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Taxes

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine and Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella along with leaders from dozens of other districts attend the first meeting of Brookhaven’s Council of Governments Committee, a group aiming to reduce taxes through sharing services across taxing districts. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

The committee’s title sounds like something out of a science fiction movie, but Brookhaven Town’s plan to streamline government services is nonfiction and slated for the nearer future than a galaxy far, far away.

Brookhaven Town hall was the setting for the inaugural Council of Governments Committee meeting, a congregation of representatives from across the town’s villages, ambulance and fire, school and library districts Oct. 10. The leaders came together to begin brainstorming strategies to make government more efficient by sharing services with the goal of reducing costs for their mutual taxpayers. The meeting was hosted by Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and was attended by representatives from the Villages of Belle Terre, Shoreham and Port Jefferson; Setauket Fire District; Port Jefferson EMS; Comsewogue, Port Jefferson, Emma S. Clark, and Middle Country libraries; and Shoreham-Wading River, Comsewogue, Port Jefferson and Rocky Point school districts among many others.

Brookhaven was recently awarded a $20 million Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition grant by New York State, which will go toward modernizing and reinventing the delivery of services while reducing the burden on taxpayers by reducing redundancy in local governments, pursuing opportunities for increasing shared services, and implementing modernizations and best practices, according to a town press release. The committee will be charged with implementing the changes and identifying additional areas for efficiency and fiscal savings, as well as providing oversight of the 16 MCEC projects.

“We’re interested today in talking about what we can do jointly for our mutual constituents to improve the delivery of services, to reduce costs, to share services whenever possible — to do the things that are going to move this town, your school district, your village, your taxing district forward so that our mutual constituents benefit from this,” Romaine said. “I think this is an opportunity for us to redesign how we do things. This is one opportunity where we can reach across jurisdictional lines and say we’re all in this together.”

Engineering firm Laberge Group has served as a consultant for the town’s municipal consolidation plans, and representatives Ben Syden and Nicole Allen were on hand at the committee meeting to update the attendees on the status of some of the projects already underway.

“A year and a half ago, we asked for your hope, we asked for you to say, ‘yup, I may be interested in doing this,’” Syden said during the meeting. “Now, we have pilots, we have examples and now we want to deploy this townwide.”

The projects will be implemented over a span of two to three years, according to Syden, and the full implementation of the projects is expected to save more than $60 million collectively amongst the taxing districts over five years.

The dissolution of the Village of Mastic Beach and reincorporation into the town, the consolidation of 24 of the town’s 112 special districts including four water districts into the Suffolk County Water Authority and six erosion control districts consolidated into one are among the already completed projects undertaken as part of the MCEC project. Upcoming projects include the consolidation of property tax collection and processing systems with several villages including Port Jefferson and Shoreham, construction of a regional salt storage facility, purchase of regional specialized fleet equipment, expansion of single-stream recycling waste management services to six special districts throughout the town and many more.

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We get it — if you read our newspapers or just about any other media that cover Long Island, you’ve heard enough over the past decade about the legal battles going on between several school districts and townships versus Long Island Power Authority.

If you feel like you’re on LIPA overload, we have some significant news — a major development occurred in the cases last week. A New York State Supreme Court judge determined that the 1997 Power Supply Agreement between National Grid, which owns the power plants, and LIPA, which transmits that electricity to customers, did not contain any language, or “promise,” that prevented the utility companies from seeking to have taxes they pay on the power stations reduced.

The good news is this decision may signal there’s a light at the end of the tunnel to this endlessly drawn-out court battle. We fear the positives may end there.

LIPA has said that its intention in filing these lawsuits is to be able to reduce energy bills for its customers, as it hopes to pay out less in property taxes. On its face, the company’s goal appears to a good thing for residents of Huntington and Brookhaven townships, who will likely see a reduction in their monthly electrical bills should LIPA be victorious, except for the residents in Northport and Port Jefferson, who will see a property tax increase. These odds seem an increasingly likely fact in recent weeks as courts have ruled twice  in LIPA’s favor.

