Southold Town Board approves budget despite union impasse

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Labor union president Tomas Skabry addresses the board at Tuesday night's meeting.
PAUL SQUIRE FILE PHOTO | Labor union president Thomas Skabry addresses the board at an October meeting.

The Southold Town Board unanimously passed a $41.6 million 2014 budget at a Tuesday night meeting attended by more than two dozen labor union employees who have been working without a contract since January.

After the budget passed, during the meeting’s public portion, CSEA president Thomas Skabry addressed the board, accusing its members of being complacent about contract negotiations.

And while the budget does not increase salaries for union workers, it does include pay raises for elected officials, including Supervisor Scott Russell, whose salary will see the biggest increase — a 10 percent hike to $101,000. His fellow Town Board members will receive a 3 percent increase.

Mr. Russell has said the salary increase was not included in his initial budget proposal but was added later by the Town Board.

“No matter who is in that position, we thought the salary was too low for the job demands,” Town Board member Jill Doherty explained before the meeting. “It’s basically a 24/7 job these days. We wanted the supervisor to receive as much as the superintendent of highways, which is also a 24/7 job.”

Mr. Skabry said the union does not disapprove of the Town Board authorizing raises for themselves but he feels the town’s 160-member bargaining unit is equally entitled to a pay hike this year.

“The right for the Town Board to appoint themselves a raise is something that is afforded to them by the law,” he said after the meeting. “But it is also their responsibility to afford a raise for [town] workers.”

Town comptroller John Cushman said the pay increase is the first Mr. Russell has received since 2007.

“The union workers received far more increases over the last few years than elected officials,” he said.

As he has at several recent meetings, Mr. Skabry invited Town Board members to attend the next bargaining meeting, scheduled for Dec. 11. The town has thus far been represented by outside counsel during negotiations, which Mr. Skabry said is not efficient when trying to come to an agreement.

“We did it in 2006 with members of the Town Board there along with their outside counsel and the process moved along and we were able to get a contract ratified before it even expired,” he said.

The approved spending plan, which was first introduced in late October, garnered little attention from the general public during three recent hearings.

The budget includes a 1 percent spending increase over the current year and would result in a 1.17 percent tax hike, the supervisor said. The plan calls for $23 million to be raised through taxes and uses $2.4 million in reserves.

A portion of the spending increase consists of $75,000 in deer eradication expenses, capital improvements and other operating costs.

He pointed to fuel, health care and retirement costs as key areas where expenses will continue to rise in 2014.