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Romaine's plan: No higher taxes but possible layoffs

Brookhaven Town Supervisior Ed Romaine speaks during a

Brookhaven Town Supervisior Ed Romaine speaks during a new conference about problems with off-campus housing for Stony Brook University students. (March 25, 2013) Credit: Steve Pfost

Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine unveiled a sweeping plan last night to solve the town's budgetary woes and avoid raising taxes -- through possible employee layoffs, reducing overtime and town vehicles and leasing space in town hall.

"One thing we cannot do is raise town general taxes," Romaine said in his first state-of-the town address, at town hall in Farmingville.

He called for scaling back or eliminating capital projects and selling "nonperforming" assets, such as the former town hall in Patchogue. He also discussed letting go of nonessential personnel but could not provide specifics on the number of jobs that might be lost.

Meg Shutka, president of the town's white collar union, said she's not worried about layoffs, "because all of our members are essential."

During the speech, the Republican supervisor said he had started talks with Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone's administration about shared services, to reduce county and town expenses. He did not elaborate.

Romaine asked the town board to help him craft proposals to reduce the town's budget deficit. In November, Brookhaven passed a $247 million budget, $13 million less than the previous year. In January, the town had $675 million in overall debt.

But that month Moody's rating service also affirmed Brookhaven's Aa2 rating -- the third-highest ranking -- which the town has had since April 2010.Romaine, who was elected as supervisor in November, said his most important job since taking office has been controlling spending. Since then, the town has laid off some employees and faced criticism over the botched performance in the Feb. 8-9 blizzard.

In the wide-ranging speech, Romaine repeated his opposition to raising the height of the landfill in Yaphank from 270 feet to 320 feet and said he plans to form a task force of solid waste management experts to draft an alternative waste management future.

Last month, Romaine introduced legislation giving a minimum of three-year tax exemptions for constructing or revamping green buildings.

The supervisor said he is committed to maintaining Brookhaven's suburban feel. "I want to avoid overdevelopment and traffic congestion that negatively impacts our quality of life."

Romaine said he intends to crack down on absentee landlords and target abandoned and unsafe buildings for demolition. He also wants to urge the state to enact laws that would allow local municipalities to compel banks to maintain homes that are in foreclosure.Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld, a Democrat on the town board, was not at the address but said the town is "in financial straits, so the supervisor needs to look at everything."

He said many cuts were made last year, so the choices are limited. "We can't cut bone marrow."

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