Town of Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone issued a $189 million budget proposal Tuesday for 2015 that would freeze pay for all elected town officials but raise the property tax levy by 2.9 percent.
If approved, the budget would grow 2 percent, or $3.8 million, over the $185.2 million 2014 budget. Petrone estimated the average Huntington resident (with a home assessed at $450,000) would see annual taxes go up $65 in 2015.
The 2015 budget draft includes an anticipated $185.1 million in revenue, which is up 2.3 percent, but still below the town's proposed spending plan. To offset the gap, Petrone said he would draw $3.8 million from the town's reserves, a strategy he said has helped minimize town debt. "We do things without borrowing," Petrone said Tuesday after a board meeting at town hall.
The tax increase would stay within the state-mandated limits, so, Petrone said, taxpayers would get some of that back in rebate checks next year.
The tax levy increase is primarily driven by the general ($97 million), highway ($35.1 million) and refuse district ($25.1 million) funds.
Petrone cited several challenges for the 2015 budget year, including flat mortgage revenue, increased costs of health care and pensions for current and retired employees, and contractual pay increases for town employees, including office workers and sanitation workers. Those raises were previously negotiated with Huntington's blue-collar unions.
In 2015, Petrone said, it's key to focus on replenishing the town's reserves, which have been tapped into in recent years, particularly after costs associated with superstorm Sandy. By the end of this year, Huntington's reserves are projected to be $14.2 million.
"They're at acceptable levels," Petrone said of the reserves. "But every year I say the economy is going to get better next year, and at this point we can't count on it, and we have to take the necessary precautions."
Petrone suggested the town consider a buyout for some employees to help address depleted reserves. But town spokesman A.J. Carter said that idea is in an early stage, and he could not project how much Huntington would save.
The budget will be open to public comment at the next town meeting Oct 21.
The town will vote on the final 2015 budget in November.