The Southold Town Board unanimously approved the 2024 budget just north of $57 million during their regular meeting last Wednesday evening.
The 2024 budget of $57,165,857 will see taxes increase by 0.38% next year. Town Supervisor Scott Russell’s tentative budget, the final fiscal submission of his 18-year tenure in the town’s top elected position, totaled $56,827,330 and called for a 0% tax increase. As he expected, he explained, new information informed the adopted budget.
“We had a decrease in anticipation of federal aid, which was ARPA funding and increased the budget for the Transportation Commission, Economic Development Committee, some of those other committees that you don’t get their budgets from until usually after my budget is submitted,” Mr. Russell said. “[The changes] are not much, but it adds up. We increased [funding for] meetings and seminars for certain departments that we determined were critical to attend.
“We’ve been able to maintain a budget with a nominal tax increase,” the supervisor added. “One thing I do take pride in is the fact that we’re able to meet the obligations of the [state-imposed 2%] tax cap. Most years we keep the budget increases very nominal and yet we still head into a new year with a very healthy financial picture.”
Next year’s 2024 budget includes a new line item: a Coastal Resiliency Preparedness Action Plan. Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski, who will serve as town supervisor next year after winning election last Tuesday, said these monies will fund interagency engineering research and projects to maintain and protect infrastructure, particularly low-lying roadways, from the effects of sea level rise and storm surge. As a legislator, he saw the county boost its coastal resiliency allocations from a few hundred thousand to $1 million.
“The county, the state, the town, all the roads converge at different places,” Mr. Krupski said. “We have to have good partners in different levels of government if we’re going to do any sort of roadwork like that. That money in the town is going to first identify areas that are vulnerable, and then to come up with an action plan with our partners at the state [Department of Transportation] and the county [Department of Public Works] to see how we can address those critical roadways that people are going to need for public safety, possibly for evacuation during a storm event.”
Mr. Russell said public safety amounts to the biggest part of the budget annually. The 2024 budget allocates funds for four new police officers, two new safety dispatchers, additional soft body armor, partial reimbursement for Tasers and five new vehicles. It also includes funds allocated for enhancing cybersecurity.
To continue tackling environmental concerns, the town will continue funding the Narrow River Road water quality project, its participation in the Peconic Estuary Partnership, stormwater mitigation and water quality improvement projects.
As for public works allocations, Mr. Russell previously told The Suffolk Times, “I would say some of the infrastructure needs were probably some of the bigger expenditures this year … There’s about $1.9 million in there for road construction, resurfacing and maintenance, another $250,000 for the reconstruction of an entire road [Wunneweta Road] in Cutchogue.”
The adopted budget will also fund upgrades to a recently acquired town property at the corner of New Suffolk Avenue and Main Road for a community park and the continuation of the Bay to Sound project, which, since 2007, has aimed to create a cross-fork trail network linking properties owned by the town, Suffolk County and Greenport Village.
Now that the budget has been ratified and Election Day has come and gone, Mr. Krupski and Mr. Russell said they have been working on a smooth transition.
“It’s a structurally sound town, so that’s encouraging to start financially on good footing,” Mr. Krupski said. “I have been in discussion with the supervisor about it … because we’re in the town on a strong financial footing, there will be plenty of room for whatever services need to be delivered.”
“I’m leaving the new supervisor a very healthy budget,” Mr. Russell said. “And knowing him personally, I have no doubt he’s going to operate very well within the existing budget, and then obviously future revenue. He’s what you could call as tight-fisted as you get. We talk the same language when we create lean budgets.”