The Southold Town Board voted unanimously to adopt a 2019 budget of $47.3 million last week.
The 3.7 percent spending increase translates to a 2.3 percent tax increase for residents. Homeowners with an average assessment of $6,000 would see an annual increase of $45 to their tax bills, according to Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell.
Though he ultimately voted to adopt the budget, Councilman Jim Dinizio said at last Wednesday’s meeting he would have liked to see more money allocated to the police department.
The Town Board had been considering adding another police officer to the staff after Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley requested four new officers in order to pursue a state accreditation process.
Southold is one of a handful of departments in Suffolk County that has not received state accreditation, along with Sag Harbor and Westhampton Beach Village on the East End, among others, according to a listing by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. The four other town departments on the East End — Southampton, Riverhead, Shelter Island and East Hampton — are all accredited.
The process could take up to two years, but would increase transparency to issues such as crime statistics.
“The budget doesn’t contain accreditation for the police department. It contains one less police officer than I think we should have and even though I’m going to vote for the budget, I’m just kind of disappointed we couldn’t support the accreditation with this budget,” Mr. Dinizio said before casting his vote.
Three police officers will be funded to fill vacancies under this budget. Mr. Dinizio later clarified that the board established a 52-minimum department level several years ago and was currently down to 48 officers. The current budget would leave the department down one officer from that minimum.
Mr. Russell said this was a “unique” budget year, since the town had to fund settlements for both the PBA and CSEA unions and account for rising health insurance 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,” Mr. Russell said.
The town closed on the former bank building for $3.1 million in July; it will eventually house a new justice court.
Costs to pursue the accreditation could have reached $175,000, the supervisor said.
“It’s certainly a good goal and something we should keep in mind for the future,” Mr. Russell said. “I just didn’t think given all the circumstances of the budget heading into 2019, it was a cost we couldn’t absorb, at least in this fiscal year.”
The 2019 budget could also potentially fund hiring a fire marshal that could help get inspections done in anticipation of a new rental permit code.
A resolution to adopt the new rental permit code was on the agenda last Wednesday night, but was tabled for further discussion.
Corrections: The article incorrectly said Southold was the only police department in the county that has not been accredited. Several other departments also have not been. And the three police officers funded under the budget would fill vacancies, not create new positions.