Huntington looks to pierce tax levy cap for 2017

Huntington looks to pierce tax levy cap for 2017

Supervisor Frank Petrone says staying within cap will force town to cut art and youth programs

Supervisor Frank Petrone receives the 2016 budget last year. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Huntington residents have the chance to weigh in on possible tax increases for the coming year, as Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) set a public hearing on a proposal authorizing the board to adopt a 2017 budget that would pierce the state tax cap if passed.

This year’s tax levy cap is set at 0.68 percent, and according to town spokesperson A.J. Carter, town employees’ health care costs alone would pierce that tax cap.

The state cap limits the amount a municipality can increase its tax levy, which is the total amount collected in taxes, from budget to budget. While commonly referred to as a “two percent tax cap,” it actually limits levy increases to 2 percent or the rate of inflation — whichever is lower — before certain excluded spending, like on capital projects and pension payments.

Carter said staying within the tax cap would require the town to cut arts and youth programs.

Petrone said when he began the 2017 budget process this summer, he realized how much the town would have to cut to stay within the cap, and started to draft a second budget that Carter said would cost residents approximately $18 to $30 more per household.

At the town board meeting on Aug. 16, Petrone and the board scheduled a public hearing at the Sept. 27 town board meeting to get a feel for how community members would receive the potential increase.

“What we want is a clear direction from the public,” Carter said in a phone interview. “Does the public want us to preserve our existing programs or not?”

Carter said the board will decide at the September meeting if the town will go ahead with either the budget that stays within the tax cap, or the one that pierces it, depending on feedback from the public.

Councilman Gene Cook (R) has disagreed in the past with how Petrone handles the town’s budget, and said he wants to hear how the public feels about a proposed budget that pierces the tax levy cap.

“I am definitely not for it,” Cook said in a phone interview. “I would like to do anything to avoid tax increases. But I am willing to listen to what the public thinks.”

Last year the board passed a roughly $188.7 million budget, which was a 1.3 percent increase in the town’s tax levy, and about a $29 increase for the average homeowner. Overall spending decreased by 0.2 percent.