Tax hikes in 10 budget plans

Brookhaven's proposed budget holds the line on taxes,

Brookhaven's proposed budget holds the line on taxes, but only after cuts such as the closure of the Holtsville complex and scores of layoffs. (July 24, 2006) (Credit: Newsday/David L. Pokress))

Long Island's 13 town supervisors have submitted budget proposals for 2013. In the second year of the state's 2 percent tax cap, only Islip's proposed tax increase would exceed the cap. Many towns are staying within the cap because of allowable expenses such as increases in pension contributions and because they received credit for coming in under the cap in their 2012 budgets.

Ten of the 13 supervisors are proposing an increase in taxes with only Hempstead pitching a decrease. In Brookhaven and Southampton, taxes would remain flat.

Each town must hold at least one public hearing on its budget and the town boards must vote on the proposals by Nov. 20.

Here is a summary of the proposals:

 

BABYLON

Budget: 6 percent decrease

Taxes: 1.7 percent increase

The $128.6 million proposed budget represents a reduction in spending of $8.6 million, or 6 percent. The budget increases general fund expenses by 2.8 percent, part-town fund expenses by 5.8 percent and street lighting by 1.4 percent. The budget decreases expenses for the commercial fund by 1.6 percent, the highway fund by 2 percent and the residential garbage fund by 27.3 percent.

Overall, residents will see a 1.7 percent increase in their town taxes.

In the three villages, for the average home in assessed at $3,580, residents will see a general fund tax increase of $35, bringing their total town tax bill to $732. For those outside the villages, the average home assessed at $3,385 will have a $33 general fund tax increase, a $21 increase in the part town fund and an $8 increase in the street lighting fund, resulting in an overall tax increase of $62 and a total town tax bill of $1,094.

The town said decreased mortgage taxes and increased pension and health care costs drove the tax increase. This was somewhat offset by a $235,000 savings from not filling vacant administrative positions, officials said. No programs or services were cut in the proposed budget.

A public hearing on the budget has been set for Nov. 8 at 3:30 p.m. at Town Hall in Lindenhurst.

 

BROOKHAVEN

Budget: 5.3 percent decrease

Taxes: No change

Brookhaven's proposed $247 million budget would hold the line on taxes, but only after scores of layoffs, the closure of the Holtsville complex, and the elimination of what former Supervisor Mark Lesko deemed "noncore services."

Lesko, who prepared the budget before resigning in mid-September, proposed to cut nearly 150 positions, mostly part-time jobs. He also proposed eliminating the town's park rangers and services such as respite care and adult day care. Some women's, youth and veterans programs that are similar to county and federal programs would be cut back.

Lesko's proposed budget, which stays within the state tax cap, uses $6.1 million from the town's surplus for contractually mandated employee costs in 2014 and 2015, plus another $6 million to balance the 2013 budget.

The budget would freeze taxes for the fourth consecutive year, and because of minimal snow removal costs last winter, the average family's tax bill would decline.

The estimated town tax bill for an average single family homeowner would be about $997.27, compared with about $1,034.65 in the current year.

A public hearing will take place Nov. 8 at 5 p.m. at Town Hall in Farmingville.

 

EAST HAMPTON

Budget: 5 percent increase

Taxes: 4.6 percent increase (1.7 percent decrease for East Hampton Village residents)

Supervisor William J. Wilkinson is proposing a $69,037,067 budget, 5 percent higher than the current $65,731,372.

The budget does not exceed the state 2 percent tax cap, mainly because East Hampton saw a 1.7 percent drop in its 2012 tax levy, and $716,000 of that decrease became a credit against the cap for 2013.

The biggest single change in the proposed budget is in scavenger waste, going from $105,800 this year to $836,950 in 2013, an increase of nearly 700 percent.

The town's small, antiquated scavenger waste treatment plant was closed this year after the town was warned by the state Department of Environmental Conservation that it no longer met discharge standards; it is now being used on a temporary basis as a holding facility. It allows cesspool waste haulers to avoid making trips to treatment plants in Riverhead or Babylon every time their trucks are full.

The town board is debating whether to close the plant or turn it over to a private operator, which likely would mean expanding the plant and taking in sewage from other towns to make it cost-effective.

Wilkinson noted the budget is still lower than the $71,719,430 in place when he took office three years ago.

A public hearing has not been set.

 

HEMPSTEAD

Budget: 1.1 percent increase

Taxes: 0.9 percent decrease

The $419.4 million budget would reduce town taxes by about $7 for the average homeowner.

The proposal would grow the budget by 1.1 percent, from $414.8 million. The tax levy would fall to $262.2 million, which would keep the town below the state's 2 percent tax cap.

