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Huntington council members criticize budget hearing date

Huntington Town supervisor Chad Lupinacci is shown in

Huntington Town supervisor Chad Lupinacci is shown in this photo taken in Huntington Station on Nov. 24, 2018. Credit: Danielle Silverman

The Huntington Town Board set a public hearing next month on its proposed $205.7 million budget over the objections of two board members who are critical that the hearing will be after Election Day.

The proposed 2020 plan calls for raising property taxes 2.28%, which translates to about a $38.14 increase for residents who live within the general fund, part town , refuse and highway districts. The proposed operating budget is a 2.84% increase over the current $200 million budget. 

The proposed capital budget is $22.6 million.

A public hearing on both spending plans was scheduled for Nov. 6. Board members Mark Cuthbertson and Joan Cergol, the two Democrats on the board, both voted no at a meeting Wednesday because the hearing will be after the Nov. 5 general election.

Cergol and Independence Party member Gene Cook are up for re-election.

Cuthbertson said the public should know that late-year personnel changes are not accounted for in the proposed budget and that fund balances — which are reserves — are being taken from ambulance districts to pay for patronage positions, a move that could impact the town’s credit rating. He also said that a long talked about animal shelter is not in the capital budget.

Lupinacci said the town's AAA bond rating was just renewed, and the town's reserves are healthy.

Cuthbertson offered an amendment to hold the budget hearing on Oct. 30, but it failed, receiving support only from Cergol. 

"Since the '80s, budget hearings have always been held in October to give residents the opportunity to learn about the budget and voice their opinion before Election Day," Cuthbertson said. 

Town Clerk Jo Ann Raia said she recalls budget hearings before Election Day since the 1980s.

"I'm disappointed my colleagues did not see the merit of sharing the town's budget and financial plan for 2020 before Election Day that would have made them better informed voters," Cergol said. 

Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci said he believes giving residents an additional week and a half to consider the budget before a hearing makes the process more transparent.

"So Nov. 6 is the date of  the public hearing where we'll get input from the public," he said. "Department heads from the major departments will give an overview and a brief statement on the various goals and the money they will be spending and the revenue they will be receiving."

Lupinacci said town officials appropriated $725,000 in fund balance from various funds to keep the tax increase within the state-mandated cap.

The challenges in creating the budget included revenue forecasting, staying under the tax cap and making sure no vital services were cut, he said.

Lupinacci said among the things he's particularly proud of in the budget are the continued revitalization of Huntington Station and making significant improvements to the infrastructure at waterfront facilities. 

“I believe the biggest achievement is continuing to maintain our AAA credit rating and providing existing levels of service to all residents," he said.


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