However, these legal battles have been waged for nearly a decade, racking up what we can only imagine are substantial legal bills from lawyers hired to represent the municipalities and the school districts involved. Then adding in fees paid for a third-party mediator when sit-downs begin in September, we find ourselves asking, “At what cost?”

We hope to find out just how much taxpayers’ money has been spent on legal fees for the duration of the saga, so keep an eye out for that. And for what? The “Hail Mary” play that a court would determine the 1997 PSA had implied a legally binding promise that LIPA wouldn’t seek a reduction in its property taxes.

It was such a risky play for Brookhaven Town and Port Jefferson Village that those two municipalities have agreed to settle the cases out of court to avoid exposure to the risk of years of back pay should the issue actually end up in a trial loss for the two entities. Still, why did it take Brookhaven and Port Jeff until 2018 to finally reach a settlement while legal fees kept accruing?

All of this can also be looked at against the backdrop that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has set a goal for 50 percent of the state’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2030. Who’s going to pay for the solar and wind producing plants necessary, for example, to get on track in reaching that goal? We don’t think we’re going out on a limb in speculating that at least some of that cost will fall on LIPA’s customers.

While we’d like to think we’re inching closer to a day when we no longer have to report on legal issues pertaining to LIPA, a positive resolution for all stakeholders is going to take significantly more work. In reality, it should have been resolved long ago.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone delivers his State of the County address May 24 at Newfield High School in Selden. Photo by Alex Petroski

In his annual State of the County address, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) touted recent initiatives while also keeping an eye on both the near and distant future. The executive spoke for more than an hour from the auditorium stage at Newfield High School in Selden in front of a crowd of county, town and village lawmakers, students and others.

“I can tell you that the state of Suffolk County — this amazing place that we all call home — is strong,” Bellone said. “I remain committed to making Suffolk County a model for effective and efficient government, a government that is as good as the people it is there to represent.  We can build a stronger economic future, we can protect our water quality, we can transform this government, and we can do big things in Suffolk County and on Long Island if we do them together.”

Though he admitted the state of the county government, “remains a work in progress,” Bellone called on both political parties to look past the issues that divide them and remember the things that unite Americans. He honored the four Suffolk County native airmen of the 106th Rescue Wing, based out of Westhampton, who died as a result of a helicopter crash while carrying out a mission in Iraq in March, including Commack resident Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso and Port Jefferson Station resident Staff Sgt. Dashan Briggs.

“These are the individuals that make our country great,” Bellone said.

The executive spent a large chunk of his speech on public safety and the work of the Suffolk County Police Department, specifically a decreasing rate of opioid related overdoses and violent crime and reported that last year 222 arrests were made in connection with the violent gang MS-13.

While discussing public safety, Bellone detailed the recently implemented SHARE initiative. The program — Sharing to Help Access Remote Entry — allows participating school districts to connect closed circuit security camera systems directly to SCPD, who can access surveillance footage in real time in the event of active shooter situations on school campuses.

He gave a nod to the students locally and across the country organizing marches and walkouts to protest for stricter gun control laws in the wake of more high-casualty school shooting incidents around the U.S.

“It has been inspiring to see young people speak out on issues, organize rallies, run for school board and demand more of their elected officials,” he said. “Your voices will be heard.”

The county executive made numerous references to the state of government and politics in Washington D.C., specifically in making a pledge that he and his colleagues “will not rest” until the State and Local Tax deduction, which was repealed as part of the federal tax overhaul bill passed in 2017, were restored. The elimination of the deduction stands to cost residents in high-property tax areas — like Suffolk County — thousands of dollars more than previous years.

Bellone stressed the importance of economic development through downtown revitalization projects — like upper Port Jefferson’s “Uptown Funk” plan — and streamlining public transportation around these hubs as a means to foster an environment in which young people can afford to live in Suffolk County going forward through the creation of quality jobs.

