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Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone considers exceeding tax cap

Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone, seen on Sept.

Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone, seen on Sept. 22, 2015, is considering exceeding the state tax cap for the 2017 budget. Credit: Ed Betz

Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone is testing the idea of a 2017 budget that exceeds the state tax cap.

A public hearing to consider adopting a local law to allow an override of the state mandated tax levy limit has been scheduled for Sept. 27.

“We need to pierce the cap because we are now at 0.68 percent in what we can go up,” Petrone said. “The expenses, as much as we keep cutting back, there are expenses that are out of our control. It’s not a two percent cap; that’s a misnomer.”

The tax cap, which first applied to local governments in 2012, limits tax levy increases to the lesser of the rate of inflation or 2 percent with some exceptions for new growth in the community or significant additions to existing properties. The tax cap can be overridden by a “supermajority” vote — 60 percent — either of a governing local board or, in the case of school-district budgets, voters.

Petrone said he is working on two versions of next year’s budget — one that does not pierce the cap and one that does, which would cost homeowners from $18 to $30. The budget needs to be presented by Sept. 30.

If the town is unable to exceed the cap, there would be “drastic” consequences, Petrone said Tuesday.

“We’re looking at personnel reductions, loss of unmandated things like youth programs, Family Service League, programs of need, arts programs,” Petrone said. “Everything that makes a community would be in jeopardy because the essentials would have to continue.”

Citing the tax cap, he has already not renewed the open space bond act and noted that nothing is being done to create a parking district to build a garage in downtown Huntington to ease parking issues.

But the biggest expenses facing the town — employee health insurance and retiree health benefits — exceed the tax levy limit by nearly 300 percent, Petrone said.

“Throw a cap on our big expenses ... Take care of that and all the towns could stay within the cap,” Petrone said. “When they mandate certain things, they don’t put a cap on it or give you an exclusion like school districts.”

Shelter Island is the only Long Island town to pierce the tax cap, having done so for its current budget, according to state records.

The Huntington Town Board last year passed a $188.7 million budget that raised property taxes 1.3 percent even with a small cut in overall spending. Despite a 0.2 percent overall spending decrease, the town increased the highway budget by $1.9 million.

Officials said last year that the tax levy increase for this year’s budget would be an average of $29.16 per homeowner, depending on individual property values.

The public hearing on exceeding the cap will be at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

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