The budget proposal would lower the town tax bill to about $828 annually for the owner of an average home with an assessed valuation of $870, comptroller Kevin Conroy said.

The budget reduces the town's debt service for the fourth consecutive year, and debt service has fallen nearly 15 percent since 2010, Supervisor Kate Murray said. The budget also includes a $50 million capital spending plan, Murray said in a statement.

The town's workforce would remain at 1,996 employees, spokesman Mike Deery said.

Public hearings will be held Oct. 16 at 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

 

HUNTINGTON

Budget: 4.4 percent increase

Taxes: 0.8 percent increase

Supervisor Frank Petrone's preliminary $181.7 million operating budget includes a 0.83 percent increase in total taxes, which includes the four taxing funds -- general, highway, consolidated refuse and part town. The 2013 spending plan calls for possible layoffs and hikes in bus fares, parking and refuse fees to plug a projected $8 million gap.

A property owner with a home assessed at $4,100 would see taxes increase by about $19, if Petrone's budget is approved.

Petrone said he is comfortable with the budget considering the minimal increase in taxes to the average taxpayer and added that he is in talks with the Civil Service Employees Association union to avoid 15 possible layoffs.

A hearing will be held Oct. 16 at 6 p.m. at Town Hall.

 

ISLIP

Budget: 1 percent decrease

Taxes: 65 percent increase

Facing a $26 million deficit that town officials blame on a delayed $8 million pension payment and a year-by-year drawdown of Islip's general fund, freshman Republican Supervisor Tom Croci was faced with a scenario he said would call for massive layoffs and service cuts or a major tax hike. He chose the latter and pitched a 65 percent tax increase in his proposed $118.9 million budget.

"The time for half measures is over," Croci said last week. To slash spending, Croci dissolved the town's human services department this spring, including 47 layoffs for a total savings of about $1.5 million in 2013. He also cut funding to the Islip Arts Council by more than half.

And after instructing all department heads this year to zero-base their budgets for a savings of $3 million, Croci said further cuts would severely impair services and force the closure of town-run parks, pools and beaches.

The budget proposal includes a hike in the residential tax rate from 86.6 cents per $100 of evaluation to $1.429 annually. An owner of a house valued at $400,000 would pay about $536 annually, $225 more than the current $311, according to town calculations.

Croci said that, in 2012, town taxes were 0.9 percent lower than they were in 1984.

A public hearing is scheduled for Nov. 8 at 10:30 a.m. at Town Hall.

 

NORTH HEMPSTEAD

Budget: 4.6 percent increase

Taxes: 2.4 percent increase

North Hempstead has proposed a $122,775,739 budget, which represents a 4.6 percent increase in spending over the current year.

The town will raise the tax levy by 2.4 percent, from $68,257,068 to $69,924,089.

Supervisor Jon Kaiman said the town is expected to stay within the state tax cap.

The owner of an average home valued at $458,400 and assessed at $1,146 will pay an additional $11.11 -- from $177.33 in 2012 to $188.44 in 2013 -- to the general fund, an increase of 6.3 percent. Residents in unincorporated communities, said Kaiman, will pay on average $3.59 less to an out-of-town fund.

Kaiman said no layoffs are planned, but to defray costs the town has not filled as many as a dozen vacant positions.

"If the economy comes back, our intention is to fill them when we can," he said.

To reduce the tax burden, he said, the town will not dip into its reserve funds but has reduced programming costs by about $100,000. Also, effective next year, employees will contribute more toward their medical benefits.

 

OYSTER BAY

Budget: 1 percent increase

Taxes: 3.8 percent increase

The preliminary budget increases spending by about 1 percent to $265,190,651 from this year's $262,464,593. The town tax rate will rise about 3.8 percent after not increasing last year.

Last year, the town's budget increased 7.6 percent.

The tax levy will total $181,358,431, up 3.81 percent from last year. But the town would not exceed the 2 percent state tax cap because of credit allowed for not exceeding the cap last year and exclusions such as increased pension contributions.

The budget includes layoffs of 150 to 200 employees to respond to a $13 million budget shortfall and rising health and retirement costs. The proposed layoffs would be on top of the 89 workers who took buyouts this year. The town's workforce is about 1,260. The town says services would not be reduced.

The budget includes a reduction of $10 million in salary and benefit costs from anticipated layoffs in addition to the $10 million savings from the buyouts this year.

There would no increase in cash reserves even though a drop in cash reserves from $20.3 million in 2005 to less than $1 million last year was one of the reasons Standard & Poor's lowered the town's bond rating in June by three steps to A.

