Tag Archive | "Southampton Town Budget"

More Money Needed for Road Repaving, Says Southampton Highway Superintendent

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By Mara Certic

Southampton Town Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor appeared before the town board last Thursday to ask for more money to fund necessary projects along the town’s roadways.

“We used to get $3.5 million to pave roads, now we’re hovering around $1.7 million,” he said in an interview on said Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor said in an interview on Wednesday.

According to the town’s 2015-2019 Tentative Capital Program, Mr. Gregor and his department had requested $5 million for townwide road improvements. In her tentative budget, Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst allocated just $1.2 million to improving roadways, with an additional $975,000 earmarked for work on Dune Road in Hampton Bays. There is a total of $3.8 million in spending for highway work in the town’s capital budget.

“We have a problem with a lot of subdivisions built in the ’80s and ’90s,” Mr. Gregor said. These aging roads, which are receive less traffic, he explained, have not been repaired as frequently as Southampton’s busier streets.

Mr. Gregor explained that investing more money in improving roadways now will allow the town to save money in the future. The more deteriorated the roads are at the time of repair, Mr. Gregor said, the more costly it is to fix them.

“If they fund us at $3.5 million for the next five years compared to what she’s saying, if we spend that money now, we’ll save 12 million by not letting the roads deteriorate,” Mr. Gregor added.

On one particular road in Hampton Bays, Mr. Gregor said the highway department would probably have to resort to putting gravel down this winter, as a temporary solution to the bad driving conditions.

“The road is deteriorated and being flooded constantly,” he said. If they have to plow the road this winter, they will likely break off chunks of the road and damage it further, he said.

“She gave me a budget and said ‘We’re hoping for good weather’,” Mr.Gregor said. “I can’t prepare for that, I need to prepare for the worst.”

Mr. Gregor had also initially requested $1.1 million for additional highway equipment, which the supervisor reduced to $350,000 in her preliminary budget for 2015.

“We are one of the few towns that doesn’t have a dedicated snow budget,” Mr. Gregor said, adding some of the funding he was looking for would replace four 30-year-old snow plows.

Mr. Gregor is also seeking more money to pay for salt and other highway equipment.

In 2014, the highway department had to do 15 budget transfers “to keep things going” according to Mr. Gregor.

“Actually the highway department’s broke right now, for the rest of the year,” Mr. Gregor added, saying there is just $8,000 left in the department’s checking account to last through the end of the year because of last year’s harsh winter.

“Just like overtime, they never gave us enough for overtime,” he said, “all we have left is $34,000.” The leaves of late fall and storms of early winter often call for highway workers to put in extra hours, and the department will only be able to fund that to a point, he said.

“We’re trying to keep people safe and maintain the town’s liability. When you put your kid on a school bus you expect the road system to be safe,” Mr. Gregor said.

Southampton Town Comptroller Len Marchese discussed the preliminary capital budget with the town board following the highway department’s request.

The department’s $3.8 million budget includes rollover spending, he said.

“Alex talked about having only a $2 million budget, but what happens is this is money we already borrowed or allocated for Dune Road is $1 million, that’s in your budget,” Mr. Marchese said, adding that the town could decide to instead put that money toward road repaving, which Supervisor Throne-Holst said was a “remote possibility.”

Mr. Marchese said there is some money that is expected to roll over into next year’s budget, but he said the board could discuss options of further supplementing the highway department’s spending budget.

The town board must adopt its budget by Thursday, November 20, as mandated by state law.

Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst Proposes $88.5 Million Budget for Southampton

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Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, pictured above, presented the Town’s Tentative 2015 Budget on Tuesday. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Mara Certic

Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst presented Southampton Town’s $88.5 million proposed operating budget for 2015 on Tuesday, September 30.

“The 2015 tentative budget, and my previous four budgets, is based on the notion that sound financial footing is the bedrock upon which all town services rests,” said Ms. Throne-Holst.

“The degree and quality for which the town can provide for public safety, safe and well maintained roadways, clean and accessible beaches, parks and public spaces—and a host of other services that support and improve the quality of life for our citizens depends on our ability to provide that sound financial footing,” she continued.

“I am proposing modest increases in both the operating and capital budgets—principally in the Highway and Public Safety Funds, while proposing offsetting reductions or revenue increases in other areas,” she said.

Ms. Throne-Holst has included $695,000 in the budget in order to cover the salaries and benefits of eight new employees. The supervisor intends to hire one administrative position, an ordinance inspector, an environmental analyst, a maintenance mechanic, two police officers and two automotive equipment operators.

