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Budget meetings proceed to hammer out 2016 budget

JULIE LANE PHOTO Highway Superintendent and Public Works Commissioner Jay Card Jr. smiled through his lengthy budget presentation Tuesday afternoon. He’ll be called back by the Town Board to make his case for substantial spending increases before the 2016 spending plan is solidified.
JULIE LANE PHOTO | Highway Superintendent and Public Works Commissioner Jay Card Jr. smiled through his lengthy budget presentation Tuesday afternoon. He’ll be called back by the Town Board to make his case for substantial spending increases before the 2016 spending plan is solidified.

If you’ve been celebrating word from Supervisor Jim Dougherty that the town’s 2016 budget could come in at a 2.9 percent increase, don’t uncork the champagne yet.

That number was based on a budget proposal of $7.96 million in taxes, an increase of $221,116 needed in taxes to fund the current year’s spending.

Republican challenger for supervisor, Art Williams, in a letter to the editor this week, said even without additions to the supervisor’s budget proposal, there would be a 5.8 percent tax hike. Other Republicans who were tallying numbers came up with similar figures.

A review by the Reporter of Mr. Dougherty’s proposal shows lines where he didn’t make any recommendation on spending and other lines where he overestimated revenues.

Without additions made to the budget at the request of any of the four Republican members of the Town Board, there appears to be $200,000 in expenditures than the proposed budget reflects. Equally significant, on the revenue side, about $200,000 is overestimated in the supervisor’s budget.

That includes the sale of topsoil that Public Works Commissioner Jay Card Jr. projected at $50,000 in income, but was listed at $145,000 in Mr. Dougherty’s budget draft.

Given the differences, the supervisor was asked if he had considered submitting his proposal without a tax hike projection.

He didn’t answer the question directly, but said if the Town Board members accepted the budget outlined by Mr. Card Tuesday afternoon, that “elephant in the room would result in a tax increase well over 10 percent.”

“I am delighted with how meetings on my preliminary budget are going so far with 99 percent of the 4,000 budget line items accepted by my colleagues without change,” he said. “Every year, there’s the productive give and take when revisions are made after we chat with department heads,” the supervisor said.

Mr. Dougherty defended his own proposal for the highway and public works departments, pointing out that he didn’t include revenues of $600,000 expected from New York State that Mr. Card included in his budget. That money, promised by Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) and Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), is expected, but doesn’t represent a case where the town must first spend and then invoice and await reimbursement.

Mr. Card has also budgeted $705,000 for highway repairs, when the figure in the supervior’s budget is $30,000.

“I haven’t done the numbers but [it] looks like Jay’s budget calls for around a 20 percent increase in town taxes” if the Town Board were to take it at face value without cuts, Mr. Dougherty said.

Based on conversations by the Town Board Monday and Tuesday, it’s clear the Highway and Public Works and Police departments are going to get close scrutiny as budget talks continue.

Among the major issues will be town roads, many of which are well beyond their life expectancy, according to Mr. Card. He knows he won’t get the requested $705,000 in one fell swoop, but he’s hoping there will be some effort to work on several critical roadways.

Mr. Dougherty is proposing $50,000 while Mr. Card points out that aside from road work that can be done with grant money, $130,000 is needed to begin repaving. Whether more grants can be obtained or there’s a way to bond some of the work remains a possibility, but Mr. Card said he worries that ignoring the problem will result in more deterioration.

Another large expenditure would be replacing five vehicles in various stages of disrepair. Mr. Card outlined several scenarios, including selling one vehicle a year while it has reasonable resale value.

Another plan would stretch over 10 years, knocking down the resale value, and another option is to use the trucks until they have little value other than scrap.

Some funding could come from the department capital funds, but Mr. Card is not recommending depleting that fund completely.

Personnel is another issue for Mr. Card. Since Nick Ryan has been spending much of his time attending to 4-poster units — an average of 30 hours a week from March through November on 4-posters — Mr. Card is looking to replace him as a full-time department worker or looking to the Deer & Tick Committee to seek bids to replace Mr. Ryan on the 4-poster job. In the last few years, Mr. Card said, it’s been difficult to put Mr. Ryan on full time in other highway department roles.

Another consideration is the number of part-timers and the amount of overtime allowed for regular workers. All will come in for discussion as budget talks continue.

The Recycling Center would have to curtail hours if more help isn’t available, Mr. Card said. It was clear from the discussion Tuesday afternoon, that no one is in favor of that idea.

Mr. Card included a sheet comparing his and other Shelter Island officials’ salaries with those of similarly employed people in neighboring towns, as he has in the past, demonstrating, he believes, that they are underpaid.

But the Town Board will be looking at salaries overall for those who aren’t protected by union contracts and whether there’s room to grant more than a 2 percent across-the-board hike.

Mr. Dougherty had put in for a 1.5 percent hike for the supervisor’s position in January, but requested more for his staff, who are not unionized.

Proposing a budget for the Police Department 2.8 percent above current spending resulted from two factors, Police Chief Jim Read said Tuesday morning. The first is the purchase of a new, properly equipped vehicle for an estimated $40,000. That appeared to have no opposition.

But the second request to spend $31,000 to equip three patrol vehicles with in-car video cameras raised concerns around the table.

“I’m trying to get us at the beginning stages” of doing what police departments around the country are doing, Chief Read said. “I’m understanding of the budget and the budget conflicts.”

He estimated it would cost about $7,000 per vehicle and then additional funds for the server to download information. While he said he would be open to equipping one or two cars to start, he admitted he was concerned the department could be open to charges that it purposely sent a non-equipped vehicle to a site to avoid recording controversial situations.

Board members saw it differently.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Mr. Dougherty said. The Island may someday “realize that degree of complication” but not now, he added.

“I don’t feel there should be cameras in cars,” Councilman Ed Brown said. Councilman Peter Reich questioned whether there might be grant money if the need arose. The chief said he knew of no such grants.

While Councilman Paul Shepherd said the Island might be headed in the direction of cameras, and there would be public support for them, he was reluctant to jump ahead, as was Councilwoman Chris Lewis.
“I’ve made this push now for several years,” Chief Read said. How the Town Board will resolve the issue for 2016 remains to be seen.

With the planned retirement of Building Inspector Bill Banks next spring, determining the personnel costs for 2016 are difficult. If Chris Tehan were promoted, he would be entitled to a higher salary because of seniority over someone coming in from outside. But until the Town Board makes a decision next year on a replacement, funding that personnel line is up in the air.

Another major issue is how much the Town Board is willing to spend on water quality assessment. It’s been paying $13,500 for well readings that provide information on quantity. But a proposal of more than $40,000 has been put on the table by the United States Geological Survey for three years to test the quality of the Island’s water.

All parties seem to acknowledge the need, but just how much money the board will find to fund the effort is open to question.

Budget meetings, open to the public. are were scheduled to continue Thursday, October 8 and Friday, October 9 and then into next week.

There will be a public hearing, not yet scheduled, sometime in November before the Town Board adopts its final 2016 budget.