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Town of Brookhaven residents to vote on tax cap

Brookhaven residents will vote this fall on a proposed tax cap that would prevent the town from raising its property tax rate by more than four percent per year.

Residents will also vote on proposed laws that would cap spending based on revenue and population growth and that would limit Brookhaven's ability to take on debt. The town board unanimously supported the referendums, all of which will appear on the November ballot, at Tuesday night's meeting.

Councilman Daniel Panico, who proposed the property tax cap, said the town did the right thing by giving "the electorate of the Town of Brookhaven the ability" to decide if they want the cap. Supervisor Mark Lesko, who resisted a similar measure last year, said he had a change of heart after determining that the cap would not hurt the town's bond rating.

"Anything that can help our strapped homeowners reduce their property taxes, I am wholeheartedly in favor," said councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld, adding that he expects the cap to "pass overwhelmingly."

The property tax cap applies to the townwide general fund and part-town general fund. Townwide general fund taxes totaled about $20.1 million, or less than 14 percent of town revenues, in 2010, town records state.

The property tax cap proposal is similar to a Suffolk County law. Southampton Town also has a property tax cap.

At a public hearing Tuesday night, some town union leaders said the cap was unnecessary because the town hasn't raised its general fund tax rate in more than 20 years.

Several Long Island politicians, including Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, Suffolk Legis. Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches) and former Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi, spoke Tuesday night in favor of the cap.

"What it does is it forces you to live within the budget," Romaine said.

Lesko called the town's proposed debt management policy and spending limits "the caps that are really going to install fiscal discipline in this town."

The debt management policy would require that the town not use more than 15 percent of its general fund to pay for debt. The town currently spends about 20 percent of the general fund on debt, and Lesko has said that figure is unsustainable.

The proposed spending cap would limit the annual increase in the town's general fund to "an amount not greater than the three-year average of revenue growth, plus the three-year average population growth rate," town records state.

Lesko said he intends to craft next year's town budget proposal due in early fall with the expectation that all three caps will pass in the November election.

The supervisor has trumpeted Brookhaven's need to rein in spending and debt in the face of declining town revenues, such as mortgage taxes.

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