In a series of sweeping, last-minute changes, the Southampton Town Board cut $350,000 in spending from Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst’s original proposed spending plan last week prior to adopting a $82.45 million budget for 2013.
The amended plan, which was adopted on November 20, also added funding for two new police officers and a full-time traffic control officer to the town’s short-handed police department. The savings and new police jobs came with a price tag—namely, the cutting of two positions funded in the supervisor’s original budget and the $260,000 in salaries and benefits those employees would have earned. The amendments also cut another $150,000 by eliminating an initial spending proposal to create two new positions at Town Hall.
Despite the savings, the final approved budget of $82.45 million does not change the proposed tax levy presented under Ms. Throne-Holst’s original $82.7 million spending plan. The tax levy, which totals $57.8 million, and the tax rate passed on to residents will remain flat from the 2012 budget. In addition to the new savings, the board helped balance the budget by using reserve funds used to keep taxes down, taking that fund’s balance down from $1.55 million to $1.2 million.
The amendments, most of which were offered with the support of both Ms. Throne-Holst and the Town Board’s three-member Republican-Conservative majority, restored funding for several positions that had been eliminated in the supervisor’s original proposal.
In the final budget, which was unanimously approved despite some objections from Democratic Councilwoman Bridget Fleming, Assistant Planning and Development Administrator Freda Eisenberg and Grant Coordinator Karen Johnson will have their positions eliminated.
“It’s regretful that Freda is not included in this budget, but it frees up funds to restructure the Land Management Department a little bit and, in the end, we all came to that agreement,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. She had supported Ms. Eisenberg being hired as the planning and development administrator to replace Jefferson Murphree before the board majority successfully pressed for the hiring of Kyle Collins to fill the post.
“In terms of the grants coordinator … we don’t have the same volume of grants we once had,” the supervisor added. “The federal, state and county governments aren’t putting out the kinds of grants they used to. It’s a different animal today, and it’s something we can use existing staff for.”
Ms. Fleming was the only board member to oppose the elimination of Ms. Johnson’s position, and she criticized the decision by her colleagues, saying that having someone in the grant coordinators position would allow the town to more aggressively seek grants from the state and county for things like water quality improvement projects. Department staff will not have the time necessary to seek out those grants, she said.
“I think that is clearly an example of short-sighted budgeting,” said Ms. Fleming, who voted in favor of eliminating Ms. Eisenberg’s position. “The grant money is out there, and ... we need an aggressive presence at the table. I’m very disappointed to see this particular position eliminated.”
The supervisor said that grant application work will be picked up by staff in the individual town departments that are seeking grants.
“This is a huge component of how we operate here,” Ms. Throne-Holst said at last week’s budget meeting. “It is part of an exercise we’ve undergone in the last few years of looking at where we can reorganize and optimize for efficiencies, and that is one of the big reasons we’ve managed to budget the way we have over the last couple years.”
The budget also eliminates Ms. Throne-Holst’s proposal to create a new Purchasing Department, which would oversee and manage all town purchases. It was a position that Ms. Throne-Holst had said would lead to increased efficiency and reduced waste that would justify the $150,000 in salary and benefits for a director and a dedicated secretary.
Another $50,000 was cut from the budget by adjusting the salary of the vacant town assessor’s position, which is not expected to be filled until later in the year.
“We had to make some difficult decisions,” Ms. Throne-Holst said last week about the adopted budget. “What we did was increase public safety, and we are meeting, most importantly, some of the outstanding needs of the Flanders district. We’re beefing up the [police] unit that will be on patrol there.”
The two new police officers, the supervisor said in a separate interview, will allow the town to expand the department’s Community Response Unit, a neighborhood patrol detail, and the department’s overall presence in Flanders and Riverside. The two new officers will earn base salaries of $53,000 per year and receive about $39,000 in benefits.