Huntington Town board members approved a cap-piercing $191 million budget that was strongly supported by residents when it was first proposed in September.
The 2017 budget maintains town services at current levels and calls for a 2.85 percent tax levy increase, which will net the town about $2.2 million more in revenue than the 0.68 percent state-mandated tax levy cap set this year.
According to the town, the tax levy is projected to increase by $3.2 million to $117.7 million, which would cost residents approximately $18 to $30 more per household this year.
The cap limits tax levy increases to the rate of inflation or 2 percent. However, it can be overridden by a 60 percent super majority vote by the town board.
If we cut [funding] down, Huntington suffers. It’s not just going to a museum and seeing one less painting. It’s millions of dollars out of the pockets of local residents.” —Ken Katz
Town board members voted unanimously to approve the budget Sept. 27, after listening to many community members urge the town to pierce the cap in order to continue funding for social, youth and art programs.
Jolena Smith, a Huntington High School student and member of the Tri Community Youth Agency — a not-for-profit organization that offers educational, recreational, social, cultural, athletics, counseling and advocacy programs for the town’s youth — became emotional when speaking about why it’s so important to her that the board pierces the cap this year and maintains Tri CYA funding.
“The Tri CYA provides all types of programs, services and activities to the youth that don’t have other choices or places to go,” she said at the meeting. “I’ve been coming to the Tri CYA for as long as I can remember, and it means a lot to me. The staff is an extended family. The Tri CYA helps kids stay off the streets. It helped me be the person I am today.”
Ken Katz, a Huntington resident and member of the board of directors at the Cinema Arts Centre, also talked about how crucial funding from the town is for the survival of the CAC, a nonprofit organization that helps provide programs for students and seniors, as well as supporting local businesses.
“It’s not just a couple of bucks less for culture and arts,” he said. “If we cut [funding] down, Huntington suffers, not the Cinema Arts Centre. It’s not just going to a museum and seeing one less painting. It’s millions of dollars out of the pockets of local residents.”
In order to stay within the state-mandated tax levy increase cap, not only would Huntington have to cut youth and arts programs, Town Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) also said they would have to lay off employees — a move he said residents would feel the effects of in the form of reduced service, maintenance and hours at town facilities and longer waits at Town Hall.
“While I concur with the fundamental concept behind the cap … I do believe there needs to be modification of the language in the current legislation, so that the unintended consequence of limiting growth and new initiatives is eliminated,” Petrone said in a statement.
The supervisor also talked about the challenge with requirements to fund federal and state-mandated expenses that the board has no control over.
“I wish to thank my fellow board members, who continue to work with me by taking the prudent, fiscally responsible steps that have enabled me to submit this budget,” he said. “[It’s] a budget that serves residents well by maintaining the current level of services and increasing the tax levy only by that amount required to fund federal and state-mandated expenses, which are wholly outside the control of the town board.”