By Marissa Maier
Â As the financial forecast for many municipalities looks bleak in the coming fiscal year, the Sag Harbor Village budget might be comparably brighter.
“I think we will have a good fund balance that will get us through this [fiscal] year,” said village treasurer Eileen Touhy as she delivered her half-year report on the village’s budget at the board of trustee’s meeting on Tuesday, December 9.
Although Sag Harbor Mayor Greg Ferraris has proposed to cut the discretionary budget spending by nine percent during this fiscal year, the village’s various reserve funds are still sound and in May, the village ended its 2008 fiscal year with a $9,000 surplus. The village’s fiscal year runs from June through May.
Later, Ferraris cited fiscal responsibility and a historically lean budget, combined with minimal staff increases, as the reason for a relatively stable village budget.
“We are in a better position than other municipalities,” said Ferraris.
In order to avoid a shortfall for this fiscal year, Ferraris suggests the village decrease its discretionary spending. Nearly 80 percent of the village budget is currently used for debt services and contractual obligations — including contracts, social security and pensions for village employees. The remainder of the budget is used for discretionary funding.
Ferraris is proposing to lessen this spending by limiting overtime for police officers. When a special event is held in the village, such as a parade or a charity run, additional police officers are often required to help with traffic and crowd control and are usually paid overtime. Ferraris seeks to curtail this expenditure by asking event planners to provide more volunteers to help with these services onsite.
He also suggests the attrition of certain village positions. For example Robert Miller, a highway employee, resigned earlier this month and Ferraris is looking at leaving this position vacant. Ferraris contends that the attrition of employees would lead to a decrease in services, but he adds that this would be a “short term fix” to weather the current economic crisis.
During this fiscal year, the board is planning to operate on an austerity basis. Some larger projects, such as repairing the fence at the Old Burying Ground, will be shelved until the budget looks more promising.
“We, [the village] couldn’t continue to run at these [austerity] levels,” said Ferraris. “[Budget spending] will decrease even more in the next fiscal year . . . But, if we don’t deal with the situation now, it is just going to exacerbate.”
At the meeting, Touhy highlighted the village’s strong reserve funds. These funds are allotted for different village functions, and each year a certain amount of money is budgeted to go into these funds. Ferraris predicts the village might have to tap into the reserve for some waterfront dock projects in the coming year. Protecting the village waterfront infrastructure is very important, said Ferraris, because the waterfront is a key asset to the village.
Touhy mentioned that maintaining the current assets of the village, which total approximately $9 million, is a chief priority.
“It is a delicate balance to fund and maintain our current assets without burdening our tax payers,” said Ferraris.
When planning the village budget, Ferraris recalls the advice of former village mayor Pierce Hance.
“He said, ‘you don’t prepare for the budget in one sitting, you prepare for it the whole year.’ The board makes [budgetary] decisions on a month to month basis,” said Ferraris. “We are going to try to do what is best for the next budget cycle.”
In February, Ferraris expects the board will begin working on the 2009-2010 fiscal budget.