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Freeport Village OKs new budget, raises property tax

The Freeport Village Board has approved a budget for the new fiscal year that raises the property tax levy by 5.5 percent but averts job cuts for four employees.

The budget calls for $62.4 million in spending, up 3.1 percent from last year's adopted budget. The average house, assessed at $5,745, would pay $3,151 in village property taxes, according to budget documents.

The Friday vote came after heated debate at two meetings and a rally where scores of union members protested proposed layoffs.

The vote was 3-2 along party lines, with the Democratic majority - Mayor Andrew Hardwick, Deputy Mayor Robert Kennedy and Trustee Carmen Piñeyro - in favor. Trustees Jorge Martinez and William H. White Jr., Republicans, dissented.

Hardwick's budget message called the tax hike "unavoidable" and cited as justification the recession, new state pension costs and other expenses, and a decrease in the village's assessed value. He also blamed the "imprudent fiscal policies of the prior administration" for a $2.5-million to $3-million operating deficit. Hardwick succeeded Mayor William Glacken in April.

At the Friday meeting, White, who served during Glacken's tenure, said Hardwick's administration was partly responsible for the budget crunch because it spent more than the original 2009 budget called for. White cited the creation of three positions; salary raises for the mayor, trustees and some employees; and $500,000 in lawsuit settlement payments to developer Gary Melius.

White acknowledged that he voted to approve some of the raises and new positions. "The administration threatened layoffs without acknowledging that some of these fiscal issues were self-induced," he said.

Hardwick issued a statement Monday saying he was "pleased that my team voted for a budget that ends the risk of layoffs of our hardworking CSEA employees and brings fiscal stability and responsibility back to the Village of Freeport. However, I am disappointed that Trustees White and Martinez chose to make this budget a political tool and voted against it."

Village officials have said they managed to cut $3 million from the new budget, including a rollback of trustee salaries to 2008 levels and a $2,000 cut for Hardwick.

The Civil Service Employees Association and the village reached a tentative agreement on a four-year contract that freezes salaries for the first year and sets increases of 2.5 percent the next year, 3 percent in the third and fourth years.

Hardwick's budget message said the average single-family homeowner would see a tax increase of "approximately $26.66 per month," or close to $320 a year.

The tax rate is $54.86 per $100 of assessed valuation, up from $51.03 last year. Based on a home assessed at $5,745 in both years, taxes would increase by roughly $220.

The budget goes into effect March 1.

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