Huntington Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci has unveiled a $199.7 million tentative 2019 budget that raises taxes by 2.54 percent and eliminates some jobs in the town board's offices — a move that one councilman criticized as "a naked power grab."
The tentative budget, which is 2.8 percent up from the current $194.2 million plan, raises taxes $49 a year for the average homeowner.
While the state-mandated tax cap is 2 percent, the town was able to carry over $371,000 in savings from 2018, which combined with a tax base growth factor of $407,000, accounts for the additional 0.54 percent permissible levy growth over the tax cap, Lupinacci said.
Collective bargaining salary increase for all union employees and a 9 percent increase in medical costs account for some of the town's spending increases, he said.
Councilman Mark Cuthbertson, a Democrat, criticized the Republican supervisor for reducing the number of full-time employees in the town board offices from nine people to five people. "It’s a naked power grab," he said, meant to undermine town board members that oppose Lupinacci's policies.
Cuthbertson voted against the resolution introducing the tentative budget at the Sept. 20 meeting. Councilman Eugene Cook abstained from voting. Councilmembers Edmund Smyth, Joan Cergol and Lupinacci voted in favor of the resolution.
Lupinacci said having two staff members for each of the board members — who all work part-time — was wasteful. "If you look around and compared to other towns, even some towns have one pooled secretary for four board members. Here, we have two full-time staff members each for a part-time town board member," he said. "So it has nothing to do with a power grab at all. It's just looking at where we need efficiencies to save the taxpayers money."
Cuthbertson also criticized Lupinacci for creating the budget without input from the board members.
"We were shut out of the formulation process as well," Cuthbertson said, adding that board members under previous administrationsusually attended town department budget presentations.
Lupinacci said it's the supervisor's role to create the budget, and there is still time for town board and public input. "That's the supervisor's responsibility, to present a tentative budget to the town board and the town clerk by September 30 and now they'll go through it line by line," he said. The board members "can meet with department heads, the comptroller's office, ask me questions, ask my staff questions."
Lupinacci said department heads this year will give short presentations of their budgetary requests in public, either at the public hearing on his budget or at a separate meeting.
The town board must hold a public hearing by Nov. 8 and pass a budget by Nov. 20.