The budget was unanimously approved by the Town Board just before 2 p.m.
The measures supporting the raising of Dune Road in Quogue and the Water Quality Protection Fund were defeated.
The Southampton Town Board was set to approve an operating budget for 2014 of approximately $81 million at a meeting on Wednesday afternoon, November 20, specially scheduled to meet state-imposed filing deadlines.
Despite several hundred thousand dollars in additional spending and the addition of two administrative positions, all expected to be added to the budget before its adoption on Wednesday, the spending plan will still result in no tax increase for town residents in 2014, thanks to climbing revenue estimates.
In a series of last-minute amendments to Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst’s tentative budget the board was to consider on Wednesday, the board proposed the addition of two new full-time positions in Town Hall, as well as an expansion of the town’s Water Quality Protection Fund. Another proposal would add $2 million to the capital borrowing plan to fund the start of a project to raise Dune Road in Hampton Bays and East Quogue should federal funding, expected for the project as part of the Superstorm Sandy recovery and mitigation effort, fall through.
If the amendments proposed on Wednesday are approved, the town would create two new positions: a building and zoning permits examiner to help speed up the application and filing of building permits, and an environmental facilities manager to oversee the town’s waste management division. The permits examiner position will carry a $50,571 starting base salary and $35,494 in administrator-level annual retirement and health benefits. The environmental facilities manager would earn a $55,000 starting salary and $32,236 in annual benefits. Both positions are expected to ultimately pay for themselves through increased revenues and lowered costs thanks to improved efficiency from having dedicated managers.
The town also created a new special events fund, allowing the costs of overtime salaries for police department and Highway Department staff for special events to be included in the full-town tax levy, rather than just the part-town levy.
Not all of the last-chance amendments proposed to the budget were universally supported by the board. Chris Nuzzi’s proposal to add to the town’s capital borrowing to fund the start of the Dune Road work and Bridget Fleming’s proposal to dedicate nearly $1 million of anticipated town surplus to the Water Quality Protection Fund were both met with some hesitation by board members and could face a battle.
“We had committed to continuing our capped borrowing plan, which is critical to our bond rating, so I don’t think it would be prudent for us at this point,” Ms. Throne-Holst said of the additional capital borrowing for the Dune Road project, adding the concern that scheduling the borrowing could jeopardize the likelihood that the town will receive federal money for the Dune Road project by signaling that the town is willing to borrow the money itself for the work. “We’re right on the eve of finding out what the feds are going to be willing to fund. We’ll either get the funding or we won’t, or we’ll get some part of it and we can move forward from there. This money is not enough to complete the project, not even half, and it blows our capital budget.”
Ms. Throne-Holst’s initial capital budget proposal totaled just $3 million and already included $975,000 for the Dune Road work.
Ms. Fleming’s proposal to substantially fund the Water Quality Protection Fund drew criticism from both sides of the aisle as well, despite resounding support for the mission it represents. Christine Scalera, who authored the founding legislation for the fund, said that she did not see dedicating as much as $1 million in taxpayer money to the fund as a wise move at this point and would prefer to see smaller, incremental steps taken to dedicating funding from a variety of sources.
“This was never meant to be taxpayer-funded,” Ms. Scalera said of the fund. “This is something that has to be tackled on a regional level, in a lot of areas.”
Last week, at Ms. Scalera’s suggestion, the board approved the dedication of $100,000 to the Septic Rebate Incentive Program, the well-received seminal program of the Water Quality Protection Fund, which offers assistance to residents in upgrading aging or failing septic systems at homes near the water. The money will pay for up to 60 percent of the cost of installing more modern septic systems in houses built before the 1980 in watersheds of local bays and creeks. The councilwoman also said that she is going to be introducing legislation soon that would direct revenues from various fines and surcharges for environmental hazards into the fund.
Also in the amendments to the budget, which were revealed last week, Town Assessor Lisa Goree was proposed to get an $11,000 salary hike.
Despite the addition of more than $300,000 in additional spending through amendments to the budget, the adopted spending plan was expected to maintain a flat tax rate for town residents through adjustments in forecast revenues, primarily from county mortgage taxes receipts.
“We were super-, ultra-conservative with our estimates in the initial plan,” Comptroller Len Marchese said of the initial budget’s mortgage tax income estimates, which provide income based on new mortgages written for properties in the town. “We’ve got another month under our belts since the first estimate came out—we’ve experienced another month of large percentage growth, and we also know there is a large backlog of county deed filings.”
The budget expected to be adopted on Wednesday called for an additional $292,799 in mortgage tax income in 2014, enough to cover the costs of additional salaries and increases in the budget.