After a contentious budget process in the midst of an election, the Southampton Town Board adopted the final 2010 budget on Friday, November 20. Despite revisions to the fiscal plan, the board is still increasing the tax rate by a full five percent. A homeowner, with a property assessed at $500,000, will pay an additional $33 in town taxes next year, or $1.38 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. In 2009, the tax rate was $1.32 for every $1,000 of property value. The overall spending for the town in 2010 remains at around $78.8 million.
Above: Supervisor-elect Anna Throne-Holst and current supervisor Linda Kabot mull over the 2010 budget plan for Southampton Town.
As a last order of major business for supervisor Linda Kabot, she presented a preliminary 2010 budget in late September. The plan was widely debated throughout town hall as it called for 48 lay offs and privatizing the animal shelter; though Kabot said she had found a way to clear the deficits in the highway and police fund.
The board received the most criticism over staffing cuts from union members and community constituents, and have since decided to maintain several positions. Overall, 37 positions were cut, but 11 of these jobs were already vacant, 10 positions were related to the animal shelter and five staff members will likely accept a retirement incentive.
The adopted 2010 budget notably reinstates the transportation and traffic safety director, a community service aide in the senior service department, the assistant director of the youth bureau, a youth counselor, and five sanitation helpers and one scale operator in the Waste Management Division. Others, however, didn’t fair as well in the final round of budget talks. The grant analyst was eliminated, as was the building projects coordinator due to a reshuffling of the department of public works. The supervisor-elect Anna Throne-Holst will realize around $90,000 in savings from eliminating two positions in the supervisor’s officer. One of these positions, that of citizen advocate, however, was simply transferred from the supervisor’s office to the council office in a measure sponsored by Kabot.
A resolution backed by councilwoman Throne-Holst, councilwoman Nancy Graboski and councilwoman Sally Pope might signal the exit of current town attorney Dan Adams in the coming year. The amendment proposed that deputy town attorney Kathleen Murray will “serve as the acting town attorney during a transition period” over the first six months of 2010.
The board was able to save several positions mainly through reducing the monies allotted for deficit reduction in the highway and e-911 fund, increasing estimates for revenues like building permit fees and raising the Cablevision franchise fee from four to five percent, among other measures.
In the 2010 budget, the town has set aside around $2.8 million to pay down past deficits. Comptroller Tamara Wright warned, “The $2.8 million does not address the capital fund IOU. This isn’t really enough money to make a big dent in your deficits … Your financial health includes your cash balance and there isn’t a great deal of room to be off in your revenue estimates.”
The capital fund deficit, estimated at around $6 million, wasn’t directly addressed in the operating budget for next year but the town board has several options in dealing with this sizable debt. Kabot lobbied to pierce the five percent tax rate cap solely to handle these deficits, not new spending; but her resolution was voted down by Throne-Holst, councilman Chris Nuzzi and Pope. The town also has the option of surplusing, or selling off, certain properties next year, another idea proposed by Kabot. Or, the town could pay the capital fund debt through deficit financing, though Kabot argued the state would then have greater oversight into the town’s finances and deficit financing could potentially weaken the town’s credit rating.
“We still don’t have the final numbers. I would leave this aside for the moment and deal with it when we have these numbers,” suggested Throne-Holst.
In other measures, the town tabled a resolution to take out a $275,000 bond for a video arraignment system, decided to fund a total of seven board members of the Zoning Board of Appeals and maintained a hiring freeze.