Speaking this summer about the dwindling size of the town’s police force, Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley said he was hopeful the town and its police union could hammer out a new contract for officers, paving the way for the department’s biggest hiring cycle in recent history.
If Town Supervisor Scott Russell’s $42.8 million proposed 2015 budget is any indication, the chief might just get his wish.
Mr. Russell included among the highlights of his proposed spending plan funding for the hiring of eight police officers, including six new posts that would be filled immediately and replacements for two retiring officers.
Chief Flatley said the hiring of new officers would be a huge boost for the understaffed department.
“Oh, definitely,” he said. “We’re operating 10 to 12 officers down most of the time.”
Mr. Flatley said an academy is planned for next month and he’s hoping to get any new officers hired in time to attend.
While the Town Board has budgeted for new hires in the past, the positions had not been filled as police continue to work without a contract. Mr. Russell said Tuesday he’s certain an arbitrator’s decision will be filed before the end of the year, and he expects the new contract will be in place for 2015, enabling the town to bring its police force up to 50 officers.
“I’m getting the feeling that both [Russell] and the board are in favor of the hiring,” Chief Flatley said. “I’m not encountering any resistance.
“It’s something that should be coming soon.”
The supervisor’s proposed budget includes a 1.37 percent hike in overall spending next year, and an estimated 1.45 percent tax levy increase for local taxpayers.
While he called the financial outlook for the town in 2015 “good,” Mr. Russell said that in order to keep increases low and not pierce the state’s mandated 2 percent tax cap, “hard choices will need to be made.”
The supervisor’s budget message released Tuesday opens by saying “the budget I am proposing will present challenges to the Southold Town Board.”
“No budget is an isolated document and the decisions we need to make over the next few weeks will not just impact the budget for 2015 but will also impact budgets for subsequent years,” the supervisor wrote. “The budget I am submitting addresses the town’s general needs for next year while adhering to the adopted policies of the past that have served this town well.”
The portion of the proposed budget dedicated to land acquisitions is expected to triple to $6.9 million next year.
“That figure estimates the cost of a few pending large projects,” Mr. Russell said in an email, declining to mention any specific properties. “The figure we estimate each year is the amount we believe we will need to close on properties that have already been reviewed by the land preservation department and there is general support for purchase.”
Mr. Russell said the estimate doesn’t mean the town is any more or less committed to preservation from year to year.
“It is just the estimate needed for pending projects that we believe [the town] might close on in the coming year,” he wrote. “Some projects take years to complete and it’s just timing.”
Overall spending from the community preservation fund would be about $9.9 million next year, with other monies going toward debt, stewardship, site development and legal counsel.
The town is projected to bring in about $5.5 million in new CPF revenues in 2015 and the proposed budget would utilize another $4.4 million from the fund.
While the supervisor described the town’s financial picture and its fund balance as healthy in his budget message, he cautioned that “all future capital projects and capital purchases should be made only after thorough vetting.”
“Fixed costs of debt service can substantially limit the discretionary spending of future boards and could make it very difficult to comply with New York State’s 2 percent tax cap legislation,” he wrote. “No future bonding should be executed until capital plans for infrastructure, building assets and equipment are completed.”
The supervisor’s budget proposes spending $1.2 million on capital projects in 2015, mainly through equipment purchases.
About $700,000 of that spending will be used to purchase a compost mulch turner and a payloader.
OFFICIALS TO TAKE SMALL RAISES
The combined salaries of all elected town officials would increase about 1.5 percent under the supervisor’s proposal. Total funding for all 19 elected positions would go from just over $965,000 in the current year to about $980,000 in 2015.
The proposed salaries are as follows:
Town Supervisor — $102,370
Town Board (4 members) — $33,716
Fishers Island Town Justice — $51,415
Southold Town Justice (2) — $68,969
Town Clerk — $98,639
Superintendent of Highways — $102,370
Tax Receiver — $38,486
Assessors (3) — $73,728
Trustees (5) — $18,619