Mastic Beach Village Budget = Zero Tax Increase But Cuts Services to Residents

WJN_2751smmMastic Beach Mayor Maura Spery• Story by Barbara LaMonica In a 4-1 vote last week the Mastic Beach Village Board of trustees adopted a $3,890,581 spending plan for Fiscal Year 2016-2017 that calls for a zero tax increase to residents. Trustees Manzella, Johnson, Snyder and Anderson voted for the budget while Mayor Maura Spery cast the lone dissenting vote. The budget was met with controversy over a $400,000 deficit. The village two years earlier received $430,000 from the New York State Department of Transportation (CHPS) funding which was to be deposited into the municipality’s highway fund to pave Mastic Beach Road. Instead, $400,000 was deposited into the village’s General Fund, and the revenue was used over the past two years to pay bills in the form of one-shots which the municipality incurred. Mayor Spery said in an interview following adoption of the budget that the spending she proposed called for a 125% tax increase which would have made the municipality whole on its $400,000 debt. What a 125% tax increase would have equated to for the average assessed home in the Village of Mastic Beach, according to Village Treasurer Anne Abel, would have been a one-time $75 payment next year. All residents pay their $300 garbage fee tax bills and another $200 in services for the average-assessed homeowner. Residents would have been taxed the portion of their village tax bills that did not include the garbage fees. “When this village was formed six years ago, it was created based on tax neutral budgeting with no tax increases, but that’s not realistic budgeting because the reality is, you have to pay taxes if you want the services,” Spery said. “We have 88 miles of roads that we have to sweep and pave and put up street signs and maintain, and this village cannot survive being tax neutral if we are going to clean up this mess, and,” Spery underscored, “we haven’t even begun to discuss paving.” Still, Spery reported village officials will not know the exact dollar deficit until the New York State Comptroller’s auditors come into the village to conduct their audit a few weeks after the close of the 2015-2016 Fiscal Year. Trustee Betty Manzella voted for the tax neutral spending plan, but expressed reservations in the direction the village is heading: “I voted for this tax neutral budget to not raise taxes, but I’m not going to say I’m not concerned, because I am concerned.” Manzella said the village conducted several public meetings during which members of the budget advisory committee and residents were able to express views on the budget. “Some people were fine with a tax increase, but the overwhelming majority voiced that they wanted no tax increase,” Manzella said. “I had to listen to what the majority who came to the meetings who were vocal were saying they wanted.” The tax neutral budget will mean a reduction of village employees, a move Spery asserts is going to impose compounding legal fees upon the village. “We already have legal expenses from the last year and we’ve got another lawsuit coming up, and with employee cuts across the board in every department from building, highway, code enforcement,” Spery said. “This is creating a huge problem with the unions (Local 342 Long Island Public Service Employees Association),” the mayor added. The union sent correspondence to the village, in essence, conveying that they would pursue every protection available for its members affected by the budget cuts. Manzella, who concurs layoffs are going to be “very problematic,” noted that the mayor gave up her $16,000 stipend and trustees gave up their $3,000 to $5,000 annual stipends and the use of village cell phones. Manzella noted the village clerk/administrator receives an annual $125,000 salary. Spery and Manzella reported stark contrasts in budgets which villages comparable in size to Mastic Beach operate on. They cited Patchogue Village at $13 million and “its tremendous business base,” Westhampton Beach at $10 million, Remsenberg at $13 million, and Lindenhurst at $12.5 million. Further compounding expenses for the Village of Mastic Beach is that the municipality was supposed to pay the Town of Brookhaven to provide highway services to the village. Instead, the village has its own highway department, an expense that was not initially anticipated when the village became incorporated. “The highway was supposed to be zero taxes to residents, and now it’s approximately $1 million,” Manzella calculated. “I think we have to ask the residents if they want to continue down the road of no services, or cut services,” Manzella said. “So, I would support a referendum for village residents to decide if they would support a tax increase if we provide the services that they want, or, if they want to dissolve the village and operate under the Town of Brookhaven, because,” Manzella said, “to run a village effectively and efficiently, it’s realistic to raise taxes.” “Tax neutral budgeting is a fantasy budget, and it is not tenable,” Spery concurred.

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