Column: Keeping the ship on course

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Town Councilman Ed Brown is stepping down at the end of the year.
REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Town Councilman Ed Brown is stepping down at the end of the year.

During this past political season there were public comments and rumors regarding the town’s infrastructure and finances, some by people who have only been here a few years.

That being said, I’d like to go back to when I took office 15 years ago, and even further, to the previous administration.

Thanks to Jerry Siller, who as supervisor in 1999 fought to acquire the property, we have the new Town Hall building. Before that, Town Hall was in the police building. The Building Department was in the basement of Justice Hall.

In 2014, we made our last payment for Town Hall.

In 2003, we had the Recycling Center cell tower installed, bringing us more than $140,000 annually. The old highway barn on Route 114 was a serious hazard and liability. We went to bond for the new building at the Recycling Center that will be paid off in six years, relieving the town of its annual $125,000 debt obligation. We also acquired the Gruber property to be incorporated into the Recycling Center.

Another hazard was the building where Bridge Street Park is now. It was condemned, acquired and demolished in 2005 and the debt paid this year. With help from our friends at the Legion Hall, we now have a good location for our Youth Center and have built that property’s expenses into the town budget.

The causeways leading to Ram Island and a breach at Shell Beach were repaired and vastly improved using a substantial grant and town money.

We also purchased equipment at the Recycling Center to make us more efficient. This summer’s Cornell study concluded our roads are in good condition overall, but work needs to be done. In this year’s budget, we have $130,000 with about $400,000 more coming in grants for our roads. We reduced our 2016 use of the fund balance down by $150,000 from the previous year.

All of this was accomplished while dealing with numerous unfunded mandates, 2-percent tax cap pressures and a severe recession.

Things are not perfect, but sometimes we have to run from one side of the ship to the other to deal with priority issues. You have to be able to adjust because finances can get off course quickly.

We have avoided knee-jerk reactions to acquisition and expenditure requests and pursued grant money to keep our taxes low.

The town has taken on an engineer and grant writer to assist us with Island-wide projects. We have a comfortable fund balance and are using less of it in better times. We also have very low debt service. We have financial advisors who have told us that we are fiscally sound, doing well and able to adjust when needed. We have a very good Moody’s rating of Aa2.

Listening to our auditor, financial advisers and Moody’s, I feel very comfortable with the town’s financial position. With this, the town is in a good position for the ongoing monitoring and care of our overall infrastructure.

Ed Brown is leaving office December 31 after serving on the Town Board for 15 years.