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Mastic Beach budget challenged for proposed 125% tax hike

Mastic Beach Mayor Maura Spery has proposed a

Mastic Beach Mayor Maura Spery has proposed a new budget that would raise village taxes for the first time since it was incorporated in 2010. The photo is from April 14, 2015. Photo Credit: Veronique Louis

Mastic Beach officials on Wednesday are to discuss the mayor’s 2016 budget that could raise taxes by as much as 125 percent to cover what officials called a budgeting error that led to overspending on road maintenance.

Village board members have been grappling with the proposed $4.7 million spending plan since Mayor Maura Spery presented it to the public on March 31. The increase is largely the result of a $427,000 budgeting error that saw the village overspend roughly that amount on road maintenance, officials said.

The village has also depleted its $350,000 surplus on legal fees and insurance costs.

Former village treasurer Hedy Bluth, who oversaw the adopted 2015 budget, resigned for undisclosed reasons a few months ago. Anne Abel replaced her on Feb. 29.

Board members said they were blindsided by the deficit.

“It’s a ridiculous budget to the point where it shouldn’t have been presented to us,” village trustee Christopher Anderson said, noting he won’t vote for the spending plan.

He blames Spery for the village’s financial condition and maintains he hasn’t seen many financial reports in the past year.

Spery, who previously said she would accept blame for the overspending, questioned why village administrator Susan Alevas, who also serves as village clerk, failed to notice the mistake.

“Absolutely, it was my understanding that she was working with the treasurer,” the mayor said.

Details of the village administrator’s job responsibilities aren’t listed in the Mastic Beach code book. In general, the administrator is the chief municipal officer hired to run the day-to-day operations of Village Hall, including overseeing all department heads.

Trustee Elizabeth Manzella cited a lack of oversight of municipal spending and said she wants to review the past five village budgets. She also questioned Alevas’ role in the overspending.

“I see a definite failure of the village administrator overseeing the accounting department,” Manzella said. But added, “She does a great job as a village clerk.”

Alevas said she doesn’t have access to banking records, accounts or the finance software system, and countered that each board member had access to monthly treasurer reports and other spending documents.

“They had every opportunity to speak with the treasurer,” she said.

Public comment on the proposed budget will be allowed at Wednesday’s meeting. The budget must be adopted by May 1. The new fiscal year begins June 1.

Spery’s budget would increase taxes as much as $400 for some homeowners. Village taxes have not increased since its incorporation in 2010.

Road maintenance is projected to increase $562,000, to make up for the deficit while law department funds would increase $117,000 to $400,000.

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