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Update on 3 community budget issues

Budget proposal hikes taxes by 2.88%

Comparing Sandy’s effect on Babylon Town finances to a “real hard” body blow, Supervisor Rich Schaffer unveiled a $137.9 million budget proposal that would raise property taxes by 2.88 percent, a move he said was needed to offset borrowing costs for storm repairs and the drop in tax revenue caused by more than $600 million in townwide property damage.

The budget, which he said would raise the tax bill on a typical house by about $80, preserves spending on parks, youth and senior programs, and the town’s drug and alcohol dependency treatment services.

It would also cover the town’s $3.6 million employee retirement obligation in its entirety instead of amortizing the cost, which Schaffer said could save the town money in the future by keeping borrowing costs lower.

Not including fire district costs, which were not yet available, the budget would be $9 million, or 7.12 percent larger than the current one, and the tax increase would exceed the state-imposed cap. But, facing a hole created by $700,000 drop in tax revenue and an additional $200,000 in debt service after Sandy, Schaffer said he’d found few attractive options on the savings side.

While not strictly essential, the social and recreational programs “are necessary to the quality of life here,” he said.

Meanwhile, the number of full-time town employees is down by 11 percent over the past five years, and many of the 328 employees work under union contracts with no-layoff clauses, he said.

“The goal has always been to make the town more efficient,” he said. “But there comes a point where you kind of hit the bone, and I think we’re at the bone.”
— Nicholas Spangler

$15.25M approved for water district

The Jericho Water District, which serves most of northeastern Nassau County, will undertake $15.25 million in capital improvements after the Oyster Bay Town Board yesterday approved issuing bonds for the projects.

The board approved the bonding after a public hearing where only the water district attorney, Michael Ingham, spoke.

The district will spend $8.5 million to construct a nitrate treatment filtering system to reopen two closed wells in Jericho, the attorney said. The air stripping system will allow them to go back online while also increasing their capacity slightly.

The district will spend $3.7 million to replace its Wheatley storage tank in Old Westbury. Built in 1924, it is coated with lead paint. Ingham said it would cost as much to rehabilitate the tank as to replace it. And the new tank will be 1.5 million gallons, a third larger than the old one.

The third major project is spending $2 million to rehabilitate and repaint its Split Rock tank in Syosset.

Ingham said the cost of interest and repaying the 30-year bonds would cost the average district resident $17 a year.

Town Supervisor John Venditto praised district officials for their sound management of the system. “I think it’s money well spent,” he said of the capital improvements. “Keep up the good work.”
— Bill Bleyer

Ballfields project $44G under budget

Municipal building projects often end up costing more than estimated, but one project completed by the Town of Oyster Bay came in under budget, so the town board yesterday reduced the final construction payment to the contractor by almost $44,000.

The board acted after the town’s consulting engineering firm, Nassau Suffolk Engineering & Architecture, made the final inspection of the work done to transform part of the former site of the vacant Sylvia Packard Middle School into athletic fields for town residents.

The consultant certified that the contractor, LandTek Group Inc., had completed all necessary work and that the final construction cost totaled $5.4 million, $44,000 under the amount previously authorized by the town for the work.

The project was a joint venture by the town and Plainedge school district. The vacant school was demolished in 2011 and replaced by the school district with a $4.1 million community center for its residents while the town constructed athletic fields to be used by Oyster Bay residents.

The school at North Idaho and North Virgina avenues and North Central Drive closed in September 2004. Demolition of the building cost $2.73 million.
— Bill Bleyer

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