Spending Up Slightly in First Draft of Sag Harbor Village Budget

From left, village treasurer Eileen Tuohy, trustee Aidan Corish, trustee James Larocca, Mayor Sandra Schroeder, trustee Ken O'Donnell and trustee Robby Stein during a meeting in February. Christine Sampson photo

While Sag Harbor’s village board still has some budget decisions to make, the trustees on Wednesday agreed the village is in a better position right now than it was this time last year when it comes to projected expenses in its preliminary 2018-2019 budget plan.

During its first budget workshop of the year, village officials broke down a projected 4.72-percent spending increase, which amounts to $487,772, up to a proposed $10.83 million budget.

The state-mandated cap on tax levy increases has been set at 2 percent this year, which means the village can raise about $400,000 more in tax revenue, which in turn means the trustees will likely have fewer tough cuts to make when balancing the budget.

“At least it’s not that heavy a lift, compared to last year,” trustee Ken O’Donnell said.

This time last year, when the trustees were building the current fiscal year’s budget, the first draft showed a spending increase of $1.3 million. They later voted to pierce the tax levy cap with a final $10.34 million budget. Sag Harbor’s fiscal years run from June 1 through May 31.

The trustees on Wednesday did approve a resolution giving it the ability to pierce the tax levy cap if necessary, but they did not commit to definitely piercing the cap, as they had not yet reviewed the village’s revenues. The resolution is a formality that allows for the possibility of going above the limit and gives the village the ability to advertise it if necessary. Mayor Sandra Schroeder called it a “just in case” resolution.

Trustee James Larocca encouraged the board to go through the major budget changes line-by-line.

The big increases include a 70-percent jump for the length of service award program (LOSAP) for volunteer firefighters. That was approved by voters last June, and will increase pension payments for retired volunteers from $20 to $30 per month. The total cost of the program to the village is projected at $450,000, up $185,000 from the current year’s budget. The program’s initial cost increase at the time of the vote was expected to be $86,000.

Also, a 21-percent increase in liability and automotive insurance costs, up to $199,865, is included in the budget proposal. That figure excludes police, fire and ambulance vehicles, because insurance costs for those are built into those departments’ budgets. Employee benefits are set to rise about 15.6 percent, up to $3.14 million. The village will spend 12.6 percent more on culture and recreation, up to $399,900.

The Sag Harbor Volunteer Ambulance Corp. has again requested a full-time paid emergency medical technician (EMT) position to work three 12-hour shifts and one additional administrative shift per week. This position would streamline ambulance operations and reduce the number of hours worked by a total of 16 part-time EMTs the village currently has on its books, but could potentially add to the village’s expenses for health insurance and other benefits, ambulance corps vice president Deborah O’Brien said.

A handful of decreases are anticipated as well. Contractual safety inspection costs are expected to go down by $10,000, according to Sag Harbor building inspector Thomas Preiato, because the village ceased using the services of a third-party sprinkler review consultant on major projects. The budget proposal also shows a $135,400 decrease in Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) funding, a state program that supports bicycle, pedestrian and traffic calming initiatives. Remaining in that budget line is $100,000. Municipalities get reimbursed by the state for CHIPS expenses, but must first lay out the money themselves.

Absent from the draft budget was the cost of the lease for the Keyspan-owned parking lot, which the village formally leased this year. That figure was not immediately available this week. Also absent was a potential salary adjustment for civil service employees. Their contract expires at the end of the current fiscal year and Ms. Schroeder anticipates negotiations will begin soon on a new contract.

“I remember when I first took over here, we had to play catch up on that, and that was painful. I would like to put in a guess,” she told village treasurer Eileen Tuohy early in the budget workshop.

Ms. Schroeder said her outlook on next year’s budget so far is positive because the majority of the village’s departments kept their budget requests fairly low.

“We have wonderful department heads who really try to keep it tight,” she said. “They’re remarkable. We have a wonderful team. This is the proof.”