“In the past four years we have reduced overall staffing by about 15 percent,” the supervisor said. “However, as you all know, our town population continues to grow, and so then too, the need for services,” she continued.

The budget accounts for a 2-percent annual increases in salary and incorporates increases in employee contributions to health benefits, according to the supervisor. She added Southampton’s contracts represent “the most conservative increases in Suffolk County.”

The budget also includes funds for the town’s 375th anniversary celebrations and for a special prosecutor to focus solely on code enforcement issues.

Money has also been put aside to found a partnership with Stony Brook University in order to create a nitrogen mapping and awareness program, “as part of our overall effort to address water quality in our community and region,” Ms. Throne-Holst said.

While the budget calls for an additional $3 million in spending, Ms. Throne-Holst said that steadily increasing revenues and appropriating modest amount from fund balances would offset the budget-to-budget differences and allow for no increase in the total tax levy.

“As anywhere else, our operating costs continue to rise, but fortunately our annual revenue to support the offset has grown as well,” she said. Mortgage tax revenue for 2014 is currently expected to be $1.2 million over the budgeted projection, she added.

Increased permit fees, fines and penalties have provided an increase in revenue as well, she said, as has the more aggressive prosecution of offenders. Combined, these revenues offset roughly $1.7 million of the $3 million in additional spending.

The budget as written proposes to draw the remaining $1.3 million needed to balance the budget from the town’s “very healthy fund balance.” The town’s fund balance is mandated to be 17 percent of the total operating budget; according to Ms. Throne Holst, the current balance is $29 million, which represents 32 percent of the budget.

She added, however, that she would be open to discussing the possibility of a 1.5-percent tax rate increase with the other members of the town board in the coming weeks.

“While my budget proposes a zero tax levy increase, New York State has offered municipalities incentives in the form of a rebate equal to the amount of any town tax increase up to the tax cap limit,” she said.

Governor Cuomo’s Tax Relief Rebate Program would entitle eligible taxpayers to a full rebate of their tax increase, which would translate to a zero increase to the taxpayer.

Ms. Throne-Holst proposed not to increase taxes because of how robust the fund balance is, she said, but also to not add to the tax base in future years. There is no guarantee the rebate program will continue in future years or that Southampton Town will be eligible in the future, she said.

She would be willing to consider the other option, to take advantage of the tax relief program, which could provide funding for future non-recurring projects. Ms. Throne-Holst explained the state program could fund additional necessary police and code enforcement vehicles as well as town fueling station upgrades and public safety communications equipment, all at no increased cost to the taxpayer.

“In such an option, homeowners would receive a tax rebate for the increase and the town would then benefit by not having to borrow or provide for them in future,” she explained.

“This is an option that warrants more discussion, and I look forward to evaluating the merits of utilizing this program with my colleagues as we move through the deliberative process and final budget adoption,” she said.

A series of public hearings and discussions regarding the tentative budget will take place over the next few weeks with the budget adoption slated for November 20.

Southampton Town Budget – Almost There

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In a year where numbers seem to be increasingly important – the Southampton Town 2009 budget shows that the changes in the tax rate are as high as they are permitted to go.

Residents in the town will see a five percent increase, which is the highest increase permitted in the town. For this year the increase is set to be $1.32 per $1,000 of assessed value, up from $1.25 per thousand last year.

Last year residents paid $629.10 in town taxes on a home worth $500,000 the budget proposes for 2009 that residents will pay $660.55 — an increase total of $31.45.

Supervisor Linda Kabot explained that the 2008 tax rate was 0 percent over the 2007 tax rate, but this year, the tax rate increase is five percent, which is capped by law and cannot exceed five percent over the previous year.

Also in the tentative budget, the total spending of the budget is $82.5 million, up from $76.7 million last year, inclusive of debt service for prior capital expenses, which includes beaches, docks, building and zoning, waste management funds and deficit allocations for prior spending in 2004-2007 for the police and highway funds, which total over $7 million.

Last week at a last and final board meeting on the town budget for 2009, Kabot said there was only one amendment filed so far for the tentative budget and that had to do with Community Preservation Fund (CPF) PILOTS for certain areas west of the Shinnecock Canal. The program gives tax breaks to residents in areas where large parcels have been taken off the tax rolls due to CPF purchases. In the tentative budget, Kabot proposed $3.8 million for the PILOTS program in 2009, while council members Anna Throne-Holst and councilman Chris Nuzzi proposed a larger amount for the program.

In 2007, the year-end audit indicated that 10 town funds are in the deficit position and owe the general fund over $7.2 million. Kabot says these deficits arose over the years 2004-2007 as a result of several factors, including the town’s use of surplus monies from the general fund as “one-shot” revenues.

