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Town to adopt $9.9 million budget Nov. 14

JULIE LANE PHOTO Councilman Paul Shepherd (left) had some comments about how health insurance premiums are reflected in the 2015 budget. Supervisor Jim Dougherty listened, then left it to Councilman Ed Brown to explain the methodology auditors had suggested be used.

Councilman Paul Shepherd (left) had some comments Wednesday as Supervisor Jim Dougherty listened on how health insurance premiums are reflected in the 2015 budget .

With only a few public officials present Wednesday afternoon, the Shelter Island Town Board concluded its public hearing on the proposed $9.9 million budget for 2015.

It will require that $7.73 million be raised from property taxes. That’s 5.9 percent more than was raised through taxes to support the current year’s budget.“We don’t like to spend your money unnecessarily,” Supervisor Jim Dougherty said, looking into the camera that would carry his message to those watching the proceedings.

He noted that a 4.5 percent increase in health care insurance premiums alone would force the Town Board to pierce the state 2 percent tax cap. But he said negotiations in the past few years have resulted in agreements for new employees to pay 20 percent of their own health care premiums in an effort to keep taxes from rising dramatically.

In past years, the full cost of such benefits appeared on the budget line, while the pay backs from employees were shown on a revenue line, Councilman Ed Brown said. In line with advice from external auditors, the amount now shown in the budget has already had the employee pay backs deducted so the full cost of health care insurance isn’t reflected there.

Mr. Brown, arguably the most conservative member of the Town Board when it comes to spending money, said he thought he and his colleagues had “come to a good consensus” on taking less money from the fund balance to support the 2015 budget. Mr. Dougherty’s original proposal had called for using $370,000 from the fund balance, while the board agreed in the past week to scale that back to $315,000.

There were no comments from those attending the budget hearing, including Public Works Commissioner and Highway Superintendent Jay Card Jr., whose budget request had undergone the most dramatic cuts.

He had originally asked for money that would include annual contributions for three years to a capital expenditure fund that would amass $1.24 million.  But he and Town Engineer John Cronin failed in their attempts to get that allotment.

Nor did Mr. Card get anywhere near the request that his own $76,500 salary be brought in line with highway superintendents in other East End municipalities. Those salaries range from $90,000 to $103,500. Instead, Mr. Card will see a 2 percent hike in his pay.

The Town Board is expected to adopt the 2015 budget at its regularly scheduled meeting on Friday, November 14.

Auditors: Board members have briskly been responding to advice from external auditors at Albrecht, Viggiano, Zureck & Company who, although giving the town a clean bill of economic health,  had a few suggestions for ways to improve financial processes here.

“They feel we do a superb job,” Mr. Dougherty said, announcing there were “no smoking guns” in the AVZ report. At the same time, suggestions about how to do better are being implemented or, in some instances, rejected.

The auditors, for example, suggested having a second signer of checks, but at the same time, using rubber stamps for signing. The board is willing to have a second check signer, but in Mr. Dougherty’s words, using rubber stamps is “a little cavalier.”

And Town Clerk Dorothy Ogar rejected a comment that the town was not reconciling bank statements in a timely way. They’re done the very day Ms. Ogar receives bank statements, she said.

Community Preservation Funds: Peter Vielbig, chairman of the town’s Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board, outlined the way in which he and his colleagues categorize various properties they’re considering recommending that the town purchase.

“We can’t preserve every open space on Shelter Island,” Mr. Vielbig said.

But the effort is to identify those on which money can be spent most effectively based on the value each property contributes to the town’s effort to protect its heritage and its future.

Mr. Vielbig noted that other municipalities hire professionals to do what he and other volunteers do on Shelter Island.

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