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Islip Town Council OKs 2015 budget with 5.8 percent tax hike

Islip Town Supervisor Tom Croci is shown in

Islip Town Supervisor Tom Croci is shown in a July 15, 2014 file photo. Credit: Ed Betz

Islip's town council approved a $134.4 million budget for 2015 this week -- increasing taxes by 5.8 percent -- after an amended budget was submitted by a councilman just before the vote took place.

Toward the end of Tuesday's meeting -- after the room had cleared out following a heated public hearing over possible restrictions on keeping backyard roosters -- Councilman Steve Flotteron offered the amendment that would raise property taxes by $25.71 for the average homeowner.

Supervisor Tom Croci, who was elected to the 3rd District State Senate seat earlier this month, weeks ago proposed a $130.5 million budget with no tax increase. No residents attended the lone public hearing on that budget on Nov. 6. The budget amendment approved Tuesday was not placed on the town's website before the vote and was not posted yesterday afternoon.

The move follows one made by the Oyster Bay Town Board that, also Tuesday, passed an unannounced 8.8 percent property tax levy increase, overriding the tax cap, for its 2015 budget after it held a public hearing on a budget proposal that had no tax hike.

"The supervisor is the CFO of the town. I got the preliminary budget just like everyone else did. . . . we had the public hearings, we heard from the departments," Flotteron said in an interview. "That [preliminary] budget was not something I could live with and that's why I had to improve it."

The tax increase, specific budget changes and dollar amounts were not discussed during the Tuesday meeting. In an interview after the vote, Flotteron said the new budget includes an additional 36 full-time positions and three part-time positions in public safety, highway, planning, town attorney and assessor's offices, totaling $2,764,500 in salaries and benefits, costs Flotteron says will be covered by added revenues. About $3.5 million in anticipated one-shot land sale revenue was reduced to $1 million while departmental budget cuts were restored and the fund balance was increased to 10 percent.

Councilman John C. Cochrane Jr. seconded Flotteron's motion and Councilwoman Trish Bergin Weichbrodt voted in favor. Anthony Senft, the board's sole Conservative, voted no. Croci abstained.

"I have to abstain from this vote based on the fact that I believe that I will not have to live with this budget," Croci said. "It's inappropriate for me as a senator-elect in the state to pass judgment on what my colleagues have worked so hard on creating."

The town board is still working to close its deficit, which was last calculated at the end of 2013 at $11.3 million. When Croci first took office in 2012, the town had a $26 million deficit and has since reduced it through department cuts, mergers, layoffs and a 28 percent townwide tax increase. An updated figure for the deficit is not yet available, Islip Comptroller Joseph Ludwig said.

Also at the meeting, the town board decided to reserve a decision after several residents spoke for and against a proposed amendment to the town code that would allow roosters only to be kept in an enclosure 150 feet away from a neighboring dwelling. Residents can now keep up to 15 roosters per 500 square feet of rear-yard space, provided they are kept in a structure at least 10 feet away from another property line. The code amendment was drafted by Flotteron, who has fielded numerous complaints about fowl noise.

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