The Islip Town Board got an earful Tuesday from residents who are not too pleased with a preliminary 2013 budget proposal that would raise Town taxes by 65 percent–or $225 a year for the average homeowner.
"We are on a budget and if we have to incur a tax increase, I want to know what do I do? Where do I turn?" asked Arlene Farina, of Central Islip, during an oftentimes heated two-hour public hearing at Town Hall.
"LIPA wants my money, National Grid wants my money, the Town of Islip certainly wants my money," said the retired Farina, whose husband lost his job after 37 years. "I don't have a recourse. I don't have somebody to turn to and say 'OK now I'm going to tax you because I have a deficit.'"
Nancy Wiebel, of Bayport, who has been out of work for more than two years, said that while she understands that Town taxes represent only about 4 percent of a resident's overall property tax bill–a point Town Supervisor Tom Croci emphasized repeatedly–she said every tax hike stings for someone already paying $15,000 a year in property taxes.
"I voted for you, but honestly, I don't think I will again or any of this board," Wiebel said of Croci, who was elected last year and leads an all-Republican board.
"At my house, if I can't afford something, we don't buy it," Wiebel said. "I just don't know where the money is going to come from."
Croci, who campaigned last year on a pledge to work to reduce taxes, stuck to his guns Tuesday saying "we have been living in a Town that we couldn't afford for the last decade."
Croci said residents in 2012 were essentially paying about the same amount (an average of $311) in Town taxes as they were in the mid-80s. Croci and others on the board slammed former Supervisor Phil Nolan, who they said raided the Town's rainy day fund in order to avoid tax hikes in recent years.
"The Nolan administration's fiscal irresponsibility has put us in this incomprehensive position," Councilman Anthony Senft said.
Nolan has called the Republicans "hypocrites" for bashing tax hikes put in place during his administration, which he says totalled about $15 a year, and then proposing their own budget that would increase taxes by 65 percent.
"As much as anything, they won because they criticized any tax increases," said Nolan, who lost to Croci by about 400 votes. "A 5-0 board [of all Republicans] is not a good thing and this is just the beginning of it."
Croci said the Town Board believed it was facing a $8 million-$10 million deficit when he took office, but that turned out to be closer to $26 million. While the board has made cuts in the past year–including shuttering the Town's Department of Human Services–that total near the original expected deficit, Croci said taxes must be raised to close the current gap or the Town as residents know it will cease to exist.
"We are literally down to the bone and it's a matter of either shuttering facilities and the cessation of Town services or go back to the resident who is overtaxed and ask him for an additional 18 plus dollars a month in order to do this," Croci said. "This is not what I ever thought I would have to do my first year in office. This is not something I take lightly."
The public hearing Tuesday was not on the budget itself, but on a local law allowing the board to put forth a proposed budget that exceeds the state's 2-percent tax cap. The hearing on the actual budget, which stands at $119 million, a one percent spending decrease over the current year, will be held next month with the board required to adopt it by Nov. 20.
Councilman Steve Flotteron, the longest serving member on the current Town Board, was at one time the only Republican on the board and he often clashed with Nolan on budget issues.
"We don't want to have to raise taxes at all," Flotteron said, "but we don't have a surplus to go to anymore. This should have been addressed years ago."