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Some Smithtown residents critical of development across town

Smithtown officials proposed a budget next year that

Smithtown officials proposed a budget next year that raises taxes less than 1%. Credit: Raychel Brightman

Smithtown officials have presented to residents a $107.6 million tentative budget for 2021 that would maintain municipal services while trimming payroll and increasing property taxes on the typical non-village home less than 1%.

Those numbers exclude water and ambulance districts that cover only parts of the town; total spending including those special districts would rise to $115.6 million from $112.3 million.

The town appears to have "weathered the storm" of an ongoing pandemic, street protests and an actual tropical storm in 2020, Supervisor Edward Wehrheim said at Thursday's online hearing, though challenges are "expected to continue" throughout the next year, he said. Town budget officials are watching with concern revenue areas that could be susceptible to pandemic-related declines, such as commercial garbage and recreation program fees, though so far any effect has been less severe than they initially feared.

They typical home outside of villages will pay $1,308.52, up about 0.81% from $1,298.04.

Resident response was mixed. The civic group We Are Smithtown hammered Wehrheim again on what members said was unchecked development without a promised master plan, and Jan Singer, a retired Kings Park lawyer who ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for county legislator in 2019, criticized a marquee project, the Lake Avenue rebuild in St. James.

That $8 million project, which is approaching completion, includes a dry sewer line that town officials hope will one day connect to a sewage treatment plant that could be built at the Gyrodyne site near the town’s Brookhaven border.

"In the middle of a pandemic with an uncertain future and revenue gaps," the town is "building sewers to nowhere," she said. Town Comptroller Donald Musgnug said that town officials anticipated state funding would cover most of the sewer line’s cost and said installation of the dry line would save money and minimize inconvenience to area merchants and residents because workers will not have to dig up Lake Avenue again.

Musgnug argued that "strategic building" had increased the town's overall valuation, reducing the burden on individual taxpayers. He also rebutted We Are Smithtown criticisms that the budget appeared to show the town profiting off its school-age childcare program. The tentative budget shows revenue exceeded expenses by $548,264 in 2019; it shows that the program is expected to operate at a $226,846 loss this year, and that revenue is expected to exceed costs by $100,000 in 2021. But the budget does not break out program costs provided by other town departments such as payroll, insurance and accounting, Musgnug said. When those costs are taken into account, the program does not operate at a profit, he said.

Other residents praised a budget that came in under the state-mandated tax cap that some Long Island municipalities have pierced. One man called the proposal "tough and thoughtful;" a woman praised Wehrheim for the town’s continued investment in its parks.

A budget vote is expected in November.

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