Huntington Town Board Approves 2017 Budget
The Huntington Town Board, at its November 10, 2016 meeting, approved a $191 million spending plan for 2017 that maintains all Town services at current levels while calling for a modest tax increase above the state tax cap.
The $190,011,856 budget 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. However, at the September 27, 2016 meeting, the Town Board voted unanimously to pierce the cap because of the draconian measures that would have been required to adhere to it, including cutting funding for 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, 2016 Town Board meeting, Supervisor Frank P. Petrone noted that even after making those cuts, the Town, to stay under the 0.68 percent cap, would have had 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 wish to thank my fellow Board members, who continue to work with me by taking the prudent, fiscally responsible steps that have enabled me to submit this budget; a budget that serves the Town residents well by maintaining the current level of services and increasing the tax levy only by that amount required to fund Federal and State mandated expenses, which are wholly outside the control of the Town Board,” Supervisor Petrone said in his message for the budget’s final version.
Supervisor Petrone noted that the increased spending covers costs over which the Town has 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.
Supervisor Petrone said the tax cap hampers efforts to pursue some potentially popular initiatives, including renewing the Open Space Bond Act (which expires in June 2018), approving an East Northport Business Improvement District and building a parking structure in Huntington Village. Doing so, he noted, would entail a “substantial” additional piercing of the cap.
“While I concur with the fundamental concept behind the cap and applaud the recognition on the part of our elected officials in Albany that real property taxes are of paramount concern to every resident of this State, I do believe there needs to be modification of the language in the current legislation, so that the unintended consequence of limiting growth and new initiatives is eliminated,” he wrote. “As I have indicated in the past, expanded services are not necessarily examples of government waste, something that as written, Tax Cap Act presumes.”
The Supervisor noted that he has asked Huntington’s state legislative delegation to sponsor legislation that would exempt from the cap programming and expenditures put before the general public for a referendum vote and approved by majority.
“For example, our Open Space Bond Act, which has funded many environmentally sensitive property acquisitions, neighborhood enhancements, park improvements, and green infrastructure initiatives, was put to the voters for approval, on two separate instances. Huntington residents overwhelmingly voted to increase the tax levy each time, so that these essential purchases and infrastructure improvements could be made. A referendum vote to tax for specific services should not count towards the annual tax levy cap,” the Supervisor wrote.
Click here for the 2017 Budget
In other action, the Town Board:
— authorized transferring Town-owned property at New York Avenue and Northridge Street in Huntington Station to Renaissance Downtowns, the Town’s Huntington Station master developer, for construction of a mixed-use building that will include 16 apartments and 6,500 square feet of retail space. This building is one of several projects Renaissance has proposed as part of Huntington Station revitalization.
— authorized an agreement with a three-artist team to design a sculpture for Sweet Hollow Park, which is under construction in Melville. All of the artists on the team are local.
— voted, after holding a public hearing, to revoke the license agreement with Florida-based Integrity Golf Company LLC to operate the Town’s Crab Meadow and Dix Hills Park golf courses.
— waived parking meter fees in Huntington Village for the holiday shopping period, from November 25 to January 1.
— approved an increase in HART bus fares. The changes 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 will rise to $17 from the current $15. Other fares are unchanged.