Towns scramble to act on budgets

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Amid potentially conflicting pressures to adhere to a state tax cap and clean up debris left from superstorm Sandy, a half-dozen Long Island towns scrambled Tuesday to beat the deadline for passing their 2013 budgets.

North Hempstead, Smithtown, Southampton and Southold approved their spending packages hours close to the state's midnight deadline.

Brookhaven and Riverhead opted not to vote on their budgets.

Budgets already were passed in Babylon, East Hampton, Hempstead, Huntington, Islip, Oyster Bay and Shelter Island.

Across the Island, town officials said they dipped into reserve funds to avoid exceeding the state's cap on tax levy increases. But those surplus funds also were tapped in recent weeks to pay millions of dollars in storm cleanup costs.

Brookhaven

Despite passing a nonbinding resolution opposing the $247 million budget drafted by former Supervisor Mark Lesko -- which called for trimming 149 jobs and cutting popular services -- the town board Tuesday night did not vote to enact a 2013 spending plan.

Under state law, a version of the budget including amendments approved by the town council will take effect by default. The budget freezes taxes, but about 140 jobs were cut.

"I think the cuts were too severe and the public was commenting that they support these services that we provide and we should have found the funds to do that," Republican acting Supervisor Kathy Walsh said after the meeting. Walsh normally votes with the two Democrats on the board.

"The budget is not perfect," said Republican Councilman Dan Panico.

As the meeting drew to a close, Conservative Councilwoman Jane Bonner asked whether the board would take a vote. "The public deserves to know how we feel about the budget," she said, to applause from several hundred residents.

The panel took what is called a "sense resolution," in which all six members voted to express opposition to the budget.

Asked why the board did not take a vote on the budget, Panico said, "There was a foregone conclusion that no one on the board wholeheartedly supported the budget."

North Hempstead

North Hempstead approved its budget at about 11:15 p.m. Tuesday night. The vote was 4 to 3.

Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman, and councilpeople Dina De Giorgio and Angelo Ferrara voted no to the budget, which pierced the state tax cap.

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Smithtown

The town board unanimously passed a $103 million budget that raises taxes about $47 on the average home.

The final budget includes almost $400,000 in raises for town workers, which are offset by savings in other areas of the budget, Supervisor Patrick Vecchio said. He said he used a quarter of the town's $28 million surplus to avoid exceeding the tax cap.

Southampton

Voting unanimously, the town board approved a $82.4 million budget and added two people to the town police force.

Town officials said the fact overall town assessments went down might mean a slight increase in tax rates next year.

Riverhead

After passing two resolutions calling for minor changes in Supervisor Sean Walter's proposed $45 million budget, the Riverhead Town Board took no further action, allowing the spending plan to go into effect next year.

Southold

The Southold Town Board voted unanimously to adopt Supervisor Scott Russell's proposed $41 million budget and a $2.9 million capital budget.

With Deon J. Hampton, Mitchell Freedman, Jennifer Barrios and Scott Eidler

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