22 to 24 miles of road per year," Vecchio said.
The only resident who spoke about the budget was Democratic town council candidate Richard Macellaro, who talked about the importance of having open budget preparation meetings so community members can participate in its formation.
Vecchio said the low meeting turnout underscored the fact that "people are aware of the budget and think it's fair, honest and accurate and decreases taxes by approximately $13 per household."
Smithtown's proposed $104.4 million budget for 2014 would increase spending by 0.71 percent over this year's budget, though the average home would pay $13.12 less in overall taxes compared to this year.
The town board must vote to adopt the budget by Nov. 20, town officials said.