Brookhaven Town residents will see a small increase in their 2019 town tax bill, and minimal use of surplus to balance the proposed operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine’s (R) roughly $302 million tentative spending plan, presented during a media briefing at Town Hall Sept. 28, maintains all constituent services and full-time staffing from the current operating budget, increases funding for road maintenance and keeps the garbage district rate flat at $350 annually.
The 2019 tentative budget represents an approximately $8 million increase compared to the current year. The primary cost drivers of the budget cited by Romaine are a collective bargaining agreement mandated cost-of-living raise for town employees; an extra pay day for all employees in 2019; and a more than 6 percent increase in cost of employee benefits. Still, the proposed budget complies with the state-mandated 2 percent property tax increase cap.
Romaine discussed the lack of a need to use fund balance reserve dollars to balance the budget as a point of pride in presenting the ’19 tentative budget.
“One of my key strategic financial goals since taking office in November 2012 has been to bring the town’s finances to structural balance,” he said. “The three-point plan I implemented six years ago has put an end to deficit spending, has rebuilt the town’s surpluses and has improved the town’s credit rating to a AAA with Standard & Poor’s.”
Matt Miner, town chief of operations, said it’s been more than a decade since the town had a balanced budget requiring no fund balance.
“This is really the highlight of the supervisor’s budget,” he said. “You can see that the town, prior to Supervisor Romaine’s arrival, relied heavily on the use of fund balance surplus to balance its budget and the supervisor has been very aggressive and instructed both [Tamara Wright, town commissioner of finance] and myself and all of the department heads to craft budgets to bring that application of surplus down. Each year, we’ve been doing that and to the supervisor’s credit, it is now at zero in all six major funds, something that really hasn’t been achieved.”
The supervisor touted a rededication to growing non-property tax sources of revenue, including a “huge rally” in mortgage tax receipts in recent years. The 2017 operating budget was boosted by an increase in mortgage tax revenue also not seen in nearly a decade, though 2018 estimates are falling slightly short of that performance, according to Romaine. Still, he indicated there are positive signs for the town’s housing market. In 2013, more than 62 percent of the operating budget was funded by property taxes, according to him, compared to an estimated 58.7 percent in the tentative ’19 budget.
“We have 41 grants that we have been successful in receiving, and we have another 25 in the hopper,” Romaine said, of other revenue streams for the town. “So by attracting and aggressively going after grant money, we’ve been able to cut down on our dependence on property tax.”
The town’s proposed budget includes about $87 million in capital projects for 2019. About $58 million of those funds will be set aside for new capital projects with the remainder going to projects started in prior years. Brookhaven also received a $20 million grant as the winner of New York State’s Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition.
A public hearing on the budget is slated for Nov. 8 at 5 p.m. at Town Hall with expected adoption to take place Nov. 20.