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Long Beach mulls higher tax rate for budget

Long Beach is considering a fiscal 2013-14 budget that will raise taxes a little more than 2 percent -- $64 for the average household -- a figure city leaders say is reasonable in the wake of superstorm Sandy and the city's fiscal crisis.

The city's proposed $83.9 million budget is actually a reduction of about 1 percent from the current year's budget. But Long Beach's tax levy must rise because of anticipated losses in city revenue due to Sandy, which hit the city hard, city manager Jack Schnirman said, citing beach and park fees as examples.

The spending plan would raise the city tax bill for the owner of an average home to $3,001, Schnirman said. The tax levy increase would be 2.16 percent -- just below Long Beach's 2.19 percent state tax cap, he said.

The budget would allow the city to move forward with rebuilding projects and continue to pay down a $10.25 million deficit officials discovered in March 2012, Schnirman said. The deficit would be fully paid off by the end of the 2014-15 fiscal year, officials said.

"We can now see that the worst of the fiscal crisis is over and the city's finances are on the comeback trail," Schnirman said.

Schnirman and city comptroller Jeffrey Nogid stressed that Long Beach was able to avoid a higher tax increase through spending cuts that will not impact critical services. While the budget does not call for layoffs, the city's workforce has been reduced by 12 percent, to 333 employees, since fiscal 2011-12, Schnirman said.

The city council must approve the budget by the end of May. The spending plan will be the subject of a pair of City Hall public hearings on May 7 and May 21, both at 7 p.m.

Amendments to the budget could be made at the second hearing, Schnirman said. A special meeting could be held on May 28 if the budget has not been approved by the end of the second hearing, he said.

Councilman Len Torres said the modest proposed tax increase proves that the city is "financially, a little bit out of the woods." However, more cuts could be made, he said.

"We're impressed with the way this administration has been able to keep the costs down," Torres said.

Councilman John C. McLaughlin, the board's lone Republican, said he will push for no tax increase.

"I would like to see it at zero, especially after the storm," McLaughlin said, adding that he will be looking to further reduce spending.

The fiscal year begins July 1.

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