East End Police Departments Should Receive Boost In County Funding

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A deal brokered by East End legislators will bring an additional $1 million in Suffolk County sales tax revenue to local police budgets starting in 2015.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s upcoming $2.9 billion budget will include the additional funds for 2015, and County Legislator Jay Schneiderman of Montauk added that the county executive has pledged to continue upping the county’s support of small police departments—most of which are on the East End—over the next three years.

In Southampton Town, the deal would boost the revenues from the county by $295,000 in 2015—the most of the 19 municipal police departments set to receive the extra funds. The town should receive another $295,000 in 2016 and again 2017, ultimately bringing the town more than $880,000 in additional revenues over the next three years—assuming the pledge survives the hurdles of county budgeting.

Southampton Town currently receives the largest chunk of the current sales tax revenue sharing, which totaled about $6.5 million in 2014. Last year, the town received about $1.9 million from the county for its police fund; the town’s police fund budget totaled more than $20 million for 2014.

In 2015, the town should receive $2.2 million from the county in the form of sales tax revenues—about a 15-percent increase. That same increase will apply across the board to other town and village police departments in Suffolk County.

“I will try to protect this agreement,” said Mr. Schneiderman, who is in his last term as a legislator. “But I’m only here till the end of next year. This really needs to be codified. But I’m feeling pretty good [that] the legislature will not touch this, and the county executive has said he will do it.”

The funding in question comes from the county’s sales tax revenues, a robust funding source that has long been tapped to offset property tax revenues in supporting the Suffolk County Police Department, which patrols most of the western half of the county. But on the East End, which generates a large portion of the sales tax revenues for the county, most municipalities have their own police departments. Of the 19 municipal forces in the county, 10 are on the East End.

The county has traditionally shared the sales tax revenues with local police operating funds, but East End lawmakers have argued for years that the proportion they receive is anemic compared to the many millions in sales tax that the businesses protected by their police generate.

“We’ve been lobbying them for years for a more fair sharing of the sales tax with the East End,” Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said this week. “Compared to what we generate … it’s pretty out of proportion, especially Southampton.”

Still, the town receives the largest chunk of those proceeds that totaled about $6.5 million in 2014. The next largest slices of the county sales tax pie go to Riverhead Town, which will receive about $1.35 million in 2015, and Southold Town, which will get $1.01 million. East Hampton Town, meanwhile, will get $796,000, East Hampton Village will receive approximately $80,000, Southampton Village will get a little more than $228,000, Sag Harbor Village will take home $122,000, Westhampton Beach will get about $90,000, and Quogue will receive $51,000.

The shift in the county’s contributions was made possible by the cutting of $40 million in sales tax money being directed to the Suffolk County Police Department, replaced, in part, by the use of new revenues from red-light cameras now being employed to catch those running lights. The cameras have generated nearly $30 million a year in the first few years of implementation. Next year, the county will also start installing school zone cameras, including those on the South Fork, which will snap pictures of the license plate numbers of any cars they detect speeding in school zones.

Mr. Schneiderman said that while East End leaders still feel they are being somewhat short-changed by the tax sharing, the new agreement with Mr. Bellone is a substantial improvement, one that he would like to see made permanent through legislation.

“It’s a lot of money,” the legislator said. “We haven’t gotten everything I wanted, but it’s pretty good.”

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