East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc released the proposed Town budget for 2019 on September 27. The budget contains nominal discretionary spending and nominal tax increases. The amount, $80,660,796, in overall spending is an increase of 3.73 percent, or $2,903,269 compared to the 2018 adopted budget. Of that increase, nearly 73 percent is mandated by contractual agreements already in place, particularly with town employees. About one third of that contractual spending increase is the town’s contribution for its employees’ health care.
The actual dollar amount of the discretionary increase is $774,596. Most of that increase is slated for the purchase of aviation fuel for the East Hampton Airport. This spending will be more than offset by the revenue from sales of that fuel at the airport. The airport is a money-making operation for the town, according to the budget.
Real estate taxes for both East Hampton Town and Village property owners are scheduled for modest increases. For town residents, that increase would be about 74 cents per $100 of assessed value, while village residents will see an increase of about 41 cents per $100. In other words, a homeowner in the village with a property that has an assessed value of $10,000, which translates to a market value of $1,725,000, will see his or her taxes rise in 2019 by $40.90 under the supervisor’s proposed budget, while town home owners will see an increase of $74.60 on a property with the same value. A $5000 assessment, meaning a market value of $862,500, will see a tax increase in the village of $20.45, and in the town of $37.30.
Besides salary and health care for its workers, another component of the mandatory increases in spending, about $861,044, is driven by debt service payments on projects like the upgrading, town-wide, of the emergency communications system ($8.3 million), the installation of the Wainscott water mains, excluding hookups ($9.44 million), recreation center improvements ($682,000), and the installation of new safety perimeter fencing at the airport ($1 million). The ongoing project to digitalize all town records is slated to cost $1.425 million, as well.
According to the supervisor, the town was able to retire, in 2018, the first deficit bond it issued in 2010, as part of the effort to recover from a period of overspending and fiscal mismanagement during the period of 2005 to 2010. Former East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill McGintee was forced to resign in 2009. The town now has a AAA credit rating from Moody’s.
“After reducing indebtedness substantially through 2016, the town has stabilized its overall level of indebtedness despite engaging in the major projects,” the supervisor said in a statement released with the budget. “The town has controlled indebtedness by following a policy of creating less new planned debt per year than is retired in scheduled principal payments,” hence the high credit rating from Moody’s.
At the same time, Supervisor Van Scoyoc points out, the town has maintained a surplus fund to deal with emergencies. Two recent examples given by the supervisor of that fund in action during an emergency are the Montauk beach erosion crisis, and the emergency in Wainscott with contaminated well water.
“Conservative budgeting and sound financial management have allowed the town to create surplus and reserves,” the supervisor said.
Only one full-time job is created in the budget, that being a tax cashier in the tax receiver’s office. The budget also adds a part-time professional to the East Hampton Town’s ordinance enforcement department, and a part-time professional to the planning department’s staff.
The East Hampton Town Police Department takes up the biggest share of the budget, and is allocated 22.4 percent of the total, or $18,122,878. More than half of that amount goes to salaries. In return for putting their lives on the line, and bearing the responsibility of being the first on the scene in any emergency, experienced police officers are rewarded by being the highest paid employees in the town. The 47 highest paid town employees are police officers, from the post of chief down to the regular patrol officers. The division head of the town’s budget office comes in at 48th place, at a bit over $116,000, and the Town Supervisor’s post is a paltry 49th place in salary level, at about $111,000.
The budget calls for $5,557,875 in airport expenditures, while revenue is anticipated at $6,257,302. The year 2018 has proven to be a boon year for revenues from the airport, greatly aided by the sale of three properties south of the airport for a total of more than $4.7 million. The East Hampton Town Justice Court is about revenue neutral, at least according to the projected fees and fines to be taken in ($1.275 million) compared to expenditures (about $1.3 million).
Two other streams of revenue to the town coffers include Cablevision franchise fees ($1.1 million), and an item listed as “state aid mortgage tax” ($4.85 million).
This is Supervisor Van Scoyoc’s first budget since he was elected last year. The 2018 budget was the last to come from Supervisor Larry Cantwell. The initial expenditure amount in that budget was $77,690,422. After negotiations with the town board, which is and was controlled by fellow Democrats, the final budget, in terms of the total expenditures, was little changed, with a little more than $65,000 of spending added.
Supervisor Van Scoyoc said on October 1 that the tentative 2019 budget has been disseminated to the four town board members. There will be a work session on Tuesday, October 9 at which changes can be made, with a tentative public hearing slated for November 8, and possible adoption of a final budget November 16. “The town’s financial status is currently as good as it has ever been,” the supervisor said, and the AAA rating from Moody’s is the highest the town has ever had. The town’s financial strength will allow it, Van Scoyoc added, to respond to emergencies “without putting an undue burden on the average taxpayer.”