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Determined Town Board aims for sharp budget reductions

After two days of reviewing budget requests from town department and committee chairs, and many more sessions to go, what started out as a 15.7% budget increase is now down to 15.2%. But that’s well above the 5% to 6% the Town Board thinks will fly with taxpayers.

The initial budget requests totalled $13.05 million this year, of which $10.75 million would have to come from taxes, if no cuts were made.

Cuts are coming with some difficulty. Take the $250,000 in the budget for projects Town Engineer John Cronin has outlined. The money wouldn’t cover the cost of any of the projects. It would only provide for studies to identify the best means of tackling each of them.

For example, it would take an estimated $150,000 to assess how to bring the town’s Justice Court and Police Department headquarters in line with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Neither building is handicapped accessible, and it’s far more than simply providing ramps for wheelchair-bound people. Handicapped accessible bathroom facilities are required by law, as well as other accommodations that could be needed by the blind or hearing impaired.

That project, alone, could cost $1 million.

Water, water
The nitrogen-reducing septic system being discussed to link Town Hall and its accessory buildings, Shelter Island School, the American Legion Hall/Recreation Center, the Library and Fire Departments would likely attract some grant money. But finding the funds for an estimated $80,000 study of ways to complete such a project is elusive at the moment.

Mr. Cronin said he thinks that $80,000 represents a “worst case scenario,” and speculated it might come in between $55,000 to $60,000. But that, too, is a big bite for a board looking to knock off close to $1 million in requested spending.

Then, there is a project to use treated waste water from the Heights sewer system to water the grounds at the Shelter Island Country Club. While Heights Property Owners Corporation General Manager Stella Lagudis is planning to contact County Legislator Bridget Fleming in the hope of getting some funds, the town and country club would be expected to come up with some of that money.

And still on the shelf is the Reel Point situation. The town is awaiting word from the United States Army Corps of Engineers and federal funding, with the town hoping it can offset some of its share of costs through labor and materials. The project, vital to protecting residences and businesses around Coecles Harbor, remains in limbo.

Administrator 1?
First to go from the requested budget was a $45,000 allocation Mr. Gerth sought to hire, what in his budget, he listed as “Administrator 1.”

After questioning from his colleagues, Mr. Gerth said “Administrator 1” was, in fact, a “media consultant,” to coordinate the flow of information. The supervisor added that he thought the hire would be useful.

Councilman Jim Colligan was quick to tell him he didn’t think “a large figure” like that could be considered in such a tight budget.

Another item that appears likely to be scrapped from the 2020 budget is a requested $45,000 for a new hybrid electrical vehicle for the Police Department. For the past several years, the department has replaced one vehicle a year, handing down the old vehicle to another town department. This year, the board indicated it was unlikely that the town would be able to make the electric vehicle  purchase in 2020.

People and deer
Raises for non-contractual employees are expected to be 2% this year. Last year, most received 3% hikes, with a few receiving bonuses for extra work.

If the Animal Control Budget goes through as presented, there will be a change in the responsibilities of Beau Payne, who has been a full-time animal control officer. He would work in that capacity for 32 weeks a year, while the other 20 would be devoted to functioning as a bay constable from two weeks before Memorial Day through two weeks after Labor Day, Police Chief Jim Read said.

Plans call for continuing a part-time animal control officer along with another part-timer to help maintain the 4-poster units. The Deer & Tick Committee is shifting its emphasis to spending less money on 4-poster units and more on culling the deer herd. The hope is that will reduce the need for corn used as bait in the units. When deer feed on the corn, their necks rub against permethrin, a tickicide.

High tech, high cost
Another budget reviewed Monday was for the Information Technology Committee. The anticipated cost for equipment was $25,000, but Town Assessor Craig Wood told the board it would cost $112,230 for weekly maintenance throughout the year, which includes staff training and troubleshooting as the town has increased its use of computer systems to increase efficiency.

The board will continue to review budget requests Thursday morning at 9 a.m. with the largest single budgets due for examination, as Highway Superintendent and Public Works Commissioner Brian Sherman presents his requests.