From the supervisor
To the Editor:
Last Thursday was an exciting day for me. I turned in my preliminary 2018 budget and, while the Town Board will be meeting with department heads through October and inevitably adjusting the numbers, my preliminary 2018 budget is tight and calls for little in the way of tax increases.
The same afternoon, I received from our auditors a draft of the 2016 audit confirming that we beat the 2016 budget by $700,000. Wow! The financial ship is strong but, as always, eternal vigilance is key.
And speaking of budget discussions, our erstwhile town engineer points out in the September 22 Reporter (“Town engineer leaves ‘most satisfying job’”), that there is a leadership vacuum that must be filled during budget discussions by very expensive 10-, 15- and 20-year strategic plans. This is little more than a pitch for taxing now to give department heads the ability to spend as they wish later.
I am proud that in the past I’ve rejected these suggestions. As you know, under New York State procedures, as well as generally accepted accounting principles, the town must maintain unassigned fund balances (our “rainy day funds”) which, as of December 31, 2016, had an aggregate of $1,346,656 in them, an adequate sum by any reasonable calculation to meet any current unanticipated costs as well as future needs.
These are rainy day funds that can be used for any purpose, which we have dipped into in recessions to lessen your tax burden, and replenished in good times (e.g. the town increased the unassigned fund balances by a whopping $452,681 in 2016!) And total fund balances, including such restricted items as the waterways fund, are at a record $2,826,575 as of December 31, 2016.
So, don’t worry, the leadership vacuum is taking care of you while keeping your taxes at record lows.
These reserve funds in 10-, 15-, and 20-year strategic plans the former town engineer has argued for are unfair “honey pots.” He made a presentation to the board a few years ago citing favorably a consultant report recommending establishing an approximately $8.5 million reserve for road maintenance alone. Even if phased in over several years, this proposal, if adopted would have increased your property taxes at least 20 to 30 percent annually.
You are taxed in the current year, but receive not a penny of benefit, and it’s available as a pet fund for department heads to dip into in the future, with scant oversight, to purchase their favorite new equipment, launch enjoyable, expensive projects, etc., with little review at that point because those future actions have no immediate tax impact, so the then elected Town Boards should but don’t much care. (For a vivid living example take a look at the Town of Hempstead long-time financial practices; oops, sorry.)
Sunday’s Newsday reported Nassau/Suffolk Supervisor’s annual compensation, and I was once again quite properly by far the lowest paid at $86,750 (and with the lowest Long Island taxes). In comparison, Town of Hempstead supervisor’s compensation is about double, $160,000, (and the tax rates are about double too).
Supervisor, Town of Shelter Island
To the Editor:
I appreciate the recent coverage and kind words from the Reporter, my colleagues and other Shelter Island citizens.
Please realize that whatever modest success I enjoyed in my role as town engineer also deserves attribution to town elected officials, employees and volunteers serving town government. The supervisor has often referred to the “town team,” and regardless of outcomes or skills, folks involved with municipal government do so for the benefit of us all. That defines “dedication.”
Equally important, I would ask you to recognize that the work of state licensed professional engineers (PE, a license needed as a town engineer) is carefully prescribed in both state law and guidelines. In my years as a practicing PE, I have tried hard to honor those obligations and don’t view my efforts as anything more than following the demands of my profession.