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Public hearing on town’s preliminary budget set for Nov. 1

The Town of Southold has scheduled a public hearing on the preliminary town budget for 2023, which was discussed in-depth during a work session last Tuesday, for Nov. 1 at 4 and 7 p.m.

The tax rate and tax levy have both increased since the town supervisor initially presented a tentative budget. As proposed, the tax rate would increase 0.95% and the tax levy would increase 2.26%, which surpasses the state’s cap on property tax levy growth at 2%. The 0.95% proposed tax rate translates into around $26 per year per household.

“There are several factors in determining the tax cap,” said Supervisor Scott Russell. “First, any of the levy that you didn’t impose the year before acts as a credit, and you can carry that over to this year … Secondly, it’s a complicated formula, but there are aspects of assessment, growth, et cetera, that you get to remove from that calculation of 2%, which is a formula that determines how much cash you can increase the budget. And that’s where it varies a little bit from 2%.”

The proposed tax rate in the preliminary budget reflects a “fraction of a percent of increase” from the tentative budget, he said, which is “very nominal.” He had omitted a full-timer for the planning staff, which he hadn’t meant to do, he said. There were also costs that he couldn’t determine while drafting the tentative budget, such as state costs for medical coverage and retirement plans.

Mr. Russell emphasized the difference between the tax levy and tax rate, noting that the tax levy reflects the percentage of increase from budget to budget for actual spending increase. The levy has been offset by things like increased fees and new assessment growth. 

“All of those sources of revenue offset the spending levy,” Mr. Russell said. He added that “the more assessment you have, the less per assessed dollar everybody has to pay. So it’s a way of mitigating impacts.” 

One notable budget line increase was for the town attorney’s office. The department’s budget as amended was $688,832 in 2022. The preliminary budget for 2023 has set aside $809,950. 

The most marked increase shows under contractual expenses. The town has faced more court expenses due to a spike in lawsuits filed against the Zoning Board of Appeals, Mr. Russell said earlier this year. 

The budget line for 2023 also increases the amount allocated for personal services. Deputy Town Attorney John Burke saw a salary bump to $147,500 retroactive to Jan. 1, 2022, via resolution approved at a Town Board meeting Tuesday.

“There was an increase for John Burke and also there is factored in an increase across the board for all confidential exempt employees scheduled to receive a 2% increase over the last year on all salaries,” Mr. Russell said.

Mr. Russell said Mr. Burke’s previous salary was $125,000. He also noted that the town still plans to fund a third position, as it continues to search for a town attorney following the departure of Bill Duffy this past winter. Mr. Burke has since assumed the responsibilities of town attorney, which is typically paid $162,000 per year.

Mr. Russell said the Town Board has not yet reached a consensus on candidates for the town attorney position or a replacement for town assistant attorney.

“We did a very good job to hold the line,” Mr. Russell said of the 2023 budget. “Don’t forget, inflation doesn’t just impact the wallets of our taxpayers, and we’re trying to ease that burden, but it also affects the costs of running town government. Fuel, supplies, all those things are up for the town as well. We were able to resolve those increased costs and still keep [the tax rate] below 1%.”

The preliminary town budget is available to view here