“One challenge year after year is trying to account for ever increasing medical costs.” Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell.
By Lisa Finn (Patch Staff) – Updated Oct 5, 2017
SOUTHOLD, NY — Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell presented his tentative 2018 budget to the town board Wednesday in a special meeting at Town Hall.
The $45.67 million budget reflects an overall tax increase of 1.64%, from last year’s total appropriation of $44.069 million.
“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 provides $1.3 million in funding to continue the multi-year road restoration and resurfacing efforts in the town highway department, he said.
The budget also provides $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 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. His proposed budget includes the hiring of 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.
When pickleball enthusiasts first approached the town, Russell said at first the board wasn’t sure of the public’s interest in the game.
Now, he said, “I’m asking if three courts is enough. It’s become so popular.”
Discussing the budget process after the meeting, Russell said, “One challenge year after year is trying to account for ever increasing medical costs. A $435,000 dollar increase in one year greatly impacts a small budget like Southold’s. One way we have tried to mitigate that is to not approve any labor contract that doesn’t include a medical contribution from new hires,” he said. “Other than that, it’s a straightforward approach. Review every line dollar by dollar. Then do the best you can to keep those lines as low as you can.”
After distributing the budget to the board, Russell said, “Over the next few weeks we have a lot of work to do.”
Discussing the spike in medical costs, Russell once again 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,” Councilman Jim 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.”