Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone is again calling for cuts to spending and no new taxes in two of three major funds in 2012, according to a proposed $174 million budget released Wednesday by the town.
With revenues stagnant and escalating state-mandated costs threatening essential services, the town plans a freeze on employee wages and the elimination of 10 vacant positions to save $700,000 and bring Huntington's authorized staffing to its lowest level since 1996.
The 2012 budget marks the third straight year that Petrone has proposed spending cuts.
The recommended budget calls for a $10.3 million decrease to the operating budget decrease from last year and an 18 percent increase in capital budget spending to $10.1 million in a year which some capital projects were deferred and only $6.4 million in serial bonds were issued.
The wage freeze is subject to ongoing discussions with labor unions, according to the town. If concessions from the unions are not reached, officials say a town layoff plan will ensue to achieve budgeted savings of $1.044 million. Additionally, elected and appointed officials will have their salaries frozen for the third straight year.
A Highway Fund tax increase of approximately $12 per household is necessary as a result of damage from Hurricane Irene and recent snow storms, according to Petrone, who called this year's budget preparation a "daunting" task.
“The challenge in developing Huntington’s 2012 budget was to maintain services at a time when revenues are stagnant and fixed costs like employee pensions, health care and commodity and energy costs are increasing,” said Petrone in a budget summary.
The continued installation of energy efficient streetlights, will save the town approximately $400,000 annually. The money will be reinvested in the town’s energy efficiency program, according to town officials.
According to the proposed budget, remaining debt on the Resource Recovery Center will be satisfied by using $4.6 million of debt reserves.
Other cost-cutting measures include: A 10 percent employee contribution to health insurance costs at an estimated savings of $1 million; a reduction in debt service by the deference of selected capital projects; and amortized increases in mandated pension costs at an estimated savings of $4.3 million in 2012.
“Although the economy is showing signs of a slow recovery, finding ways to mitigate tax burdens on local residents must continue to be our priority,” said Petrone in his message to the Town Board.
Petrone said Huntington will finish the projects currently in design or under construction, and will continuously reevaluate priorities and view potential projects through a cost-benefit lens intended to ensure that the impact of debt service on future operating budgets remains at its historically low current level.
By a 4-1 vote Tuesday, the Town Board set an Oct. 11 public hearing regarding the budget proposal. Board Member Mark Mayoka voted against the resolution.
"Without me given any time to review the budget, I don't find it possible to vote in favor," said Mayoka, who thanked Petrone for his dillegence but vowed to propose the establishment of a budget committee to bring "clarity to budget process."
Town Board Member Mark Cuthbertson said Tuesday's vote was just a resolution to allow the budget process to go forward.
"The process was no different in the years I've been here," said Cuthbertson. "It is a starting point."
Petrone, who completed the budget Friday before sending it to print, said there is plenty of time to review and act on the budget before it gets adopted.
Town Board Members Glenda Jackson and Susan Berland commended Petrone for his budget efforts.