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Brookhaven Town Board adopts no-tax-increase budget

Mark Lesko’s 2012 budget reduces spending from the previous budget. File photo
November 23, 2011 | 06:08 PM
Last Thursday Brookhaven Town Board unanimously adopted Supervisor Mark Lesko's no-tax-increase 2012 budget, reducing some services and staff positions and restoring funding to the park ranger program and partial funding to the town's youth agencies.

The $254.1 million budget is a 1 percent, or $2.7 million, reduction in spending compared to last year's $256.8 million budget.

However, residents will have to repay a bond to cover the cost of snow removal that exceeded the amount budgeted for last year. Taxpayers will repay a blizzard note of a little more than $6 million.

In the adopted budget, the town will take $14.6 million from its general fund surplus to help fund the budget. The town's 2012 capital budget is $39.1 million, down from $40.5 million in 2011.

The adopted budget defunded vacant positions, eliminated three management positions, added an extra week of lag payroll for all elected officials, as well as management employees that make over $75,000 and reduced hours for part-time and seasonal employees.

Since January 2010, the town has reduced its workforce by 95 employees — a 9 percent reduction in two years — with 88 employees taking an early retirement incentive.

The budget requires current employees to pay 10 percent of their health care premiums in fiscal years 2011-2013. New employees hired after Jan. 1, 2011 contribute 20 percent of their premiums for the first 12 years they work for the town. The town expects to save $2 million in the first two years.

The town also renegotiated the labor contracts with the town's blue and white collar unions, extending the contracts to 2019. The town estimates that the new contracts will save $25 million, $2.2 million of which will come from freezing raises for 2011-2013.

The contract guaranteed those union jobs through the end of 2012, saying no layoffs will happen before then.

The contracts include an incentive for employees to voluntarily forego their health insurance coverage and instead receive a monetary payment, saving an estimated $870,000 over the term of the contract.

In the budget, the supervisor's office received a 22 percent reduction in funding — a $210,000 cut, and the salaries of appointed board members and bingo inspectors were reduced by 50 percent.

The board will also keep West Meadow Beach, Corey Beach and Cedar Beach open weekends from Memorial Day to July 4 by offsetting costs from management salaries.

The board voted to authorize a $9 million bond for open space preservation, which will be on a separate line on the tax bill starting in 2013. The line will be offset by a 1.3 percent tax reduction in the Special Refuse Line, Lesko's Chief of Staff Brian Beedenbender said.

Instead of eliminating the part-time park rangers program altogether, the adopted budget will instead reduce the budget for part-time code enforcement officers and park rangers, but no positions will be eliminated.

According to a town document, $145,600 was restored to the park rangers program, which is part of the Department of Public Safety's $1.1 million budget. The program was originally budgeted for $210,000.

The park rangers patrol town beaches, marinas and parks, while code enforcement officers handle duties ranging from code violation complaints to security and traffic safety. Instead of working 20 hours, park rangers and code enforcement officers will work 16 hours a week and code enforcement officers will no longer be present at many town events.

Youth agencies

The town was able to restore a larger portion of funding to three town wide youth agencies and advance a smaller portion of funding to all youth agencies because Commissioner of Waste Management Ed Hubbard is retiring from his full-time position. He will continue on in a part-time position, making $35,000 of his salary available to restore some funding to the Boys and Girls Club of the Bellport Area Youth Court, Response of Suffolk County and Lifeline Mediation.

Youth Court expected to lose its entire budget — $53,611 from the town — but instead the budget will restore $25,000 of the funding. Lifeline Mediation Center, located in Middle Island, would have lost all of its funding — $25,464 in town aid, but will receive $5,000 next year. The agency provides counseling, mentoring, mediation, a food pantry and youth job referral program. Response of Suffolk County, a non-profit that provides a 24-hour crisis intervention hot line, expected to receive only $10,670 in aid, but after the budget was adopted, found that it will get $15,670 in town, county and state aid. The group had requested $24,676 in 2012.

Response of Suffolk County Executive Director Meryl Cassidy said she is grateful that the town is restoring $5,000 of the original proposed cut, but still thinks that the ability for the youth agencies to provide effective services continues to look bleak. "We do a tremendous amount with a small amount to begin with," she said. "I'm going to try very hard not to do as much and cut back in what we do."

The town will partially fund the other 17 agencies — advancing six months worth of reduced state and county funding and 12 months of reduced town funding, giving the agencies enough time to find alternative sources of funding.

Councilwoman Kathy Walsh (R-Centereach) said payments are usually dispersed to youth agencies throughout the year, but she said in the coming months agencies will receive less funding than in previous years, but in advance, to give them time to streamline services, prepare fundraisers and apply for grants. She said the board restored more funding to the three agencies based on how many people they reach, providing town wide services, not only just to specific districts.

"Our thought was to not starve them immediately or cut them off, but we all know that we're going in that direction and it's not going to get better anytime soon," she said.

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