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Mastic Beach trustees reject tax hike, cut village workforce

Alan Chasinov, a Mastic Beach resident, criticizes Mayor

Alan Chasinov, a Mastic Beach resident, criticizes Mayor Maura Spery during a contentious public meeting Friday evening, April 29, 2016, in which the divided board voted to pass an alternative budget that cuts the village work force. Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Mastic Beach village trustees Friday rejected Mayor Maura Spery’s proposed 125 percent property tax increase and passed an alternative budget that they said will include a slight tax cut.

Faced with a Sunday deadline to pass a $3.89 million 2016-17 budget after weeks of contentious meetings, the village board voted 4-1 for a budget that cuts the village work force and reduces hours for some employees, who may lose health benefits.

Supporters of the budget say they will increase revenues through more aggressive collection of fees, stronger code enforcement and a new “franchise fee” to be imposed on some businesses.

The board voted after a raucous, two-hour Village Hall meeting that saw board members bicker among themselves amid shouting from about 80 residents. Spery frequently pounded her gavel and sometimes threatened to remove members of the audience for speaking out of turn.

Trustee Joseph Johnson, one of three board members who crafted the new budget, said he regretted that it would impact employees. He said a year of austerity would allow the village to get back on its feet.

“The village residents should not be forced to pay a tax of 125 percent to make us break even,” Johnson said. “To ask anyone to double their taxes to stay the same is insane.”

Johnson and his allies, Trustees Anne Snyder and Christopher Anderson, said the approved budget will cut taxes by 0.08 percent.

They accused Spery of mismanaging village finances by awarding exorbitant salaries to staff and attorneys. Spery acknowledged overspending on road maintenance by more than $400,000 in the past year.

The mayor cast the lone vote against the budget.

“There is not one scintilla of evidence that we can operate with a tax-neutral budget,” she said, as many in the audience called on her to resign. “This board needs to raise taxes.”

Spery questioned the budget’s call to raise $100,000 through “franchise fees.” She said that was unrealistic.

Trustee Betty Manzella voted for the budget, with reservations.

“We may be faced with no services, and at that point, what is the point of being a village without services?” Manzella said. She said the 5-year-old village may have to dissolve if it cannot resolve its problems.

Village employees complained that the budget unfairly reduced their pay and health benefits.

William M. Hennessey, president and general manager of the union that represents many village employees, said he wasn’t sure how many workers would be affected by the cuts. He said he was reviewing the possibility of taking legal action against the village.

“If they’re willing to sit at the table, we’re willing to meet with them,” he said after the meeting.

Johnson said many full-time employees would be reduced to working part-time, but Village Hall would remain open five days a week, with staff working overlapping, four-day-a-week schedules.

“This is going to be a tough year, no matter what happens,” he said.

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