Bracing for economic fallout from coronavirus pandemic

Southold Town officials are bracing for the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

Supervisor Scott Russell is anticipating some state funding typically used for highway projects as well as Community Preservation Fund monies to be withheld as the state contends with a $10 billion deficit.

“When we’re going to get the balance we don’t know,” Mr. Russell said. “But it’s not going to be in 2020.”

State lawmakers are floating legislation that would incentivize early retirements among school districts and other government workers, should entities choose to participate. The program would offer some savings in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Governor Andrew Cuomo has not indicated if he would support those incentives, however.

“New York state is trying to really reduce its payroll because they’re in real fiscal dire straits,” the supervisor said.

Though the town would initially increase contributions to the retirement fund, it would ultimately result in net savings. To ensure the incentive works as intended, Mr. Russell said the town must commit to not filling vacant positions, since even entry-level hires come with high fixed costs due to benefit packages.

Because Southold is not as “revenue-dependent” as other towns, the supervisor said they aren’t “feeling the pinch” yet. But he called for scrutinizing every new hire as officials turn an eye towards crafting a new town budget.

As Suffolk County grapples with a projected $800 million shortfall, County Executive Steve Bellone has proposed diverting monies from land preservation and water quality programs to stabilize property taxes. The measure would require approval via a public referendum.

“That’s preservation money,” Mr. Russell said, expressing his opposition to the proposal. “[Western Suffolk] doesn’t really care about [the fund] because there’s nothing to preserve. So the money tends to drift out here.”

Board member Louisa Evans agreed. “Don’t rob the one fund for something else,” she said.

Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) has also taken a stand against the idea, noting that land preservation has helped maintain farmland, soil and food production as well as wildlife habitats and beach access.

In a statement issued Monday, Mr. Krupski said his top concern is that reallocating the monies wouldn’t pay for the county’s annual $15.5 million debt.

“Land preservation helps us today and it is our real legacy to future generations,” Mr. Krupski said. “This recent global pandemic, which has been economically crippling, has taught us again that food security is very real in the world and that access to open space and water front is very necessary to our well-being. Land preservation is worth the effort and the investment.”