There was a gorilla in the Town Hall meeting room Monday.
Not a real, live primate, but Supervisor Jim Dougherty’s analysis of a Highway Department budget request that seeks a more than 23 percent hike in spending, but Mr. Dougherty has scaled back to less than 2 percent in his budget proposal for 2015.
Coming to terms with that is an issue hanging over all budget negotiations this fall by the Town Board.
Mr. Dougherty’s draft budget proposes about a 3.8 percent increase in spending from last year.
But that “gorilla” wasn’t dealt with Monday, as Police Chief Jim Read took the hot seat for the initial Town Board budget session, making his case for funds for his department. It turned out to be a generally easy review of a request that had undergone only minor slicing of Mr. Dougherty’s scalpel to bring the budget in line with his goal of $1.73 million Police Department budget.
The chief warned that his request for $4,000 for new tasers shouldn’t have been cut to $2,000 because the department’s units are no longer under warranty and he will be forced to replace them with tasers that use different cartridges and holsters.
“I have a method to my madness,” he joked about the need for the money.
He accepted the elimination of a $30,000 item to equip police vehicles with video systems, something Mr. Dougherty said he though was “a good concept,” but couldn’t see funding at a time when money is tight.
What did concern the chief was the lack of a capital reserve fund “for those unexpected things we don’t plan on.”
At the same time, he admitted that in his 15 years as chief, he hasn’t been faced with such a crisis, and generally stays within his line-by-line budget, only occasionally having to transfer money from one line to another.
Setting up a reserve is a “real temptation to spend more,” Mr. Dougherty said. “We get on this gravy train and it never stops.”
Other board members agreed that their policy of buying with the money on hand and avoiding contingency funds has worked for them for many years.
A bit of good news came from County Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I—Montauk) who said the town could expect $17,100 more than had been earmarked to support municipalities that maintain their own police departments. That would raise Shelter Island’s take from $112,661 to $129,761.
What emerged Monday was that a major debate is ahead on how much of the fund balance to allocate for the final budget.
“Using too much fund balance, that will be a battle for another day,” Councilman Ed Brown said about the $370,000 Mr. Dougherty is proposing to use.
“Ever since the book [Mr. Dougherty’s draft budget proposal] came on the table, you’ve just wanted to shut me down,” Mr. Brown told the supervisor.
The other major subject the board agreed to discuss is the amount of raises for non-union personnel.
Most recommendations are for a 1.5 percent raise, but there is a possibility of more for some workers, particularly those at the low end who have long been under-compensated, Mr. Dougherty said.
Because Chief Read needed only 40 minutes of a projected two-hour period to defend his budget request, the Town Board had time to review and quickly pass several other requests, including that for Town Clerk Dorothy Ogar, Tax Assessors Al Hammond, Building Permits Coordinator Mary Wilson, Recreation Department chief Garth Griffin and the Town Board’s and supervisor’s office budgets.
All were dispatched with little comment, although Mr. Dougherty took some ribbing from his colleagues who noted that while the supervisor allocated 1.49 percent raises for members of the Town Board, his own raise was 1.5 percent.
Mr. Dougherty also recommended raises for his office staff that exceeded the average 1.5 percent raises of other non-union personnel. He said they were among the lowest paid in town and deserved more because they assume a lot of administrative responsibilities that aren’t secretarial in nature. Those raises ranged from 2 to 2.7 percent.
On Wednesday afternoon, after the Reporter’s press time, Public Works Commissioner and Highway Superintendent Jay Card is scheduled make a case why his request for the 23 percent increase — that gorilla in the room — should be granted.
The Reporter will continue to post updates on the budget.