Scalera casts sole ‘no’ vote over opposition to tax levy hike

Southampton Adopts Budget

Councilwoman Christine Preston Scalera was the only board member to vote against Southampton Town’s $102.7 million budget for 2019 that marks the first time town spending has breached the $100 million mark. Scalera also opposed several other budget-related resolutions at the November 20 meeting.

While total spending will rise by about $3 million, the tax rate will decline slightly, from $1.39 per $1000 of assessed value to $1.38 per $1000. That means a person whose house is valued at $1 million would pay $1380 in town taxes.

The councilwoman said her major concern is with the tax levy going up $3 million, which she said is the highest year-over-year tax levy the town has seen in at least the last 10 years.

“It bothers me, because when you think about the fact that we’re one of the only municipalities that is at fair market value and we average fair market assessed value going up three to five percent every year, the fact that we’re going up still for a $3 million ask from our residents above and beyond what our revenues are providing is very concerning to me,” she said. “We’re getting to a point where we’re not able to sustain ourselves.”

Scalera abstained from a vote on amending the budget for a $76,436 increase in spending, which includes $50,000 in funding for the South Fork Commuter Connection service; $20,000 for a contract with Stony Brook Hospital for deer tick testing and analysis, $8100 for repair and inspection of a building used to train firefighters at Jackson Avenue in Hampton Bays; and a $1664 decrease in adult day care salary spending.

Hoping For Grant Money

She voted against a $9170 staffing budget decrease as well, saying it was misleading. The resolution abolished a town management services administrator in the general services center, but created a new Department of Human Resources with a director of human resources with an annual salary of $125,000. It also increased the salary of the attorney in the Department of Human Resources by $5000, and changing the title of “community development administrator” to “director of housing and community services” in the Department of Housing and Community Services with a salary increase of $8056.

“I think these departments shouldn’t be reorganized, because they’re doing well as they are, on top of the fact that it adds expenses,” she said. “And by the way, more than what the resolution said, because the department head started in April, so it’s showing a half-year salary.”

Scalera said she decided to abstain on the added budget expenditures because while she may have supported those efforts ordinarily, they were last-minute additions to the budget and she did not have time to adequately examine them.

“To put them on last minute, you don’t have a fair assessment,” she said. “There may have been other things I would have taken out to add these items if I felt strongly about them. I didn’t want to say ‘no,’ because I might have actually supported some of them.”

Scalera was also against a resolution amending errors in organizational charts in the budget and abstained from voting on updating the preliminary budget to remove the $1 million Hampton Bays Water District Dune Road capital project.

“Why are we doing this?” the councilwoman asked. “Why would we change it now? To make a resolution out of it sounds kind of weird.”

“It’s a planning issue,” Supervisor Jay Schneiderman responded. “It can wait —we could always add it back next year, particularly if there’s funding available. We’re hoping to get grant money, seeing what we’re doing with Suffolk County Water Authority and that may switch over to something that they would pay for.”

Schneiderman said with the addition of a beach re-nourishment project for the North Sea Beach Erosion District, also approved during the meeting, he didn’t want to
increase the budget.

Comptroller Len Marchese said the town thought it was in line to receive an $800,000 grant from the state for the Dune Road project, but wasn’t eligible for that funding. Schneiderman said he also thinks the project could be done for less if the town used PVC instead of iron piping. Marchese said his outlook was the town shouldn’t be adding debt.

Increase For Ambulance District

The board did unanimously approve an increase in the maximum amount to be spent annually in the town’s special districts. This includes a $202,347 increase for the Southampton Ambulance District.

“Of the four ambulance district barn structures that we have it is the smallest and oldest of the four,” Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni said. “They have very little other space aside from the bays where they keep the ambulances. They have the lowest number of members, and as a former volunteer, I do believe the structure and the space matters. This is an investment in the infrastructure in our community.”

He added that the new structure could be used in the event of a disaster to shelter residents, and could be used as a polling place for nearby election districts, allowing community members to vote closer to home.

Schneiderman said because the ambulance district also provides services to the Shinnecock Nation, he is currently in conversations with federal officials asking for additional money to compensate the district for the services it provides since the reservation is off the tax rolls.

“If it ever comes, that would be a relief on the tax burden,” he said.

In a press release, Schneiderman’s office said the adopted budget still boasts a one percent property tax rate reduction, a $23 million debt reduction, infrastructure and facilities improvements, and funding for “green” cost-saving projects. It also includes funding to support several capital projects including improvements to the Ponquogue Beach Pavilion, Hot Dog Beach, Good Ground Park, the Old Ponquogue Bridge, Shinnecock Maritime Park, Riverside Maritime/Pedestrian Trail, Tiana Life Saving Station, and the Lobster Inn Marina. It also includes funding to purchase the Hampton Bays Community Center and to replace the heating and ventilation system at Town Hall.

“Thank you, Town Comptroller Len Marchese, Deputy Supervisor Frank Zappone, and other department heads for putting this voluminous document together,” Schneiderman said. “It’s not an easy task. The town provides a lot of functions and it’s a fairly large operation.”

Schneiderman is slated to receive $119,490 next year, compared to the $117,147 he made this year, a two percent increase, and all four town board members will be paid to make $67,111 next year. Additionally, both Town Clerk Sundy Schermeyer and Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor will make $113,655.