By Mara Certic
East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell presented his proposed $71.5 million budget for the town in 2015 last week.
On Thursday, September 25, Mr. Cantwell released his tentative budget, which calls for a $1,490,349 increase in spending over this year. The proposed budget is $204,051 below the state-mandated 2-percent tax levy cap.
The tax rate, for those who live outside either East Hampton or Sag Harbor village, will increase by just over 2 percent, Mr. Cantwell said. The increase will amount to $23.08 for those who own property assessed at $4,000 (a full value of $550,000) and $40.39 for those who own property with a full value of $960,000.
Those living in the villages will see a 3.12-percent increase in their property taxes, which will amount to $14.32 for those in homes worth $550,000 and $25.06 per year for a house assessed at $960,000.
By staying under the 2-percent tax cap, residents will receive rebate checks from the state for the amount their taxes increased between this year and last, he explained.
The total budgeted spending increase, Mr. Cantwell explained, is 2.95 percent, bringing the budget up to a total of $71,481,765.
“My goal in formulating this budget has been to integrate prudent budgeting and financial planning while improving code enforcement, protecting and improving environmental quality and assisting those who depend on certain town services,” Mr. Cantwell said.
“Improvements in services—delivered in a financially responsible manner—are what I was striving for in developing my tentative budget,” he said.
Mr. Cantwell has proposed three new full-time positions and converting one from part-time to full-time.
The first of these “recognizes and funds the position of public safety coordinator as a separate and distinct title,” the supervisor said in a release accompanying the budget. Previously, that position was a split title with an assistant town attorney handling those duties.
The new public safety coordinator will oversee building, fire prevention, animal control and code enforcement activities on a full-time basis. Mr. Cantwell added it will also allow one of the existing full-time assistant town attorneys to spend all of their time as a legal professional.
Mr. Cantwell also including funding in his tentative budget for a new ordinance inspector and promotion of inspector to code enforcement officer. The new ordinance inspector, he explained, will be able to ticket and write summons just as code enforcement officers do. According to Mr. Cantwell, the budget specified that some part-time funding go toward a part-time town investigator in the Ordinance Enforcement Department.
In his first budget as supervisor, Mr. Cantwell revealed his intent to increase the town Police Department and Marine Patrol’s seasonal staff. He added $50,000 in funding for the police department and $25,000 for marine patrol. “This additional funding will add more coverage in the busy summer months, boost compliance with parking regulations, traffic control and local ordinances,” said Mr. Cantwell.
Mr. Cantwell also announced an additional $12,000 will go toward seasonal help to “combat litter and keep our beaches clean.”
In that vein, Mr. Cantwell also proposed to convert the part-time environmental technician position to a full-time job. The new position will be funded by the Town’s general fund and the Community Preservation Fund. The duties of the job will be split between general land management and tasks particular to CPF-acquired properties.
The last new job introduced in this year’s tentative budget is for an executive assistant to the supervisor in order to “make the supervisor’s office more responsive to the public.”
An additional $10,000 for the Natural Resources Department will set aside a total of $20,000 solely for water quality research in the town. “Water testing is one of the ways we can monitor what’s going on,” Mr. Cantwell said.
Another $100,000 will be set aside to develop a town-wide wastewater management plan, which, the supervisor said, would go toward funding the necessary groundwork before any such plan could be put in place.
Mr. Cantwell expanded services for the Senior Nutrition Program, extending the program’s cook’s hours and increasing the budget for the Montauk program by $5,000. The town will also increase some of its youth services, he said.
Mr. Cantwell included $25,000 for the South Fork Behavioral Health Initiative to help improve mental health care on the East End through clinics operated by the Family Service League. “Regionally, the goal is to get immediate mental health services available at Southampton Hospital,” Mr. Cantwell said.
The supervisor attributed much of the increase in the budget to escalating health insurance rates, which are expected to go up by 6 percent. A total of $17.3 million of the entire budget goes to pay benefits, he explained.
“The largest spending cut in my tentative budget comes from closing the Scavenger Waste Treatment Plant, which was servicing only a small number of vendors, with a budget of $800,000 and a net cost of well over $500,000 to taxpayers,” Mr. Cantwell said.
The CPF continues to perform strongly, Mr. Cantwell said, and the projected revenue for 2014 is $25.2 million. A “conservative” projection for next year is $18.3 million. As of last week, the CPF had a cash balance of over $52 million—$30 million of which is dedicated to pending acquisitions.
The supervisor has suggested the town add $1.7 million of surplus fund balance to an existing debt reserve, in order to pay off approximately 25 percent of the remaining deficit bond principal. By 2018, the town anticipates to have enough money in its dedicated debt reserves to pay off enough debt to ensure the principal payments drop by $1.25 million.
“I believe improvements in services—delivered in a financially responsible manner—are achieved in my tentative budget,” he said.
The East Hampton Town Board will discuss the tentative budget during the first two work sessions in October, and expects to have a public hearing on Thursday, November 6. The current plan is to adopt the final budget on Thursday, November 20, as mandated by the state.