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Smithtown proposes spending millions to upgrade park, water mains

Smithtown is proposing upgrades to a town park

Smithtown is proposing upgrades to a town park and other infrastructure. Credit: Raychel Brightman

Smithtown Supervisor Edward Wehrheim on Friday unveiled a $109 million tentative budget for fiscal year 2019 and proposed borrowing $10.7 million — the most in decades — for major improvements to Flynn Memorial Park, water mains in St. James and townwide infrastructure.

“We’re going to invest in Smithtown, in our parks and recreation, in our infrastructure, and in our downtown business districts,” Wehrheim said in an interview. “We are going to accomplish what we said we were going to do.”

The tentative budget, Wehrheim’s first as supervisor, is roughly $4 million more than the previous budget and calls for a $1.5 million increase in the operating fund tax levy, most of which Wehrheim said is needed to absorb an increase in health insurance costs for town employees. A taxpayer in a home assessed at $5,500 would pay $1,298.71, an increase of $29.88, or 2.35 percent. The increase is within the New York State tax levy increase cap. Additionally, the residential garbage collection fee would increase by $28 to $378 because of higher waste disposal costs at the Covanta plant, Wehrheim said.

In a separate capital budget, Wehrheim would bond $2 million in 2019 and another $2 million in 2020 to completely refurbish Flynn Memorial Park, whose ballfields in the 1980s attracted softball teams from the whole East Coast for annual playoffs. Those tournaments were a “huge boost to the economy,” Wehrheim said, with visitors renting hotel rooms, patronizing local restaurants and delicatessens and paying to rent the fields. New fields, lighting and concessions will bring those tournaments back and be a boon to local leagues, he said.

The town would bond $2.4 million for water main replacement at Lake Avenue in St. James, a project town officials and business leaders have said is vital for economic development of the business district there.

Also up for renewal: the town senior center, animal shelter and fire training center, adjacent properties off Jericho Turnpike that Wehrheim said will get $850,000 of structural improvements and new landscaping to provide a “campus” feel.

Wehrheim warned that year after year increases in health insurance costs were not sustainable. Town officials negotiating new contracts for the two unions that represent town workers and administrators will ask that new hires pay a larger portion of their health care coverage than in the past, he said. They will also attempt to negotiate health care buyouts for employees who choose coverage through their spouses, he said.

The tentative budget, posted on the town’s website Friday, will go to a public hearing Oct. 25 and could get a town council vote by Nov. 6. The capital budget will go to a council vote then or shortly later, Wehrheim said.

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