An Albany-based consulting firm on Wednesday told Mastic Beach residents that their village taxes could go up more than 208 percent if the village chose to remain incorporated and provided basic services.
A representative of the firm, The Laberge Group, said at the meeting at William Floyd High School that taxes would rise by as much as 400 percent if officials also repaved 8 of its 84 miles of roads in the village.
On Wednesday, village residents will go to the polls to vote on whether to continue as a municipality or disband and return to the jurisdiction of Brookhaven Town.
The presentation by The Laberge Group before approximatelyh 200 people was the first time residents had a chance to hear from the consulting firm about the specific details if voters decide to remain a village.
Mastic Beach hired the group on Oct. 5 and applied for a state grant of $25,000 to pay for the work. In the 305 hours the group spent on its report, members spoke with Brookhaven Town officials and sifted through the village’s last five budgets, a financial audit, state comptroller reports, examined comparable villages and U.S. Census data.
The future of the five-year-old village has sharply divided residents. Representatives of the firm said officials do not have to follow their recommendations about the costs of services.
One resident said he did not think the group’s presentation was comprehensive.
“There are a lot of unknowns,” said Alan Chasinoz, 61. “A 208 percent tax increase isn’t an accurate estimation. They are making a calculation on something that is not factual.”
Another resident, Frank Fugarino, said the projected 208 percent increase was based on comparison’s to the village’s current austerity budget. “A majority of voters recognized local control by those who live here is in their best interest,” he said in an email.
Mastic Beach has more than 84 miles of roads, only two miles of which have been repaved so far in 2016, Benjamin H. Syden, vice-president of The Laberge Group, said at the meeting.
On average, he said villages statewide normally budget $1.6 million to $2.2 million for yearly road maintenance. Mastic Beach budgeted $250,000 for 2016.
The group noted Mastic Beach has no capital improvement budget, and a poor credit rating from Moody’s Investor Services. They said the current budget doesn’t adequately fund village operations including road maintenance, code enforcement and staffing.
Syden said the village needs a 10-year capital improvement plan, which would likely come at an increased borrowing cost because of the municipality’s credit status.
The group also said it would take 23 years to clean up the approximately 1,400 illegal rental houses and up to 500 abandoned homes in foreclosure.
There was discussion at the meeting of the village board passing a $3.8 million tax-neutral budget earlier this year. Mayor Maura Spery had advocated a sharp rise in taxes in the budget, but the board voted for the tax neutral budget, which forced staff layoffs and reduced services.
“In hindsight, boy, that was probably a mistake,” trustee Betty Manzella said at the meeting.
However, trustee Joseph Johnson said he doesn’t regret voting against tax hikes.
“The residents spoke up and said they did not want a tax increase,” Johnson said. “I was elected by the people, they spoke and got what they wanted. They have now seen what it looks like to live tax neutral with services cut. Now they are willing to pay a tax increase.”