The Brookhaven Town Board hosted a budget hearing Thursday that outlined, among a number of items, plans to cut jobs and funding to the Ecology Center & Animal Preserve located in Holtsville.
Speaking to an over-capacity crowd at Brookhaven Town Hall that featured concerned citizens hanging over balconies and strongly-worded signs of protest, Supervisor Mark Lesko detailed the gravity of the budget issues that the Town of Brookhaven currently faces along with the impending myriad of cuts to town workforce, ecology site funding and public pools.
Citing the horrendous economic situation of the United States along with significant losses in Town mortgage tax revenues and landfill fees, Lesko explained that Brookhaven faces a nearly $16 million dollar budget deficit in 2011 if actions are not taken immediately. Under the new budget, Brookhaven will enter into a five-year plan to reduce its debt payment from the current 24 percent of the total budget to 15 percent.
The Ecology Center
In 1974, a heaping landfill that marred the hamlet of Holtsville was transformed into an ecological preserve that now features a sanctuary for injured animals, greenhouses containing a plethora of exotic plants, horticultural classes, swimming pools, a 1.2 mile exercise trail, composting services, Eagle Scout projects and a number of other points of interest and activities. It has become an essential community element not only for residents of Brookhaven, but for people living all over Long Island.
The Brookhaven Ecology Center is one of the key targets in Lesko's proposed budget, as plans to remove five jobs, greenhouses, the composting center and community pools from the Holtsville location were outlined in the presentation. The animal preserve, walking trail and Bright Nites Christmas celebration will remain operational.
Passionate citizens from a variety of towns swarmed the budget hearing in support of the Ecology Center. Some proudly held up signs in support of the Center while others eagerly stepped to the dais to voice their discontent.
Grounds Superintendent April Perry, an employee of the Ecology Center for 24 years, explained that although the animal preserve and other services are not on the chopping block, removing employees and greenhouses will drastically hurt the overall health of the Ecology Center.
When asked what she foresees happening to the Ecology Site if budget cuts are enacted, she replied, "It's going to deteriorate. When they close the greenhouses, they're not just stopping growing the plants... the educational programs that help support the feed and veterinary care... are no longer going to be available."
Much of the revenue that the Ecology Center generates comes from educational programs taught by employees, she said. Removal of employees means that a significant source of income will no longer be available, which also means less money for the services that the budget doesn't plan to eliminate.
Kellie Burke, who has worked at the Ecology Center for more than 10 years, fears for her job along with the well-being of both the animals and greater community. She echoed sentiments that many individuals over the course of the night spoke of: the cyclical nature of the Center along with its history.
For Burke, there are multiple reasons why she wants the Ecology Center to say: "One, my job... but secondly, after being there for the past 10 years, you can actually see other people enjoy it as much as I enjoy it."
At a podium dominated by citizens in support of the Ecology Center, speaker after speaker emphasized the longevity and community presence that the Center has had, with many referencing its humble landfill roots.
Employees of the Ecology Center, in addition to caring for animals, performing maintenance duties, teaching classes and keeping the Center running, are also responsible for highway duties, including plowing snow and ensuring roadway safety. Under the present budget plan, five of the nine current Ecology Center employees would lose their jobs.
During a night filled with desperate pleas from numerous town organizations facing massive cuts, the voice of Ecology Center supporters was heard the loudest.
Lesko emphasized that the animal preserve would not be faced with budget cuts, but if the employees of the Ecology Center are to be believed, it might very well be the next to fall.
Citizens in support of the Ecology Center are encouraged to contact Lesko and voice their opinions.
In response to significant public turnout Thursday, a special town board meeting has been scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 18.
Update 11/5/10 2:31 p.m.: Patchogue Patch incorrectly reported the Brookhaven Town budget deficit as $136 million. The correct amount, $16 million, has been updated. The corrected amount was provided by Jack Krieger, Public Information Officer for the Town of Brookhaven. Patchogue Patch regrets the error.