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Proposed Shelter Island town budget is $15.8 million

The Town Board has settled on a $15.8 million budget for 2024 representing a 6.2% increase in spending from the $11.12 million in the current year’s spending plan.

What the added spending is expected to cost the taxpayer with property valued at $1 million is an added $148, according to Town Assessor Judith Lechmanski.

The budget could still change following a Nov. 8 public hearing on the proposal since the Town Board has time to make adjustments prior to the Nov. 20 deadline the state has for adoption of municipal budgets.

Unlike budgets for the school district and library, there is no need for a public referendum to approve the town budget.

A week ago, the Town Board thought the budget would increase by 6.1%, but one change was announced at the Oct. 20 workshop. The Town Board opted to add $75,000 in expenses in order to lower the amount town employees have to pay toward their health insurance premiums. The original proposal was to ask employees to pay 20% of their health insurance premiums.

Recently, candidates for town employment have balked at the 20% cost in interviews, making it difficult to fill staff openings, Supervisor Gerry Siller said. The decision was made to ask employees to pay 2% of the cost of health care premiums for single coverage or 4% for family coverage. A discussion ensued about how much money to use from the town’s fund balance to offset the spending plan.

Adding money to the budget from the fund balance is attractive in the year it’s applied because it lowers the tax bite. But it has to be made up the following year in some way or this year’s tax hike delay becomes next year’s problem. The decision is to apply $320,000 in fund balance money to the 2024 budget.

If there’s not a sharp decline in spending the following year, a similar amount is needed to fill the gap. It has to be made up in some combination of spending cuts, increased taxes, revenue hikes or grants the following year.

There has been little public involvement with the budget process, but social media has revealed criticism of the amount spent on legal fees.

In addition to the salary of Town Attorney Stephen Kiely, the town has had to hire others to handle some responsibilities when Mr. Kiely has recused himself because of conflicts.

There was a lengthy period when he and Mr. Siller had to recuse themselves from any matters concerning the Ram’s Head Inn since they were being sued by Inn owner Aandrea Carter in connection with the Town Board ordering destruction of a dock Ms. Carter was using for Inn patrons.

Ms. Carter had been ordered to stop using the dock, which was partially on town property, and the Town Board had been patient awaiting removal of that dock and settlement of an application for a new dock to serve the Inn.

But when the Town Board ordered the dock to be blocked by removing planks to the land and fencing off the dock, the case ended in court. It was finally settled between the parties, but critics complained about the action the town took by hiring attorney Timothy Hill to represent the town in Ram’s Head Inn matters during the recusal period.

There has been an undercurrent of criticism of Mr. Kiely that surfaced as recently as Tuesday’s work session, when a resident told the attorney to stop talking as if he were a sixth member of the Town Board.

With Mr. Kiely’s run for a seat on the Southold Town Board, others have suggested if he’s elected, he  could possess a divided loyalty between his responsibilities to Shelter Island and his role as a Southold councilman.

The public hearing on the budget is set for 1 p.m. on Nov. 8.