October 04, 2006
Tax Increase "Kept To A Minimum"
"I have such a headache," East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill McGintee said on Friday. Intensive numbers crunching complete, the supervisor submitted his 2007 tentative budget to the town clerk's office, just in time to make the statutory deadline.
Though a spending increase of over nine percent is forecast taxpayers will see only a miniscule increase in property taxes.
McGintee was slated to formally present the budget to colleagues on the town board during yesterday's work session in Montauk. Lawmakers will make additions and subtractions before finalizing the document in the coming weeks.
According to his budget message, tax rate increases of 2.9% for town property owners with land outside East Hampton Village, and 1.9% for those with land inside village bounds will mean the average taxpayer in the village must come up with just an extra 50 cents per month. Those in the town will pay about $2.70 more per month should the document be adopted as drafted, according to the supervisor.
The proposed total budget, $51.1 million represents a 9.3% spending increase from the current budget, $46.7 million. The amount to be raised through taxation rises 6.3% to $27.6 million, but will be partially offset by an increase in the total assessed value of the town.
The budget was constructed using two key parameters: provide needed services without placing undue burdens on taxpayers and balance the use of revenues, surplus funds and taxes for good, long-range financial planning, McGintee wrote in his message.
Traditional budget busters are responsible for the increase. Pension benefits are up more than 15% over last year's appropriations, and the cost of light, heat and power is up 40%. Increased testing and demands from state agencies have driven the price of running the scavenger waste treatment plant up 25%, and the town has had to replace an aging vehicle fleet. The budget includes appropriations for seven new vehicles, three of which will be hybrids.
The budget calls for added staff to continue efforts in the areas of code enforcement and quality of life, land preservation and meeting social service needs for seniors. Six new cops, a new animal control officer and another code enforcement officer are listed, as are a Community Preservation Fund land manager and a fisheries advocate. Positions have been added to the Human Services Department to coordinate community information, assist with seeking grants, and staff up in home and transportation services.
More new staff members in the Parks Department will take over jobs once undertaken by pricier outside contractors. Using current employees and re-assignments, a new Information Technology Department will be created. Funding for the operations at long awaited new facilities — the Montauk Playhouse and the Town Justice Court — are also included in the plan.
Reminding that Moody's Investor Service has recently acknowledged East Hampton's sound financial practices, the supervisor characterized his offering as "a fiscally responsible budget providing expanded services with minimal financial impact."