By Mara Certic
Three weeks before the Southampton Town Board is slated to adopt its 2015 budget, representatives of two departments came before the board to ask for additional funding.
“We offer all of our departments and department heads the opportunity to come before the town board as part of the budget crafting process to discuss any thoughts they have, suggestions, complaints et cetera, et cetera,” Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said at the beginning of a work session on Thursday, October 30.
The Southampton Town Trustees and the town’s police department were two such entities that asked for a larger share of the town’s preliminary budget.
“When you took office for the first time the town’s finances were not in the greatest of shape, and the Trustees have always operated on a very, very lean budget all through the years,” Eric Shultz, president of the Trustees, told the supervisor on Thursday.
“I just wanted to start discussing bringing the Trustees’ budget back up to pretty much what it was before this financial crisis started,” he said. “The Trustees have contributed the lion’s share of that budget and feel that we really have helped the town weather this storm.”
Mr. Shultz said there were certain line items that were no longer budgeted for, including overtime pay for bay constables, upkeep of vehicles, legal fees, salaries for office staff and so on.
“In this budget we were told it was basically going to be the same as last year and we need to start coming out of the hole a little bit,” Mr. Shultz said, adding that some of the Trustees’ employees had been driving a vehicle until a spark plug blew out of the engine.
“We’ve not had to ask the town board for any vehicles or any boats or any motors or any repairs to our buildings in the last four or five years because of our sand sales, and that’s coming to an end. There has been zero dollars realized from the sale of sand this year,” he said.
The Trustees made $1.2 million in sand sales in the year following Super Storm Sandy, which they used for upkeep of their fleet and their properties. The current state of Southampton beaches, however, suggests sand sales won’t be on the rise any time soon.
Ms. Throne-Holst said the conversation was one that should have taken place as a part of the requested budget process, where departments lay out what money they need for what projects, so the town can budget accordingly. She added the Trustees are an enterprise fund, meaning they have a revenue source of their own.
The Trustees suggested they brought in the most money to the town, and that as those charged with protecting the waterways, they “control the economic engine of this town.”
Ms. Throne-Holst acknowledged their contributions, but added both the town’s Building Department and Justice Court bring in hefty sums in permit fees and fines as well.
“So what we need to do now is set back the clock and pretend we’re back in September when the budget came out,” she said. “But we need to follow timelines here like everyone else,” she reminded the Trustees. “We’re so understaffed in our office, its hard to get things done,” responded Mr. Shultz.
Southampton Town Police Chief Robert Pearce came before the board to address portions of his department’s budget that concerned him. Chief Pearce had put in a request for six new police officers in order, primarily, to increase police presence in Flanders as well as a request for more money for severance pay and vehicle upkeep.
“That is the reason I am asking for six,” he said, “It is my understanding I’m getting three with a possibility of a fourth in 2016.” In the current budget, there will be three new names added to the police payroll, filling two new positions and one vacancy.
The town has budgeted to add another lieutenant and sergeant to the department—both will be internal promotions—and then to fill those positions and an existing vacancy with department officers.
If Suffolk County adopts its preliminary budget, Ms. Throne-Holst explained there would be a new agreement to provide the town with a greater share of sales tax revenue to use for public safety.
The supervisor suggested some of that money be allocated to pay for one officer immediately, with a commitment to double the amount in the next calendar year.
“It won’t get you there immediately, but it will get you there roughly in a year or so,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. Chief Pearce said back when he had 102 officers he ran a lean department. As the budget stands, his department will have 90 officers in 2015.
“We were running lean then, we’re running emaciated now,” Chief Pearce said. The supervisor said the seasonal nature of the town makes budgeting for the police particularly difficult.
“We try to do the best we can in a way that achieves a balance between the season and the off-season,” she said.
East Hampton Budget
In East Hampton Town, Budget Officer Len Bernard presented another review of the tentative operating budget for 2015. Since it was first presented to the public in September, the town has added $29,124 in net expenditures to the budget. More money for human services, town cemeteries, the East End Arts Council and the fisheries committee, among others, account for the increases, Mr. Bernard explained.
Mr. Bernard said more money had found its way into the revenue fund. This is in part due to expected lease payments from solar companies. According to Mr. Bernard the contracts have been drawn and will be signed shortly. “This is going to happen real soon,” he said.
The overall net to the tax levy, he said, is $152,400 in revenue, which will very slightly lower the projected tax increase. Also, it will put the town $329,569 under the tax cap, which it can carry forward to the next year.
In a work session meeting on October 21, Councilwoman Kathee Burke Gonzalez asked that an additional $36,000 be put into the airport budget in order to install cameras to record flight activity.
Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc requested the town also budget for a part-time skilled carpenter to conduct small repairs on town buildings. “I think Peter’s proposal is acceptable, as far as I’m concerned, and encouraged,” said Councilman Fred Overton.
Mr. Bernard said he would add both of those items to the budget. Both towns are scheduled to adopt their operating budgets by November 20, as stipulated by state law.