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Layoffs, cuts in Mark Lesko's final budget

Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko speaks to the community

Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko speaks to the community during the State of The Town Address in Farmingville. Credit: Chris Ware

In one of his last officials acts as Brookhaven Town supervisor, Mark Lesko unveiled a proposed budget that freezes taxes but slashes spending, makes nearly 150 layoffs, and eliminates noncore services, including some senior programs and the Holtsville pool complex.

"I'm not happy about it," Lesko said Thursday at a town board work session. "It's not the way I wanted to leave the Town of Brookhaven."

The $247 million budget proposal -- $13 million less than last year -- is one of Lesko's last projects as supervisor. He is resigning to become executive director of Accelerate Long Island, an economic development group.

Deputy Kathy Walsh is slated to become acting supervisor on Monday and will have to steer the board through the proposed budget, which cuts nearly $14 million by decreasing spending and laying off 149 part-time and full-time employees, including the entire park ranger program and its eight rangers. The town board has until Nov. 15 to pass the budget.

Meg Shutka, president of Brookhaven's Civil Service Employees Union, said "it's an awful budget" and pledged to alleviate the number of layoffs.

Because the town spent little on snow removal during the mild last winter, taxes will be reduced by $6 million. The estimated town tax bill for an average single family homeowner will be about $997.27, compared with about $1,034.65 last year.

Lesko's proposed budget uses $6.1 million from the town's surplus for contractually mandated employee costs in 2014 and 2015, plus another $6 million to balance the 2013 budget. This means the town cannot rely on the surplus to balance any future budgets, he warned.

His budget also meets the state's mandated 2 percent tax levy cap.

The town is in difficult financial straits because revenue from mortgage tax has "plummeted" about 76 percent in the past eight years, Lesko said. Lesko, a Democrat, urged the town board to consider increasing revenue through expansion of the town's controversial landfill in Yaphank. "The money is there at the landfill," he said.

Other proposed spending cuts include eliminating the adult day care and respite programs, and services for women, veterans and mobility, Lesko said. The Holtsville complex should be shut and sold because nonresidents were the bulk of the visitors to the pool, zoo and ecology center, Lesko said.

Youth services would be scaled back to focus on drug treatment, mental health and suicide prevention, Lesko said. New highway employees would pay health insurance premiums, and there would be no raises next year.

After the work session, Lesko said that if the town board avoids the difficult spending cuts he outlined, "they're just going to mortgage the town's future."

Councilwoman Connie Kepert, also a Democrat, challenged the proposal to fire workers. "I do not think laying off people will help us stimulate the economy."

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