A tentative budget for 2013 released this week by East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson calls for a $3.3 million increase, with total spending of just over $69 million, up from this year’s $65.6 million budget.
The draft budget not only includes money for union employee pay increases dictated by contracts but, for the first time in several years, calls for a 2 percent pay increase for elected and appointed officials, as well as town department heads.
If adopted as proposed, the supervisor’s budget would result in a 4.6-percent tax rate increase for East Hampton Town residents not living in the incorporated villages, and a tax rate decrease of 1.7 percent for residents of East Hampton or Sag Harbor Villages.
The budget exceeds the state-imposed tax increase cap of 2 percent, but stays well within the state-calculated cap for East Hampton Town. Because town taxes saw a 1.7-percent decrease last year, the state allowed a credit toward this year’s cap, allowing East Hampton a total increase of up to 4.1 percent. The tax levy that would result from adopting the tentative budget would be 3.1 percent higher than last year’s.
Tax rates would be $27.86 per $100 of assessed value for properties in the town and $10.93 per hundred for properties in the villages.
Town board members received copies of the budget early this week. On Tuesday, Mr. Wilkinson suggested scheduling a board discussion of the budget at an Oct. 16 work session, followed by a Nov. 1 public hearing and adoption of the budget by Nov. 20.
Councilwoman Sylvia Overby suggested allowing time for two board discussions of the budget by including it on the agenda for a work session on Tuesday.
It also contains money to add staff to the Justice Court office, and to increase the hours of its employees. That would allow the court office, which has been closed to the public one day a week so that a reduced staff could complete its tasks, to be open every weekday.
The budget increases funding by 9 percent for the Harbors and Docks Department for water safety promotion, and includes a 180-percent increase for ocean rescue and marine public safety programs, according to the supervisor.
It also continues funding for community organizations such as the East Hampton Day Care Center, the Family Service League, and Phoenix House, for a substance abuse counseling program.
A contingency fund has been included in the budget, setting aside $559,000 for unanticipated expenses.
In a message released with the tentative budget, Mr. Wilkinson pointed out that over $1 million, or almost 33 percent, of the $3.3 million increase over this year’s budget is attributable to expenses for the town airport and scavenger waste treatment plant. Included in the budget is money to repay funds advanced from the refuse and recycling fund to cover costs for the plant this year, as well as money to operate it as a transfer station for the first three months of 2013.
Mr. Wilkinson did not include funds in this year’s budget, prepared and adopted last fall, to operate the waste plant beyond the first few months of the year. A board majority voted late last year to solicit proposals from private companies that would lease or buy the plant. Only one proposal was submitted, and a majority of the board, excluding the supervisor and Councilwoman Theresa Quigley, found it unacceptable.
That decision, and others involving the waste plant, has been a bone of contention on the board ever since. In his budget message, Mr. Wilkinson attributes the need to levy property taxes for the scavenger waste fund to the board’s rejection of the private company’s offer.
The tentative budget applies money from surplus funds to budget lines including the airport fund, eliminating the need to levy taxes for those lines; however, if surplus is exhausted, that may have to be done in the future for ongoing expenses.
The supervisor also noted that even with the proposed increase, a drop in spending and tax rates since taking office in 2012 — when the budget adopted by the previous administration was $71.1 million — still holds. He credited that to restraint in capital borrowing, zero-based budgeting, staff reductions through attrition and voluntary termination programs, and “reorganization and streamlining staff structure.”