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Amityville trustee and budget officer spar over spending plan

Amityville Village Hall is shown on Feb. 25,

Amityville Village Hall is shown on Feb. 25, 2014. Credit: Steve Pfost

Amityville trustee Kevin Smith is calling for a property tax increase to fund infrastructure repairs and debt reduction, a proposal that fellow trustee and village budget officer Nick LaLota angrily rejected Monday.

Smith said a property tax increase of up to 5 percent is necessary to break what he called a "disaster pattern" of budget cuts that fails to address aging village buildings, roads and vehicles. "The bottom line is, you've got to pay for your services," he said. "We need to up the taxes."

The latest spending plan from LaLota, which must be finalized by Monday, calls for a $15.3 million budget with a 1.16 percent tax levy increase over the current tax rate, bringing village taxes next year to $34.55 per $100 of assessed value.

It contains hints of what LaLota Monday called "Amityville 2.0," a village government that relies on a pared-down roster of multifunctional employees, more revenue from fees, fines and grants, and less from property taxes.

LaLota accused Smith of offering rhetoric but no substantive plan and suggested that a tax increase much higher than the one he is calling for could be disastrous. "What would it do to our home values? What would it do to our quality of life?"

LaLota's budget draft calls for $500,000 to be spent on road repairs, enough for two as-yet unidentified quarter-mile sections. Smith said Monday that repairs need to be made to Park and Ketcham avenues to alleviate flooding, with additional repairs to Merrick Road, police department offices in Village Hall and village docks. A number of trucks used by the Department of Public Works also need to be replaced, he said, and the village should build up what he called a "disaster relief" fund.

He also criticized LaLota's plan to balance the budget in part by cutting extra pay for police officers working overnight shifts from $329,524 budgeted last year to $223,031, calling it a "gamble" the police union could fight.

Police spending is a longtime sore spot for Amityville trustees. LaLota, Mayor James Wandell and Deputy Mayor Jessica Bernius have repeatedly asked for pay concessions from the Police Benevolent Association, even though the union contract runs to 2018. They say concessions are necessary to the village's fiscal health and this year, for what they say was the first time in recent history, they retained a lawyer to negotiate with the police union.

Smith said that was premature and counterproductive. "Leave the police alone until it's time for the contract" to be renegotiated, he said. "Stop wasting our taxpayers' money."

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