Preliminary town budget shrinks from 15.7 to 5.3%

After several budget meetings, the Shelter Island Town Board has reduced its requests for spending from 15.7% to 5.3%. But following a public hearing on the budget on Tuesday, Oct. 22, there could be some changes.

Lowering the budget appears unlikely because of two potential additions that came up Tuesday afternoon.

After cutting contributions to tax-exempt organizations, including a plan to scale back the annual $15,000 payment to the Shelter Island Historical Society by $5,000 for each of the next three years, the board heard from representatives of the Shelter Island Early Childhood Learning Center, which got $10,000 from the current year’s budget. They showed up at the Tuesday work session to ask for a similar amount in 2020 (see separate story page 12).

In a continuation of budget meetings following the work session, Town Board members debated the merits of possibly allocating $5,000 next year, but that hasn’t been resolved and is not in the current preliminary budget.

A further discussion about putting $40,000 into the budget to purchase a hybrid vehicle for the Police Department ensued. Councilman Paul Shepherd said delaying the annual purchase of a vehicle would be shortsighted since it would be something that would have to be added for 2021.

Again, the decision isn’t firm, but Councilman Jim Colligan said he wants to await word from State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) about money for the 4-poster program used in the effort to decrease tick-borne diseases on the Island. Several years ago, Mr. LaValle came up with $100,000, but that figure has been decreased in the last few years to $25,000.

If the $25,000 that hasn’t been listed in expected revenues is forthcoming, it would take only $15,000 from taxpayers for the police vehicle.

The board agreed by a 3-1 vote with Councilwoman Amber Brach-Williams abstaining on the advice of Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr. and Mr. Shepherd voting no, to add $2,000 to Ms. Brach-Williams’ yearly pay for her extensive work, not only on the budget, but financial matters that come up on a regular basis.

Ms. Brach-Williams, before being told she shouldn’t vote, said she opposed the move.

Mr. Shepherd told his colleagues his stance was motivated by the fact that while he thought she clearly deserved the money for the work she puts in, the structure that puts a Town Board member in the position of functioning as a chief financial officer or finance director shouldn’t be the case.

But Supervisor Gary Gerth and Councilmen Colligan and Albert Dickson all strongly supported the extra payment. It does not affect the 5.3% budget increase.

As for cutting spending, even if there are a few places anyone can find to scale back spending, it would take a $93,000 slice to move the budget even 1 percentage point lower.

Town Board members left last Thursday’s sessions with advice from Mr. Colligan to take some time and review the revised budget draft with the aim of seeking other cuts. No one had more suggestions by Tuesday afternoon this week.

In addition, residents will have an opportunity at an Oct. 22 budget hearing to offer their thoughts about cuts already made and additional decreases they might like to see.

Following that Oct. 22 public hearing, Town Board members will take another swipe at the draft before they adopt it in November.

Right now, appropriations total $12.7 million with the need for $9.8 million to be funded by taxpayers in 2020. The current year’s budget was funded with $9.3 million from taxes paid in 2019.

One means of reducing new money needed from taxpayers in 2020 is the ability to transfer several capital projects to existing funds while delaying other projects, including new bulkheading at Dawn Lane.

Although last week’s meetings started with Mr. Shepherd saying he doubted the budget could be reduced below the 8.8% increase, while Mr. Dickson said, “I hate to rob from anything,” all participated in finding additional cuts.

They will take the gift of a bus funded by the Senior Foundation and learned the 17-year old bus is town-owned and Suffolk County, which will handle the sale, would likely be able to contribute $10,000 that can be used for expenses including paying drivers, gasoline and maintenance.

Still, next Tuesday, they plan to take a ride in the old bus and ask Highway Superintendent Brian Sherman to assess the viability of keeping it running.

Some dock repairs needed at Taylor’s Island will likely be funded by money from Superstorm Sandy payments because of destruction that occurred from that storm in 2012.

A $40,000 payment that was requested by Mr. Sherman will likely be stretched over four years at $10,000 a year. Had Mr. Sherman not become chief of his department, he would have continued as a union member and been entitled to the pay in two years for accrued sick time. But when he accepted the superintendent’s job last spring, replacing Jay Card Jr., who resigned, he essentially lost that payout, something the Town Board thought was unfair. They feel obligated to make Mr. Sherman whole with that payment that was accrued in the past.

It may surprise many voters to learn the combined jobs of Highway Superintendent and Public Works Commissioner actually pay less than what some workers in those areas earn under their union contract. The superintendent/commissioner job is not covered by the union contract.

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