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Head of the Harbor adopts village budget exceeding state tax cap

The village's mayor said the 6.02 percent increase was needed to meet higher charges for fire and emergency services provided to the village on a contract basis.

Head of the Harbor trustees Wednesday voted 5-0 to override the New York State tax cap and adopt a 6.02 percent property tax levy increase.

Trustees said the increase was driven by surging fire protection costs charged by the St. James Fire District.

The $2.2 million budget relies on a property tax rate of $25.90 per $100 of assessed value, up from $24.43.

In a letter to village residents, Mayor Douglas Dahlgard had said the increase is needed to meet higher charges from the St. James Fire District, which provides fire and emergency services to the village on a contractual basis. Fire district officials told their village counterparts earlier this year that the village “was not paying its fair share of the cost of emergency and fire services,” Dahlgard wrote.

The village is not part of the fire district. The cost of fire protection under the village’s proposed tentative budget would rise from $319,325 annually to at least $399,156. That amount could increase in 2021, Dahlgard wrote.

Nevertheless, he wrote, “the Village financial position is sound,” adding that the proposed tax increase would be the first in years to exceed the tax cap.

At the Wednesday night meeting, Bruce Meyer, one of about 40 residents who attended, said: “I’ve always felt we’ve overpaid” for fire protection from the fire district. “We should be breaking away from them.”

The roughly $80,000 increase in fire coverage will cost each village household about $152 annually, Dahlgard said.

The village’s three-year contract with the fire district expires at the end of the year. Trustees have scheduled a Jan. 16 hearing on a one-year contract to cover the village in 2019.

Trustees said they will use that year to explore other coverage options, including a possible solution through the Town of Smithtown, though they did not provide details.

One option they appeared to have already ruled out is joining the fire district, which they said would cost the typical village household $644 per year more than it already pays for coverage.

Trustees said they had already asked the Nissequogue and Stony Brook departments for coverage proposals this year but got no responses.

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