Kabot said that during financially stable times, the town had allocated budgetary surplus to several different purposes.

Budget revenues for 2009 include $4.5 million appropriated from the surplus in order to artificially reduce the tax rate because of the five percent tax cap. The $4.5 million comes out of a variety of funds, including $2.25 million from the tax stabilization rainy day fund; $500,000 from part town land management fund; $1.5 million from the land management enterprise fund and $175,000 from the E-911 fund.

In Kabot’s tentative budget, she shows the rainy day fund balance for 2010 to be nearly $800,000. The budget, as proposed by Kabot, will have a general fund operating balance of just under $1 million.

Southampton Town board members have elected to not take a raise for 2009, and outlined in the tentative budget is a union employees’ raise of 2.5 percent, which has not yet been confirmed. Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst suggested last week that the raise be reduced to 1.5 percent. Throne-Holst has also proposed to shorten the workday by a half hour to save money. In addition all vacant positions in town hall left open for 2009 have also been abolished and Kabot says they will not be filled. 

Modest Increases in Face of Shortfalls in Southampton

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“If I sound tired, it’s because I am tired,” Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot said on Monday. Last week Kabot was practically pulling all-nighters going over budget items and changing the previous language to a more legible version along with the town’s deputy supervisor, Richard Blowes, and town comptroller, Steve Brautigam.
Early Monday morning the Southampton Town Board gathered to review the tentative budget. The proposed 2009 budget will total over $80 million, up from last year’s of $76.7 million budget.
As part of her 10-page budget message, Kabot explained that, “The total amount of surplus being applied to reduce tax levies is over $4.5 million, which includes $2.25 million from the ‘rainy day fund’ (restricted general fund) as a ‘bail-out’ for waste management for 2009, and to cushion the impacts of increased police and highway taxes.”
During Monday’s meeting Kabot presented the budget to fellow board members who will have until November 20 to review and make a decision on whether to adopt this tentative 2009 budget. Kabot explained how the town’s $4.5 million deficit in the police department, and the $2 million in waste management from 2007 have to be included in the 2009 budget by law.
“Southampton Town is now in a negative financial situation,” Kabot said. “Property taxes must be increased to not only cover current operating expenses and prior deficits, but also ensure adequate reserves are on hand to maintain the town’s high bond rating for the Capital Program.”
Recently the bond rating for the town from Standard & Poor’s was raised from an AA+ to AAA.
In the police fund and highway fund, Kabot has proposed a five-year deficit reduction plan. For the next three years, the budget will pay $750,000 to the police deficit and in 2012 and 2013 $800,000 will be applied to the deficit to give it a zero balance by 2013. For the highway fund’s roughly $750,000 deficit, the tentative budget suggests $150,000 for the next two years, and $250,000 for the three years following to pay it off in its entirety by 2013.
Kabot also explained that last year, the tax rate was set at $1.25 per thousand and it was the same as 2006 because there was a freeze in the town. For 2009, she proposed a mandate of $1.32 per thousand for taxpayers.
“For a home that costs, $500,000 that person will pay an increase of $31.45 for the year,” Kabot said.
This is the total possible increase that the town can apply to the tax rate, which by law may not increase more than five percent from the previous year.
According to Kabot, half of the mortgage taxes collected in the town are usually included in the budget.
“We budget for it, we rely on this, it keeps the property taxes down,” she said adding that due to the decline in building and construction activity, “This is not as fat as it used to be.”
Kabot says that the mortgage tax receipts will be dedicated for payment of debt service and the Capital Program, rather than operating as a subsidy to the general fund, as it has been in the past.
Last year mortgage tax receipts were just over $12.5 million and the tentative budget outlines the first half of this year is only $4.2 million. The Community Preservation Fund is also down from last year —an estimated $32 million is expected for 2008, down from $55 million collected in 2007.
Councilwoman Nancy Graboski said after the meeting that with the five percent property tax cap, it becomes very difficult to produce a clear and concise budget.
“It’s tough all over, with this economy,” Graboski said, “We’ve all had to sharpen our pencils and tighten our belts.”
“This gives us a very clear picture, we have all the numbers, and it’s accurate,” she continued, “We have serious deficits and we have to address all these concerns.”
Graboski, also said this is the first time the town has ever had this type of analysis.
“I can’t wait to go home and read it,” she noted.
The Southampton Town Board will had two more meetings this week on financial issues, and will vote today on whether to hold a public hearing for Friday, October, 24.