By Kathryn G. Menu
East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell released a $77.7 million budget for 2018 on Friday that includes $2 million for new affordable housing projects, increases in the police and public safety budgets and $1.5 million for new capital projects.
The supervisor’s tentative budget increases spending by 3.5 percent, or about $2.67 million, and projects a tax increase of less than 1.5 percent. The tax levy will increase by $1,249,122, or 2.3 percent, which is below the state tax levy cap of $1.51 million. If approved, the budget would result in a 1.23-percent increase for residents in Sag Harbor and East Hampton villages, and a 1.42-percent tax increase for residents in the unincorporated parts of the town.
“The town has recovered from a $28 million deficit in 2009 to a projected surplus of over $34 million, cut total debt by $20 million in four years, and this year achieved a Aaa credit rating, the highest in the town’s history,” said Supervisor Cantwell in a statement released with the proposed budget on Friday. “The budget proposes to set aside $3.5 million in a dedicated reserve to build new affordable housing and for the construction of the new senior community center.”
According to Mr. Cantwell’s budget statement, the operating budget’s increases are largely due to employee salaries, which are rising by $958,962, health benefit premium increases of roughly $1 million, and next year’s debt service of $785,510. Those three items alone rose by just over $2.8 million, while the remaining budget decreased by $139,390. Salary increases of 2 to 3 percent are the result of union contracts, the addition of a full-time account clerk at the East Hampton Airport, one full-time marine patrol officer, and one full-time clerk in the Building Department to digitize records. While debt service is increasing in 2018, according to Mr. Cantwell, there will be a decrease of $1.6 million in debt service on outstanding debt in 2019.
Public safety and law enforcement spending increases by 6 percent, or $1.2 million, in the tentative budget. The supervisor’s office is also going to see an increase. According to the budget message, that is because a new executive assistant will be hired and may need family medical insurance instead of the single coverage used by the last assistant. The salary for the next executive assistant is also increasing from $40,000 to $75,000.
“I do not believe it is realistic to expect the next town supervisor will be able to hire an experienced and competent replacement for this position at the present salary, since the current executive assistant has generously donated most of his time,” said Mr. Cantwell in the budget message.
Other increases include $171,000 in additional funding to fire districts throughout the town, and $100,000 to continue the townwide hamlet studies.
The Montauk Nutrition Program, which provides meals and social programs for seniors, has had its funding increased from $85,500 to $120,000. East Hampton Day Care will receive $80,000 under the budget; the Family Service League, $50,000; Phoenix House, $50,000; Project Most, $35,000; South Fork Community Health Initiative, $27,500; East End Special Players, $10,000; Meals on Wheels, $10,000; the Montauk Youth Association, $5,000; East End Disabilities Group, $5,000; Retired Senior Volunteer Program, $5,000; the Retreat, $5,000; and the Pediatric Dental Fund, $2,500.
The town board has yet to publicly review the tentative budget, which can be revised prior to a public hearing, which has yet to be scheduled. The town board must vote to adopt its budget by November 20.