Brookhaven officials said rec centers will stay closed for at...

Brookhaven officials said rec centers will stay closed for at least the first three months of 2021. Credit: James Carbone

Brookhaven Town plans to leave more than 50 vacant staff positions unfilled and keep recreation centers closed for at least three months next year as it deals with the economic ramifications of the coronavirus.

Town officials released a $307.1 million proposed budget for next year that would raise town property taxes by about 1.56%, but would leave essential services intact despite an estimated $13.9 million in revenue losses officials blamed on the pandemic.

"Every year we say this is a difficult budget, but this year it is a very difficult budget," Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine told reporters last Thursday as he outlined the spending plan. "We had to plan for 2021 not knowing if coronavirus is going to be with us. … We did the best we can."

Town parks will not be closed, and officials said they plan to open beaches next summer and resume programs such as sports leagues and summer camps that were canceled because of the pandemic.

But some town recreation centers that were shuttered earlier this year because of the virus will remain closed at least through the first three months of next year, they said.

Town staffing will be cut by about 6% — from 867 at the beginning of this year to 815 next year. Most of those jobs were eliminated this summer when dozens of town employees accepted voluntary buyouts to cut costs.

A public hearing on the budget will be held on Nov. 5, with a town board vote scheduled for Nov. 19.

If enacted, the budget would raise taxes on the average home by $8.93, from about $570 to $579, town officials said. The 1.56% tax hike matches the increase allowed by the state tax levy cap.

In addition to the tax hike, town residents will pay $15 more — $365 next year from $350 this year — for curbside trash and recyclables pickup. The fee was raised to help cover increased trash collection costs as the amount of curbside waste pickup climbed about 12%.

"I’m sure everybody cleaned up their basement, their attic and everything else" while homebound this year, Romaine said.

Romaine said the virus and its impact on the local economy had a "huge impact on the budget." The slowed economy affected home renovations, resulting in significant losses of revenue, such as building permit fees, he said.

But mortgage tax receipts, after initially taking a nose-dive in March and April, rebounded as home sales skyrocketed in recent months, officials said.

"It’s one of the very few bright spots we’ve had in 2020," Romaine said.

Officials plan to increase contributions to town ambulance districts by 3% to help them cover coronavirus-related costs. The town also will add $1 million to a fund to prepare for the 2024 closure of the town landfill.

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