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Public Backlash leads to adjusted 28% Town Tax Hike, 22 Layoffs

Ryan Bonner
Islip Town Hall

The Islip Town Board approved a $111 million budget, which includes a 28 percent increase in Town taxes, at a special meeting Monday afternoon.

The 2013 budget was cut by $8 million following a public backlash against a preliminary budget that had called for a 65-percent hike in Town taxes.

The reduced budget eliminates 22 full-time positions in the Town, including seven from the public safety department, four from the Town's shellfish hatchery in East Islip and two from the the Town's Assessor's Office.

The Town's Harbor Patrol is also being eliminated, a move that will result in eight layoffs and a savings of about $700,000.

"We recognize that this is a choice between bad and worse and we recognize that this will cause some discomfort to our residents," said Councilman Anthony Senft before the all-Republican board voted 4-0 (Councilwoman Trish Bergin Weichbrodt was absent due to a death in the family) to approve the $111 million budget, which represents a 7.6 percent decrease from the 2012 budget.

The average resident (with a home assessed at $400,000) will pay about $8 more a month (or $96 a year) in Town taxes under the approved budget, according to Town Supervisor Tom Croci, who has pinned the blame for a $26 million deficit in the Town on his predecessor Phil Nolan.

"The position this town was placed in is unconscionable," said Croci, who has said Nolan spent money from the Town's savings account–or fund balance–over several years to avoid tax increases.

"You are right to be concerned, you are right to be agitated," Croci told an overflow crowd of mostly seniors during a two-hour public hearing before the budget vote.

Several residents made reference to Croci's campaign platform of lowering Town taxes.

"I am not happy with this board and the supervisor’s actions so far that I have seen," said Mark Malenovsky, of Sayville. "From what I was told and I was promised through the campaign, this is not what I expected and I expect better from you."

The average Islip resident currently pays $311 in Town taxes, a small fraction of a resident's total tax bill and a figure officials have said is lower than it was in 1985. But most of the residents who spoke Monday had quite a simple message for the board.

"We cannot afford to live here anymore," said Michael Goldberg, 68, of Ronkonkoma, drawing applause from the audience. "We are at the point where we pay our bills or eat meals."

Board members said the preliminary budget was cut in numerous areas in order to trim it from $119 million to $111 million.

The hatchery will be shut down at a total savings of $655,000. Officials said it was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy and the board would look into privatizing the hatchery. The Town's Marina Guard Program, which had employed dozens of seasonal part-time workers, is also being eliminated at a savings of $515,000. The Town will also save $1.6 million by not filling open positions in 2013.

On the revenue side, the Town expects to bring in $9.2 million more next year, namely from the sale of unused Town land and ramping up enforcement of various violations and charging higher fees for everything from building permits to mooring fees at the Town's marinas. Senft said the Town's Planning Department fees have not increased since 1996.

The preliminary budget, with its glaring 65 percent tax hike, did not include any layoffs beyond the 47 that were made earlier this year when the board voted to eliminate the Town's Human Services department. The approved budget will put 22 people out of work.

"You don't sleep," Senft said when asked about the layoffs. "You think about it day in and day out. It's overwhelming difficult to talk about laying somebody off because we know these people. We see them day in and day out. We have developed relationships with them."

Croci said the adopted budget required the board "to get out of our comfort zone and for us to move forward in a way that preserves the ability of the resident to get the service from the Town and doesn't hurt the employee and we've tried to do that as much as possible."