Village releases next year’s budget

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Village property taxes are expected to decrease slightly next year for homeowners if Westhampton Beach Village Board members adopt a proposed $9.3 million budget for the 2008-2009 fiscal year.

The proposed spending plan, released late last week, increases overall spending by almost $140,000, or 1.5 percent, over the current $9.2 million budget. The real property tax levy—the main source of revenue for the village—is expected to jump by approximately 2.4 percent next year, or by more than $167,000 to just over $7 million, with a stable tax rate.

Some business owners in the village can still expect to see an increase in individual tax bills due to the recent completion of a townwide commercial reassessment, as the values of some commercial properties in the village have gone up this year.

The proposed budget, which could be adopted during tonight’s Village Board meeting, is expected to result in a tax rate of $2.39 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, according to officials. This year the tax rate stands at $2.40 per $1,000. Therefore, a taxpayer whose home is assessed at $1 million will pay about $2,390 in village taxes next year, or about $5 less than this year.

A public hearing on the proposed budget plan has been scheduled for tonight. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. If the spending plan is not adopted tonight, board members might have to call a special meeting later this month. The budget must be approved before May 1.

Village Clerk Kathy McGinnis described the budget as a “bare bones” spending plan, an observation shared by Westhampton Beach Mayor Conrad Teller.

“We cut out expenditures all the way through the budget,” said Mayor Teller, who will seek reelection this June. “In this financial climate, we thought it would be prudent to bring the budget down and still maintain the same level of services we currently offer.”

The proposed spending plan decreases funding for the village’s police department by about 1 percent, from almost $2.69 million this year to nearly $2.67 million next year. Though he did not get all of the budget requests that he asked for, Police Chief Ray Dean said he “will do his due diligence to serve the community with what I have.”

Chief Dean said his department will be down three officers starting this June—one is retiring, another is on leave, and a third is on disability. The village does not plan to replace those officers, a move that will save almost $150,000. The police department now has 18 officers but that figure will drop to 15 later this year.

“I don’t think we need to hire three more police officers,” said Mayor Teller, a former Southampton Town and Westhampton Beach police chief. “The police coverage we have is sufficient for a village of this size. We’re not overwhelmed by a crime problem.”

Chief Dean explained that his ?department will not be receiving some new equipment that was requested. ?He said he expects to make up for any shortfalls by tapping asset forfeiture money from Suffolk County. Chief Dean noted that asset forfeiture money allowed his department to purchase a four-wheel-drive pickup truck in November.

Meanwhile, the village’s debt services are expected to decrease by about 2.5 percent next year. The village still owes almost $636,000 on 10 different bonds, including those that financed the construction of the new Village Hall on Mill Road and village-wide sidewalk improvements.

Employee benefits are also expected to climb more than 8 percent next year to just over $1.9 million. The bump up is needed to cover increased retirement costs, medical coverage and other employee-related benefits, according to a copy of the budget.

Board members are also making cuts to the village’s highway department, trimming funding by almost 5 percent. That department will operate on an almost $1.5 million budget next year.

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