The Trustees of the Town of Southampton will meet with members of the town board and state politicians to discuss the highly-debated tax line issue on February 14.
Since former treasurer Scott Horowitz has been a board member he has pushed the need for greater transparency. He thinks the tax line could do exactly that.
“I think it makes perfect sense,” Horowitz said. “Where’s the downside? The money is being spent by the taxpayers and it should be transparent. The trustees should also have a funding source that’s not a handshake deal.”
Assemblyman Fred Thiele had the legislation passed through the state Assembly once before, and Horowitz is confident he can do it again, but Thiele said the ball is really in town board’s court.
“Senator Ken LaValle and I have basically said all along that if the trustees and town board are unanimous in requesting this legislation, we would sponsor it,” Thiele said. “The bill is drafted and ready to go if everyone wants to move forward.”
Thiele, a representative from LaValle’s office, Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, a councilperson, Comptroller Len Marchese, and others will be present at the meeting. Councilman Rick Martel, the trustees’ new liaison, was also invited to attend.
Because the trustee board is not a municipality nor bound by town law, it was decided by town board members that an intermunicipal agreement would not be appropriate, and that a memorandum of understanding would be better.
Schneiderman and Councilman John Bouvier both said previously they’d like to see the trustees become even more of an independent body, although the supervisor has voiced some worry.
“It’s been a concern if you lacked adequate funding and we’re not able to raise taxes that you might turn to increasing fees to make up the difference — and that would make it harder for our residents to access public places — or sell off properties,” he said during a historic meeting between the two boards in April 2019. “For the most part our interests align, but there will be times when they don’t.”
With a potential agreement, the trustees would have the ability to hire staff but would also be held to the two-percent tax cap increase year over year, as the town is.
Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni has said he appreciates what the trustees do, but is also skeptical of giving them their own tax line. Trustee Bill Pell, who did not support the measure last year, along with trustee and newly-elected secretary Ann Welker, agreed in a split 3-2 decision a month prior to the meeting.
“We may find out it’s too expensive to do it,” Pell said previously.
Horowitz said there was a stipulation of settlement between the two boards back in 1993. It was signed and agreed upon the trustees would have their own tax line, but the next step to make it happen, didn’t.
“With Senator LaValle leaving the state Senate soon, I think this would be a great piece of legislation that would be the cherry on top of a nice sundae,” Horowitz said. “Why is more transparency and more stability and the ability to protect natural resources a bad thing? And at no additional cost because it’s the money that’s already being spent right now. I’m hoping everyone puts their money where their mouth is.”