Public hearings will be held Oct. 16 at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

 

RIVERHEAD

Budget: 2.9 percent increase

Taxes: 2.9 percent increase

The $88,931,925 budget does not exceed the state's tax cap limit because of exclusions for such items as increases in mandated payments to the state retirement fund.

The town tax levy increases from the current $37,832,301 for townwide services to $38,945,400. Residents will see their household garbage collection bill drop from $356 to $270, and the refuse and garbage levy -- a separate budget item -- drops 46.9 percent, from $5,293,100 to $2,812,400, which reflects a refinancing of the town landfill debt.

To retire that debt, the town will spend about $4 million a year through 2022, when the payments dramatically shrink to less than $1 million. "Whoever runs for supervisor in 2023 will be in really good shape," Supervisor Sean Walter said.

Riverhead had to budget an additional $700,000 for health insurance costs in 2013 and another $700,000 extra for state retirement fund payments, with each of those expenditures going from less than $5.5 million to more than $6 million.

A public hearing is set for Nov. 7 at 2:05 p.m. at Town Hall.

 

SHELTER ISLAND

Budget: 9.6 percent increase

Taxes: 1.8 percent increase

Supervisor James Dougherty has proposed a general fund budget of just more than $8 million, which calls for a tax increase of 1.8 percent. The current general fund budget is $7.3 million.

Dougherty said he expects several budget figures to change substantially as the town board reviews the proposed spending plan before it is formally adopted. He said several of the numbers in his budget were "placeholders."

No public hearing has been set.

 

SMITHTOWN

Budget: 2.4 percent increase

Taxes: 3.5 percent increase

After raising taxes less than 1 percent this year, Supervisor Patrick Vecchio said he had little choice but to propose a much larger tax hike for 2013.

His proposed $103 million budget includes almost $2 million worth of mandatory cost increases, including $1 million more in contributions to the state pension fund and $800,000 more for hospitalization insurance. No programs would be cut, and staffing would not be curtailed, Vecchio said.

The proposed budget includes a $54.4 million tax levy that falls $344,000 short of the maximum allowed under the state tax cap law.

Vecchio said that does not exceed the tax cap because of exclusions allowed under the cap law, such as growth of the town tax base. To avoid exceeding the cap, Vecchio wants to take $7.3 million from the town's surplus.

Vecchio said the town benefitted from mild weather last winter, because highway crews did not spread as much salt and sand on town roads. As a result, taxes for snow removal would be cut by $10.36 for the average household, Vecchio said.

A public hearing will be held Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. at the town senior citizens center.

 

SOUTHAMPTON

Budget: 3 percent increase

Taxes: No change

Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst's $82.7 tentative budget has a flat tax rate, which she attributed to an uptick in revenue over the past year and a smaller staff than a year ago.

The tax levy of $56.9 million is the same as last year.

A larger amount collected in permit fees helped balance the budget, as did higher-than-anticipated mortgage tax revenue, one of the major funding sources for towns that has been much lower during the past few years.

About $1.5 million will be used from the town's fund balance, which will still remain at 10 percent of operating costs. The town recently voted to boost that fund balance ratio, from 10 percent to 20 percent of the total operating budget.

About $1.75 million in savings was realized from the 2012 budget in staff salaries alone, Throne-Holst said, but that amount is offset by an additional $1 million in mandated pension and health costs, even with a smaller staff.

A public hearing will be held Oct. 23 at 6 p.m. at Town Hall. Others will follow as needed.

 

SOUTHOLD

Budget: 2.4 percent increase

Taxes: 1.6 percent increase

Supervisor Scott Russell's proposed budget of $40,976,029 is a 2.4 percent spending increase over this year's budget, but stays within the 2 percent state tax cap.

The tax levy would increase from $29,668,283 to $30,132,394, a 1.56 percent increase.

The tax rate, used to calculate individual tax costs for homeowners, will rise an average of 1.98 percent.

Revenue is still declining, about 2 percent less than last year, but Russell said the town is still adhering to a "pay as you go" model that it has used since he became supervisor.

The model also keeps the fund balance at a minimum of 10 percent of the general fund operating budget as a formula, under town law.

According to the tentative budget, employee benefits -- including health care and pension costs -- is estimated to rise 6 percent from this year to 2013.

"At least one percent is attributable to pension costs," Russell said, referring to police and employee state pensions.

An informational "town hall" type meeting will be held Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. at the Peconic Community Center and a public hearing will be held Nov. 7.

--Compiled by Stacey Altherr, Bill Bleyer, Denise M. Bonilla, Sophia Chang, Scott Eidler, Mitchell Freedman, Nicole Fuller, Carl MacGowan, Deborah S. Morris and Patrick Whittle.

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