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Brookhaven OKs budget that cuts staff, leaves jobs open

Brookhaven Town officials said they expect a nearly

Brookhaven Town officials said they expect a nearly $14 million revenue loss in 2021. Credit: Randee Daddona

The Brookhaven Town Board on Thursday approved a $307.1 million budget for next year that adheres to the state tax levy cap but trims staff as the town grapples with millions of dollars in lost revenues.

The spending plan hikes taxes by 1.56% for the average household and includes plans to lay off 14 employees and leave dozens of vacant staff positions unfilled to hold down costs. Brookhaven officials said staff cuts were necessary to cover an estimated $13.9 million in revenue losses next year.

Officials said they opted to limit spending instead of raising taxes further, as some Long Island municipalities plan to do. Babylon Town has approved an 8% tax increase, while Islip is raising taxes next year by 6%.

"People who we represent already are overtaxed," Brookhaven Councilman Dan Panico said on Nov. 5 during a public hearing on the budget. "The answer cannot be continually raising taxes."

The town portion of the property tax bill will go up $8.93 on the average home, officials said. Townwide garbage fees will increase next year by 4.3%, from $350 per home to $365, to help cover expected revenue losses at the town landfill and recycling facility.

The town board voted 7-0 without discussion to approve the budget without making changes. The budget includes a 3% hike for ambulance districts to cover added expenses from the coronavirus pandemic, officials said.

While most town programs and services do not face cuts, officials plan to delay opening some parks and recreational facilities until April because of social distancing guidelines prompted by the pandemic.

The layoffs, expected to save the town $1.1 million to $1.2 million, have been criticized by unions representing Brookhaven employees. Town officials announced the layoffs after unions representing white-collar, blue-collar and highway workers last week rejected a wage deferral plan offered by town officials in exchange for a no-layoff clause.

Officials blamed the pandemic for revenue shortfalls, including projected losses in state aid, interest income, and recreation, building, planning and zoning fees.

Among the state aid cuts are a 20% trim to a grant awarded to Brookhaven two years ago to encourage government consolidation efforts. The $20 million grant funds initiatives such as electronic record sharing, equipment purchases and road salt storage that the town provides to some villages, fire districts and other smaller entities.

It was not immediately clear how much money the town would lose from the cut, which will affect reimbursements for expenses the town incurs while developing consolidation efforts, Brookhaven officials said.

Town officials said parts of next year's budget, including spending and revenue, could change depending on the pandemic and efforts to rebuild the economy.

"There is risk in this budget, to some extent, because of these unknowns," Brookhaven Finance Commissioner Tamara Branson said at the Nov. 5 hearing.

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