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Brookhaven Town Board accepts controversial budget

Numerous town positions and services eliminated

The Brookhaven Town Board did not vote on its 2013 budget Tuesday, which automatically implements former Supervisor Mark Lesko’s tentative budget. Photo by Matt Calamia

November 21, 2012 | 08:34 PM
While the Brookhaven Town Board did not vote on its 2013 tentative budget on Tuesday, the amended version of former Supervisor Mark Lesko's budget was automatically implemented.

The budget had to be voted on by Nov. 20, and in the absence of a vote becomes the adopted budget by default.

Prior to his September resignation to become the executive director of Accelerate Long Island, Lesko presented a $247 million budget, which was a decrease of nearly $14 million from 2012.

Tashawn Holland, 13, of Bellport was in support of the youth bureau. Photo by Matt Calamia
After the Town Board's changes, the town was still calculating the final budget total at press time, but according to town spokesman Jack Krieger, general fund spending decreased to $111.6 million, down $12.2 million from last year. He said that 19 full-time employees were laid off, and the town was still calculating part-time layoffs.

To save money, Lesko had originally proposed laying off nearly 150 full- and part-time employees, as well as eliminating town services he called "noncore."

Since his proposal, the Town Board restored about a dozen positions, including two fire marshals, two planning department positions, a resource adviser in women's services and a social worker within the town's youth bureau. Other positions in the women's services and youth bureau divisions of the Housing and Human Services Department were eliminated, as well as all positions in the town's adult day-care program.

The Town Board also restored funding to the Holtsville Wildlife & Ecology Center and its Division of Veterans Services, which were slated for elimination under Lesko's tentative budget.

Several resolutions to restore additional positions were put forward at the town's Nov. 15 meeting, but the board was divided and each resolution split with three votes for and three against. In a showing of partisanship, the town's two Democrats, Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld (D-East Setauket) and Connie Kepert (D-Middle Island), as well as acting supervisor Kathy Walsh (R-Centereach) — who often votes with the Democrats — voted together, while Republicans Tim Mazzei (R-Blue Point) and Dan Panico (R-Manorville) voted with Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point).

On Tuesday, Republican versions of two of those resolutions were passed, restoring a social worker position and a women's services resource adviser.

The party split last Thursday touched a chord with both Kepert and Walsh, who made several comments on both resolutions put forward by Republicans on Tuesday to restore positions they had voted against just five days earlier.

"It's unfortunate we had to dance around for so long," Walsh said.

Bonner said although the positions may be the same, "We didn't all necessarily agree on the approach that everybody took."

The Democrats' failed plan to fund the positions proposed taking funds from the Holtsville Wildlife & Ecology Center, while the Republican bills that passed take money from each of the councilmembers' public information office budget.

Fiore-Rosenfeld said despite the rejection of previous resolutions that would have restored similar positions, "I'm appreciative at least that they came back with some additions," he said, though he questioned if it was enough.

Creating a major division among the board, Walsh and the Democrats wanted to continue to charge residents an approximate $38 tax they have been paying the last two years for a $6 million bond to help pay for snow removal following the winters of 2009-10 and 2010-11. Because of last year's mild winter, snow removal was not costly, thus residents would not be charged the fee. Walsh, Kepert and Fiore-Rosenfeld argued that it isn't a tax increase because residents have already been paying that fee and would not see it as an increase.

They argued that $6 million could have restored almost all the proposed layoffs.

But the Republicans have been unwilling to go along with the idea.

After the meeting, Bonner said the Town Board promised to no longer charge the tax, and although residents and union officials argued no one would miss the cash, she believed otherwise.

"Nobody likes to lay off employees, but we made a promise to the taxpayers two years ago when we borrowed the money to remove snow" that it would be used for snow removal, she said in an interview. "It's not a fair assessment that people won't feel that $38. I talk to residents every day that can't afford it anymore. They're being laid off and they've lost their jobs."

Bonner said although many services will see layoffs, positions in those services were restored because "we know they do good things."

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