Southampton Town Budget Splits the Vote

Approved for 2017 over Republican objections

In a 3-to-2 vote on Friday, the Southampton Town Board passed its 2017 budget, the first drafted by Democratic Supervisor Jay Schneiderman. The $94.7-million spending plan will result in a reduction of 1.6 percent in the property tax rate, the largest decrease in more than a decade, while the increase in total spending over last year is 3.9 percent. The budget was opposed by the two Republican board members who objected to the creation of new departments and administrative positions.

Leonard Marchese, the town comptroller, said in a statement that Southampton is the only town on Long Island reducing taxes this year. While there is a $3.6 million increase in spending over the current year, a $5 billion increase in assessed valuation allowed the tax rate to go down.

A capital budget of $9.3 million was also passed by the 3-to-2 vote. Although the town will borrow approximately $8 million, it is also reducing overall debt by $7 million in 2017.

The budget calls for the consolidation of code enforcement, animal control, the fire marshal’s office, and the office of emergency preparedness into a new Department of Public Safety. Also, an Office of Housing and Community Development will become a division of the Department of Land Management, and will work in partnership with the already existing Housing Authority. The supervisor said the authority does a good job with Section 8 housing but that more work-force housing was needed. The two entities working together, he said, follows the model in the Town of East Hampton, where Mr. Schneiderman was once supervisor.

New, yet-to-be hired directors would lead the new town management entities at a cost of about $150,000 each. Each will have a clerk typist, at a salary of nearly $40,000, as well.

Councilwoman Christine Scalera and Councilman Stan Glinka fought against these new positions, and introduced a resolution during the meeting to remove them from the budget. “As a fiscal conservative, I’m faced with the reality that while a tax cut is desirable it has to be one that is responsible and sustainable. In good conscience, I just don’t see this budget as accomplishing that,” Ms. Scalera said.

Mr. Glinka said that with 295 square miles and roughly 60,000 residents, it was inadequate to have only seven code enforcement officers. “I just feel it’s a waste of money and it’s not making good fiscal sense to have an administrator in place when we could use those monies to bring on another code enforcement officer for Hampton Bays, Riverside, Flanders, and Northampton,” he said. 

Mr. Schneiderman spoke of what he said was the lack of leadership in the Code Enforcement Department as it now stands. Mr. Glinka said the town attorney and the town board are in charge. “You think that’s a good system?” the supervisor asked. “Then why are there so many complaints?” With a director of public safety, who can utilize all the departments being consolidated into it, “code enforcement will be significantly strengthened,” he said. 

The supervisor’s budget also allows for the hiring of an additional public safety dispatcher and one police officer. The latter position caused some contention. Mr. Schneiderman’s budget gives the incoming police chief, Steven E. Skrynecki, who begins in January, the decision about whether and when to hire the new officer. The Republicans sought to have the officer hired in March. Their resolution failed 3-to-2. 

In a statement read before voting against the budget, Ms. Scalera said her fear was that Mr. Schneiderman’s budget is a departure from the many years of hard work the town did that ultimately led to its receiving Moody’s AAA bond rating. She said the supervisor’s deal with the Civil Service Employees Association earlier this year, which was subsequently challenged by the highway superintendent, had already put the rating at risk, with legal ramifications costing $200,000 so far. 

“I cannot support this longevity pay to elected officials and nonunion employees in the amount of $212,000,” she said. “I can’t support the Town of Southampton taxpayer bearing the cost of longevity to employees for time served in other municipalities.” 

Mr. Schneiderman called the budget “structurally balanced and responsible as well as responsive to community needs.” He said Moody’s, which recently increased the rating to match the S&P, had forecasted it was not likely to change over the next two years. 

Ms. Scalera countered that it was the “snowball effect of things that are concerning to me.”