Budget Is Under Cap

Mayor touts fiscal fitness of $19.6 million plan

    A new budget, a new village administrator, a new lighted crosswalk, and a new source of fuel at the Emergency Services Building were topics of discussion at an East Hampton Village Board work session last Thursday.
    Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. announced the tentative 2013-14 operating budget, which, at $19.6 million, would represent a spending increase of 3.2 percent, or $617,322.
    Reading from a prepared statement, the mayor said there will be an increase in the tax rate of 2.2 percent and that the spending increase will be partially offset by a non-tax revenue increase of 6 percent, or $458,407. “The resulting increase in the amount to be raised by taxes is $258,913, which is $12,141 less than the state-mandated 2-percent tax cap formula,” which, he said, was the important point.
    After soliciting but receiving no comment from the public, the board had just authorized a property tax levy in excess of the 2-percent cap. “Had we had to override that 2-percent tax cap, we had the ability in place . . . we don’t have to,” Mayor Rickenbach said. “The board is happy to announce to the public that we’re staying below the 2-percent tax cap formula.”
    The spending increase here, as in many other communities, is mostly attributable to an increase to the state retirement contribution ($198,112) and a $339,781 increase in debt service, the mayor said. “The annual debt service payment will remain low, at a level of just under 6 percent of our total budget. That’s way below our maximum ceiling,” he said. “Budget spending is basically flat.”
    Capital projects transfers provide funds for $200,000 of roadwork, $80,000 to install a lighted crosswalk on Newtown Lane, and $65,000 to replace the beach tractor. “We believe that the lighted crosswalks on Main Street have worked,” the mayor said.
    The increase in non-tax revenue is attributable to services to other governments for emergency communications ($146,277), fines returned from Town Justice Court ($105,000), beach parking and building permits ($99,500), and rentals ($58,000). The mortgage tax, the mayor said, would raise $40,000.
    The added funds for emergency communications reflects the increased cost of a new three-year contract between the village and fire and ambulance responders in Montauk, Amagansett, Springs, and Sag Harbor, Larry Cantwell, the village administrator, told The Star on Tuesday. The increase in fines, he said, is due to better collection for minor infractions. “A year ago, the town and village agreed to a new contract with a new firm that does the collections,” Mr. Cantwell said. “Their collection rate has gone up.” A 3-percent rent increase was levied at the Sea Spray Cottages and the concession at Main Beach Pavilion, the Chowder Bowl.
    “It’s important to note that over the last six years, the tax rate in the Village of East Hampton has gone up by an average of 2.1 percent,” said the mayor. “The finances of many governments at all levels have deteriorated. We, the village, have managed to maintain an accumulated fund balance or surplus. We believe we have struck a balance between funding necessary services, maintaining our infrastructure and buildings, cutting expenses where they are prudent, and modestly increasing revenues where appropriate.”
    There have been targeted salary increases for some village employees, he said, but “on balance, we’re trying to maintain that legitimate cost frame for the residents that have to pay the taxes.”
    Mayor Rickenbach also asked that the board recognize Mr. Cantwell and the various department heads “for working closely in achieving the goal that we’re announcing today. It was a lot of hard work by a lot of people to come up with a valid product.”
    A hearing on the tentative budget will be held on June 6.
    The mayor also cited savings resulting from the Emergency Services Building’s transition from oil to natural gas — $8,000 over the first three months of 2013 relative to the same period last year. “I think that’s phenomenal,” said the mayor.
    Rebecca Molinaro, the new village administrator, had assumed her new role the day before. Mr. Cantwell, said the mayor, “has set a very high bar for Becky to follow, but given Becky’s professional and municipal background, I think your board agrees that it’s going to be as seamless a transition as it possibly can be.” Addressing Ms. Molinaro, he wished her luck and promised that the board would “put [her] feet to the fire.”
    “Your honor,” Mr. Cantwell said, “there’s optimism about Becky. We worked together yesterday for the first time. And she came back today,” he said, to much laughter.