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April 26, 2013
Town’s initial 27-percent tax hike whittled down
For the Town Board, it’s all about the budget these days.
Saying he wasn’t sure the “working numbers” were correct, Supervisor Jim Dougherty told members of the Shelter Island Association at their annual meeting on Sunday afternoon that the board was grappling with a 2013 budget plan that — at that point in a painstaking line-by-line review process — would require a 23-percent increase in the property tax rate, far in excess of the 2-percent annual cap imposed by the state.
The board by then had made cuts that had brought the tax-hike number down from 27 percent, the supervisor told the audience gathered at Union Chapel for the Association’s annual meeting.
He added that the board was using a new program to work on the budget and he thought the numbers might be “junk” but “that’s what the computer spat out.”
Two days later, by mid-Tuesday afternoon — after another Town Board budget review session — the supervisor announced that the tax-hike number had dropped down to 8.5 percent following further cuts.
That figure, he noted, included using a $500,000 allocation from the town’s “fund balance” reserve to help balance the budget — a 47-percent increase in the fund balance allocation of $340,000 that was applied to balance the numbers a year ago when this year’s budget was drafted.
The board was scheduled to meet again today to continue its line-by-line review; and on Friday, Highway Superintendent Jay Card Jr. was slated to sit with the board to look for further cuts in his spending plan.
The board is required to hold a public hearing on a preliminary plan by the Thursday after Election Day and adopt a final budget no later than November 20.
Among the cuts made so far, the board has slashed more than $276,000 for a new public bathroom at Louis Beach, a project for which Mr. Card had hoped to find grant money but faced permit problems; and $30,000 for a new generator at Town Police headquarters to replace one that cannot carry the facility’s full load.
Supervisor Dougherty has said he fully expects the board to come up with a budget that meets the state mandated 2-percent annual tax-hike cap, despite higher contractual expenses for salaries, the addition this year of a voter-approved Length of Service Award Program for ambulance volunteers and a second full year with the former Red Cross-owned ambulance squad operating as a town department.
Last Friday, when the Town Board voted 5-0 to set a hearing for November 9 at 5 p.m. on a proposed local law to allow it to break the 2-percent tax-hike cap, the supervisor said he was confident the final budget would come in with a tax hike under the state cap. He said the proposed law was only a procedural step the board had to take just in case it winds up with no choice but to impose a higher tax hike.
“I felt comfortable we were not conceding the event but exercising due caution,” he said at the SIA meeting on Sunday of his decision to join with the rest of the board voting in favor of setting the hearing.
A preliminary budget proposal must be presented at a public hearing soon after Election Day and a final budget must be adopted by the board no later than November 20, under state law.
The supervisor was required by state law to deliver a tentative budget to the town clerk by September and did so. Although a first glance at its numbers appeared to call for spending of $10,438,504, up only a half a percent from 2012, Town Board members later questioned that figure, as it was reported in this newspaper. One said he didn’t understand where that figure had come from.