After promising tax cuts, Croci now looks to 65% tax increase, public for advice

Islip Town Hall

They came by email, on Facebook and Twitter, and through the postal service. Some came by phone, and others in face-to-face exchanges.

When Islip Supervisor Tom Croci recently asked town residents for input on closing the $26 million budget deficit, hundreds of residents responded.

"Hi Tom, I read your facebook message, you have every right to raise all tax payers 10-15 (dollars) per month to get out of this mess," wrote Larry Farrell, 48, a sales consultant from Ronkonkoma and registered Republican who voted for Croci. "I study my tax bill and can confirm to you that raising by this much is not a big deal at all."

As the Republican town leader works to present his first budget proposal this month, he finds himself with few politically advantageous options: raise fees and property taxes, which would break a campaign promise; borrow more to cover expenses, which could negatively affect the town's top-level bond rating; issue layoffs and furloughs and make massive cuts to town services.

Thursday, residents will have another chance to weigh in at a public hearing during which department heads are scheduled to brief the town board on possible budget cuts.

Joe Hagelmann, chairman of the Islip Democratic Committee, said asking for public feedback amounted to political cover. "If you get elected, you're supposed to make the decisions," he said. "What are you gonna do, blame it on the public because you're going to raise taxes?"

Croci, who has said tax hikes, service cuts and layoffs are "on the table," dismissed the criticism. Croci has dissolved the town's human services department and recently announced a plan to pull funding from the Islip Arts Council.

"Political consequences should be the last thing that people are talking about," Croci said. "What I'm hearing is, 'We like the services we enjoy in the town. Whatever you have to do within reason, do that.' "

In one response to Croci's invite, nearly 400 people signed a petition lobbying against possible pool closures. Others railed against closing South Shore Nature Center.

Joanne Henig, 53, a West Islip small-business owner, tweeted Croci: "Just don't raise taxes Mr. Croci . . . It is time to live within our means!"

Islip Republican Committee chairman Frank A. Tantone praised Croci's transparency.

"I don't know that [the town board is] raising taxes, but if they do, it would have to be justified in some way," said Tantone, who blamed the deficit on liberal spending by previous supervisor Phil Nolan, a Democrat.

Nolan, who lost to Croci last year, said he cut more than 300 jobs from the town rolls and presided over an upgrade to the town's bond rating, which he described as "a report card from people who objectively looked. It means something -- a little bit more than what Frank Tantone thinks."