By Connor Beach
The Huntington Town Board approved Supervisor Frank Petrone’s $194.2 million budget for 2018, during a special meeting Monday.
The budget passed, 3-1, with Supervisor Petrone, Councilman Mark Cuthbertson and Councilwoman Tracey Edwards in favor and Councilman Eugene Cook against. Councilwoman Susan Berland did not attend the special meeting.
The board also voted to adopt the assessment roll for both the Centerport and Huntington Sewer Districts with the same 3-1 result.
The budget was passed with an amendment offered by Edwards and seconded by Cuthbertson that creates three new town positions, abolishes two other positions and adjusts several other positions for a net effect on the budget of zero dollars.
The 2018 budget includes a $4.23 million spending increase from the previous year. The town attributes a large portion of the spending increase to rising healthcare costs; the 2018 budget allocates $22.5 million for premium payments on town employees’ health insurance coverage, although the budget accounts for a decrease of about a dozen town employees.
In statement emailed Tuesday, Cuthbertson said, “The $4.2 million is really only a $2.3 million increase for town residents, reflecting higher employee health insurance costs.”
The budget also includes $16.6 million in capital spending, which covers $3.75 million for the planned Conte Center and $3 million for a new animal shelter, which is planned to be built adjacent to Mill Dam Park in Halesite.
The budget sports a tax levy increase of 1.8 percent, or $2.12 million, which is within the state-mandated cap of 1.84 percent.
“The budget holds the line on other spending, maintains all services and programs, and represents a conservative, responsible approach to funding Town operations,” Cuthbertson said. “The same can be said of the capital budget, which keeps borrowing at the same level as in previous years while allowing for construction to begin at the James D. Conte Community Center and building of two spray parks at Elwood and Manor Field Parks.”
Cook said he did not vote to approve the budget because of the tax increase. He added that he does not view the employment changes approved in the amendment as necessary.
“There was a major increase in the Huntington and Centerport sewer fees on residents’ taxes, and I absolutely will not go for that kind of thing in the budget,” Cook said.
He added that changes to budgeting process are necessary and that he’s confident Supervisor-elect Chad Lupinacci’s input will be a “nice change.”