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October 06, 2010

Southampton Budget Rises By 2.4 Percent


Southampton Town property owners will shoulder a 2.4 percent tax increase in 2011, according to a tentative budget introduced by Supervisor Anna Throne Holst Friday.

On Friday, Throne-Holst held a special town board meeting to unveil her first budget, one that she said will mean only a $19 annual increase for homes assessed at $600,000.

The budget for 2011 is tentatively $82 million, compared to 2010's $79.8 million.

The budget calls for a zero percent operating cost increase. Throne-Holst outlined the tenets of the massive document, explaining that she and Comptroller Tamara Wright, as well as other town employees, worked long and late hours to craft a budget that would protect jobs but keep the tax rate increase low. "This budget was a labor of love," she said.

Despite the fact decreased mortgage tax revenue – a projected low of $5 million this year, down from a once-high of $12 million – called for streamlining and consolidation, Throne-Holst stressed no town employees were laid off.

But even with trimming, Southampton Town still faces a $4 million increase in fixed personnel, health care and debt service costs.

The budget reflects reductions in the size of government – while addressing the town's remaining $5 million deficit.

"My goal in crafting this budget was to achieve a sound, sensitive and intelligent product and baseline from which the Town of Southampton could soundly operate, while providing the necessary services to our constituents, remain sensitive to the plight of our working families and taxpayers, and by intelligently reorganizing and maximizing for minimum impact on our tax rate, while not putting anyone out of work," she said.

Throne-Holst said the Town of East Hampton presented a budget with over 30 layoffs, and Brookhaven has announced over 60 personnel cuts. This is not true. East Hampton offered early retirement incentives and dozens of workers accepted; other positions that became vacant during the last year were not filled. Southampton took a similar tact.

Throne-Holst took advantage of the state's early retirement as well -- approximately 80 positions will be trimmed from the budget through attrition in the next two years. The 2009 adopted budget funded 579 positions; the supervisor's tentative budget allows for 499.

Vacancies, said Throne-Holst, will be filled from within, with part-time personnel utilized to their maximum ability and in some cases, outsourcing to outside venders at less cost to the town.

Key components of the supervisor's cost saving plan includes eradicating duplicative efforts, enhancing interdepartmental coordination and communication, and fully utilizing all facets of the town's available technology.

Substantive reorganization will take place in the business management, land management and building and zoning, public safety and code enforcement, and parks, recreation and facilities management departments.

Building and zoning, for example, will be established as a new department and join forces with code enforcement, the fire marshal and animal control. Parks and facilities maintenance will partner with a reorganized recreation programming department "so that they can better support each other and the needs of the community," said Throne-Holst, adding senior and youth services are invaluable to town residents.

Discussing the capital budget, the supervisor said the focus is on necessary infrastructure improvements – over 60 percent of the budget is geared directly toward the highway department. Also new in 2011 will be a fleet management component, so that all aspects of fleet purchase and maintenance will be organized under one helm.

The new budget proposes a two percent cost of living salary adjustment for non-union administrative employees who make less than $80,000, to address salary disparities – the cost to the town is no more than $80,000.

Another new proposal on the table is that future salary increases for administrative and managerial staff be tied to performance assessment and review. "In other words, salary increase will be tied to a job well done," she said.

Town board members and the supervisor will see no salary increases in the new budget.

Town board members Chris Nuzzi, Nancy Graboski and Jim Malone – who have teamed up in voting down many of the supervisor's proposed measures in recent months – issued a joint statement after the budget address: "It bears noting that the supervisor promised to overhaul the process this year, to be inclusive of council members, finish the budget, and make it available sooner. Despite asking for it multiple times, to receive a copy 15 minutes before it's presented doesn't give enough time to detail the specifics. We are looking at the budget very closely but due to the perceived deliberate delay in releasing it and the size and scope of the content it would be difficult to comment further at this time."

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