Southampton Village delays budget approval

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The Southampton Village Board is taking approval of its 2008-2009 village budget down to the wire.

Rather than approve the $19.9 million budget as-is at their work session on Tuesday, the village trustees decided to take some more time to revise the spending plan and vote on it at a special meeting on Wednesday, April 30—the last possible day to approve the budget. If the board fails to adopt a spending plan before that deadline, the village’s 2007-2008 budget will be renewed for another year.

As it stands, the 2008-2009 budget includes a 9.6-percent increase in spending and a 9.7-percent increase in the tax rate, from $13.58 per $100 of assessed value to $14.89 per $100.

The board discussed reevaluating the projected revenue from sources other than taxes, such as fees and fines, as a means of lowering the tax rate increase. Mayor Mark Epley suggested that the budget was underestimating how much money the village would take in from tickets issued by the Village Police.

For 2007-2008, the village projected $350,000 would be collected through police and other fines and forfeitures, and it is expecting to collect $400,000 in the 2008-2009 fiscal year. Since the police switched to an automated ticketing system this past year, fewer tickets will be dismissed in court, the mayor said, and the village should raise its expectations.

Also impacting the budget will be a new $100 landing fee the board imposed Tuesday night on helicopters weighing less than 5,000 pounds using the village helipad, and a $150 fee for helicopters between 5,000 and 12,500 pounds. Larger aircraft are prohibited from using the pad.

The trustees estimated that those fees would generate $150,000 in revenue in the first year and $200,000 a year after that, but the village first needs to make an initial investment in equipment for tracking and billing helicopters. The board is considering installing a system that uses an infrared camera to record the tail numbers so a bill can be sent to owners. The system would also allow the village to enforce restrictions on landing times, Mayor Epley pointed out. There is a $1,000 fine for disobeying landing times, but without a person or camera monitoring the helipad, it is hard to catch violators, he noted.

The legislation also amended the permitted landing times. Between May 1 and September 15, helicopter landings are now restricted to between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., rather than between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. For the rest of the year, the helipad will open at 8 a.m. and close at 6 p.m.

The new law passed by a 4-1 vote. Trustee Bill Bates was the sole dissenting vote, citing his long-standing position that the helipad should be permanently shut down because of noise and safety concerns. “We should be closing it down, except for emergencies,” he said.

Mayor Epley warned that if the village puts the helipad out of service, the Federal Aviation Administration would come in and take it over. Mr. Bates expressed his doubt that would be the case.

“I think you need to review the list of people who live on Meadow Lane,” the mayor retorted, implying that wealthy and powerful homeowners who live near and use the helipad would see to it that the facility remains open.

In other business, on May 5, Southampton Village will issue a request for proposals to find a planning consultant to help chart the future of the building currently occupied by the Parrish Art Museum. The museum will be relocating to Water Mill within next few years, leaving Southampton with a highly visible vacancy.

Between the loss of the museum and the building being in need of renovation, Mayor Epley is seeking a tenant who can attract visitors to the village and shoulder the cost of fixing up the venue. He said a paid consultant is necessary because the village needs someone with the singular focus of plotting the future of the building.

“Whoever comes in to occupy this could be the next 100-year tenant,” Mayor Epley emphasized. “It could change the village dramatically.”

Southampton will reach out to Suffolk County for a grant to cover the costs of the consultant, he added.

The deadline for proposals is June 6, and the consultant will be announced on July 25 if the schedule is followed.

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