Town of Brookhaven officials and residents have one less thing to worry about next year, now that the 2016 budget has been finalized.
On Nov. 19, the town board approved Supervisor Ed Romaine’s nearly $281 million proposed operating budget, which complies with the New York State cap on tax levy increases — in fact holding it, and thus residents’ property taxes, steady next year.
According to a previous interview with Finance Commissioner Tamara Wright, who helped Romaine (R) craft the budget, the town accomplished this by properly managing its capital projects and by satisfying debts.
Earlier this year, the town finished paying off an $8.4 million debt connected to the New York State employees’ retirement system, allowing the town to save about $1 million annually. But its efforts to reduce debt will not end there — going forward, Romaine said, the town will continue addressing that issue and prioritizing expenditures.
“You should not spend money you do not have,” he said. “We’re very much aware of that, and we’re monitoring all of our expenses very carefully.”
Some funds that would have gone toward the completed debt payments will instead be used to fund other parts of the budget in 2016.
The budget also allocates $5.2 million for the highway department’s snow removal budget, a number that has been incrementally increasing since Long Island communities had to dig out of dense snow in the February 2013 blizzard commonly dubbed Winter Storm Nemo, which shut down some roads for days. Brookhaven’s snow removal funding has doubled in the last few years.
If there is leftover money in that account after the winter, the goal is to deposit it into a reserve account that would be used in an emergency winter weather situation.
While roadway upkeep is important, Romaine said designating money to fund all maintenance issues is difficult, because spending is limited.
“It’s hard to do that when you have a tax cap,” Romaine said. “I believe the budget is as good as it’s going to get, considering the constraints we live under.”
In addition to raising the snow removal budget, the town is putting money toward traffic safety, park improvements, open space preservation and land acquisition. The spending plan also increases funding for public safety staff, code enforcement and internal auditors, among others.
Romaine touted the budget’s relying less on fund balance to get by, which adds to financial stability. Without including its debt reserves, Brookhaven’s 2016 budget will only use $2.35 million in reserves, a substantial decrease from the 2015 spending plan, which used about $8 million.