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2019 budget

Boat mooring fee moves forward, new parks and recreational program fee increases to take effect Jan. 1

Huntington Town Hall. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Huntington’s elected officials have adopted a $199.7 million operating budget for 2019 on a party-line vote at their Nov. 20 meeting, as Republicans and Democrats were split over town staffing changes and increases to fees.

The adopted 2019 budget raises $122.8 million through the tax levy, roughly $3 million more than the current year, representing a 2.53 percent increase. It falls under New York State’s mandated tax levy increase cap by approximately $80,0000, including $371,000 in rollover savings from 2018 and accounts for growth in the town’s tax base valued at roughly $400,000.

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) amended the 2019 budget prior to approval to reinstate funding for four legislative secretaries — one for each town council member — which had been slashed from his first proposal. Lupinacci said a $200,000 federal grant received for the Huntington Youth Bureau’s drug and alcohol programs also helped free up funds.

I think it’s a good budget that will be very responsible to constituents that keeps within the tax cap…” 

— Chad Lupinacci

“I think it’s a good budget that will be very responsible to constituents that keeps within the tax cap, and it had good planning for the future in capital expenses and programs, so we can continue to hold our triple AAA credit rating that is very important,” he said.

Democratic council members Mark Cuthbertson and Joan Cergol voted against the supervisor’s 2019 operating budget, arguing it was too much for Huntington’s taxpayers.

“The supervisor is asking residents to accept a double whammy: increased taxes and high, in some cases, first-ever fees for services they rightly feel are already funded by their taxes,” Cergol said.

Cergol proposed a series of changes to the supervisor’s 2019 tentative budget Nov. 20, seeking to reduce the tax levy increase from 2.53 down to 1.85 percent. Her proposed changes would have eliminated 12 town jobs — three confidential secretaries, a chief of staff, three executive assistants and five deputy department directors — many of which were created in August. The councilwoman said slashing these positions would save the town approximately $800,000 in salaries, increasing to nearly $1 million when including the cost of health care insurance benefits.

The supervisor is asking residents to accept a double whammy: increased taxes and high, in some cases, first-ever fees for services they rightly feel are already funded by their taxes.”

— Joan Cergol

“Naturally, I would prefer to have no tax increase at all, but I well understand we have contractual obligation expenses and a 9 percent increase in health care insurance costs the town has no control over,” Cergol said. “For the sake of every taxpayer, we have an obligation to exercise control when it comes to the hiring of personnel, specifically jobs that are exempt from civil service, otherwise known as patronage jobs.”

She also sought to strike and remove the town’s plans to implement a boat mooring fee in Huntington Harbor. Cuthbertson voiced his support for Cergol’s proposed amendments.

“At a time when homeowner’s budgets are squeezed, and they have lost most of the state and local deduction on their income taxes, the Republican administration should not be asking for increases that serve no purpose other than doling out patronage,” the councilman said.

Despite his support, Cergol’s first proposal to slash $1 million from the budget failed by a 3-2 party-line vote. Her second proposal to eliminate $200,000 by cutting staff positions and the proposed boat mooring fee failed to find any support among the board members.

Lupinacci defended his staffing decisions, stating the Town of Huntington will have less full-time employees going forward next year, and changes were in line with his goals that include improving transparency and efficiency by cutting “red tape.”

New 2019 Park & Recreational Fees
Below are few of the new 2019 park and recreational fees
Adult Resident Recreational ID Card, 2 years      $40
(new) Adult Resident Recreational ID Card, 1 year     $25
Resident Recreational ID Card – Senior/Disabled      $15
Golf Card, valid for 1 year     $45
Golf Card, every 2 years        $60
Beach Resident Daily Permit      $30
Non-Resident Daily Permit         $75

“I think these are all worthwhile goals that we will continue to accomplish, and to meet these goals we need to have staffing changes,” he said.

The board also voted 3-2 to increase and add several additional park and recreational fees next year. Some changes in the legislation include increasing the cost of a two-year resident recreational card from $20 to $40, increasing the cost of a daily beach pass for Huntington residents from $25 to $30, and implementing new special event permit fees for John J. Walsh Memorial Park in East Northport, Peter A. Nelson Park in Huntington and picnic site fees for Sgt. Paul Tuozzolo Memorial Spray Park in Elwood.

The registration costs for several town-run summer programs including Camp Bright Star, Teen Leadership and preschool camps were increased as well.

