Last Wednesday, the Southampton Town Board unanimously adopted an $81 million budget for 2014, but not before board members debated the merits of budgeting town funding for the raising of Dune Road and to add monies to the Water Quality Protection Fund.
Both measures were defeated prior to the board adopting the spending plan.
The discussions were part of a series of amendments proposed, and largely passed, to the 2014 budget, drafted by Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst.
Prior to addressing those items, however, the board held a public hearing and passed a resolution allowing the town to override the 2 percent cap on the property tax levy specifically for the Bridgehampton and Sagaponack erosion control district.
According to Deputy Town Attorney Kathleen Murray, the 2014 cap is 1.66 percent. While the budget itself does not pierce that cap, the state Department of Taxation and Finance says the town must include the monies that will be spent for both erosion control districts on a beach re-nourishment plan voters in those districts agreed to fund over the next 10 years at a cost of $26 million.
For 2014, Murray said that would amount to $1.31 million for the Bridgehampton Erosion Control District and $1.36 for the Sagaponack Erosion Control District.
Murray noted these are separate taxing districts, this will not affect the overall tax rate for town residents. After no public comment, the motion was adopted unanimously.
Another resolution before the board was an amendment to the budget to add $2 million in new capital borrowing to begin to raise Dune Road in Hampton Bays and Quogue. The funding would be in addition to $975,000 already earmarked for the project.
Councilwoman Bridget Fleming said she believed the need was great, but would prefer to see if the town will earn federal Hurricane Sandy funding for the project first.
“I don’t think there is anyone on this board who is not committed to seeing this project through,” agreed Throne-Holst, noting the town is on the cusp of discovering whether or not the project will be federally funded.
Councilman Chris Nuzzi, completing his last term on the board, has long been a champion of this project. He argued the $7.5 million project covering five miles from the Quogue Village line to the Shinnecock Inlet, already has a permit from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and has been before the board for seven years now.
“All throughout that time we have been attempting on the state, federal and county levels to attract funding partners for this road, which from an economic perspective has regional significance,” said Nuzzi.
In addition to being a barrier beach and home to a commercial fishing fleet, the road accesses homes that make up 20 percent of the $30 billion in assessed value in Southampton Town, he continued.
Councilwoman Christine Scalera said the board is absolutely committed to the project, but would wait for the outcome on federal funding first.
“There hasn’t been anyone as dedicated or focused on this project as you,” said Councilman Jim Malone, who also committed to Nuzzi the project would be completed.
However, Malone also agreed the board should wait to see whether or not it will earn federal funding for the project first.
“I believe this is of national interest,” he said. “I believe the federal government should be involved in this.”
“You have my commitment that if in six months from now we do not have a clear indication this funding is coming through then we will bring it forward again,” said Throne-Holst. “If our local share is actually spent or put to work already then it no longer qualifies as a local share so that is part of the equation we have to be mindful of here.”
Throne-Holst added she did not want to raise red flags with the state comptroller or the rating agencies by adding new debt when the capital projects budget already stands at $3 million.
The resolution failed to pass with Nuzzi voting in favor and Malone abstaining from a vote.
Another amendment failing to find support was sponsored by Fleming. She hoped to earmark $1 million in anticipated town surplus for the Water Quality Protection Fund. Fleming said she would like to see this earmark used to provide money to homeowners within 1,000 feet of surface waters in Southampton so they can locate their septic systems for inspection.
A popular septic rebate incentive program just last week was funded with $100,000. That program offers homeowners assistance in upgrading septic systems for residences built before 1980 near waterfront portions of the town. Fleming said while the program has been successful, it is woefully underfunded.
“It was never meant to be primarily funded through taxpayer dollars,” said Scalera of the Water Quality Protection Fund.
Recognizing water quality is “the number one critical issue facing the town and its economy,” Throne-Holst said a number of regional efforts — including new septic system technologies — are being explored. Grant opportunities are also being explored, she added.
“A lot of things are happening and as those things happen we can revisit this and approach it again,” she said.