“We spend a lot of money educating our kids here,” the county executive said. “Too many of them have left for other parts of the country, where they are helping to power their regional economies. We have to stop that.”

Bellone called water quality a critical issue for all Suffolk County residents. The county has made funding available for septic system improvements for homeowners, which would help reduce the amount of nitrogen polluting Long Island’s waterways. He also recently implemented a recycling program for six county school districts.

The Shoreham power plant on North Country Road provides peak power to the community and payments in lieu of taxes to the Shoreham-Wading River school district. Photo from Jason White

A Brookhaven organization recently saved energy in the most literal sense, and a reliable revenue stream too.

The Town of Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency (IDA) announced Nov. 27 it prevented the shutdown of an electric-generating plant in Shoreham, which provides peak power to the community and is expected to contribute $852,000 in property taxes or payments in lieu of taxes, commonly known as PILOTs, to the Shoreham-Wading River school district this year.

Brookhaven’s business arm has entered into a new, 20-year PILOT agreement with owners of the 90 megawatt, jet-fueled facility located on 10 acres of land on North Country Road, leased by the Long Island Power Authority. The facility’s previous PILOT and power purchase agreement between LIPA and Brookhaven expired this past August after 15 years.

In the proposal for the PILOT, which became the adopted policy when it was approved by the IDA in January 2017, projected gradual benefits range from $1.2 million in its first year to $1.7 million in its 20th.

The partnership began in September 2016 when members of J-Power USA — owners of the facility since 2010 — realized the expired pact would bring about a 33 percent reduction in revenue and a 50 percent reduction in economic benefits. The members were also told by LIPA representatives that the nonprofit would not be involved in negotiating a new PILOT.

“We wanted to see if Brookhaven would be able to offer a new PILOT that would  allow us to remain financially viable and our agreement has removed that big uncertainty,” said Jason White, director of asset management at the J-Power Shoreham branch. “Our facility uses General Electric combustion
turbines and while it doesn’t operate a lot, it’s important to the electric grid for stability purposes. It’s maintained so that it can respond very quickly if it’s called upon.”

White said although there had to be consideration to disassemble the power plant and move off Long Island in the case an agreement couldn’t be reached, it wouldn’t be a simple process, and the facility’s six
employees live close by.

“Our preference all along was to continue to operate the plant site and to continue to be a contributor to the local community,” White said.

By securing the power plant’s place in Shoreham, revenue is boosted for the school district, which relies heavily on it as a source of both energy and property tax revenue.

“I am pleased that we have been able to close on this new agreement with J-Power,” said Frederick Braun, chairman of the IDA. “Had we been unable to keep this plant from moving off Long Island with this new agreement, the Shoreham School District and other taxing jurisdictions would receive no payments at all, resulting in an even larger loss to those taxing jurisdictions.

The school district, which included the finalization of $852,000 in PILOT revenue in its Revised and Lowered Expenditure Budget & Tax Levy in October, approved the agreement in a resolution during a board meeting last Jan. 10.

“Be it resolved that the Board of Education of the Shoreham-Wading River Central School District supports the proposed financial assistance contemplated by the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency in connection with the J-Power Peaker Plant,” the letter read.

Lisa Mulligan, the IDA’s chief executive officer, said she had been in contact with the district’s board of education since meetings began with J-Power “as they were the most impacted by this.”

“We didn’t want to pursue something if they were not interested in it,” Mulligan said. “But the board wrote to us and told us they were … I think it’s important to bring money into the school district and also provide this power to residents when it’s needed.”

Elwood Middle School will get a new roof with the passage of Proposition 1 by voters. File photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Elwood taxpayers are willing to pay for critical infrastructure repairs to their schools, but turned down athletic program and field upgrades.

Elwood School District residents approved Proposition 1 of a bond referendum by 718-371 votes to make health and safety upgrades to the district’s four buildings Nov. 28. A second proposition to spend $3.72 million in enhancements to the athletic fields and other amenities narrowly failed, by a 508-577 vote.

