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Islip eyes 65 percent property tax hike

Islip Town Supervisor Tom Croci, at Newsday's conference

Islip Town Supervisor Tom Croci, at Newsday's conference room in Melville (April 20, 2012) Credit: Randee Daddona

Islip Town Supervisor Tom Croci on Tuesday called for a 65 percent increase in residential property taxes but no layoffs or service cuts as part of a $118.9 million proposed operating budget for 2013.

The proposal would be a 1 percent spending decrease over the current budget, but does not resort to a series of doomsday scenarios floated by the administration as it grapples with a $26 million budget shortfall. It also comes with possible political implications for Croci, a Republican who campaigned last year on a promise to lower taxes and now is poised to shatter the 2 percent state tax cap.

Under the 2013 spending plan, the residential tax rate would rise from 86.6 cents per $100 of evaluation to $1.429. An owner of a house valued at $400,000 would pay about $536 annually, $225 more than the current $311, according to town calculations.

Croci pleaded for perspective, saying town property taxes are 0.9 percent lower now than they were in 1984.

The commercial tax rate would increase 57 percent.

"We couldn't allow the town to fail, the residents deserve better," Croci said during a budget briefing Tuesday. "The people in this town elected me because they wanted someone who isn't a politician. They didn't want somebody who would take the easy way out."

Josephine Hubert, an Islip Terrace resident who works as a part-time breakfast monitor at an elementary school, decried a tax increase during Tuesday's town board meeting.

"People are barely holding onto their homes," said Hubert, 70. "Don't keep dumping taxes on people who can't afford it anymore."

Croci filed the budget proposal -- which will be discussed at public hearings and must be adopted by the town board by Nov. 20 -- with the town clerk Tuesday. A public hearing on a proposal to exceed the tax cap, which requires separate approval, is scheduled for Oct. 9.

Joe Hagelmann, chairman of the Islip Democratic Committee, blasted the proposal.

"It's outrageous," he said. "They said they were going to live within their means. Sixty-five percent is not living within their means. The people don't have the money for this. You've got to cut the budget."

The proposed budget estimates $48.9 million in revenue and uses about $2.1 million in reserve funds. The town tapped reserves for about $21.2 million on average annually over the past four years, according to town statistics.

Since taking office, Croci has pushed several money-saving initiatives -- dissolving the Department of Human Services, laying off 47 of its workers, and directing departments to decrease funding for office supplies and other nonessentials. In one reversal, Croci budgeted about $50,000 to the Islip Arts Council, which town officials had said would likely lose its full $128,000 in funding.

Councilman John C. Cochrane Jr., a Republican, called the tax increase a "hard pill" but necessary.

"We're all supporting the decisions," Cochrane said. "We've already gone out and explained it to the public. People don't want to see their services gone. If we hadn't done a tax increase, we'd have to shave government down to a quarter of its size. That's not possible."

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