With the heavy lifting of erasing multimillion-dollar deficits and declining bond ratings behind her—and a reelection bid ahead of her—Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst on Tuesday delivered her fifth “State of the Town” address, lauding the leaps the town made financially in the last year, the substantial hurdles it overcame in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, and the tasks that still lie ahead.
Ms. Throne-Holst—speaking to a board room filled largely with town employees, and the candidates seeking Town Board seats in the November election—said that in the 11 months since she last gave her annual update of the town’s situation and her own agenda, Southampton has continued a nearly meteoric rise out of the depths of deficit and the effects of recession and now boasts healthy surpluses, declining debt and boastful credit ratings.
She highlighted the efforts by the Town Board to continually cut costs and constrain spending, largely through careful management and improvements in efficiency that have restored the town’s financial footing and borrowing power to one of the highest in the state. She noted, however, that the town has at the same time slashed its borrowing, from an average of $13 million annually between 2003 and 2009—a level she called “unsustainable”—to $8 million in each of the last two years, with a goal of cutting that to $5.5 million for each of the next four years.
“All of these efforts continue in 2013 and into the future,” she said, “so, once again, I can present you with a State of the Town that is both sound financially and organizationally effective.”
Even with borrowing on the downswing, Ms. Throne-Holst said she would continue her personal mission to see the town issued a AAA rating by the Standard & Poor credit rating agency, the group’s highest credit rating and one rarely achieved by towns as small as Southampton. At the start of her administration the town, mired in deficit and with declining revenues, saw its credit rating cut for the first time in memory. Ms. Throne-Holst said that she has taken the rare step for a supervisor of personally visiting the credit agency with the town’s comptroller each year to present the case for better rating, which translates to lower interest rates from lenders. The rating has been restored to Aa1.
“We have now established such sound credit-worthiness that our rates for capital borrowing are equal to or less than the rates at which the highest-rated towns in New York State are being treated,” Ms. Throne-Holst said.
She noted that the town has also benefited from a robust rebound to the real estate market since the stagnant months of early 2009, which has pushed the town’s assessed value upward while other towns on the island have dropped as much as 15 percent and struggled to turn around the trend. Southampton $55 billion tax base has made it the highest in Suffolk County, and mortgage tax revenues have climbed by 65 percent since the lows of 2009, which has helped the town keep tax rates passed on to residents flat in the last three annual operating budgets, driven by a 55-percent increase in the number of building permits issued in that same period.
With financial crisis behind it and fiscal controls in place, the supervisor said, the town can now turn its attentions to proactive moves to upgrade the towns infrastructure and address areas of the town that have fallen through the gaps of growth for decades. She spotlighted efforts to craft a redevelopment strategy for the blighted areas of Flanders, Riverside and Northampton, to push for remediation of a solvent plume in Speonk, push for movement on the development of the Gabreski Business Park in Westhampton, and complete a corridor study for the County Road 39 gateway to the eastern portion of the town.
“The several efforts I have just outlines, and others, should give you a clear picture of the many and multi-dimensional issues being addressed by the Town Board and each of the departments within thetown, “ Ms. Throne-Holst said. “What I hope is equally clear is the underlying mission of these efforts is to improve the overall quality of life for our citizens and protect the important value of our town.”