Town budget holds the line on taxes, spending
Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine last week filed his tentative 2018 budget with the town clerk. The $294.1 million spending plan would comply with state and town tax, spending and debt caps, marking an approximate 4.3 percent increase over last year’s proposed budget of $281.8 million.
The average Brookhaven taxpayer would see a tax bill of $1,074, approximately $10.70 more than this year. The increase keeps in line with the rising cost of living and property value in the area, and includes a $5 increase on the Refuse and Recycling District single home rate to $350 per year. The 1.45 percent increase still comes in lower than the $362.88 annual rate of a decade ago. Town officials explained that the increase in the annual garbage rate is related to a 2.5 percent increase in the contract price for garbage and recycling collection services.
Romaine also noted that the town would use no surplus funds in order to balance the budget for both the full and part town general fund and part town highway fund and there will be no property tax levy increases in the full town, part town general and full town highway districts.
At the town board meeting last week, town finance commissioner Tamara Wright presented the budget to the board, starting with the capital budget. Newly bonded and reserve-funded capital projects for 2018-2022 will total $40.2 million to cover a variety of capital improvements. In the budget, new public improvements include $18.1 million for roads, drainage, traffic safety, street lighting, machinery and equipment, $7.8 million in landfill capping and infrastructure improvements, $6.3 million for park and recreation facilities and equipment, $4.5 million for open space preservation and land acquisition, $2.3 million for vehicles, town facilities improvements and security, and $1.2 million for technology improvements.
“We have an unprecedented low carry-forward budget,” Wright said of the $26.6 million in projects, $15.8 million of which is for special districts. “This is mostly the ambulance district facility improvements and two docks,” she said. “It demonstrates the success of the pipeline reduction initiative by Supervisor Romaine and will reduce our overall debt burden going forward.”
Wright also said that a new section in the capital budget was added to focus on grant-funded capital projects, including $8.9 million for highway, $2.4 million for airport and $2.3 million for environmental projects already underway. Over $52.1 million in grant applications for capital projects have been filed with various agencies and are awaiting a response, Wright said.
Again, health insurance premiums will rise an estimated 10 percent. “On a base-case scenario, meaning it could be even higher,” Wright explained, when the companies finalize the numbers in the fourth quarter of this year.
This year’s state tax levy cap was 1.84 percent. “It was significantly better than the 0.68 percent we had last year, but still a very tight number to balance a budget within,” Wright said. “It’s significant considering that our healthcare costs have increased by 10 percent,” Romaine noted. “The savings are offset by increases in other tax districts, but would have been higher if we didn’t achieve these deductions,” Wright added.
The use of surplus funds in refuse and recycling, full town highway, open space and street lighting has been reduced by $1.1 million. Spending increases are most notably seen in the areas of the highway department, snow removal and staffing, she said.
Roadway spending increased to take in an additional 84 miles of roads in Mastic Beach Village, which voted to disband last fall and will formally dissolve at the end of this year. “Because the part-time highway fund is 97 percent supported by property taxes, we did have to have a tax increase there,” Wright said.
The snow removal appropriations of $6.1 million include those roads in Mastic Beach.
Increased spending for employee compensation and benefits will be $4.7 million or 3.7 percent since several positions were added to provide constituent services to Mastic Beach residents. Wright said that seven full-time positions would be added to support the former village.
Romaine noted that the town continues to be financially strong, maintaining its AAA rating from Standard & Poor’s. “We have had a structurally balanced budget for the last few years and wound up with a surplus, which kind of distinguishes us in terms of our fiscal soundness,” Romaine said at the meeting. “It’s a very tight budget, but it’s a workable and doable budget that keeps taxpayers at the top on our mind,” he added.
An official public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Nov. 9, where changes and amendments will likely be made. Romaine expects the board to vote on the budget on Nov. 16. The full capital and operating budget breakdown can be found online at www.brookhavenny.gov.
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