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Brookhaven officials concerned about growing town deficits

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine blamed a budget

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine blamed a budget gap on reduced mortgage tax revenue. Romaine is seen here at a Feb. 20, 2013 press conference. Credit: Ana Maria Rico

Brookhaven Town faces a $5.5 million budget deficit this year that could grow to more than $16 million next year due to lower-than-expected earnings from the town mortgage tax, officials said Thursday.

Next year's projected $16.3 million budget gap would be among Brookhaven's largest in recent years.

Supervisor Edward P. Romaine, during a town board work session Thursday, asked council members to draft proposals for controlling costs and increasing revenue to avoid a shortfall in the town's $252 million budget.

He blamed the budget gap on reduced mortgage tax revenue. Town budget officials estimated that the town will earn about $8 million from the tax in 2014 -- about 20 percent less than the $10.5 million that had been expected.

"If we don't do anything, the projections will come true. We will spend more than our surplus," Romaine said. "This is the lowest the mortgage tax has ever been. . . . There's not much we can do with the mortgage tax, but there is something we can do with the surplus and expenditures."

Romaine added he was "hopeful that we'll rebound."

The town expected to have about $32 million in surplus funds this year and planned to use a fraction of it to plug a projected $3 million deficit. Reduced revenue and increased spending boosted the deficit to more than $5 million for this year.

Among the increased expenditures was the cost of plowing roads "because of the extraordinary snow we had this year," town Finance Commissioner Tamara Wright said.

The town spent about $7.5 million on snowplowing since Jan. 1, about $5 million more than anticipated, Wright said. The town may close the gap by adding a "snow note" -- or fee -- to tax bills next year, she said.

Since the national economic downturn in 2009, Brookhaven has used surplus funds and other measures to close deficits ranging from $5.8 million last year to $23.6 million in 2010.

Town surpluses peaked at $59 million in 2009 but have dropped steadily due to declining revenue from taxes and landfill fees, town officials said. Last year, the town cut about 140 jobs to help close the gap.

Councilwoman Connie Kepert said she hoped to avoid layoffs to contend with the latest cash crunch.

"We went through that," she said in an interview. "We don't have enough staff as it is in Brookhaven, and I certainly hope we don't have to go through that again. "

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