Town Unveils $185.2 Million Budget
A projected increase in mortgage tax receipt revenues and increased activity in the town’s building department are helping the Town of Huntington meet increased state-mandated costs, while also showing signs of economic growth, town officials said Monday when the supervisor unveiled his proposed 2014 budget.
Those new revenues, which total approximately $1 million, are a key part of Supervisor Frank Petrone’s proposed $185.2-million budget, which he said maintains essential services and staffing levels while offering a net-zero increase in town taxes.
An $8.8-million capital budget proposal was also unveiled Monday. That plan would fund: the completion of Coral Park in Greenlawn, a “long overdue” bulkhead at the Halesite town dock, a new boathouse for rowers, technology upgrades, environmental protection initiatives, general infrastructure improvements, and reconstruction of the Gerard Street municipal lot in Huntington village.
“That’s a must,” Petrone said of the Gerard Street project. “We can probably realize… several additional spots and make it more maneuverable and safer.”
Petrone said the town grappled with several recurring “stress factors” in crafting the 2014 budget proposal, including a $2.3-million projected increase in state-mandated pension costs, $1.2 million more in state health insurance expenses, and $2.8 million in contractual labor increases. The town, which amortized one-third of its pension payment last year, will not do so again in the 2014 budget, Petrone said.
To meet those costs, the town is counting on a $600,000 year-to-year increase a $400,000 growth in mortgage tax receipts, a $600,000 increase in building department revenue, and leveraging open slots in the town’s resource recovery center to generate an additional $400,000 in revenue.
The town’s initial estimates of $2.3 million in parking meter revenues for 2013 was short by about $909,600, according to current projections. However, initial estimates of $675,000 in parking fine revenues were exceeded by $265,910.
The mortgage tax and building department increases, Petrone said, are good signs indicative of a recovering economy.
“If we see mortgage taxes going up, that’s telling you that people are refinancing and [some are] doing that because they’re buying a place or they’re going to renovate,” he said. “Many people refinance, keep their payment the same and have several thousands of dollars to do work in their home.”
The town will also apply $4.3 million of the $22.75-million in unassigned fund balance. The majority, or $2.5 million, would come from the Highway fund, a figure which caught the attention of Councilman Mark Mayoka. He alleged Petrone is singling the department out and inappropriately depleted their reserves.
“There’s no reason listed in here why the Highway fund is disproportionately being reduced by $2.5 million,” Mayoka said.
Town spokesman A.J. Carter, however, said the highway reserves were “unusually high” at the start of 2013, and that “tapping into that fund for highway projects, rather than taxing residents, was a more prudent approach.”
“We keep that at the state comptroller’s recommendation of no more than 10 percent [of the town operating budget],” Petrone said. “So when we go over that, obviously, this is money we’ve been saving for the taxpayer to offset the following year.”
The town’s AAA-bond ratings from Moody’s, Fitch and Standard & Poor’s, also help mitigate increasing mandated costs by keeping debt service costs lower, the supervisor said. Since 2009, the town has retired approximately 14 percent of its debt, resulting in a reduction to $86.7 million projected for the end of 2013. Petrone added that the town continued to pay down its debt “in the most trying four years in municipal budgeting.”
“We’re holding our own and moving forward,” he said. “This budget gets us over the hurdle.”
The public hearing for the town budget is one hour earlier than typical nighttime meetings. The hearing is set for 6 p.m. on Oct. 15 at Huntington Town Hall, located at 100 Main St.