Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman presented a $105.5 million budget proposal for 2020 last week, representing a spending increase of 2.85 percent, even while cutting the property tax rate by nearly 6 percent — the largest rate cut that he said he has seen in his years of putting together budgets for municipalities.
That’s because the overall assessed value of land in the town has continued to rise, so much so that even while cutting the tax rate by 5.8 percent, from $1.38 to $1.30 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, the tax levy — the total amount of property taxes to be collected — will rise from $67,264,269 to $69,742,241, or by 3.41 percent.
Mr. Schneiderman said the budget maintains a current level of services, allows for the typical 2 percent increase in salaries and benefits, and was adjusted with the anticipation that less money will come in from certain services offered by the town.
On the latter, he said less money is coming in from waste management because the demand for recyclables has dropped. He also said the Justice Court is not bringing in as much money, because it is processing significantly less in fines and fees.
“I always try … to keep costs in line to not spend more than we need to, because I think it’s important that we maintain our low taxes that we enjoy in the area, so what you will see in this budget is a cost-to-continue budget,” he said. “I have delivered a number of budgets in my time here as supervisor, and in my earlier incarnation as East Hampton Town supervisor, this is the largest tax rate reduction I have been able to deliver.”
In an effort to address the issue of steadily rising property assessments — which increases individual tax bills if the rate of increase exceeds the offset of the tax rate reduction — Mr. Schneiderman said the board approved a two-year moratorium on assessments. He also said he has reached out to State Senator Kenneth P. Lavalle and State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. to see if a 2-percent tax cap can be placed on property assessments.
The budget also allows for the creation of three new positions in the town. Mr. Schneiderman said the Community Preservation Fund allows for the hiring of an environmental analyst. The town will also be adding two positions in the Parks Department: a recreation director and someone to work at the parks.
Mr. Schneiderman said many of the park facilities — especially the new Ponquogue Beach facility in Hampton Bays — saw an increase in visitors this year. “I’m reluctant to add staff unless it’s warranted,” he said.
Although hiring is a sticking point, town officials were able to get raises between 2019 and 2020.
Within the budget, Town Police Chief Steven Skrynecki was given a nearly $70,000 raise from 2019 to 2020 — although according to Town Comptroller Leonard Marchese, the budgeted raise is a little misleading.
The police chief was at the top of the salary chart, which shows he is expected to make $311,552 — $254,000 from his salary and $57,552 in benefits — in 2020, according to the budget.
When compared to 2019, when Chief Skrynecki made a salary of $193,365 and $47,762 in benefits, totaling $241,127, the 2020 bump equates to a $70,425 raise.
But, according to Mr. Marchese, the budget is not completely accurate. He noted that the town doesn’t contribute to Chief Skrynecki’s retirement account, although the system automatically calculates that cost with benefits — it is something he cannot override in the software.
The only benefit the town pays into for the chief is Social Security, so, in reality, Chief Skrynecki is going to make a salary of $254,000 — up more than 31 percent from the current year — plus $24,212 toward Social Security, for a total of $278,212 in 2020 compensation.
“He was always going to get a salary increase, since he doesn’t take any benefits and we don’t contribute to his pension,” Mr. Marchese said in an email. “All in, he is less expensive than any other officer.”
In comparison, Town Police Captain Lawrence Schurek is slated to make a salary of $225,000 in 2020, along with $98,530 in benefits, totaling $323,593.
Hampton Bays will also see quite a bit of money from the budget put toward what Mr. Schneiderman described as necessary projects. Some of the money will go toward the Hampton Bays Senior Center acquisition, projects with the Hampton Bays Water District, the construction of a new Southampton Ambulance facility and water quality projects.
On Monday, Town Board member Christine Scalera said she had not waded into the budget, so it was early to comment on her expectations for the last budget she will vote on as a member of the board.
“I never assume what to expect, but I’m actually a little sad as I am with all my ‘lasts,’ even the tougher ones,” she said.
The schedule for adopting the budget is set. Public hearings on the budget will take place on October 22 at 6 p.m. and November 12 at 1 p.m. — it is set to be voted on by the Town Board on November 20 at 11 a.m.