The Huntington Town Board on Thursday unanimously passed a $190 million budget for 2017, which included a tax-cap-busting 2.85 percent increase in the tax levy.
Overall, Huntington will spend $1.3 million more in 2017 than it did in the current year’s budget — a 0.7 percent year-over-year increase. Council members approved the spending plan 5-0.
By busting the 0.68 percent state-mandated tax cap, the town will add $18 to $31 more to residents’ tax bills.
If Huntington had stayed within the cap, the town would only have been able to increase 2017 spending by about $1 million above current levels. The 2.85 percent levy increase will bring in $3.2 million more in tax revenue.
It is “a budget that serves the town residents well by maintaining the current level of services and increasing the tax levy only by that amount required to fund federal- and state-mandated expenses,” Town Supervisor Frank P. Petrone said in a statement.
Petrone said Huntington had to pierce the cap to avoid layoffs and cuts to community programs, including those for youth, seniors and the arts — all of which will remain at current funding levels next year.
He said he supports the cap in principle, except when “it’s not realistic in terms of costs” to be constrained by inflation rates below 1 percent.
Town Councilman Gene Cook voted to approve the budget, despite having said last year that he “will never vote for an increase in taxes.” He said Thursday that he cast his vote after a close analysis with Petrone and the town comptroller.
“It was an extremely tight budget,” Cook said. “I’m happy to see how they reduced things to keep it as tight as possible.”
The town anticipates a reduction in its workforce in 2017, with most positions that were vacated by retirements remaining unfilled.
The new budget also freezes pay raises for town workers, including elected officials, appointed officials and union employees.
Petrone said the biggest budget challenge was a $2.6 million, or 11 percent, increase in the cost of the employee health plan. Earlier projections had pegged that number to about 8 percent, or $700,000 less.
“That really threw us,” Petrone said Thursday.
Other financial pressures included rising costs for employee pensions, as well as spending on materials, equipment, utilities and fuel — expenses Petrone said the town has no control over.
The town also reduced spending on the Huntington Community First Aid Squad to $856,535 — a $1.3 million, or 61 percent, decrease.
Squad officials have said the cut is “drastic,” but Petrone has said the organization should use a $2 million surplus account that it has accumulated through donations and fundraisers.