By Kathryn G. Menu
After slashing requests by the Sag Harbor Volunteer Fire Department by some $90,000, the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees have drafted a tentative budget of $7,838,023 for the 2011-2012 fiscal year. Residents will have a chance to weigh in on the budget at a public hearing on April 8 at 6 p.m.
The tentative budget increases spending in the general fund by 1.74 percent, or $134,333. For a village resident with a home valued at $795,000, this would mean a tax hike of almost $30.
At $506,224, the village sewer fund budget is projected to cost residents of that district four percent less than last year.
In the general fund, the largest increases in expenditures come through the Sag Harbor Volunteer Fire Department, despite the village board cutting the department’s wish list drastically during budget negotiations.
The tentative budget shows the department receiving $399,948 in funding in 2011-2012, an increase of $41,564 or 11.6 percent. The department had proposed its budget at $490,615, primarily to cover the purchase a new chief’s vehicle for $60,000 and save for replacement of two new engines in the next three years by increasing the amount in the department’s truck reserve by $75,000 to $125,000.
During the presentation of the tentative budget, on Friday, March 25, Mayor Brian Gilbride said he had pared down the fire department’s budget in an effort to keep an increase in spending for 2011-2012 as close to zero as possible, while still allocating monies to tackle drainage problems in the village, as well as the first phase of the Havens Beach remediation project.
The village will also use $200,000 of its $1.7 million reserve to offset the 2011-2012 tax increase for residents, which is $75,000 less than it used out of the reserve last year, said Mayor Gilbride.
Mayor Gilbride removed the $60,000 from the fire department’s budget for a chief’s vehicle and only increased the truck reserve to $100,000. He also cut down on monies allotted for equipment.
Sag Harbor Volunteer Fire Department Chief Wayne Mortensen, Jr. said reducing the department’s general equipment line from $65,000 to $30,000 will prevent the department from purchasing bailout systems for firefighters. He asked the board to revisit that portion of the budget.
Mayor Gilbride said with equipment costs reaching $50,000 to $65,000 annually, the village has been trying to get accounting for what is being purchased and where in the department it is going. He added the village has ensured enough money has been placed in the truck reserve so that in 2013 the fire department will be able to replace a 1993 Class A Pumper truck, which will cost between $375,000 and $400,000.
Mortensen argued that further west on Long Island, fire departments are being fined for not having bailout systems in place for firefighters which enable them to exit an interior fire in a multi-level structure, like the Municipal Building, safely.
As of now, said Mortensen, the department has none and has been researching the best system for the department in hopes of purchasing them this year.
Mayor Gilbride said the costs associated with equipment and vehicles in the fire department are getting increasingly expensive. He believes the best course of action may be to conduct an audit of the department so the village can create a blueprint of the spending that will be necessary in coming years.
Fire Department First Assistant Chief Bill Bennett said removing the scheduled replacement of the chief’s vehicle will throw off a 10-year replacement plan.
Bennett added that he was disappointed to not see monies budgeted for 54 air packs, which the department hoped to replace last year, citing the concern of having a number of old packs.
Lastly, Bennett noted the fire department did take a 17 percent reduction in funding last year.
Mayor Gilbride said when it comes to the chief’s trucks — the department has three — he is unsure of their condition, but he added that he personally has trucks that are more than 10 years old.
Trustee Bruce Stafford, who like Gilbride is a member of the fire department, added the village can look at replacing the air packs, but that it will not be able to replace all the packs at once as the department has requested.
“It’s still an 11 percent increase in spending,” said Mayor Gilbride.
“It’s a very important subject,” said Bennett, noting having the same kind of air packs throughout the department is key to preventing an accident in the middle of the night while fighting a fire. “I really hope we will revisit it in the next couple of weeks.”
Other notable increases in the tentative budget — outside health insurance, retirement and contractual salary increases — include a $45,000 increase for legal expenses, a $12,500 increase for pump out waste disposal on the village’s harbors and docks, and $10,000 to complete drainage improvements throughout the village.
According to Mayor Gilbride, the village will also look to fund the first phase of a three-part plan to remediate Havens Beach. He said he expects the 2010-2011 budget will have about $20,000 left over that will be used to improve the catch basins on Hempstead Street at the start of the Havens Beach drainage ditch.
The remainder of that project, which will entail dredging the ditch, filling it with clean sand and natural vegetation as well as two mechanical filtering units using Smart Sponge technology has not been priced out, said Mayor Gilbride, but is estimated to cost around $200,000.
Mayor Gilbride said the village will look to either fund the remainder of that project by using its fund balance or bonding the project over several years.