East Hampton Town Supervisor Proposes $71.5 Million Budget For 2015

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East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell has proposed a $71.5 million budget for 2015 that would hike spending by 2.95 percent but still stay below the state’s cap on tax levy increases.

If the budget is adopted, those who live outside a village can expect the tax rate to increase by 2 percent, from $28.36 to $28.94 per $100 of assessed value. Those living within village boundaries can expect a tax rate increase of 3.2 percent, from $11.31 to $11.67 per $100 of assessed value.

A resident owning a property assessed at $4,000, or $550,000 in full value, would see a $23.08 increase outside a village and a $14.32 increase inside a village. Those who own a property assessed at $7,000, with a full value of $960,000, would see an increase of $40.39 outside a village or $25.06 in a village. Both tax rates reflect the assessed valuation of homes in each area.

This year’s spending is up about $2.1 million from last year’s $69.4 million budget. The tax levy is projected to be $49.2 million.

Mr. Cantwell said he budgeted for an increase in code enforcement spending to cover the addition of the position of public safety coordinator as a separate and distinct title, instead of splitting responsibilities between the head of public safety and the assistant town attorney. The public safety coordinator will be a full-time position, paid $81,000 in salary plus benefits, that will oversee enforcement issues concerning building, fire prevention, animal control and code enforcement.

The supervisor also added a new ordinance inspector, with a salary of $45,000 plus benefits, and promoted one inspector to code enforcement officer. Additionally, Mr. Cantwell made provision for $50,000 in funding to the police department for part-time and seasonal staff, and $25,000 to marine patrol.

“This additional funding will add more coverage in the busy summer months and boost compliance with parking regulations, traffic control and local ordinances,” he wrote. “In addition, the budget adds $12,000 for seasonal help to increase our efforts to combat litter and keep our beaches clean.” Mr. Cantwell on Friday said that by doing this, the town’s enforcement needs would be met without hiring any new full-time year-round employees.

The supervisor’s executive assistant position, currently held by Alex Walter, will be budgeted for next year at $40,000 plus benefits. The Town Board had to amend this year’s budget to include his position and allotted only $30,000 because the position was not budgeted for by the last administration. In Southampton Town, the executive assistant, Janice Wilson, made approximately $74,600 this year.

Mr. Cantwell has said Mr. Walter’s position could evolve into a town manager role, where he would be responsible for carrying out the legislative goals of the Town Board to free up elected officials who would not have to spend as much time managing certain details of town government.

The East Hampton Airport’s spending plan for 2015 is set at $4.8 million, which is an 18-percent increase from last year’s budget.

Of the $4.8 million, the town is expecting to spend $87,000 for its contracted landing fee billing service, and increasing its spending on professional services and outside legal counsel to $270,000.

Mr. Cantwell said the increase reflects the amount of subcontractors and outside professionals the town has been incurring. Last year, the past administration spent $1.1 million for these services but budgeted for only $722,000 in 2014.

Right now, the airport is grant-obligated, meaning it accepts funding from the FAA and uses that money for some of its operations. Due to the fact that it receives federal funding, the FAA can impose certain restrictions on the airport.

“Part of it is certainly anticipation of additional attorney fees for next year, should there be litigation as a result of any actions the town takes with respect to any restrictions imposed at the airport.”

Mr. Cantwell said part of the airport budget is a contingent account, increasing to $362,000, which represents the town’s planned operating surplus for the airport. He said that property taxes do not contribute to the airport and that its revenues cover its expenses.

Lastly, there is also planned a $90,000 increase in fuel expenses, but what the town spends, the town will receive back once it sells the fuel through its fixed based operator on site.

When the town’s scavenger waste treatment plant shuts down after November 30, the town is expected to save $800,000 each year and taxpayers could save approximately $500,000 in taxes they would have otherwise paid for the upkeep of the plant.

“Closing the scavenger waste plant is saving us over $400,000 right out of the chute,” Mr. Bernard said.

In 2015, the town’s Community Preservation Fund is likely to collect $18.3 million, according to Mr. Cantwell. The tentative spending plan budgets $25 million for new land acquisitions.

This year, the town is projecting that $25.2 million of CPF revenue will be spent, and as of last week the fund had a cash balance of more than $52 million, $30 million of which is dedicated to pending acquisitions.

To amp up the CPF program and Land Management Department, the town is also proposing to change the environmental technician position from part-time to full-time, which would be funded by the town’s general fund and the CPF. Mr. Cantwell said each fund would pay half the salary and benefits for the position.

The Natural Resources Department would also get a bump of $10,000, for a total of $20,000, to do more water quality testing—an initiative the town is hoping to undertake. It was recently proposed as part of its newly released wastewater management plan.

The town is budgeting $100,000 to develop plans, which would result in capital fund improvements and construction to improve water quality.

While the new spending plan increases budgets for the town’s Senior Nutrition Program and other senior and youth programs, $25,000 is included for the South Fork Behavioral Health Initiative, which will assist locals with mental health and psychological issues. Mr. Cantwell said $150,000 was leveraged by state funding that Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and Senator Kenneth P. LaValle secured, along with Southampton Town and South Fork school districts.

Only four positions were added and budgeted for 2015—a savings that Mr. Cantwell said will minimize the town’s spending and tax growth. Department heads, however, are slated to receive 2 percent pay increases.

According to his message, the health insurance premium rate cost is up nearly 4 percent, and “modest increases” in salaries have been reached in a newly settled four-year Police Benevolent Association contract, retroactive to 2013. The budget will also provide for a future settlement with the town Civil Service Employees Association labor union.

The town is closer to paying off debt. Of the original $21.2 million principal debt from the deficit bonds from 2010-11, there is a remaining balance of $12.9 million for 2015, according to Mr. Cantwell. To whittle that number down, the town is proposing to add $1.7 million from the current fund balance to the debt reserve, and together with the existing debt reserve, it will create a debt reserve of almost $3 million.

State and federal law also require that municipalities assign surplus money to reserve funds, so to that end, the town has established four to pay debt, to fund capital projects, to pay for accrued benefits when staff retire or leave the service of the town, and to assist in the payment of retirement fund costs. Mr. Cantwell said the Town Board will assign $5.5 million of its current fund balance to these reserves by January 1, 2015.

Mr. Cantwell said that is enough to pay approximately 25 percent of the remaining deficit bond principal. This would allow the town to pay a big portion of the debt through 2018, which is when the principal payments would drop by about $1.3 million.

Using approximately $630,000 of debt reserve, the town is planning to pay 25 percent of $2.5 million due in principal in 2015.

Mr. Cantwell said his budget is balanced and directs money to the departments and services that need attention.

“My goal in formulating this budget has been to integrate prudent budgeting and financial planning while improving code enforcement, protecting and improving environmental quality and assisting those who depend on certain town services,” he said.

The Town Board will speak about the proposed budget in upcoming work sessions.

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