By Tessa Raebeck
Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst proposed a tentative budget Monday she said would address fundamental infrastructure and staffing needs and solidify the town’s financial position without raising the tax rate.
The recommended 2014 budget builds upon fiscal strategies used in the past three budgets presented by the supervisor, she said. With a total cost of $80.7 million, the 2014 tentative budget represents a $2.3 million increase, or about 3 percent, in spending over the adopted 2013 budget. The supervisor said she was able to maintain a zero-increase town tax levy through climbing revenues and organizational restructuring.
Including a projected $1 million increase in mortgage tax revenue, “in line with the conservative projections,” town revenues are projected to increase by almost $2 million, according to the supervisor. The budget proposes an appropriation of $1.7 million in surplus funds, leaving $26.8 million in reserved fund balance, which she called “an amount well in excess of the reserves necessary.”
“Through aggressive treasury management and an increasingly favorable credit rating, the town has been able to reduce the debt service on loans by $600,000,” she said. Throne-Holst and her administration introduced a strict control on new borrowing that they said resulted in a massive decrease in debt service. The tentative budget includes a five-year borrowing projection plan that is expected to reduce borrowing by an additional 30-percent over the next five years.
According to the supervisor, the budget’s main priorities are continued cost control, the continued strengthening and solidifying of the town’s overall financial position and addressing staffing, service delivery and infrastructure needs.
The presented spending plan supports 482 staff positions, representing a 13-percent reduction from when Throne-Holst was first elected to the town board in 2008 and the lowest level of staffing since 2002, she said.
“As with all municipal budgets, the greatest expense and portion of our budget is associated with our greatest asset: our personnel,” said Throne-Holst. “Over the last three years, we have been able to control staffing costs by systematically reducing staff through retirement incentives both state and local and reorganizing operations to achieve greater efficiencies.”
The spending plan provides for a “modest” two-percent cost of living salary increase for all union and non-union town employees, although, as has been the supervisor’s policy for the past three years, elected officials and appointed board members are not budgeted for a raise. It also includes funding to cover a five-percent increase in health insurance costs.
The tentative budget does not contemplate any layoffs, but eliminates two previously funded but unfilled positions, deputy assessor and civil engineer. In the Highway Department, the budget proposes the addition of one maintenance worker and one mechanic, as well as the promotion of a part-time mechanic to a full-time maintenance mechanic. An additional mechanic is also proposed for the Hampton Bays Water District, as well as a groundskeeper in community preservation.
The controlled spending over the last three years, as well as the implementation of a pay-as-you-go-policy, has allowed for the supervisor’s tentative budget to reduce borrowing and related debt service and thus continue funding all program areas across all cost centers while also addressing critical infrastructure needs, she said.
It allocates $3.6 million to highway projects, including over $1.1 million in town-wide road improvements. The supervisor’s plan also includes the deployment of the ACELA public safety software solution, an information technology that would give town workers immediate access and enhanced communication with each other, reducing processing time with “the potential to provide new efficiencies to all levels,” said Throne-Holst.
Under the proposed plan, the police department would also implement a new software program, the Integrated Computer Aided Dispatch and Records Management Solution (ICAD) computer system, aimed at increasing the department’s efficiency and effectiveness “by eliminating redundant manual records management tasks and reducing the number of Police Officers,” according to the tentative budget. The department would also receive funding for additional heavy trucks and a new bay constable patrol boat.
The tentative budget also upgrades park facilities, calling for improvements such as the installation of bus shelters around town, the restoration of the Victorian-era barn on the Big Duck property and upgrades to the Bridgehampton Senior Center.
“I’m confident that this proposed tentative budget is a sound fiscal plan that will keep the town on the steady course to improved financial stability that it has been on for the past three years,” said Throne-Holst. “At the end of the day, a budget is evidence of your local government’s stewardship of your tax dollars.”
The town board will host public hearings on the budget on October 22 and November 12. Members must complete any modifications to the supervisor’s proposed budget and adopt a spending plan by November 20.