“We’re always looking at and reviewing fees every year as part of the budgeting process to ensure the fees actually cover associated program costs,” the supervisor said. “We revise rates for various programs and actions, to make sure taxpayers are not on the hook for programs they don’t use.”

Lupinacci said costs of the town’s recreational ID card fee, $20, had not been increased in more than a decade, and the new $40 fee more accurately reflects its “true value going forward.” The town will also be offering a new one-year recreational ID card for $20.

Cergol and Cuthbertson were against increasing recreational fees, which will take effect Jan. 1.

Huntington Town Clerk JoAnn Raia hands out copies of the 2019 Tentative Budget to the town council. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

The first draft of the Town of Huntington’s 2019 budget prepared by Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) was immediately met by sharp criticism and divided the town council.

Lupinacci presented a draft of the town’s 2019 budget calling for a $122.8 million tax levy, or an increase of 2.53 percent from the current year, at the Sept. 20 town board meeting. The proposed 2019 budget falls under New York State’s mandated tax levy increase cap by approximately $80,000, includes $371,000 in rollover savings from 2018, and accounts for growth in the town’s tax base valued at roughly $400,000.

I have taken a conservative approach to expenditure allocations, using previous actuals as a baseline for these costs.”

— Chad Lupinacci

“I have taken a conservative approach to expenditure allocations, using previous actuals as a baseline for these costs,” the supervisor wrote in an open letter presenting the budget. “Particular focus was given to employee salaries, overtime and benefits.”

Lupinacci said some of the challenges faced in drafting the 2019 budget included accounting for contractually mandated collective bargaining increases for all town union employees and a 9 percent increase in employee medical costs. He has suggested appropriating $750,000 from the town’s fund balance to help cover costs in three areas: the consolidated refuse fund, street lighting and the Huntington sewer district.

“I have incorporated realistic revenue budgeting, and have not relied upon one-shot revenues as a means of balancing the 2019 Tentative Budget,” the supervisor wrote.

The budget draft immediately received sharp criticism by Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) who took issue with the supervisor’s suggestion of eliminating one staff member each from each of the four board members’ personnel. Cuthbertson dubbed Lupinacci’s proposal “the height of hypocrisy” pointing to eight individuals who serve the supervisor’s office, in addition to the town board reinstating nine employees and creating 14 new staff positions in August.

In all the time I have been here, council people have had a staff of one secretary, one legislative aide, much like what is afforded our county legislators and members of the state Assembly. “

— Mark Cuthbertson

“In all the time I have been here, council people have had a staff of one secretary, one legislative aide, much like what is afforded our county legislators and members of the state Assembly,” Cuthbertson said. “Now that we have a bloated budget with these positions created in a naked power grab, he seeks to eliminate the people that help council members do their job and, in many respects, holds the administration accountable to the people of this town.”

Lupinacci said he had personally pulled all town board members aside prior to the formal release of the 2019 Tentative Budget to inform them of his proposed staffing changes. He explained his vision is that each councilperson would keep their legislative aide, who assists in policy research and handling calls from residents, and would share one combined office manager or secretary.

Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D) also spoke out against the proposed 2019 staffing changes.

I am not okay with the tentative budget decision regarding town council personnel which were made without consultation of fellow town board colleagues,” she said. “We, like our supervisor, must serve our constituents and this budget decision diminishes that ability.”

We, like our supervisor, must serve our constituents and this budget decision diminishes that ability.”

— Joan Cergol

In response to the proposed 2019 budget, Cuthbertson was the sole vote against reinstating four town employee positions. These staff openings include a Spanish-speaking office assistant for Town Clerk JoAnn Raia (R) at $9,260 and a dispatcher requested by Superintendent of Highways Kevin Orelli (D).

“I requested and have complete justification for a Spanish-speaking typist,” Raia said. “I have couples coming in all day long for marriage licenses, divorce documents and other documents that are in Spanish and need translation. That is a critical need in my office.”

Lupinacci said the elimination of the four positions is due to employees being replaced over time, largely due to resignations or promotions. Raia confirmed the Spanish-speaking typist submitted a resignation two weeks ago after serving with the town for four years after receiving another job offer.

“I didn’t single out any position,” Cuthbertson said. “I think we were in a better position to budget and pay for it, if we had not gone on a spending spree with patronage jobs in August.

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