Dilapidated auditorium seating in Elwood Middle School, will be repaired as a result of the passage of a capital bond proposition. File photo by Kevin Redding

“My sincere appreciation to all residents who came out to vote,” Superintendent Kenneth Bossert said. “I think the voting results show the priority that Elwood residents place on education.”

The approved bond proposition contains $34.5 million in capital projects including the replacement of the roofs in each of the four buildings — Harley Avenue School, Boyd Intermediate School, Elwood Middle School, and John H. Glenn High School — which was included due to leaks and flooding issues; and fixing sidewalks and pavement cracks.

Large renovations are also slated for each of the individual buildings under Proposition 1. Three of the schools — Harley Avenue, Elwood Middle School and John Glenn — will undergo cafeteria renovations to install new ceilings, replace outdated lighting fixtures, replace damaged furniture and install new air conditioning systems. The intermediate school will have a new parking lot installed for approximately 60 vehicles as well as a newly designed parent drop-off loop for $260,000 to improve traffic flow. In both the middle school and high school, there will be renovations of art and family and consumer science classrooms.

The district will move forward with having construction plans drawn up by their architects and submit them to the New York State Education Department for approval, according to Bossert, which he said takes 12 to 18 months on average.

“We are trying to make the roofs a priority, as the roofs leak and cause flooding during inclement weather,” Bossert said. “It doesn’t make sense to do any of the interior work before the roofs are fixed.”

The superintendent said he hopes to have the plans submitted to the state as soon as possible, as the district will still need to go through the bidding process for contractors prior to starting construction. He estimated it may be five years before all of the bond work is completed.

A damaged ceiling tile resulting from a roof leak in Elwood Middle School, that will be repaired as part of a capital bond project passed by the community. File photo by Kevin Redding

“Having patience is important in this project,” Bossert said.

The average estimated cost to taxpayers for Proposition 1 is $221 per year, or $18.32 per month, for a home with median assessed value. A calculator that allows homeowners to plug in their tax information for an exact quote is available on the district’s website.

The failed Proposition 2 asked taxpayers for $3.72 million to make enhancements to the district’s athletic programs. It was separated from Proposition 1 by the board of education as it was expected to be a divisive issue.

“The reason it is separate is there was division among opinions in the community,” Bossert said at September presentation. “Some members of the community were strongly in support of this proposed $3.72 million as something they can afford to invest in, other factions said, ‘We don’t feel that way.’”

Proposition 2 would have permitted the district to build a new concession stand for the athletic fields with an outdoor bathroom, a synthetic turf field, sidewalks to make the fields ADA compliant and a new scoreboard for the varsity baseball field.

U.S. Reps. Peter King, Lee Zeldin and Tom Suozzi voice bipartisan opposition to the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Nov. 28. Photo by Alex Petroski

Components of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a federal tax reform bill passed by the House of Representatives in November and currently before the U.S. Senate, has achieved the seemingly impossible in finding common ground for Republicans and Democrats.

Members of Long Island’s congressional delegation from both political parties stood in front of the Internal Revenue Service building in Hauppauge Nov. 28 alongside business owners, representatives from local chambers of commerce, and town and county elected officials to deliver a clear and unified message: As currently constituted, both the House and Senate versions of the bill would harm Long Islanders.

“I view it as a geographic redistribution of wealth to propose eliminating [state and local tax deductions],” 1st Congressional District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said during the press conference, pointing to the elimination of the SALT deduction as a key sticking point in the bill. “You’re proposing to take more money from a place like New York in order to pay for deeper tax cuts elsewhere.”

“You’re proposing to take more money from a place like New York in order to pay for deeper tax cuts elsewhere.”

