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Brookhaven residents protest service cuts

Timothy Hahn, age 27 of Patchogue, and Meghan

Timothy Hahn, age 27 of Patchogue, and Meghan McLoughlin, age 27 of Medford, visit the The Holtsville Zoo at the Brookhaven Wildlife and Ecology Center, which is threaten by budget cuts. (Sept. 20, 2012) Credit: Heather Walsh

Hundreds of residents came to the Brookhaven Town board meeting Thursday night to protest cuts in services, the closure of the Holtsville pool and ecological complex, and nearly 150 layoffs contained in an austere 2013 budget proposed earlier this month by now-departed town Supervisor Mark Lesko.

Lesko, who left the supervisor position to helm Accelerate Long Island, submitted the proposed $247 million budget to the town board on Sept. 13. Councilwoman Kathy Walsh, the acting supervisor, will steer the board through a Nov. 8 public hearing on the budget and the board's vote on the budget on Nov. 15. Walsh also will vote on the budget.

Some residents at Thursday's meeting pleaded for the town board to save programs such as women's services and youth services, which Lesko's budget proposed reducing or eliminating to save money.

"We are not weak or easy targets," said Mickie Tinkler, program supervisor of the town's adult day care program which Lesko's budget targets for elimination. "You will hear more from us, I promise."

Hoisting a poster that read "no tax reduction = no service cuts," white-collar union representative Frank Rignola said the town could avoid layoffs with a tax increase. "It will cost less than a dollar a month" in increased taxes to save the programs and jobs, he said after the meeting. Lesko's budget proposal freezes taxes and reduces the average tax bill because limited snow removal costs incurred during the mild winter year allowed funds for that purpose to carry over to 2013.

Resident Adrienne Wilber asked the board to reconsider the proposal to sell the popular Holtsville complex, home of Holtsville Hal, who serves as Brookhaven's prognosticating groundhog every Feb. 2. Lesko's budget proposes to spend $50,000 to transfer the complex's animals to other zoos and then sell the site because the majority of visitors are nonresidents, who do not pay a fee to use the complex.

"The ecological park provides much enjoyment to the area," Wilber said. "We're very disappointed." She asked the board to consider charging nonresidents for use of the facilities.

With the exception of Councilman Dan Panico, who was out of town, the board also voted unanimously in favor of a $6.1 million bond for the Mastic Ambulance District to expand its facilities.

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