An unofficial hiring freeze will help Westhampton Beach Village come in under the 2-percent tax levy cap with its proposed $9.67 million 2013-14 budget despite significant increases in both the cost of employee benefits and contributions to retirement plans next year.
On Friday, Mayor Conrad Teller said the village will not be approving any new hires for the time being. He explained that it would not be prudent to do so until the village is certain it would be able to maintain those positions down the road.
“We more or less have a hiring freeze,” Mr. Teller said. “In their infinite wisdom, New York State keeps handing down unfunded mandates. To hire anybody right now is to gamble whether you can carry them into the next go-around.”
The municipality’s proposed spending plan represents a 1.98-percent increase over the current year’s $9.48 million budget, and maintains all current staffing positions. The public hearing on the plan, which was first presented to trustees at the work session on March 20, will be held during their next meeting on Thursday, April 4, starting at 7 p.m. The board must adopt a spending plan by May 1.
As part of the spending plan, the district is increasing the tax levy by 1.89 percent, from almost $7.9 million this year to nearly $8.1 million next year. If adopted as is, village residents can expect the tax rate to increase by 4.6 percent, from $2.82 per 1,000 of assessed valuation to $2.95, though that figure could fluctuate.
The biggest increase comes from contributions to the state retirement system, which is increasing by $325,000, or 39 percent, to $1.15 million. According to Village Clerk Rebecca Molinaro, the state has estimated for the past two years how much money the municipality would need to set aside in that budget line. Both times, the actual cost has been significantly higher; last year, the budget line went from $720,000 to $825,000, a nearly 15 percent increase.
For the 2013-14 year, the village has opted to increase the contributions to avoid owing more money in December. Last February, the village received an estimated bill of $794,000 and set aside $825,000, only to learn that the real cost would be $860,000. To avoid repeating that mistake, the village is setting aside $1.1 million next year even though the state estimate is $943,000.
“It is huge,” Ms. Molinaro said. “In trying to be a little more cautious and proactive, we budgeted over the estimate.”
She noted that such large increases are common across the state due to an uptick in retirements.
The village must also absorb an anticipated double-digit increase in employee benefits, which are expected to jump 14 percent next year, from $2.48 million to $2.83 million. On Friday, Ms. Molinaro said the village has no control over the rate, citing obligations to provide health care.
“The budget is good,” Mr. Teller said, referring to the spending plan put together by Ms. Molinaro. “It is under the line and we more or less have accommodated all the department heads with necessary equipment. We are still able to function.”
Deputy Mayor Hank Tucker did not return calls seeking comment on the proposed spending plan.
Shopping Center Moving Forward
Plans to renovate the vacant bowling alley building on Sunset Avenue in Westhampton Beach are advancing before the village’s planning board and could be approved by the start of the summer.
According to Building and Zoning Administrator Paul Houlihan, the plan calls for extensive renovations to the 20,000-square-foot building, which is owned by Sunset West LLC. The plan is to build a 50-seat restaurant, two shops each with the ability to have up to 16 seats and serve food and drinks, similar to a luncheonette or bakery, and eight retail stores.
As of this week, the project is awaiting approval of a stormwater pollution prevention plan and, after that, final approval from the Suffolk County Board of Health. Both are expected to be approved within the next month.
In order for the permits to be approved, a public hearing regarding the 50-seat restaurant—a potential tenant has not yet been identified—will be held during the next trustees meeting on April 4.
The bowling alley building transformation is part of a larger plan to revitalize the western side of Sunset Avenue. The plan calls for the construction of two more retail buildings, each 5,000 square feet in size. The first will be sited on a half-acre lot on the corner of Mill Road and Sunset Avenue that is owned by Teserra LLC; the second will be located in the current bowling alley parking lot. There will be 101 parking spaces created for the three buildings.
It is unclear when the work, which will be carried out in phases, will be completed.
The Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center is planning a free outdoor concert on Thursday, July 4, in front of the Main Street theater, to kick off its year-long 15th anniversary celebration.
The concert, which will start at 7:45 p.m. and end around 9 p.m., just before the start of the fireworks display at the Westhampton Country Club, will feature the West Point Band Jazz Knights. To accommodate concertgoers, the village is being asked to close Main Street to traffic for the day, with set-up starting at 2 p.m.
Trustees are expected to vote on whether to approve the concert at next month’s meeting.