— Lee Zeldin

The SALT deduction, which was enacted 100 years ago, is a provision that in the past, through federal tax returns, gave a portion of tax dollars back to individuals in higher income and property tax states like New York, New Jersey and California to avoid double taxation. The deduction was eliminated in the House version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which the body passed Nov. 16, for individuals’ income taxes, and limited property tax deductions to $10,000. The Senate’s version of the bill, which has not been voted on yet, completely eliminates all SALT deductions. Both the House and Senate versions double the (married filing jointly) standard deduction from $12,000 to $24,000. The bill has been touted by President Donald Trump (R) and other members of Republican leadership as a massive tax cut for middle-class families.

The 2nd District U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) and 3rd District U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) also attended the press conference to rally support for changes to the bill. Zeldin and King were among 13 Republicans in the House to vote “no” on the bill, with 227 voting to pass it. None of the House Democrats voted in favor of the bill.

“There are some good aspects in both the House bill and the Senate bill,” Zeldin said. “Voters last November, when they went to the polls looking for that tax relief for them, for their families, for their community … this is not the tax relief that they had in mind. We may be upsetting a lot of people in our own party back in Washington right now, but we are not elected to be their congressmen.”

King echoed Zeldin’s position on both versions of the bill, calling the position between the three representatives a “united front.”

“I strongly favor tax cuts across the board,” King said. “I believe they are necessary, but this bill, both the House version and the Senate bill, I am opposed to.”

“We’re not asking for any special benefit, because we’ve gotten a raw deal over the years as far as federal distribution of revenues, but don’t add to that.”

— Peter King

King reiterated that his biggest issue with the bills is the elimination of the SALT deduction.

“This is inequitable, it’s unjust and it’s wrong,” King said. “Long Island is really the main victim of this tax bill. We’re not asking for any special benefit, because we’ve gotten a raw deal over the years as far as federal distribution of revenues, but don’t add to that. Don’t make it worse.”

King, who has been a supporter of Trump and his agenda, also took the opportunity to send a message to the White House.

“My district twice voted for Barack Obama by four points and by five points,” King said. “Donald Trump carried [New York’s 2nd Congressional District] by nine points. That was a 14-point turnaround. The people of Long Island didn’t make that turnaround so the Trump administration could raise their taxes so the rest of the country could get a tax break.”

Suozzi, the lone congressional Democrat at the event, also preached unity on tax reform as it pertains to Long Islanders.

“This would be a punch in the gut to everybody on Long Island if this bill were to pass either in the House form or the Senate form,” he said. Suozzi added that he thought it took guts for Zeldin and King to be among the 13 “no” votes among Republicans in the House. “We’re united 100 percent in recognizing eliminating the state and local tax deduction would be devastating to our constituents.”

New York’s income tax rate is among the highest in America, with members of the top tax bracket paying 8.82 percent in 2017. On average, the state income tax deduction for New Yorkers making between $50,000 and $200,000 in annual income for the 2015 tax year was between $4,049 and $9,330. The same group of earners deducted on average between $5,869 and $8,158 over the same time period in state and local real estate taxes. The 2015 tax year is latest year with available data according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, an organization that provides independent analysis of tax policy.

Participants of a protest against the federal tax bill outside of Renaissance Technologies in Setauket Nov. 29. Photo by Kevin Redding

Representatives from local organizations stood outside Renaissance Technologies in East Setauket Nov. 29 to voice their opposition to the bill. Until recently, Robert Mercer was the chief executive officer of the hedge fund, though he is known nationally for his contributions to conservative and right-wing political campaigns.

“It’s clear that there are a lot of changes that are coming and for middle-class folks like us, they’re not going to be good changes,” said Peter Verdon a Suffolk County resident who was present at the protest. “The system is clearly out of whack, tilted towards the extremely wealthy and it’s continuing in that direction and enough’s enough. We can’t allow that to continue to happen.”

Bill Crump, a Lindenhurst resident and member of the Long Island Progressive Coalition political activist group also attended.

