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Supervisor speaks about budget achievements

Town Supervisor Gary Gerth greeted Isabelle Topliff at Town Hall on October 26 during her “job shadow” with the Reporter. The Shelter Island School program places students with businesses for a day to learn how people do their jobs. Ms. Topliff is a junior at the high school who is thinking about pursuing a career in writing.

“We did very well,” Supervisor Gary Gerth said about the work he and his colleagues on the Town Board accomplished funding the town in 2019 with a 5.3 percent increase in spending.

Assessing his administration’s first budget, he said he started with three major challenges:
• Take care of as much of the town’s major infrastructure needs as possible.
• Improve town workers’ salaries, which, he said, are low compared with other communities.

He’ll be listening to taxpayers’ thoughts at a public budget hearing next Wednesday, November 7, with the Town Board willing, he said, to tweak the $12.9 million proposal if necessary.

The town’s assets had to get attention or the Town Board would be chancing losing insurance coverage on buildings and marine structures that were in need of work. Primary among these is a new bulkhead at Volunteer Park and re-pointing of the brick work at Police Department headquarters.

With a relatively small 18-member town staff, Mr. Gerth said employees have been pressed to produce a great deal of work without the support other municipalities have.

The staff will be getting a 3 percent pay hike in 2019 and several individuals with greater responsibilities will receive an additional pay hike.

Budget decisions were difficult, especially since the town is sustaining a $160,000 hit in mortgage tax revenues, Mr. Gerth said. But giving employees a raise was the right thing to do, he said, even with the possibility that when he and the Town Board are looking at a 2020 budget plan next year, raises could be flat.

As for taxes, the anticipated additional $126 that will be added to the bills received by owners of median-assessed properties is reasonable, the supervisor said.

He expressed pleasure at being able to win over his colleagues on spending $22,100 to hire a part-time assistant for Senior Services Director Laurie Fanelli to free up her time to provide more home visits and provide other services to the already large and growing aging community on the Island.

If there’s one major disappointment in the 2019 proposed budget, Mr. Gerth pointed to his inability to fund a $45,000 job for a community information liaison officer who would be charged with:
• Disseminating information to the public.
• Compiling and analyzing data for the Town Board.
• Coordinating contacts with community groups and homeowners associations.
• Coordinating media contacts and writing press releases.
• Keeping the town website updated.
• Coordinating the flow of information among committees and departments and the Town Board.
• Speaking and writing in both English and Spanish to ensure the entire community is served.

Looking ahead, Mr. Gerth’s major goal in 2019 will be to concentrate on affordable housing on the Island.

“Housing is a big issue for everybody,” Mr. Gerth said, and spoke about small cottages that could be added to existing houses with a change in the town’s zoning code.

As he recently stated, Mr. Gerth plans to seek re-election in November 2019.

“I don’t want to be over-confident,” he said. But he believes voters will decide he has “earned a second term.”