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Supervisor presents tentative 2018 budget with a 1.64 tax increase

Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell presented his tentative 2018 budget Wednesday, which looks for an overall tax rate increase of 1.64 percent with $45.7 million in spending.

Last year the town adopted a $44.1 million budget that pierced the tax cap with a 7.57 percent increase.

The supervisor called the tentative budget “fiscally sound”  and said there are “no needless expenditures” in his budget.

Mr. Russell did note, however, some challenges with the town’s economic health. One of the issues contributing to the proposed tax increase is the high cost of health care through NYSHIP for town employees, he said. Those costs rose $435,200 from last year, he said.

Last month, the supervisor suggested the town switch to Suffolk County’s insurance program to save costs, which he estimated could “minimally” be $855,000” each year.

Making the switch could take a couple of years, the supervisor said, and that’s only if the state approves it. The supervisor noted this is something the county’s shared services committee has discussed in a subcommittee, adding that there is a sincere effort by county representatives to explore it.

The tentative budget also establishes a $100,000 reserve fund for any expenses needed in the event any town offices are relocated. The supervisor said there is currently uncertainty about the future of the town hall annex in the Capital One bank building in Southold, one of three local branches closing this fall.

“In my view we need to establish a reserve fund to have a contingency plan in case we have to lease another property or acquire a property,” Mr. Russell said. The tentative reserve fund is likely “conservative” of what the town would need for relocation costs, “but our budget can only bear so much,” he added.

The proposed 2018 budget includes $1.3 million to continue a multi-year road restoration and resurfacing program.

It also calls for salaries for a Fishers Island administrative liaison, two new Southold Town police officers, as well as a full-time electrical inspector whose salary would be covered by inspection fees.

In addition the tentative budget establishes $250,000 toward Fishers Island sidewalk installations and repairs; $250,000 for Southold sidewalks, and another $250,000 for continued stormwater mitigation. The capital budget does not include funds for three “pickle ball” courts, which would be funded by parks and recreation fees.

The town had discussed the idea of installing courts last year when a group of enthusiasts asked for spaces to play, but at the time the town wasn’t sure of the overall public interest in the sport, Mr. Russell said. Instead the town re-striped two town-owned tennis courts to gauge the need.

“Last year I had asked myself if we needed the new courts,” he said “Now I’m asking myself if three new courts are enough. It’s become so popular.”

The supervisor highlighted an allocation of $295,000 toward the completion of the town’s master plan, and $50,000 for an traffic engineering study for the intersection of Main Street and Sound Avenue in Greenport, which would both be reimbursed by grants.

The Town Board will review the supervisor’s budget plan in the coming weeks and hold a public hearing on the proposal later this fall.

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Photo caption: Southold Supervisor Scott Russell presented the tentative 2018 budget Wednesday at town hall. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)