“We’re going to have a $1.5 trillion deficit and they’re going to cut our Medicare and our benefits,” he said. “It’s coming out of our pockets. Trump claims he’s going to give a tax cut. Maybe he’s going to give you a quarter while he reaches in and takes your wallet.”

This post was updated Nov. 29 to correct the income tax and mortgage tax deduction amounts under the two bills, and to include information about a Nov. 29 protest in Setauket. Additional reporting contributed by Kevin Redding.

Dilapidated auditorium seating in Elwood Middle School, will be repaired as a result of the passage of a capital bond proposition. File photo by Kevin Redding

The Elwood school district opened its doors to residents last week for a night of building tours in anticipation of the Nov. 28 bond referendum vote to spend $38.2 million on infrastructure repairs and upgrades.

School administrators guided parents through the district’s four buildings Nov. 8 — Harley Avenue Primary School, James H. Boyd Intermediate School, Elwood Middle School and John H. Glenn High School — to provide firsthand glimpses of the proposed numerous critical repairs and renovations within each school. The projects are addressed in two propositions community members will be able to vote on Nov. 28.

The tours were considered effective by the small — yet invested — group of parents who walked through each school.

“You can tell me all you want that there are cracked tiles but seeing it actually brings it to life and makes you see the real needs here,” said Michael Ryan, whose daughter is a graduate of the district. “We have a responsibility to make sure students have an environment that’s conducive to education.”

Marianne Craven, an Elwood resident for 40 years, thought it was a good idea for the school to host the tour.

“We’ve had all sorts of bond issues over the years, but I think this is the first time we’ve ever had a tour,” Craven said. “Those that didn’t come lost the visual. A picture is not worth a thousand words, and actually seeing it makes all the difference.”

A damaged ceiling tile resulting from a roof leak in Elwood Middle School, that would be repaired or renovated if Proposition 1 is approved by residents Nov. 28. Photo by Kevin Redding

The first proposition of the bond totals $34.5 million and will cover major projects like the installation of new roofs on each school which currently leak and cause flooding whenever heavy rain occurs.

In observing the leaky ceilings throughout the middle and high school, Jill Mancini, a former district clerk at Elwood, said, “I moved here in 1975 and the roofs have been leaking since then. All of them.”

Also included under Proposition 1 are repairs to cracked sidewalks and curbing and the refurbishment of auditorium spaces and cafeterias, which need air conditioning as well as furniture replacements. In the middle and high school, the consumer science labs would be upgraded, along with the art rooms, locker rooms and a guidance suite.

“We need to bring them up to 21st century learning environments,” said Superintendent Kenneth Bossert, who led the tour of the middle school. “Some folks who visit our facilities feel like they’ve stepped back in time when they enter [some] classrooms and it’s just not the right environment to teach our students the new skill sets they need to be successful.”

Karen Tyll, the mother of an Elwood seventh-grader, said seeing all the infrastructure problems was eye opening.

“They haven’t done enough throughout the years to maintain the schools and replace the things that are required replacements,” Tyll said, pointing out the importance of stable roofs. “We’re reaching a point where everything is sort of coming to a head, and we need to make the schools better in terms of health and safety for the kids.”

Although she said it’s unfortunate the district needs such an expensive bond, Tyll hopes it will be worthwhile in the end.

“Some of the items are unnecessary because they’re more wants rather than needs,” said one mother on the tour who asked not to be named. “A roof is definitely needed, but the new guidance suite is a want. Our taxes are going to go up and they should’ve separated some of these.”

The superintendent said he felt the Nov. 8 tours were productive in helping residents understand the scope of the proposed bond. 

“It’s difficult to get a true sense of the needs of the facilities solely from the use of pictures and videos,” Bossert said. “I believe residents left with a greater understanding of the priorities the district has brought forward.”

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Do we need tax cuts?

