The Southampton Town board started their Tuesday night board meeting by giving what supervisor Linda Kabot described as “belated awards” to honor three local citizens for their work in transportation improvement.
The awards were given to Rich Warren, Ann LaWall and Buzz Schwenk in honor of their hard work along County Road 39 in Southampton. In the same evening, the town board discussed their 2009 tentative budget, and how they will deal with what Kabot has called, “a year where many will be under tremendous financial constraints.”
Last Friday a public hearing was held for the $82 million preliminary budget proposed by Kabot. The tentative budget proposes a five-percent increase in tax levies for Southampton town and using “rainy day” funds to relieve this tax increase. Kabot praised fellow board members for using a “big red marker” and for “sharpening their pencils” to create cuts to possibly give the town greater tax relief. But members of the community came to the hearing to talk about cuts to certain human service departments.
Doctor Larry Weiss, Vice President for Programs at Family Service League, spoke about his concern for cuts to the human service departments within the town. He first thanked the board for their help in providing funding, particularly for the youth within the town in need of family counseling. He explained that the funding his organization has received in the past was upwards of $100,000 a year for mental health, and this funding provided for a very successful program for the children in the community.
“As I understand, it is not included in the 2009 proposed budget, and I urge you to consider the impact on the emotional well-being of children and their families, and the mental services they need,” Weiss said on Friday.
Christopher Halucha, also from the Family Service League, spoke about the importance of funding social services.
“The statistics show that 1 out of 10 children have a serious mental illness,” he said. “And only 30 percent of those children in the country graduate with a high school diploma. If you look at the statistics for Southampton, they are pretty comparable – they don’t go outside the norm.”
Halucha added that his organization provides the youth of the community the mental health services it needs.
“There is an extremely long waiting list,” he said.
Halucha also relayed an experience that he had earlier this year. He told the board that his car was stolen and when he reported it, six police cars responded. He then explained that the unknown person who stole the car, if caught, would then have to use the police and judicial systems. But, Halucha argues, if youth are offered counseling, they may not resort to crime in the first place. Ultimately, he said, it is costing the town more money to take funding away from these services.
At Tuesday night’s town board meeting, Elizabeth Yennie from The Retreat, a non-profit organization that helps women and children escape domestically violent situations, explained that a cut in funding of $2,000 from the town, even though it is not much, makes a huge difference to her organization. She said a few years ago The Retreat was at 80 percent capacity, but this year, they are at 100 percent capacity.
“A cut of $2,000 is a lot of money — it’s four months of someone getting counseling,” she said.Â
Kabot said there are no straight line cuts. She said the cuts are coming from an annual grant program that allows $100,000 for health and human service agencies. Kabot said that in the last two years, the town was even able to increase this amount to $150,000. She also said that there are two things that increase during a financially stressful time: public safety needs due to stresses and the need for social services and the prevention of violence in families.
Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst, who is the human service liaison for the town board, said that the program is a vital service to the community.
“We are working with the community service department,” said Throne-Holst. “And I know how hard it is considering how broke our health care is.”
But she assured Yennie, “I will fight for this.”
Kabot said that the 2009 budget includes cuts to certain contracts and programs where the board has proposed to cut back some funding.
“For recipients for these services for families, that relationship has been a worthwhile pursuit and tough decisions have to be made,” she said.Â
At Friday’s hearing, Kabot said that the number of employees at town hall seems to be increasing by about 15 people per year, and she along with other board members will be looking at freezing vacancies for 2009. Kabot also commended department heads for offering cuts and volunteering to cut back additional expenses.