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Town Board members look to slash budget; councilman calls proposal ‘unacceptable’

After two days of budget reviews, Town Board members concluded last Tuesday that they would like to reduce the proposed 5.6% increase by about $200,000 in order to bring spending down to no more than a 3.6% hike.

The 5.6% increase that was in Supervisor Gerry Siller’s proposal “is totally unacceptable in my eyes,” Councilman Jim Colligan said.

The 3.6% increase would require work — but less than the approximate $1 million in cuts that was necessary to bring the current town budget into line during budget talks last year, he said.

A question that will be put to every department chief is if a to cut of 2% were to be necessary from budget requests, what would each suggest dropping in 2021 spending?

Two major budgets to be discussed in depth on Thursday are the Police and Highway departments with Chief Jim Read and Highway Superintendent Brian Sherman.

At the same time, Town Board members looked Monday morning for possible reductions in spending and increases in revenues they want to discuss with various department heads and committee representatives.

The Police Department gave up a $45,000 allocation for a new vehicle this year. Can the chief wait another year to reduce that spending item from the 2021 budget? Councilman Mike Bebon wondered.

But Mr. Colligan noted the hard use police vehicles get and the reality that they are eventually passed down to other departments once their usefulness by the police has expired make it difficult to keep deferring.

Might the police be able to lease a new vehicle for a three-year term instead of purchasing a new one in 2021? That’s one of the questions that will go to Chief Read on Thursday.

Can a $25,000 allocation for a flyover to estimate the deer population on the Island be delayed for a year? Councilman Albert Dickson asked. Given that the tick population on the Island remains a major concern, he said he hates to even question the spending, but thought Animal Control Officer Beau Payne and Deer & Tick Committee Chairman Dr. James Bevilacqua should discuss that possibility.

With the state Department of Environmental Conservation mandating an end to the use of 4-poster units, more money was allocated to culling the herd. Whether lack of flyover data for one year will hurt that effort is something the Town Board wants to hear from the two representatives.

How firm are numbers for medical coverage for town employees who already pay part of their premiums? More data is needed on the number of employees expected to be involved in 2021 and the anticipated rate hike in premiums.

While Mr. Siller said he was cautious about projecting increases in revenues, he agreed he’s open to exploring that part of the budget as well. Among areas for possible increases could be:

• Fees for ambulance services the town doesn’t currently charge.

• Increases in fees to contractors for some of the items they bring to the Recycling Center. At issue is whether current fees cover expenses in handling some items and whether an increase might be reasonable.

Recreation Department Director Bethany Ortmann met with the Board Monday to discuss possible changes to her budget requests. She said she could look to whether the same number of aides are required next year if the town still has COVID-19 restrictions. In addition, given the six months that the FIT Center has been closed because of the pandemic, those who paid membership fees will be credited with half of what they paid for this year when they pay their membership fees for 2021, Ms. Ortmann said. She also said it’s possible some people may choose not to seek memberships if COVID-19 is still a factor.

Friday and Saturday night youth programs aren’t currently planned, eliminating those revenues because of the difficulty of staffing those events in the COVID era. She will also look at scraping some office expenses and going paperless as much as possible, she said.

Mr. Siller wants to look at a $5,000 fee the town pays to the Shelter Island School District to see what that contract covers. He also wants to continue to offer physical therapy on-Island, but would like to see about creating a contract with those offering the services.

Budget talks continue on Thursday between 9:30 a.m. and noon. But Town Board members anticipate they could run much longer given the agenda they have set for themselves with major budget items to be discussed.