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Supervisor presents tentative 2019 budget with a 2.3 percent tax increase

At a work session Tuesday, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell unveiled a tentative budget for 2019 of $47.3 million.

The proposed spending plan calls for a 3.7 percent increase in spending and a 2.3 percent tax increase. For homeowners with an average assessment of $6,000, that means an increase of $45 per year, the supervisor said.

“The principal drivers there are that we settled two union contracts,” Mr. Russell said of a recently settled PBA contract, the anticipated CSEA contract and a nearly 10 percent increase in medical costs.

The town also increased the debt service by approximately $225,000 to help cover the cost of purchasing the former Southold Savings Bank and Capital One building. “That’s money that was not part of the budget in 2018 because you cannot foresee the opportunity to buy a structure that comes up on the market midway through the year,” he said.

The town closed on the former bank building for $3.1 million in July; it will eventually house a new justice court.

Board members agreed that it was money well spent.

“This is an investment in our community and the future of the town,” Councilman Bill Ruland said.

The budget will potentially fund hiring a fire marshal. “It was asked for year after year,” the supervisor said. “If we’re going to adopt a new rental permit, the fire marshal would give [the town] the resources to get those inspections done,” and can help with other aspects of code enforcement, he said.

A proposed law floated earlier this year would have required owners of rental properties to apply for a permit, adhere to property maintenance guidelines, and allow official inspections of the property, with heavy fines for violations. The board did not act on the measure following a public hearing in June.

A second public hearing on the proposal will be held Oct. 23.

In the budget, Mr. Russell included potential revenue generated from rental permits to offset hiring a fire marshal if the law is approved. “It’s an issue of compliance” he said. “I estimated that we’d get compliance, immediately at least, from at least a third, so I budgeted revenue based on 800 permits being issued in the first year.”

One issue raised during the first public hearing was that houses that were updated or changed without approval would have to go through the process of legalizing them. According to Mr. Russell, property owners who come in for building permits for these ‘as-built’ structures are required to pay twice the amount of the building permit fee.

He is proposing doubling that fee for the Zoning Board of Appeals, for property owners who are seeking variances for already-built structures.

“The other departments have a double fee, too, so it makes sense,” Councilwoman Jill Doherty said.

Salary increases for elected officials are modest, with the supervisor projected to earn about $109,000, each Town Board member making $36,000 and the highway superintendent making $109,000, for example.

Last year, the supervisor and highway superintendent made approximately $108,000 and Town Board members made $35,000.

Mr. Russell said town department heads worked hard to keep spending in check. “They knew they were going to have to go through a gauntlet with me and then again with the review of the Town Board. I think they did the best they could to get whatever cutbacks they could,” he said.

The preliminary budget will be available online this week. Under state law, the final budget must be adopted by the Town Board by Nov. 20.

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