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Town Board passes budget for 2020 — 5.9% increase over 2019

“That was easy,” Councilman Paul Shepherd said at a special meeting Tuesday of the Town Board after passing the town’s 2020 budget. It drew laughs from his colleagues and the audience.

The 40-minute meeting was preceded by nearly two months of weekly meetings to hammer out a budget of $9,843,354 to be raised by taxes, a 5.9 percent raise from this year’s budget.

The discussion Tuesday before the vote was taken was to add funds to the budget to buy a new hybrid vehicle for the Police Department — an annual expense since the department then hands down its oldest vehicle to some other department. If the $45,000 expense would be taken from the fund balance — the town’s “rainy day fund” — the board would just have to add it back in taxes for the 2021 budget, so it’s a question of pay now or pay later out of taxes.

If the vehicle’s expense was not added to the budget, the raise for 2020 would be 5.9 percent over this year, but if added to the budget, the raise would 6.4%, Councilwoman Amber Brach-Williams said.

Councilman Jim Colligan noted that there were “big hits “ in the budget, including engineering fees and salaries, among others. He was in favor of not including the vehicle in the budget, but to pay for it out of the fund balance, noting that “for many people struggling to live here,” a raise from the “high fives to the low sixes” would be an additional burden they would have to bear.

“We have the money [in the fund balance]” Ms. Brach-Williams said. “Let’s give it back to the taxpayers.”

There was discussion of overtime pay for Building Department personnel monitoring Planning Board meetings, and then providing planners with information, which it should be doing itself.

Building Permit Examiner Lori Beard Raymond said she often attends meetings of the Planning Board without compensation. “Am I guilty of doing extra work because there’s no one there to do it? Yes,” Ms. Beard Raymond said.

The Town Board members noted that this was a management issue to be solved by the planners, and overtime wasn’t necessary.

The vote was then taken to unanimously pass the proposed budget of an increase of 5.9%.

In other business: Animal Control Officer Beau Payne asked the board’s permission to write a letter to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation seeking a meeting to ask for an exception to new regulations on 4-posters.

The regulation due to take effect in January would require written permission from every landowner within 745 feet of a 4-poster unit — feeding stands that brush deer with a tickicide, permethrin — to agree to their deployment. In upstate areas, that is an achievable goal. But in a town such as the densely populated Shelter Island, it’s unlikely — except in Mashomack — there’s any site where the units have traditionally been placed that would get 100% endorsement.

Mr. Colligan said the state agency “is pulling out the rug on us,” taking way an essential tool to fight ticks and the diseases they carry.

Noting that “the DEC is a good partner with the town,” Officer Payne said that a request for a meeting would allow the town to make a case for continuing the program here.

The board agreed that a meeting of town officials and the DEC was in order.

The board discussed the proposed “dog barking law,” with Mr. Shepherd leading the discussion. As the proposed law is written, Mr. Shepherd said he couldn’t vote for it. Referring to losing a re-election bid earlier this month, the councilman said he didn’t want his legacy to be voting for a complicated and unnecessary addition to the Town Code over barking dogs.

“How did we get from a few words in the Town Code to this pile of papers,” he asked.

Questioning words such as “sporadically barking,” and their meanings, he said he wasn’t satisfied with Town Attorney Bob DeStefano’s explanation. Mr. DeStefano said the wording could be changed.

Mr. Shepherd asked Officer Payne for information on the frequency of complaints and was told he could get that information and other statistics.

A public hearing scheduled for Nov. 22 was canceled and the board will take six weeks to examine forthcoming information.