The Islip Town Board cleared the way Tuesday for a massive property rate tax hike, voting unanimously to shatter the state-mandated tax cap amid fierce opposition from town residents.
The board passed the law after a lengthy public hearing at Town Hall, during which several residents verbally sparred with Supervisor Tom Croci, a freshman Republican lawmaker who campaigned last year saying he would lower taxes.
The state-mandated 2 percent tax cap requires local governments seeking to exceed it to pass a law authorizing the move. Croci last month introduced a $118 million proposed budget that calls for a 65 percent increase in town residential property taxes -- about four percent of residents' total tax bill. He reiterated Tuesday the stark choices he sees -- raising taxes or cutting services -- facing the board in closing a $26 million deficit. Officials say the average tax bill on an assessed home value of $400,000 -- would be about $18 more a month.
"This is the hardest possible thing for a fiscal conservative to have to wrestle with," Croci said during the public hearing, which drew a large crowd. "We cut to the bone . . . It wasn't what I thought I would ever have to do my first year in office."
Several residents, however, accused Croci and the board of fiscal irresponsibility and urged a harder look at budget cuts.
"I'm just so frustrated," said Nancy Weibel, 63, of Bayport. "When I read that 65 percent, I almost fell off my chair . . . I voted for you, but honestly I don't think I will again."
Croci countered that the board has worked aggressively to cut spending. Earlier this year, the town dissolved the Department of Human Services, laying off 47 workers; sold a town parcel; offered voluntary furloughs for town employees and zero-based the town's budget, saving $3 million.
Robert Irwin, an Oakdale resident, sided with Croci. "I understand by reading 'tax increase' many people are perturbed by it," said Irwin. "We're accustomed to the amenities the town has . . . If it's going to cost me $150 to $200 more a year, I am all for it to save all those amenities that we do have without closing or losing the lifestyle we have."
Some residents also questioned the recent appointment of town Republican Party chairman Frank A. Tantone to a $55,000-annual post advising the planning board. "I'm appalled," said Charles Sezler of Bay Shore, who said Croci appointed his "political buddies."
Selzer added, "You ran saying you were going to lower things. You're doing the complete opposite. You're making the whole party look like a sham."
Croci said Tantone, a former chairman of the planning board, has not started yet, and said he appointed Tantone to reduce a burdensome workload on the town's law office and for his vast knowledge of planning procedure. But Croci said he would re-evaluate the appointment.
"We'll see if the services are required," said Croci.With Candice Ruud