Brookhaven Town 2017 Budget Public Hearing Draws No Public Opposition Budget Holds Line on Taxes within Cost of Living

Ed Romaine 2014• Story by Barbara LaMonica

When Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward Romaine unveiled his proposed 2017 town-wide spending plan, he dubbed it “The Taxpayers’ Budget.” The total $281,815,795 budget complies with the 0.68% New York State Tax Cap, the town’s Tax Rate and Spending caps, and falls within parameters of the municipality’s Debt Management Policy, and Fund Balance Policy.
Brookhaven Town Commissioner of Finance Tamara Wright and Chief of Operations Matt Miner outlined the proposed budget at the public hearing which the town board is expected to adopt next week. Wright underscored there will be no reserves used to balance the budget, Miner said there will be a reduction of full-time staffing by 13 employees which Romaine said will be achieved through attrition. “In the four years since I’ve been here, no jobs have been cut – positions have been eliminated through attrition,” Romaine said. During a reporter roundtable last month, Romaine told reporters that “the budget calls for no employee layoffs or a reduction in staff.”
During the public hearing, First District Councilwoman Valerie Cartright expressed concerns over restoring the bathhouse at Stony Brook Beach and that a reduction in funding for the General Park s Fund would hamper progress of future projects. Miner explained that funding for parks facilities will be more “project-specific.” Romaine said officials are “upgrading all park facilities town-wide.” Second District Councilwoman Jane Bonner said “the money is being spread out equally and fairly.”
Romaine said the 2017 Budget lowers town wide spending, (excluding employee compensation and benefits by $1.6 million, which, he said, are unfixed expenses). The total projected increase in the 2017 proposed Budget for Employee Compensation and Benefits is $3.4 million, or 2.8%, and accounts for the net reduction in the current full time staff of 13 positions achieved through retirements and natural attrition.
The town is maintaining its AAA Bond Rating status by Standard & Poors’ Global Rating agency, which enables the town in the future to borrow at lower interest rates. Wright noted that 80 percent of the town’s long-term debt will be satisfied in fewer than 10 years. The Standard & Poors’ report highlighted Brookhaven’s “very strong management… financial practices that are strong, well embedded, and likely sustainable.” Romaine stated, “This budget continues the effort to put Brookhaven’s fiscal house in order, despite the challenge of an unprecedented low New York State Tax Cap.”
Commissioner Wright said that “80% of the town’s long-term debt will be paid off in less than 10 years.” This, Romaine said, will save taxpaying residents and businesses money as officials institute some long-range budgeting practices.
The budget includes reserves for the Brookhaven Town Landfill whose shelf life Miner projected earlier in the budget preparations process will plateau in eight to 10 years. “We cap the landfill as we go, where 65% of the landfill has been capped,” Miner explained. With $53 million in gross revenues taken in by the landfill annually, the town realizes an estimated $30 million net each year. Romaine pointed out that Brookhaven’s is “the last operating landfill on Long Island,” and said that $1 million will be added in 2017 to the current $4.6 million reserve fund. “We’re trying to budget now and create reserves so we don’t leave the future hanging high and dry,” Romaine said. The reserve will cover such expenses and defray costs of post-capping, monitoring and mitigation.
Romaine reported that $21 million has been allocated for the Highway Department’s Capital projects with $58.9 million reserved for the Town Highway’s road maintenance, excluding villages. Snow removal reserves are also accounted for in anticipation of what Romaine calls “extra heavy winters.” The Snow Removal budget in the Part Town Highway Fund increases in 2017 to $5.9 million (an additional $252,000 increase over the 2016 Adopted Budget, or just over 4%). Romaine explained monies not utilized from the reserve will be rolled over for ensuing years for the purpose of snow removal.
From an environmental expenditure standpoint, Miner reported that $4.2 million is appropriated for open space and other land acquisition initiatives. A number of residents in the Fourth Council District lauded Fourth District Councilman Michael Loguercio’s efforts to secure $5 million for the dredging, restoration and clean-up of Yaphank Lake.
Mortgage receipts are down since 2007, but town officials said statistics are showing an upward trend from 2015 to 2016 of just over $2 million, with another $500,000 estimated for 2017.
A host of new capital projects totaling $46.3 million are on the docket for the town and include $21.3 million for roads, drainage, traffic safety, facilities, machinery and equipment; $10.1 million to address environmental issues at Lily Lake and Mount Sinai jetties; $5.4 million in landfill infrastructure improvements; $4.4 million for park and recreation facilities and equipment; $2.8 million for open space preservation and land acquisition; $1.4 million for vehicles and security and another $850,000 appropriated for street lighting improvements.

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