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Brookhaven Town Board approves $274.7 million budget with one dissenting vote

Brookhaven Councilwoman Connie Kepert is shown in a

Brookhaven Councilwoman Connie Kepert is shown in a Jan 17, 2014 file photo. Credit: J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

The Brookhaven Town Board has approved its 2015 budget over the objections of a councilwoman who unsuccessfully sought to secure nearly $1 million for construction of a new bicycle path.

The board on Thursday approved the $274.7 million operating and highway budgets and two other budget packages by identical 5-1 votes. Councilwoman Connie Kepert cast each of the dissenting votes.

Kepert, a Democrat, said in an interview on Friday that her votes were intended to protest what she called a "partisan budget" that she said sets aside millions of dollars' worth of spending on parks in districts represented by Republicans.

Before board members voted, Kepert had asked them to add a $960,000 plan to the town's $80.1 million capital budget to build bicycle paths along Whiskey Road, which runs through parts of Coram and Rocky Point. Her motion was defeated by a 4-2 party-line vote, with Kepert and fellow Democrat Valerie Cartright voting for the measure.

Kepert represents Brookhaven's 4th District, which covers parts of Farmingville, Medford and Yaphank. She had argued the paths would improve safety for bicyclists using the road.

"These funds are for a very important safety project," Kepert said. "I think it's more important to make a road safer than to fill every pothole."

Supervisor Edward P. Romaine and Councilman Dan Panico, both Republicans, said the money requested by Kepert would be better spent on road repaving projects.

"If we choose between bike paths and paving roads, I'm going to choose paving roads," Romaine said before the vote.

"No one's ever told me, 'Mr. Panico, we need more bike lanes,' " Panico said.

Romaine on Friday denied steering more funds to Republican districts. He called Kepert's assertion "nonsense."

"As supervisor, I give a lot of my time to all the districts," he said. "I'm going to make sure the 4th [District] gets all the things it needs."

Kepert also voted against the capital budget and a separate budget for special districts in the town.

Tax bills next year will vary for residents in different parts of Brookhaven.

The operating budget includes tax hikes in some funds, such as general spending programs, but cuts taxes in other areas, such as the town highway fund.

Town officials have said there will be no overall increase in the tax levy, and the budget adds funds for snow removal, code enforcement officers and the town's vacant housing registry.

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