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Resident challenges board on spending

JULIE LANE PHOTO
Resident Bob Fredericks told the Town Board last week it’s ‘ludicrous’ to budget without a firm handle of the town’s fund balance.

Islanders had an opportunity Wednesday to weigh in on the proposed $12.9 million budget the Town Board has crafted for 2019.

But one resident — Bob Fredericks from Hay Beach — wasn’t waiting until the official public hearing to let the board know he thinks more money could have been taken from the town’s fund balance to avoid having to raise taxes at all.

Mr. Fredericks noted at the October 30 Town Board work session that he had filed a Freedom of Information request from the town to determine the amount in the fund balance, but had not received the information in a timely way.

Supervisor Gary Gerth said he and Town Clerk Dorothy Ogar had told Mr. Fredericks that the figures hadn’t been certified yet. But Deputy Supervisor Amber Brach-Williams noted that the uncertified number of $1.2 million plus money applied from the sale of the cell tower had been made public within the last week.

She made another copy available to Mr. Fredericks, a former school superintendent who wanted to know how the board had budgeted without having a solid knowledge of its fund balance.

It’s “ludicrous” to budget without knowing that number, he said.

Councilman Jim Colligan told him the board wasn’t operating “in the dark,” since it had a working number — simply not a number that had been cleared with the town’s auditors and outside accountants.

The Town Board has already taken $297,000 from its fund balance to reduce the budget increase. Ms. Brach-Williams said it would take $88,000 to reduce the budget by 1 percent. Mr. Fredericks challenged the board to consider flattening the spending increase by applying more money from the fund balance.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has suggested that municipalities carry fund balances of between 10 and 12 percent above its budget to meet with unplanned expenditures that could arise.

Mr. Fredericks questioned having to pay for a copy of the budget, saying it should be made available to town residents without charge.

Ms. Ogar noted it is on the town’s website and offered to take back the copy and refund Mr. Frederick’s money. But he said he likes having a printed copy.

The increase on the tax bill for the hypothetical median home on Shelter Island in 2019 would likely be an additional $126, according to Ms. Brach-Williams.

The average taxpayer whose property was assessed this year at $850,000 will likely see an increase to $875,000 in 2019, according to assessors. Assessments are based on a calculation using the last three years of comparable sales that determine the slice of the budget for which each taxpayer would be responsible.

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