By Stephen J. Kotz
The North Haven Village Board took its first peek at a draft $1,523,858 budget on March 7.
Although the initial document calls for a 9.1-percent spending hike, Eileen Tuohy, the village treasurer, said the village’s total assessment is expected to rise enough so that the tax rate will actually decline from the $0.5191 per $1,000 of assessed valuation that was collected this year. She did not provide the board with an estimate of what the rate would be.
The board will conduct a special work session at 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 22, to take a closer look at the budget.
As in Sag Harbor, which is struggling with a spike in its own proposed budget, most of the projected $125,424 increase in spending is due to an estimated $84,130 increase in the emergency services contract North Haven has with Sag Harbor, which provides its fire and ambulance services.
“There are a couple of unknowns out there. Fire and ambulance continues to be a moving target at this point,” said Village Clerk Ed Deyermond, who is also a Sag Harbor Village trustee. “It has gone up considerably, and there is a new issue that has been developing between the towns of Southampton and East Hampton and all the villages about the reliability of radios and upgrades to the radio systems.”
In February, the East Hampton Town Board discussed a proposal to spend an estimated $5 million to upgrade its radio communications system, which, among other things, serves the Sag Harbor Fire Department and Sag Harbor Village Ambulance Corps.
Ms. Tuohy, citing the increase for fire and ambulance services, urged the board to hold off on adopting a final budget until Sag Harbor Village, where she also serves as treasurer, could put a sharper point on just what the fire and ambulance contracts would be. Mr. Deyermond said he expected Sag Harbor to have a final budget ready for public hearing by mid-April. Besides facing a possible bill for new communications equipment, Sag Harbor is also facing new payments for two new fire trucks purchased last year as well as the increased cost of a more generous pension plan for ambulance corps volunteers that voters approved last year.
Other major increases were $52,000 spread over a number of categories to cover increased costs for planning and zoning activities, including the hiring of consultants to work on a redrafting of a proposed erosion-control law, which has been on hold since last summer, and $10,000 more for contingencies and leaf pickup services.
Total spending increases were offset in part by a reduction of $43,000 for buildings and renovations. That amount was higher last year because the board budgeted for solar panels on Village Hall. It has only received two bids for the project, while a minimum of three is typically required. The board said it would look into whether it would be able to move forward on the project this year.
Board members also discussed the leaf pickup program. Mayor Jeff Sander said a private property owners’ association has objected to paying for the leaf pickup because the service is not extended to private roads. The mayor estimated that as many as half of the properties in the village are in private associations and suggested that the village provide rebates for those property owners. Ms. Tuohy and Mr. Deyermond, though, suggested it would be easier if the village created a special taxing district that would only bill those residents who get their leaves picked up each fall. This year, the village has budgeted $12,000 for leaf pickup labor and another $35,000 for equipment and trucking of the leaves.
Board members also discussed persistent flooding on Tyndall Road, just opposite of the Route 114 roundabout. The area has had flooding issues ever since the roundabout was installed and changed the direction of road runoff. Mr. Sanders said with the state considering the repaving of Route 114, it might be able to take on the drainage issue as well at no cost to the village.
Mr. Sanders said he was happy to see the village appears to be on its way toward its third straight tax cut, but asked Ms. Tuohy if its fund balance, projected to be $1,254,144 at the end of the current fiscal year, was too large.
“They recommend anywhere between 10 and 12 percent to not be under fiscal stress,” she said. “This is almost 100 percent,” the mayor replied. Ms. Tuohy pointed out that she had already applied about $148,000 of surplus to the budget to help reduce taxes.