The Southampton Town Board authorized a major reorganization of town departments last week when it adopted a final 2019 operating budget that totals about $102.65 million, up 3.3 percent from the current budget. Because of a continuing rise in the value of the town’s tax base, the tax rate is expected to fall by 1 percent despite the spending increase.
The reorganization had been proposed by Town Comptroller Len Marchese at the November 1 Town Board work session following the announced departure of Russell Kratoville, the town’s management services administrator, who oversaw a number of town departments. Mr. Kratoville has taken a position as the administrator of Southampton Village.
The departmental changes include abolishing Mr. Kratoville’s position and dismantling the General Services Department and creating a Department of Human Resources; a Public Information Department; a Risk Management Unit; and a Department of Housing and Community Services. They were authorized by the board on November 20 with an amendment to the preliminary 2019 budget that was approved by a 4-1 Town Board vote.
The changes will result in a net budget decrease of $9,170, according to the text of the amendment.
Soon after adopting that and other amendments, the board adopted the final budget plan for 2019 by the same 4-1 vote, with Councilwoman Christine Scalera voting “no” in both cases.
In an email, Councilwoman Scalera wrote she had voted “no” because the budget “builds on practices and policies I did not support in prior budgets, i.e. longevity for non-union employees getting credit for time served in other municipalities with the expense being born by the residents of Southampton.”
She wrote that the tax levy increase of approximately $3 million is “the highest year-over-year increase in a decade” and the reorganization of the General Services Department “is a mistake and will end up putting in jeopardy many of the practices we have instituted to save money and be more efficient. It additionally will cost us more.”
Other changes the Town Board made on November 20 included budgeting additional $50,000 for the so-called “Last Mile” bus and car service between train stations to employment centers that the towns of Southampton and East Hampton will provide as part of their South Fork Commuter Connection train service, which will debut in March on the Long Island Rail Road. It will offer two additional South Fork trains eastbound weekday mornings and westbound weekday afternoons. The service is intended to cut down on “trade parade” auto traffic that originates west of the Shinnecock Canal by giving commuters a practical alternative to their cars.
Riders will pay $1 each way for the “Last Mile” service as part of their ticket price, and the LIRR will forward the revenue to the town. State grants were expected to pay the balance of the costs but Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said at the November 20 meeting “the numbers aren’t quite there” so “we’re still a little bit shy.”
Also, the board added $8,100 to the budget to allow the town’s “burn building” near the Hampton Bays transfer station to be certified for training with actual controlled fires in the structure. Currently fires are simulated with “smoke” from dry ice, Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni explained.
The board also added $20,000 to its budget for tick testing and analysis to augment Suffolk County’s current testing program. Mr. Schiavoni said he hoped to see an increase of testing sites, where tick sweeps are periodically conducted, from the county’s current level of one per town to three or four more in Southampton Town.
Comptroller Leonard Marchese said the additions would affect the anticipated tax rate by only “hundredths of a decimal” point and that the amount to be raise by taxation would remain below the 2-percent cap set by the state.
Among the amendments adopted was a new fee schedule for yard waste at the town’s transfer stations. The increases range from the current $5 to $10 for residents with a load of three or fewer 30-gallon trash cans or bags. Of yard waste to $100, up from $75, for a landscaper with a loaded six-wheeled truck.
The board also approved increases in the maximum amount of be spent annually in some of the town’s special tax assessment districts, especially the Southampton ambulance district, which covers a large area from Tuckahoe, the Shinnecock Indian Reservation and North Sea to parts of Water Mill. Its annual cap was raised $202,347 to $963,100 to help cover the carrying costs of the construction of a new headquarters building on North Sea Road. Only taxpayers with property within the special districts are taxed for their services.
In other budget news, the East Hampton Town Board was unanimous in its approval of the 2019 budget during its meeting on November 15. The $80.7 million spending plan will result in a tax rate of 30.83 per $100 of assessed valuation — a 2.22 percent increase — for property owners residing outside of the incorporated villages of East Hampton and Sag Harbor. For homeowners living inside the villages, the tax rate will increase by 3.30 percent to 11.811 per $100 of assessed valuation. For a home with a market value of $690,000, this would result in a tax increase of $15.08 inside the incorporated villages and $26.80 outside the villages. For a home with an assessment of $10,000 and a market value of $1,725,000, that increase would be $37.70 inside the villages and $67 outside the villages.
The total budget increases this year over the 2018 spending place by $2.9 million, or by 3.81 percent, and is below the state-mandated cap on increases to the tax levy. The majority of the spending increases have been linked to contractual raises in employee salaries and benefits as well as additional debt service on projects including the replacement of the town’s emergency communications system and for the installation of water mains in Wainscott.
Additional reporting by Kathryn G. Menu