The Huntington Town Board approved a $181.2 million operating budget for 2013 in a special meeting Thursday. The budget was approved 3-2, with Supervisor Frank Petrone and Council Members Mark Cuthbertson and Susan Berland voting in favor.
The 0.83 percent increase in the town’s total tax – about $19 for the average homeowner – falls well below the state-mandated 2 percent tax cap limit and reflects a $1.5 million decrease in capital spending.
The tax hike reflects increases in the General and Refuse Funds, offset by savings in the Highway and Part Town Funds. A mild winter, coupled with reimbursement from FEMA for Tropical Storm Irene expenses, as well as a healthy reserve account to draw upon, all contributed to the reduction in Highway taxes.
Town Board members have accepted a pay freeze under the amended operating budget, rather than an increase as proposed in the preliminary budget. The town board members work part-time, with the exception of Petrone, who has not taken a pay freeze.
Town appointed and elected officials will now be required to pay into their health insurance under the amended budget. Petrone said he is also negotiating for an additional $1.5 million in personnel costs with the CSEA union representing white collar employees and hopes to come to a resolution by the end of this week. The dollar amount will be realized through negotiations, lay-offs or a combination of both, said Petrone.
"I think I have one or two points that have to be resolved and I'm confident that we'll be able to resolve it," he said. "No one wants to see anyone lose jobs, not today in this economy."
Two positions--one from the Supervisor's Office and one from the IT Department--were eliminated from the original budget, though Petrone said that the position eliminated from his office will likely fill a vacancy elsewhere.
There were $175,000 in health insurance and $110,000 in Highway Fund debt service savings also realized in the amended estimate, which contribute to the $500,000 in savings from the preliminary budget presented in September. The Town will also continue to realize more than $2 million in interest savings over the next 7 years from Petrone’s plan to refinance approximately one-quarter of the Town’s outstanding debt.
A major change from the preliminary budget is elimination of the at the Huntington LIRR Station, a proposal that sparked the ire of many commuters. The town is now raising the parking fees from $50 to $75 for both garage and lot spaces, will charge $150 for non-resident parking permits, and will increase daily space fees from $5 to $10. Additional metered parking spots will also be added to some LIRR stations in the Town.
"We're still realizing almost a half a million dollars in costs between capital costs and maintenance costs for those garages," Petrone said. "The town is paying that and we're still looking for ways to offset that. We'll be working with the commuter council and we'll be looking for additional ways into the following year."
During a budget amendments presentation by Deputy Comptroller Andrew Persich, Councilman Mark Mayoka said he's never seen such adjustments take place during his experience in any budget process and asked if there were any errors.
"There were no errors," Persich replied. "This is a very tough year for budgeting, I can tell you that much. We were faced with short falls in revenue, as you know, and we've had to make certain changes. The number of amendments is a reflection of the economy. We've come up with solutions to balance the budget."
Petrone said Hurricane Sandy has also impacted the budget, adding that monetary totals for damage are still being tallied and will rise into the millions. Debris from Sandy is three times that resulting from Hurricane Irene last year.
"You have to spend out and right now we're still waiting for reimbursement from Irene," he said, "which could create a cash flow issue, based on the fact that we have to pay our bills. I contacted Congressman Israel and he said the money has been given to the state and will be dispersed through the state. We are waiting on that."