It is unclear whether any changes will be made to the 800-page preliminary Southampton Town 2017 budget before the Town Board votes whether to adopt the document on Friday, November 18.
The preliminary $94.7 million budget includes an approximately 2-percent drop in the property tax rate, as well as $3.2 million in capital borrowing for road improvements and $1.4 million for park upgrades. The preliminary budget also proposes several new positions, including one police officer and one public safety dispatcher, a director of public safety, and a director of housing and community development. However, the plan also represents a nearly 4-percent increase in spending over this year’s $91.1 million budget.
At two public hearings on the budget, Councilwoman Christine Scalera raised concerns about the increased spending, as well as specific personnel costs relating to longevity benefits given to non-union workers.
“I am fiscally conservative, but being a fiscal conservative means more than just cutting taxes,” the councilwoman said. “It means doing so in a fiscally responsible and sustainable way. I hope the supervisor intends on having some meaningful public discussion on this.”
Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said he anticipates that the Town Board will debate any concerns about the document before it votes, but he said any changes they want to make can be made through amendments at any time.
The 2017 budget also includes a $4,000-capped, onetime longevity payment for administrative employees, already provided yearly to union employees. The increase associated with this longevity payment amounts to less than .002 percent of the total operating budget.
In his budget message, Mr. Schneiderman wrote that the salary adjustments represented “the recognition of the value that our employees bring to the organization and to the community they serve.”
“The fact that the town can provide this level of recognition and still remain fiscally responsible is largely attributable to these employees,” he wrote.
However, this raised a red flag for Ms. Scalera, as it was based on years of service with not just the town but county or state government before then, where applicable—which Southampton taxpayers would now have to pay.
“It’s a gift. It’s a gift of public funds,” she said. “It’s things like that to cause me to pause when I’m looking at the budget. As much as I want to support a budget that proposes a tax cut, because that’s something I want to see happen, I have to be responsible in doing that.”
Mr. Schneiderman said he felt it was only fair to grant the one-time benefit, since administrative employees were often doing the same work as union members but with fewer benefits. “This kind of catches them up with the union,” the supervisor said. “It helps with motivation. I think they’re doing a good job. I’m one to reward hard work.”
The current union longevity is only based on service with the town.
Town Board members Julie Lofstad and John Bouvier have expressed their support of the budget proposal, while Councilman Stan Glinka has not commented either way at recent Town Board meetings.
Ms. Scalera said she is working to get some of her questions answered and will then decide whether she will support the budget. The budget meeting is scheduled for Friday, November 18, at 11 a.m. in Southampton Town Hall.