Residents targeted a proposed Huntington LIRR parking garage fee increase at a 2013 Preliminary Town Budget hearing Tuesday, calling it out of touch with working class citizens.
Town Supervisor Frank Petrone proposed a 1,200 percent jump – from $50 a year to $600 a year – for a guaranteed parking space in the town-owned parking garage in his $181.7 million budget in September, reasoning that it is the going rate among neighboring municipalities.
Many disputed the town's reasoning. Permits for use of parking lots maintained by the Town of Oyster Bay at Bethpage, Glen Head, Hicksville, Locust Valley, Massapequa and Syosset train stations, for example, cost $80 per year for incorporated villages within Oyster Bay, and $20 for for two years in unincoorporated areas. Information specific to parking garages was not available on the TOB website.
Speakers also questioned why pay increases were proposed for town counilmembers, while residents are asked to shoulder such an increase in fees.
"For Huntington to go from the current $50 to $600 because there's a budget shortfall, at the same time considering increases in salaries, is absolutely unconscionable," said Greenlawn Resident Steve Dombrower, urging the board to "pull the lever" on councilmember salaries and benefits. Others seconded his call.
"This preliminary town operating budget includes raises for part time town board members who already make considerably more money than many of our neighbors here in Huntington make working at full time positions," said Huntington Resident Michael Kornfeld. Councilman Mark Mayoka later interjected that, as a member of the Town Budget Task Force, he had suggested councilmembers take a ten percent pay cut.
Residents said a 1,200 percent jump is intolerable, though they are not opposed to some form of fee increase. Mark Bossey of Centerport suggested that the town phase in an increase over a number of years to lessen the blow, especially in the light of projected LIRR fare hikes.
Many echoed Bossey's suggestion, such as Ashley Handler of Melville. A young Huntingtonian, she said she was reliant on the train to get to her job in the city. "Perhaps you should increase [the garage fee] by $100 per year," she said, adding that the day parking fee in the lot by the garage be increased to $10, from its current $5. "It's a reasonable addition," she said.
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Petrone's proposed 2013 budget also calls for a 50 percent hike in HART bus fare and increases in recreation and refuse management fees. Anthony Ferguson from Huntington Station said any increase to HART fares comes at an inopportune time. "We are still in a recession, winter months are coming, and I'm sure the ridership would rather put that extra money toward their heating bill," he said, suggesting an advisory board of riders be formed to discuss bus issues.
Both Councilman Mark Cuthbertson and Petrone said they were struck by the decorum expressed at the hearing Tuesday and said that all ideas would be taken into account before a decision is made on the budget in three weeks.
The town is still collecting surveys which they say were sent to commuter parking permit holders in early October asking for input on the proposal. Out of roughly 6000 sent, 1000 had been returned, said Petrone. Copies of the survey were made available outside the meeting room, and will likely be made available at the train station and on the town's website, after residents voiced frustration in not receiving the surveys or not receiving them in a timely manner.
Petrone said there is some wiggle room in his proposals, depending on how certain budget projections turn out.
"Depending on when we look at revenues and we now start projecting..if health insurance comes in lower, yeah, there's wiggle room, if mortgage tax receipts change, there's wiggle room," he said. "...I'm sitting with the CSEA (Civil Service Employees) union and we're very close in terms of their leadership and the town coming to some kind of an agreement. Part of that agreement is cost saving measures."
Though will be no other hearings on the budget proposals, residents can submit materials to Town Clerk Jo-Ann Raia's office for consideration by the town board.
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