Plan released after Town Board unanimously approves piercing state tax cap
Immediately after the Huntington Town Board voted unanimously at the September 27 meeting to pierce the state tax cap, Supervisor Frank P. Petrone presented a 2017 proposed budget that maintains all Town services at current levels while calling for a modest tax increase above the cap.
The $190,011,856 spending plan freezes all salaries and calls for some positions to be eliminated through attrition. It does hold social, youth and arts programs at 2016 funding levels. There will be no impact to town services, as general Department funding has also been held to a status quo.
The tax levy is projected to increase by $3.2 million to $117.7 million, a 2.85 percent raise, which is about $2.2 million above the growth that would have been allowed under the 0.68 percent state tax cap figure.
“Early on in the budgeting process, it became apparent that conformance with the New York State Tax Cap Act would be very difficult,” Supervisor Petrone said in his message accompanying the budget presented to the Town Council, noting increases in costs over which the Town had no control, including materials, equipment, utilities, fuel and – most notably – the state-managed health insurance program. The state informed the Town that health insurance costs will rise 11 percent next year, or $2.6 million – a single item that is two and a half times greater than the growth allowed by the cap.
The Tax Cap was designed to curb wasteful and unchecked government spending by placing a limit on tax levy growth,” Supervisor Petrone noted in his message. “I find it hard to believe that when enacted, its framers envisioned a situation in which adhering to the cap would impact our ability to deliver basic government services. That is exactly what municipalities are now faced with, as they struggle to maintain a flat tax levy in the face of increasing fixed costs.”
A budget that limited the tax levy increase to 0.68 percent would have required cutting discretionary spending – supporting the arts and Town youth and social programs, programs that the public wants and have come to expect as part of what makes up Huntington’s quality of life. During the discussion of piercing the cap at the September 27 Town Board meeting, the Supervisor noted that even after making those cuts, the Town would have to lay off employees, further reducing a workforce that is 25 percent smaller than only a few years ago. He noted that residents would feel the effects of those cuts in the form of reduced services and maintenance and hours at Town facilities and longer waits at Town Hall.
“I have serious concerns relative to the effects of the Tax Cap Act and the consequences in the coming years and will be discussing this matter more thoroughly in my Final Budget Message,” the Supervisor said in the message to his colleagues. “I wish to thank you on behalf of all residents and agencies that provide the myriad of services offered in the Town, for accepting the mandate to be fiscally responsible during extremely difficult times, and permitting me to present this budget for your consideration.”
The Board set a public hearing in the proposal for 6 p.m. on October 19.
In other action, the Board:
— approved settlement of the litigation over the assessment on the property in Eatons Neck known as the Sandpiper Farm.
— took the next steps in the creation of a Huntington Heritage Trail, officially naming the collection of parcels assembled over the past few years as Heritage Park and authorizing $57,000 from the Park Improvement Fund to establish trailhead entrances, provide gravel parking, maintain on-site vegetation and create interpretive signage.
— authorized applying for a $60,000 grant from the New York State and Municipal Facilities Capital Program to restore and improve the Veterans Plaza at Town Hall. The grant would create a World War I memorial, provide a new flagpole, provide for enhancements to the existing memorials and create a brick plaza to facilitate handicap accessibility. The Town has been working with State Sen. Carl Marcellino on the grant application.
— approved an amendment to Town Code affecting non-mechanical attractions at carnivals. The proposal removes the existing requirement of one ride per quarter acre for non-mechanical attractions such as slides, fun houses and bounce houses. Additionally, under the proposal, non-mechanical attractions would not be counted in the overall number of rides that can exist at an event.
— approved amendments to the Town’s blighted property code, including strengthening the Town’s demolition procedure regarding unsafe and damaged buildings and structures. The amendments specify conditions under which a building may be declared unsafe.
— approved measures to manage the proliferation of hookah lounges and vape lounges within the Town, prohibiting them within 1,500 feet of a park, playground, religious institution or school or where there are residences in a mixed use building.
— extended to January 8, 2017 the deadline for acting on the application of Brightview Senior Living for a zoning change that would allow them to construct an assisted living facility on Deer Park Avenue, north of Talisman Drive in Dix Hills.
— scheduled a November 10 public hearing on an application to rezone a parcel on the north side of Jericho Turnpike at Valmont Avenue, Commack, from C-6 General Business District to C-11 Automotive Service Station District to allow construction of a QuickChek convenience market and gasoline filling station on the site of the former Northport Ford.
— scheduled a November 10 public hearing on a proposal to rescind covenants on a parcel on the north side of Jericho Turnpike, east of Verleye Avenue, East Northport, to allow construction of a Dairy Queen with drive-through and outdoor seating, as well as a medical office building.
— authorized an amendment to the agreement with the Huntington Community First Aid Squad to allow the squad to bill persons served, or their insurance companies, for services provided.
— approved waiving adoption fees for pit bulls and pit bull mixes in October and as well as conducting a free spaying and neutering program for pit bulls and pit bull mixes in recognition of National Pit Bull Awareness Month.
— accepted a $1,000 donation for improvements at Quentin Sammis/West Neck Beach from the production company that recently filmed part of an episode of the television program “Madame Secretary” there. The donation is in addition to the normal fee for filming on Town property.
— scheduled an October 19 public hearing on proposed fare changes for the Town’s Huntington Area Rapid Transit (HART) bus system. The changes would increase the cost of a single ride for an adult to $2.25 from the current $2 and a single ride on paratransit service to $4 from the current $3. A 10-trip booklet would rise to $17 from the current $15. Other fares would be unchanged.