How do you get out of a $26 million budget hole?
That’s what Islip Town officials are discovering as Town department heads outlined the effects of various potential cuts in the 2013 budget, including ones that could impact public safety, during a special meeting at Town Hall Thursday.
“There is no way I can manage this Town with any cuts appropriately and create safety for the residents of the Town of Islip,” said Department of Public Works Commissioner Tom Owens, who at one point was speaking so passionately on the issue that he was asked to slow down by the Town’s stenographer.
Several department heads echoed the theme that cuts to the Town’s workforce, which would need to be slashed by 31 percent (or 224 workers out of 720) if the Town Board decides not to raise taxes, would have immediate negative impacts.
“We can’t do more with less, we can’t do the same with less,” said Planning Commissioner Dave Genaway, who added that a department budget cut of 10 percent would lead to delays in issuing various permits and stall several new technological projects meant to streamline the permit process.
Owens said his department already has 100 less employees today than 10 years ago and the consequences of any cuts would include deteriorating roadways and dangerous circumstances when fallen trees are not quickly cleaned up. Snow plowing would also be cut to a minimum, with it taking days to clear roads after a storm.
“To think about cutting this budget would be unconscionable,” Owens said.
When Owens heard that Town Supervisor Tom Croci wanted department heads to consider the impact of cuts of up to 50 percent, he said he had “many sleepless nights.”
“When you put your child on the bus after a snow storm, you want to know that this department has made their journey safe,” Owens said. “I cannot guarantee that with these proposed cuts and that is not acceptable.”
The other impacts of budget cuts?
Terry Hennessey, the acting commissioner of MacArthur Airport, said they would hurt the chances of the airport attracting a new airline, which Hennessey said is a top priority.
All parks, beaches and recreation centers around Town could also be shuttered.
In the end, the Town faces the choice that every other municipality with a budget gap does: raise taxes, cut spending or some combination of both.
Supervisor Croci leads a Republican Town Board that was swept into power last year when Croci defeated Phil Nolan by just a few hundred votes.
While campaigning, Croci said “taxes were out control,” but now he may be headed toward presenting a budget that pierces the state’s new tax cap.
From the start of the meeting, Croci made clear whom he blames for the current predicament the town finds itself in: Phil Nolan.
Croci questioned Town Comptroller Joseph Ludwig over how the 2012 budget was created.
“For whatever reason, he chose to use that fund balance and have a zero percent tax increase for the 2012 budget,” Ludwig said of Nolan, referring to $18 million from the Town’s “rainy-day fund” in the current budget.
Ludwig said he made clear to the Nolan that going with no tax increase in 2012 would be devastating in subsequent years.
“No doubt that the board and community are aware that last year was an election year so we can only surmise as to why that was the case,” Croci said.
Nolan, reached by phone Friday, said he gave the Republicans a chance to make amendments to the 2012 budget after the election last fall, but they chose not to.
“I was prepared to work with them,” said Nolan, who said he had a record of cutting spending and called the Republicans “hypocrites” for implying he was wrong to not raise taxes this year. “They didn’t change a single word in that budget.”
“All they’ve done is create dozens and dozens of jobs for political friends,” said Nolan, who was appointed president of Suffolk Off-Track Betting Corp. (OTB) earlier this year. “They haven’t cut a damn thing.”
Moving ahead, the Town has until Sept. 30 to craft an official budget proposal. There’s obviously still many difficult decisions to be made.
“The type of cut to get to a zero-percent tax increase would be devastating to the Town of Islip,” said Ludwig, adding that cuts to staff would be felt by the public.
“There’s nothing worse than seeing a cold, miserable December 28th day, cold rains, winds and seeing a line outside the Tax Receiver’s Office, but that is exactly what would happen."
The Town Board meets again next Tuesday at 2 p.m.