Brookhaven Town, Patchogue Village and Bellport are reeling over Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed Assistance and Initiatives for Municipalities (AIM) budget cuts, which will affect all Nassau and Suffolk towns as well as most villages. If it goes through, Brookhaven will lose $1.8 million, Patchogue Village’s projected loss is $92,000 and Bellport Village will have to grapple with an approximate $17,000 hit.
Islip Town is also in the mix with a $1.7 million hit.
Officials were blindsided, saying they found out about the budget cuts from news sources last week, or in Bellport Mayor Ray Fell’s case, a notification from the New York Council of Mayors, without a heads up from Cuomo’s office.
The proposed state budget strategy is that the vast majority of AIM in funding, in terms of spending, will mostly go to cities.
“New York State built it in to help with expenses about 12 years ago,” Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine explained about the AIM funds. “We haven’t seen an increase in years. The Association of Towns has been screaming. This hurts local governments on Long Island who have to cut services or raise taxes and we have a 2 percent tax cap. I don’t know why he’s targeting Long Island.”
NYS Division of the Budget official Morris Peters didn’t answer the query about why municipalities weren’t notified beforehand. But he commented that the state awarded $20 million to support Brookhaven’s consolidation plan that will save taxpayers $120 million over the next ten years.
“The median AIM payment is only $14,000 while the budget includes $225 million to match local government savings through the shared services program and $390 million in new local sales tax revenues by eliminating the internet tax advantage,” he also said in an email.
Not so fast, said Brookhaven Town.
Romaine said the $20 million Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition Brookhaven won, announced in a June 14, 2018 press release from Gov. Cuomo’s office, can’t be used to offset the budget.
“It was a competition that we won because we came up with $57 million to get in savings,” Romaine said. “They announced this over a year ago and have not yet come up with the contract.” Romaine said the grant was awarded to the town, which developed innovative cost-saving ideas, so that the town could work jointly with libraries, villages and school districts, helping to save them funds. “Our tax receiver is looking to send out tax notices for villages,” he said as an example. “We’re building a second truck wash so school districts can use it. The competition was a way to reduce funding.”
“Also, the towns and villages don’t get sales tax revenue. They’re making things up. What hurts us is that we already budgeted this money in our 2019 budget.”
Romaine did emphasize that Gov. Cuomo has done good things.
This just wasn’t one of them.
“We’re in the same business as you,” he said, addressing Cuomo. “We’re partners a lot. And a lot of what New York does, they mandate to the towns.”
Romaine said the AIM money budgeted was to fund general services including youth services.
As Romaine spoke, Brookhaven Town was setting up a photo op with Brookhaven’s Youth Bureau Internship Program and its opportunities for social work and mental health counseling students.
A public hearing was also set for January 28 for Patchogue Village to pierce the 2 percent tax cap, as Patchogue is among the municipalities that would lose state aid. “Now I don’t have a 2 percent tax cap,” said Mayor Paul Pontieri. “He’s already taken that away. It’s now at 1.2 percent. You can’t have a 2 percent tax cap and take away additional funding. That’s the disingenuous thing about this. It’s about punishment. There’s not enough money in his government to make a major difference in his budget but it’s to say to municipalities, `who’s boss?’”
“We will lose $92,000,” Pontieri continued. “We would use that money for road repairs and sidewalks and curbs, quality of life and health and safety issues.”
Bellport Mayor Ray Fell put his village’s loss so far at $17,000. “As of right now, the AIM aid is $17,000,” Fell said. “That’s all we know and we’re still going through everything.”
Local officials vowed to fight for AIM reinstatement.
“Islip is losing $1,797,900; Brookhaven is losing $1,808,932,” said Republican Assemblyman Andrew Garbarino whose district bridges Islip and Brookhaven. “Every municipality that got money every year is losing it. It’s (Gov. Cuomo’s) way of saying, `now you don’t need that much money.’ I can’t wait for the local government committee meetings; I’m sure (Sen. Monica Martinez) will work together with us on this. We’ll get from the local municipalities what services will be cut.”
Sen. Martinez (D-Brentwood) pledged the following at press time. "I will do everything in my power to ensure that Long Islanders get their fair share, just as those who elected me expect me to do,” she said in an email statement. “As a conference, we will be reviewing the Governor’s budget proposal and if it falls short to our respective districts, we will fight to restore the necessary funding. I am not a person who is afraid to stand up and fight for the people of my district."
Newly elected 3rd District Assemblyman Joseph DeStefano said in an email statement:
“We are going to try and restore funding. We know it’s going to affect taxes, possible layoffs, and service cuts which are unacceptable.”