Islip Supervisor Tom Croci doesn’t believe in sugar coating when it comes to the fiscal crisis facing the town and its residents.
Words like “precarious,” phrases such as “sinking ship” and “no magic bullet” come freely when he discusses how his administration views the $26 million deficit inherited when they took office this past January.
In what is very likely a precursor of a special budget hearing slated for Thursday at Town Hall, Croci told a local civic association that there is “no way to cut our way out,” referring to more budget and salary cuts and that the focus must be on “building our way out,” by encouraging more business growth, expanding MacArthur Airport and making it easier for builders to develop vacant parcels.
“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,” he told members of the Bayport Civic Association Tuesday night.
Noting that the former administration used $20 million of surplus funds last year to avoid service cuts and tax increases, Croci said there is just $9 million left in the reserve fund.
“And we can’t balance the budget on that."
Croci, along with town councilpersons John Cochrane and Anthony Senft, spent nearly a half hour answering BCA member questions and asking for ideas on how town leaders should solve the financial challenges.
In clear terms he said parks and beaches are in danger of being closed and services will likely take a huge hit in order to get fiscally sound.
“If a tree falls you’re going to be waiting quite awhile for a town worker to come by and take care of it,” Croci said.
He asked residents a simple, yet complex, question: “What kind of town do you want?”
“We need to right the ship, and keep the water from flooding in to avoid sinking,” said the former Naval officer. “There are two choices: we can keep kicking the can down the street, like the former administration, or we can fix it.”
Audience responses ranged from suggestions on getting better investment opportunities with financial institutions handling the Islip’s funds, to potential tax increases necessary to balance the budget and lowering school taxes, through consolidation, to offset increased town taxes.
Croci said estimates indicate that a $15 to $18 monthly homeowner tax increase would be needed for balancing the budget at this point.
The supervisor said the financial issues are the result of years of spending while revenue remained stagnant and related a story regarding a homeowner’s tax bill.
“In 1984 this homeowner had a tax bill of $314," he said. "That’s simply the tax given to the town, not the school tax or other taxes people pay. In 2012 that same homeowner’s tax portion was actually $311. It actually went down,” he said.
Yet, in the same timeframe, most town costs, such as employee retirement for example, jumped by millions, he noted.
“We’re at the point of substantially cutting services or boosting taxes,” Councilman Senft said.
Thurday's special budget hearing begins at 2 p.m. at Islip Town Hall.