Southold Town adopts $45.4 million 2018 budget

The Southold Town Board voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt a 2018 budget of $45.4 million, which will mean a 1.64 percent tax increase for residents.

Supervisor Scott Russell presented a tentative budget with the same increase in September, but the Town Board made additions and adjustments based on updated financial information that would have meant a tax increase of about 1.77 percent.

Some of the Town Board’s discretionary additions included a $32,000 apparatus to sand roads and an increase in the police department’s budget for supplies such as traffic cones from $200 to $2,000, Mr. Russell said. That line was supposed to be $2,000 in the tentative budget but a clerical error posted it at $200, he said.

“Any of those changes were minor, but a few hundred here or there adds up,” the supervisor said in an email.

The town was able to reduce the 1.77 percent increase, saving $75,000, in two ways, the supervisor said.

After re-evaluating the cost of medical coverage for town employees, it was found that $30,000 had been overbudgeted.

That meant another $45,000 was left to make the preliminary budget consistent with the tentative budget. The amount matches the cost of a new road-striping machine, Mr. Russell said, and will be paid through the town’s capital improvement program that covers a resurfacing project that is underway.

“We believe since it’s a direct result of the resurfacing program and to be used directly as part of that program it would be appropriate to charge that capital fund for the $45,000,” Mr. Russell said.

The town is budgeting $1.3 million to continue the multi-year road restoration and resurfacing program.

During a Nov. 8 public hearing on the preliminary budget, there was only one comment from the audience: that town officials should pay themselves more.

The supervisor is projected to make approximately $108,000, each Town Board member earns $35,000, the justices are paid $73,000 and the highway superintendent gets $108,600, to list a few.

“Comparatively speaking, I spoke to Scott [Russell] about an article in Newsday that presented a rather unfair picture about salaries and the headline said ‘Southold paying too many salaries over $100K’ and then it ended with a little blurb about the supervisor salaries of various towns on the East End of Long Island and you were the third from the bottom,” said Robert Dunn of Peconic at Wednesday’s hearing. “It’s not a job that’s twice a month … I don’t think it would be absurd to sit down with some people and come up with a reasonable adjustment.”

The supervisor explained that when setting salaries other factors need to be considered, such as total compensation, costs and benefits. This includes health care coverage, which counts as compensation, and Mr. Russell’s town car.

Additionally, among other things, retirement costs and contributions need to be considered.

“So people have an understanding of what the cost drivers are here,” Mr. Russell explained, “when your medical insurance goes up 8 or 9 percent, 10 percent, our current coverage is about $29,000 per year per family. That’s substantial compensation that we always need to remember to factor back in.”

Factoring into this year’s budget increases are health care costs that have continued to rise, Councilman Bill Ruland said.

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

“Your budget, in most every case, is your best estimate on what [health care] is gonna cost,” Mr. Ruland said at the Nov. 8 budget hearing. “I think we all would agree that being fiscally conservative is something that you’re asking people that have no choice but to pay because it’s part of their tax bill. We need to be very, very careful what in fact we bring forth. One of the things I see that’s very encouraging is the amount of detail that’s been involved in determining what these best estimates are going to be.”

The 2018 budget, which Mr. Russell called “fiscally sound” when he first presented it Sept. 30, also includes a $100,000 reserve fund for potential expenses in the event any town offices need to be relocated. The Town Hall Annex, for example, is located in the Capital One bank building in Southold, which is expected to close this fall.

Photo caption: Supervisor Scott Russell at a Nov. 8 public hearing on the the town’s 2018 budget. (Credit: Nicole Smith)

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