October 04, 2006
Town Budget Calls For Tax Increase
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell has unveiled his first-ever proposed budget — and it calls for a 5.81% increase for taxpayers.
According to Town Comptroller John Cushman, that equates to an increase of $11.82 per $1000 of assessed value.
Last year's tax rate of $203.33 will increase this year to $215.15. And total taxes for 2006, which totaled $21.25 million are proposed to increase to $22.7 million an increase of 7.02%.
While total appropriations for 2006 were $33.5 million, this year's proposed appropriations equal $34.3 million, an increase of 2.26%.
In his budget message, Russell said that a town's budget "is singularly the most important document that the town government will produce each year."
With that in mind, Russell said the goal was to move forward on sound financial footing in a purposeful direction to meet the challenges that lay ahead while keeping the commitments that were made in the past. "In the budget I am proposing, you will find no smoke and mirrors and no empty promises that will not or cannot be kept. Like any proposed budget should be, this budget is transparent, straightforward, honest and fiscally prudent."
In creating the budget, Russell said he worked with each department head to demand that each office of government tighten its belt, removing any request not essential to maintaining good public service.
Russell's proposed budget features a spending plan that includes approximately $500,000 in financial commitments to address road/stormwater runoff and drainage mitigation. "In the past, we have committed far too few resources to these projects which are vitally important to the environmental health of our fragile wetlands, creeks and estuaries," said Russell, who added that further drainage projects throughout the town "need desperate attention as property owners deal with the unsafe conditions of road runoff and flooding."
Resources are allocated to address upgrades and maintenance for traditional town facilities, which, in recent years, have been allowed to fall into disrepair. Boat ramps and parking facilities at town beaches are also slated for upgrade.
Russell added that resources and manpower commitments have been made for the town's highway department.
Commitments made previously to capital projects such as the new transfer station are financed. "Projects like the new transfer station have to be paid for," he said.
In addition, Russell has restored full financing to the debt service estimated for a new animal shelter. Russell reminded that the fund was partially depleted for the financing of an $80,000 traffic study.
The supervisor said that his budget reflects dramatic increases in fuel costs.
The 2007 budget also restores the policy of allocating only 50% of the estimated fund balance in the general fund. Last year's budget, said Russell, deviated from that policy by allocating over $200,000 more than what would have been allowed. Many expenditures that were either under-funded or simply not funded have resulted in a fund balance considerably lower than last year's. "Now is the time to adhere to the 50% policy as the fund balance falls dangerously low," he said.
The budget provides financing for support staff as the town works to comply with the Local Waterfront Revitalization Policy adopted in 2005.
The supervisor also funded a part-time grants coordinator at $25,000, with the remainder of the salary expected to be funded through successful grants.
And finally, the budget includes a salary increase for all elected officials of 3.75%, which mirrors the CSEA contract settlement. However, there is no salary increase in the Supervisor's salary, "which had been very well-adjusted in the past few years," said Russell.
The remainder of the budget, said Russell, is "based on the commitments of the previous board."
Russell reminded that there were appropriations made during the past year that were not accounted for in the previous budget go-round, including the traffic study and at least one town position. "Last year's budget was simply not realistic," said Russell, adding that "as you spend funds not appropriated in the budget, you start to run government on fund reserves."
The supervisor thanked Cushman as well as Deputy Town Comptroller Connie Solomon for their insight and dedication in creating a budget that he says is "thoughtfully considered and fiscally sound."