By Sara-Megan Walsh
Huntington homeowners can anticipate to see taxes increase in 2018, but town officials have pieced together a plan that won’t require piercing the state tax cap as opposed to 2017.
Huntington Town’s budget will slide in just under the state-mandated 1.84 percent tax levy increase cap with its proposed $194 million spending plan for 2018..
Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) presented his last and final budget proposal at the Sept. 15 town board meeting, calling for a $4.2 million spending increase compared to 2017.
The single largest driving factor behind the town’s budget hike is high health care costs for town employees, according to Petrone. Town personnel salaries and benefits “is the single biggest influence on municipal budgets,” reads the proposed 2018 budget, citing it accounts for more than 50 percent of the town’s major expenditures. The state has predicted health care insurance premiums will rise by 8.3 percent, which would cost the town an additional $22.5 million in 2018.
To help cut back these costs, Petrone has proposed to reduce the number of full-time town employees through attrition for a second year. So far this year, the town has eliminated six positions, for a savings of $400,000 in paid salaries and benefits, according to town spokesman A.J. Carter.
“I continue to advocate for changes to the Tax Cap Act that will allow the Town of Huntington to expand upon existing successful programs such as the continuation of the Town Open Space Bond Act.”
— Frank Petrone
Successful changes in two of the town’s ambulance districts — Huntington and Commack — will result in residents seeing decreased taxes for ongoing services. Commack Volunteer Ambulance Corps began billing patients’ insurance companies in 2016, a move that was followed by Huntington this year and resulted in a significant increase to its revenue. Carter said residents without health care insurance will not be billed by either company, as those costs continue to be covered by the town.
The preliminary budget calls for $16.6 million in capital spending on local projects, holding steady at 2017 levels. These capital projects include $3.75 million to begin construction of the James E. Conte Community Center at the former Armory in Huntington Station and $3 million to construct a new animal shelter adjacent to Mill Dam Park in Halesite.
Town officials have already unveiled plans to build its first of two spray parks, or interactive water playgrounds, in 2018 — one in Elwood Park in memory of New York City Police Sgt. Paul Tuozzolo who was killed in the line of duty in 2017, and one next to the Conte Community Center.
Other major projects included in the 2018 preliminary budget are improvements to Manor Park in Huntington Station, restoration of the waterfront bulkheads in Halesite and $1 million toward improvement of the Huntington sewers.
In issuing his final budget, Petrone called for changes to the state’s Tax Cap Act.
“I continue to advocate for changes to the Tax Cap Act that will allow the Town of Huntington to expand upon existing successful programs, such as the continuation of the Town Open Space Bond Act, and to develop new economic drivers, like the formation of special improvement districts which deal with issue-specific concerns and solutions, and the establishment of new Business Improvement Districts to further enhance our small business communities,” the supervisor said.
Petrone called for specific programs or capital projects to be approved by voters in a town referendum vote, then excluded from tax cap calculations, otherwise he feared programs could be discontinued to stay under the cap.
For 2017, Petrone got residents’ support in piercing the tax cap by approving a 2.85 percent tax increase for his $191 million budget. The supervisor had claimed it was necessary in order to maintain the town’s services along with social, youth and art programs without severe cuts.
Residents will have the chance to share their input on the proposed 2018 budget at the Oct. 17 town board meeting.