Lots of people agree that our current tax rules are outdated, cumbersome and unfair. On the other hand, there will never be total unanimity on how the tax code should read because one person’s tax cut is another’s tax increase, and for sure no one wants to lose whatever benefits they already have. So the prospect of changes is only palatable as a campaign promise if there would be an overall greater good that everyone recognizes. Such a benefit was proposed during the 2016 campaign as a way to recharge the slow economy. And the conversation has continued from there.

But hold on. The circumstances have changed. Our economy is no longer sluggish. In fact, it seems to have taken off. And, unusually, the economies around the globe appear to have also done so, almost in unison. This rare good news bodes well for the United States and others around the world.

So, back to my original question: Why do we need a tax cut?

If the answer is, for political reasons, that stinks. Just because politicians promised to cut taxes, a regular pledge to get votes, is not good enough to shake the ground on which we live. If the answer is to reallocate wealth, that has never been the role of our capitalist democracy. If the answer is to make more equal the lives of the haves and the have-nots going forward, then simply raise the taxes on the haves in proportion to how much they have benefited from our same capitalist society. And finally, if the answer is to raise revenue in order to reduce our unprecedented national debt, then raise taxes across the board proportionately on everyone who enjoys the services provided by life in these United States.

Sometimes one can get too close to a problem and not see the bigger picture. There is a saying that goes: Are we doing things right—or are we doing the right things? To check on whether we are doing things right, we have to engage in the details, the nitty-gritty of the process. In the case of tax reform, we have to hammer out every line to the greater satisfaction of all concerned. But to decide if we are on the right track, that is, if we are doing the right things, we have to stand back and examine the whole picture. Has the situation changed, perhaps rectified itself, or do we still have to help matters along?

I suggest the latter and I’ll explain why.

Businesses, which will reap three-quarters of the tax proposals over the next 10 years as currently presented, are already, for the most part, doing just fine. That is why the stock market keeps hitting new highs. The prices of the stocks are earnings driven, and the companies we can publicly track via the markets are showing record profits. Why do they need more stimulus? To expand and create more jobs, which is a political mantra? More likely companies will reinvest the additional profits in job-saving equipment, which is the way trends are already leaning. If the government wants to create more jobs, it should help create more businesses, which it could do by offering tax breaks to start-up companies. But that doesn’t require broad tax overhaul. That would just take one change. Mr. President, pick up the pen. Furthermore, to encourage companies to add more workers, offer incentives specifically pegged toward those additional salaries, not tax breaks that can simply result in higher profits in the misguided hope of higher tax revenues.

The initial tax proposals include eliminating deductions for large medical expenses; student loan interest; alimony; tax preparation costs; moving to a new job expenses; casualty, disaster and theft losses; and qualified adoption fees, according to CNBC. Are those the changes we want for our society?

What ultimate goal can we all get behind, and do we get there with tax cuts?

Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio presented the town's 2018 tentative operating budget this week. File photo by Susan Risoli

Smithtown homeowners may find themselves in an enviable position as Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) looks to cut taxes for the second straight year.

Vecchio presented his $105 million 2018 proposed Smithtown Town budget at a brief 46-second special town board meeting Oct. 3. There was no public discussion of the budget, as town board members were seeing the nearly 200-page document for the first time.

“Ostensibly, the proposed budget is now theirs; the [town board] can change it or do anything with it they would like,” Vecchio said. “My experience is that they’ve never changed it.”

Overall, the proposed budget contains an increase of $2 million over the 2017 budget, but will reduce the town taxes for the average homeowner by $1.05, down from $1,269.88 per year to $1,268.83 per year for a home with an assessed value of $5,500. It falls well under the state tax cap of 1.84 percent.

Vecchio said he prepared a structurally balanced budget in which incoming revenues match the recurring expenditures, a measure he achieved by implementing cost cutting initiatives and long-range planning.

First and foremost, the supervisor pointed to careful control of town employees’ salaries.

“We have not replaced employees who have retired,” the supervisor said. “When we do rehire employees, we rehire them at a lower salary.”

While positions have been lost through attrition, the 2018 budget does not call for the layoff of any existing town personnel.

