By Andrew Rudansky
“Cost Cutting Mode,” is how Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot describes the current state of the town, and cost cutting is just what was happening at Southampton Town Hall this past Tuesday, July 14.
“There is more work to be done, everyone has to tighten up the belt,” said Kabot. The board passed a resolution to amend the 2009 budget by a vote of five to zero. In total the board cut $1 million from their 2009 operating budget.
Across the board the town was looking to slash operating costs. Some of the budget cuts include a $2,500 decrease in microfilming from $5,000 to $2,500; a $50,000 decrease in legal fees from $1,050,000 to $1 million; a $27,000 decrease in vehicle purchase from $27,000 to $0; and a $100 decrease in land management photography from $100 to $0. However much of the money comes from the reduction, or in some cases freezing, of overtime pay, which may total over $500,000.
These cuts were the result of an operating budget that was structurally balanced on the assumption that mortgage tax revenues coming into the town would total in the neighborhood of around $7.5 million. This assumption was made on November 20, 2008 before the full gravity of the recent economic recession was fully realized.
House prices have fallen, which in turn has decreased the revenue from the mortgage tax. In the first half of the fiscal year only $2.5 million has come in from mortgage tax revenues, over $1 million less than projected. If this trend continues, which the town board believes it will, it would leave a $2 million shortfall in the general fund.
“We expected $7.5 million in mortgage tax,” said Kabot. “We are going to get $5.5 [million] if we are lucky,” she further explained that the Community Preservation Fund was hoping for $30 million in revenue from the two percent real estate transfer tax and would be “lucky to get $14 million.”
The amended 2009 budget includes a $342,265 cut from the general fund, $237,921 cut from the police fund and a $72,161 cut from the highway fund, among others. The board said the decision on budget cuts was made with input from various members of the different departments.
Councilwoman Sally Pope said “I appreciate having the extra time to consult with people in town hall.”
“I know for myself and most of my colleagues, we spent the last two weeks, if not longer, spending time with various department heads working on this,” added councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst.
“This is one small step in the right direction,” Kabot said. “We need to move forward in 2010 with $2 million of further cuts…with personnel changes if need be.”
The budget cuts were followed by a slew of grant applications from various community organizations. Kabot believes these relatively small grant applications, while serving good causes, are part of the fiscal problem Southampton Town faces. Despite her concerns most of these grants, including a $1,000 human services grant for a basketball program and a $1,000 special events interfund transfer for a church block party in Riverside, were passed unanimously. Kabot said that in 2010 the town would consider putting a hold on these small grant applications.
“Every year [grant seekers] ask for more pie, and there is no more pie,” said Kabot.