Tax levy increase cap squeezes Brookhaven budget

Tax levy increase cap squeezes Brookhaven budget

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Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine. File photo by Erika Karp

Brookhaven Town is one of many municipalities being forced to tighten its belt for 2017. Faced with the unenviable task of crafting an operating budget for 2017 with very little leeway to increase revenue from taxes, the town released its tentative budget for the coming year at a board meeting Sept. 29.

The town’s tentative operating budget for 2017 stands at just under $282 million, which represents a $1.8 million increase over the adopted 2016 operating budget.

Despite a state-mandated tax levy increase cap of just 0.68 percent, a contractually mandated 1.5 percent increase in salaries and a projected increase in health benefits of more than 9 percent for town employees, the budget will maintain all town constituent services and quality of life enforcement resources, according to a statement by Supervisor Ed Romaine (R).

“The strength of this town and its finances continues thanks to the hard work of all of our [councilpersons] and to the hard work of our Finance Commissioner Tamara Wright and [Chief of Operations] Matt Miner,” Romaine said during the meeting.

Wright presented the budget to the public during the meeting, which she called the most difficult of the nine town budgets she’s worked on to date.

“As the supervisor indicated, this budget is in compliance with the New York State tax cap, which is at an unprecedented low for the 2017 fiscal year,” Wright said. “It was a challenge to meet that, but we’re very pleased we were able to stay within the cap.”

The town was granted a AAA credit rating by Standard & Poor’s Financial Services earlier this year. Romaine and Wright both said maintaining that rating played a roll in the budget process.

“We have significantly reduced the use of surplus to balance the budget, using only $3.1 million this year,” Wright said. “That is a significant reduction over our previous years and it is what Wall Street and the credit rating agencies look for to maintain as AAA. This particular budget continues to build on the principles we’ve been putting in place over the past several years that have lead to the AAA rating, and I’m confident that it is going to allow us to keep it as we move forward.”

One area that saw an increase in funds for 2017 was snow removal, which now stands at just under $6 million.

“If we do have a year of little snow, we hope to be able to move some of that budget over to highway maintenance [budget] lines to increase the spending there if we don’t need the snow budget,” Wright said.

The town was able save money by eliminating 13 full-time positions, which were left vacant primarily by retirements and resignations during the course of the year, according to Wright.

The town board will hold a public hearing and vote to approve the tentative 2017 budget Nov. 10 at 5 p.m.