Smithtown town officials also gradually implemented a new policy of leasing
vehicles used by various departments, such as parks and highways, instead of outright purchasing them.

“It’s saved us a lot of money,” Vecchio said. “There’s a big outlay when purchasing a vehicle for a municipality, plus then there’s maintenance.”

Other cost-saving measures taken by the town include replacing streetlights with LED lights and sharing services for emergency dispatching, according to the supervisor.

The proposed budget has set aside $4.4 million for the 2018 road program, which in addition to $1.1 million in state funding, will allow for road improvements and repaving over the upcoming year.

Vecchio said the town is in a good fiscal position with a Triple A bond rating and a $17 million surplus in its general fund.

“What’s the benefit, residents might ask, of having a $17 million surplus?” he said. “The benefit of having that money in surplus is your bond rating. Your interest rates on bonds are always lower when you
have reserves.”

The supervisor has proposed allocating $600,000 of the town’s surplus funds towards the highway budget to supplement continued roadway improvements. A similar measure was approved in the 2017 budget which appropriated $602,000 for roadways and later approved $2 million specifically for improvements to Lake
Avenue in Smithtown.

A public hearing on the 2018 proposed budget will be held at the town board meeting on Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. Residents can review a line-by-line budget breakdown on the town’s website at www.smithtownny.gov.

If passed, homeowners would see minimal increase in property taxes

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine. File photo by Alex Petroski

Brookhaven Town plans to spend $294.1 million in the 2018 fiscal year, about a $12 million increase compared to 2017’s budget, though the town won’t need much help from the public to do so.

Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) presented his tentative operating budget for 2018 to the public during a meeting Sept. 28. Romaine referred to the plan as a “taxpayers’ budget.”

“My job is to bring in the most cost effective budget, and that’s what we think we’ve done here,” Romaine said, thanking the town’s finance department Commissioner Tamara Wright and Chief of Operations Matt Miner for their work in presenting a balanced budget. He also lauded the town’s AAA bond rating as a valuable asset in putting together a spending plan.

“We have a structurally balanced budget for the last few years and we have wound up each of the last few years with a surplus, which kind of distinguishes us in terms of our fiscal soundness,” Romaine said.

The increase compared to the 2017 fiscal year can be attributed in large part to the disbanding of the formerly incorporated Mastic Beach Village, which means some services provided to residents of the village will again become Brookhaven’s responsibility. In addition, health insurance costs for town employees are expected to increase by 10 percent in 2018, and contractually mandated raises will go up by about $1.7 million. The town’s debt requirements will be about 5 percent higher in 2018. Despite the increases, if passed, the spending plan would maintain all services provided to residents during 2017, though no new programs would be funded, according to Romaine. Less than $2 million in reserve funds were needed to balance the budget, compared to about $3.5 million in 2017.

A typical Brookhaven Town resident living outside of an incorporated village should expect to see an increase of about $11 in their town property taxes in 2018 from the town’s general funds, excluding special districts such as sewer and highway districts, which will still see minimal increases. The budget falls within the state-mandated 1.84 percent tax levy increase cap, meaning it won’t need to be pierced, which requires approval via a public vote.

The town benefitted from an additional $7 million in revenue than was budgeted for ahead of the 2017 fiscal year thanks primarily to the town’s mortgage tax and other building fees and fines. Romaine said the unexpected revenue allowed the town to anticipate higher revenues in crafting the 2018 budget.

Part of the tentative budget also includes a $40.2 million list of new capital projects to be funded by bonds and reserves over a four-year period beginning in 2018, including $18 million for road repairs, drainage, traffic safety and street lighting projects; $8 million to cap the town landfill; and $6 million for park and recreation facility upgrades and equipment, among others.

The town board will host a public hearing to allow the community to weigh in on the budget Nov. 9 at Town Hall. The full tentative budget is also available to the public on the town’s website www.brokhavenny.gov.

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