The average homeowner in the Town of Islip will pay an additional $225 in Town taxes next year under a preliminary 2013 budget that has been filed by Town Supervisor Tom Croci.
The first budget put together by Croci, who was elected in 2011, avoids the mass layoffs and service cuts that were discussed as possibilities at a Town Hall meeting last week in light of a $26 million budget deficit. The $119 million budget, a one percent decrease over the current year, would increase taxes on residential properties by 65 percent and commericial properties by 57.8 percent.
The preliminary budget calls for using $2.1 million from the Town's fund balance. The current budget includes $23 million from the fund balance, essentially the Town's rainy day fund. At last week's meeting, Town Comptroller Joseph Ludwig said he specifically warned former Supervisor Phil Nolan that using that much of the fund balance to avoid a tax increase would be devastating in future years.
Croci, who leads an all-Republican board, has said the Town's financial issues are the result of years of spending while revenues have remained stagnant.
“Simply, we can’t afford the lifestyle we’ve been living and we’ve been living off surplus funds for two decades to have that lifestyle,” Croci told members of the Bayport Civic Association last week.
There are no layoffs in the preliminary budget, but 47 employees were laid off this year when the Town Board voted to eliminate the Town's Human Services department. Without a tax increase in 2013, officials have said the Town would need to lay off 224 employees, or 31 percent of its workforce.
Sample tax bills sent out by the Town to the media Tuesday show a resident paying $311 in total Town taxes in 2012. In 1985, a resident with a similar home paid $315 in Town taxes.
“We need to right the ship, and keep the water from flooding in to avoid sinking,” Croci said last week. “There are two choices: we can keep kicking the can down the street, like the former administration, or we can fix it.”
Nolan, a Democrat, has said he gave the Republicans a chance to propose amendments to the 2012 budget following last November's election, but they did not offer any.
That 65 percent tax hike in the preliminary budget is well above the state's 2-percent tax cap, but the Town Board has the power to override it following a public hearing.
Unlike school district budgets, which need 60 percent voter approval if a budget pierces the tax cap, in the case of municipalities, it's just a 60 percent vote of the governing body. In this case, that's three of the five members on the Town Board.
If the preliminary budget is adopted, a resident with a home assessed at $400,000 will see a $225 increase ($18.76 more a month) in Town taxes.
Town taxes make up a relatively small portion of a resident's overall tax bill. Even with the proposed tax increase, Town taxes would be about half the amount residents pay in police taxes and about 1/10th of what is paid in school taxes each year.