In the middle of the worst recession in more than a half century, Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot brought her election-year budget message to Noyac on Tuesday evening, and explained to the community’s civic council that her fiscal plan takes some drastic measures — especially in its effort to make up millions from a deficit resulting from poor bookkeeping.
The result, she said, was that projects, like the long-awaited Noyac community center, have had to be put on hold, as the town simply does not have the money to pay for them.
“You can’t just float a bond for something like that,” Kabot told the members of the civic council at their regularly monthly meeting. “It’s like having a mortgage. It costs you more in your operating budget.”
The budget, claims Kabot, will eliminate deficits in the major funds of the general operating budget. The current budget has a deficit of about $7.5 million she said.
Those savings come at a price, however, and, if adopted, among the casualties will be 48 jobs, programs like the town’s animal shelter and the curtailing of some operations such as limiting the hours for two of the town’s waste transfer stations. Interestingly the supervisor noted Sag Harbor’s transfer station is the busiest and most profitable of the town’s four stations.
“It’s apparently the place where people go to meet and greet each other; not the post office,” she observed.
The town got into trouble, primarily, during the years 2004-2006, claimed Kabot, when the bookkeeping office failed to move cash from one fund to another. After the board had approved the transfer of money to pay for a particular project, said Kabot, the money was never actually transferred from the general fund to the project’s fund.
“It appeared like we had a big fat fund balance,” said Kabot, “and meanwhile the money had already been spoken for.”
Eventually, the money believed to be in the fund balance was used to reduce the tax burden in subsequent budgets, to keep the tax rate down.
Projects that were supposed to be funded included such things as the Noyac community center and a new guard rail for Noyac Road by Trout Pond, which was actually installed this year.
While she argues the proposed budget will satisfy its deficit, Kabot said she is facing a challenge from the town’s police department, which is asking for a 4.5 percent raise. At present, she said, about 90 percent of the town’s police force is compensated at $185,000 a year, and after four years an officer is earning over $100,000. About one-third of the force is retirement eligible with full benefits. Kabot said her offer of a 2 percent raise was rebuffed by the town’s PBA.
“How do you stop this,” asked a man in the audience.
“I need people to stand up for the taxpayer,” replied Kabot.
Kabot said all is not grim for those in Noyac.
“The commitment is there for Noyac,” she said, “but we might have to pull back on some of the aesthetics you might have enjoyed.
In particular, she said the town will go ahead with a traffic calming project for Noyac Road in front of The Whalenbone and Cromer’s Market. A raised median had originally been proposed, but the project ran into a lot of criticism from the neighboring business owners who felt a structure would restrict some vehicles from pulling into the parking lot.
Instead, it will be done with a painted median, pulling the roadway further away from the parking area, and result in using some of the land on the south side of the road across from the parking lot. While she had hoped to have the work done this fall, it will have to wait to the spring.
“It’s work that has to be done. It’s like the wild west there,” she said.
But aside from the aforementioned guard rail (which cost $119,000), there was little the town was set to do for Noyac. Kabot said they were hiring a consultant at about to plan the clearing and re-vegetation of the area around the waterfall by Trout Pond, and said a project to install drainage at Bittersweet Lane was et to go this week until they found out it was a private road not maintained by the town. They are currently working with counsel to secure an easement to do the work, but in the meantime that money was diverted to do drainage at Otter Pond in Sag Harbor.
Kabot said the town will install four more speed monitors along Noyac Road in an effort to slow traffic.
“You’ll increase the monitors, but how will you enforce it,” asked council member Dorothy Frankel.
“I’m going to send a memo to the police and say people here need protection,” said Kabot. “This is a dangerous road.”