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2020 town budget shrinks with more cuts to come

What started a few weeks ago as a 15.7% budget increase is down to 8.8%, with further cuts on the horizon, according to Town Board members.

The board spent practically all day Sept. 26 addressing ways to cut spending. Some expenditures were delayed for another year; some funds will come from money left in the cell tower sale money. The cell tower at the Recycling Center was sold in the fall of 2018 for $2.2 million and the money had been slated for specific capital projects and to pay off the balance of a bond that had been taken to build the Highway Public Works headquarters.

The board found other cuts from money allocated to certain committees and through a line-by-line scrutiny of the budget to make more of what board members called “painful cuts.”

The reality was simple: Members couldn’t see a way to present a double-digit budget increase to residents, so they had to sharpen their knives and cut.

“The tax issue could change the look of this board like that,” Councilman Jim Colligan said with a snap of his fingers. He is one of two incumbent councilmen running for re-election; Paul Shepherd is the other.

Until a week ago, Mr. Shepherd was fighting for decisions on proposed cuts, while most of the board was identifying possibilities, not ready to pull the trigger on many of them.

But his colleagues followed his lead and made decisions to cut proposals for increased spending almost in half.

Now, tomorrow, whenever
Plans for a new bulkhead at Dawn Lane would be put off a year while the bulkhead at Grace’s Lane would be on target for 2020. Stairways to various bulkheads would be eliminated since past experience has shown that stairways become eroded easily in major storms. To continue to rebuild them every few years is now considered wasted money, the board decided.

Attempts to make Justice Court and Police Department headquarters compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) would have to be done in stages over a few years. Supervisor Gary Gerth said he spoke with a director of physically challenged services who told him it was acceptable to put a plan in place and take steps year by year to comply. In 2020, town officials will look to install ramps to enable handicapped individuals to access the Justice Court building. But more permanent access will be needed at both Justice Court and the police stations, as will handicapped accessibility to bathrooms. The existing town plan will have to be updated, the supervisor said.

What was a $250,000 request from Town Engineer John Cronin will likely be knocked down, taking out $150,000 that had been slated for ADA compliance work and leaving in $20,0000 for baseline engineering work. That would be coupled with $30,000 that could be forthcoming in grant money to cover a total of $50,000 toward an engineering study of the Center septic proposal. Even if the cost of the engineering study could be lowered, it would still leave $30,000 to be split among other entities involved in that project — the Shelter Island Library and Shelter Island Fire Department.

Before those cuts are set in stone, Mr. Gerth said he wanted to discuss the proposal further with Mr. Cronin.

The need for a new deck at the Shelter Island Country Club, owned by the town, is critical, board members said, making it a priority above window installation at the Legion Hall/Recreation Center.

New windows could still happen, depending on cost, and while the Town Board originally planned to cut air conditioning installation, that’s a subject to be readdressed in this week’s budget meetings after Mr. Cronin said it would be unwise not to go forward with the original plan.

Paying people
While plans call for an across-the-board salary increase of 2% for town employees, there are pending requests for additional hours that would result in higher salaries. Most requests are reasonable, members agreed, but whether they are affordable is an issue that has been left undecided.

Two raises that are expected to be green-lighted come from the assessors’ budget, where Craig Wood made the case for his two part-time assessors, Pat Castoldi and Judith Lechmanski, to each receive $35,000, a 2% hike. To keep spending down, Mr. Wood eliminated money for part-time help and training.

Another expenditure that looks headed for approval is restoring $40,000 to Highway Superintendent Brian Sherman, who lost that amount in vacation and overtime pay he had earned in his previous before stepping into the top job when Jay Card Jr. resigned.

Whether the Police Department will get $45,000 requested for a new hybrid vehicle is still in limbo. The department generally replaces one vehicle a year, passing down the old car to other departments.

“It’s a painful cut,” Councilman Jim Colligan said.

The board is scheduled to resume discussions on ways to cut the budget on Thursday, Oct. 3, or by the following day if more time is needed, with the hope of wrapping up a proposal,

Then a public hearing will be set for Nov. 6, the day after Election Day, giving members a final chance to fine-tune the proposal before adopting it the following week.