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Lesko speech to eye privatized services

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko in this undated

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko in this undated file photo. Credit: Richard Slattery

Brookhaven Town, plagued by a yawning budget gap that could leave the town broke by 2015, will look to privatize a host of public services this year to stay in the black.

That will be the major edict in Thursday's annual State of the Town address, titled "Choosing Our Future," Supervisor Mark Lesko said Wednesday.

Brookhaven's mortgage tax revenue has plummeted, from $37.6 million in 2004 to $9.6 million last year, causing the town to use surplus funds to make budget for the past two years.

This year's $260 million budget includes $15.8 million in surplus, which would cut the town's reserves to $35.9 million, Lesko said.

At that pace, the town could be out of reserve funds in three years -- so Brookhaven officials will issue requests for proposals from private firms to manage facilities such as Calabro Airport, Brookhaven Amphitheater and the town's dozen marinas, Lesko said.

The town will rid itself of money drains by getting out of those businesses, he said. It was not clear how many employees would be impacted, but the changes could affect a large number of the town's 913 full time employees.

"There are no sacred cows here," Lesko said. "We're going to put everything on the table and find out what services this town is going to provide in the 21st century."

Lesko did not say that privatizing will necessitate layoffs, but added that he "can't say they are off the table." Attempts to reach the town's public union officials were not successful.

Lesko said he will set an aggressive timeline for decisions about what services the town will quit.

A group of town officials and employees, appointed by Lesko and the six town board members, will evaluate which services are "core functions" and which can he privatized or jettisoned, the supervisor said.

The group will present its findings on March 1, at which point town officials will begin deciding which programs will go, he said.

Councilman Daniel Panico, a Republican, said he is "willing to work with the supervisor [a Democrat] on his initiatives."

Essential services such as road maintenance, street lighting, garbage collection and the animal shelter, will be untouched, Lesko said.

Facilities such as parks and ballfields could be the subject of requests for proposals and sponsorships, as they are unlikely to attract buyers or operators, he added.

"If somebody wants to buy the airport, that's fine," Lesko said.

In addition to discussing privatization, the speech will focus on the Carmans River management plan, the Ronkonkoma Hub development, and the town's forthcoming council redistricting efforts, Lesko said.

The State of the Town address begins at 4 p.m. at Brookhaven Town Hall in Farmingville.

The event is open to the public, but those wishing to attend are asked to RSVP first at brookhaven.org/rsvp.

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