Southold Town Board adopts 2018 operating and capital budgets
Southold’s 2018 operating budget was brought back to the spending level proposed by Supervisor Scott Russell in September before it was unanimously adopted by the town board at a special meeting last night.
Russell’s tentative budget required a 1.64-percent tax rate increase to fund the 2018 spending plan. The town board’s preliminary budget added just under $75,000 to the tentative budget, bringing the tax rate increase to 1.77 percent.
But after a Nov. 8 budget hearing, board members agreed to shave expenditures by the amount they’d added. The reduction was accomplished in two ways, Russell explained. First, town officials concluded they’d over-budgeted for health insurance costs by $30,000. Second, they shifted the expenditure of $45,000 for a new road-striping machine from the operating budget to the capital program budget.
“We believe since it’s a direct result of the road resurfacing program and is to be used directly as part of tha program, it is appropriate to charge it to that fund,” Russell said.
Total town-wide appropriations in the adopted 2018 operating budget are $45,687,473, a 3.67 percent increase in town-wide spending over 2017.
The total amount to be raised by real property taxes is $34,960,059, a 2.28 percent property tax levy increase.
The town-wide appropriations include the solid waste district but not other special district taxes such as park district or fire district taxes or Fishers Island ferry, sewer or waste management district taxes.
Last minute revisions meant that an additional tax hike was avoided and the proposed 1.64% increase passed as initially discussed.
SOUTHOLD, NY — After sharpening their pencils and studying the numbers, the Southold Town board was able to unanimously pass a $45.4 million 2018 budget at a special meeting Tuesday that results in a 1.64% tax increase.
That was after the board worked to juggle new allocations that cropped up during budget talks that, due to an additional $75,000 in allocations, could have meant a tax increase of 1.77%, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said.
The budget of $45,429,875, with the 1.64% tax increase “is consistent with the tentative I submitted to the board on September 30,” Russell said.
After learning of the potential additional $75,000 in allocations, Russell said he reviewed the budget and determined that the original estimate and appropriation of New York State Health Insurance Program, or NYSHIP, Southold’s medical cover plan, is about $40,000 more than the town’s actual cost.
“The reason is, I start my budget in August and can only estimate what the cost of the coverage will be in the following year. As we get closer to the new year, we start to get the actual costs. I reduced those lines by $30,000, which offset part of the board’s increase,” the supervisor said.
“Then, I revised the funding of a road re-striping machine so that it would be paid for by the road resurfacing capital project plan,” Russell said. “The re-striper is a direct cost of that plan and it is appropriate to share it to that fund. That reduced the general fund by $45,000. Both figures totaled $75,000, which offset the increases and brought the tax rate increase back to 1.64%.”
Reflecting on the budget process, Russell said, “The budget gets harder and harder each year. Trying to comply with the cap and maintain a healthy fund balance while covering essential costs. When New York State adopted the 2% tax cap legislation, I believe that the legislators were looking for a paradigm shift is operations at the local level. That’s a worthwhile endeavor; however, they need to start giving us more tools to actually accomplish those goals. ”
Councilman Jim Dinizio, discussing the budget, pointed out highlights, including funding to complete the master plan update and the re-striping equipment, as well as an upgrade to the town clerk’s software program the will allow for a more efficient application process of such processes at FOIL requests.
“We also are making the town electrical inspector a full time position; while this will be offset by increasing fees it will help us address the needs in our contractors in a more efficient manner,” he said.
Of the decision to pay for the re-striper out of the road resurfacing funds, Dinizio said, “I’m not too comfortable with that, but we’ll see.”
Russell first presented his tentative 2018 budget to the town board in October during a special meeting at Town Hall.
“Southold Town’s economic health does have some challenges,” Russell said. While the budget is “fiscally sound and is built on a foundation provided by Southold’s strong fiscal outlook,” medical costs through the New York State Health Insurance Program have risen $435,200, from $6,324,000 in 2017 to $6,759,200 for 2018, he said.
“The difference between a 1.64% increase and a .64% increase is the increased medical costs,” Russell said.
The budget as proposed establishes a reserve fund of $100,000 for any expenses that may occur if it is necessary to relocate town offices; for example, those that currently are sited in the Town Hall annex at the shuttering Capital One bank.
The budget also provided $1.3 million in funding to continue the multi-year road restoration and resurfacing efforts in the town highway department, he said.
In addition, the budget reflects an allocation of $295,000 for the completion of the town’s master plan as well as $50,000 for a traffic engineering study to commence at the intersection of Main Street and Sound Avenue in Greenport, Russell said; both those costs will be “substantially reimbursed by grants.”
Russell said he’s worked diligently with department heads “to ensure that the only funds allocated are for expenditures that are necessary and essential to continue our record of service to the residents of Southold Town. There are no needless expenditures.”
To that end, he said, most budget requests from department heads were for new staff. The budget includes the hiring of the two new police officers to maintain a “sufficient” force; the only new hire is for a groundskeeper whose responsibilities will be primarily to focus on maintaining the preserves.
“We have acquired a great deal of property over the years and the maintenance of these properties simply can’t be done with the skeletal staff we have in the Department of Public Works,” Russell said. The position will be partly be funded by the Community Preservation Fund, “which does permit us to use some of those funds for management costs of these preserves,” he said.
The budget also calls for a full time electrical inspector, with all costs to be covered by fees, as well as a part-time administrative liaison for Fishers Island.
And, Russell outlined, capital budget proposed are established for $250,000 in sidewalk installation and repair for Fishers Island, $250,000 for Southold Town sidewalk installation and repair, and $250,000 for continued stormwater mitigation.
There’s good news on the horizon for sports enthusiasts, Russell said: The town will construct three new pickleball courts at Tasker Park, which will be funded out of the parks and recreation budget, a budget neutral item. In recent years, the town allowed pickleball on a re-striped tennis courts.
Discussing the spike in medical costs, Russell has brought up his suggestion to have the town sign on to Suffolk County’s health insurance plan.
Even if the legislation is created to allow that idea to proceed, Russell said, “It will probably be a couple of years before we can do it, if we can do it, when all is said and done.” However, he said, the county’s shared services committee did form a subcommittee and reached out to Governor Andrew Cuomo to explore the issue, he said.
“There’s a sincere effort on their part to figure out how to get it done,” Russell said.
“That was a head’s up play on your part, Scott,” Dinizio said. “If we can get that, it’s a big deal. It changes the landscape for health care on the Island, not just for us.”