The tentative 2015 Riverhead Town budget proposed by Supervisor Sean Walter at the end of September is likely to become the adopted 2015 budget automatically on Thursday, as a motion to vote on adopting the budget failed at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting.
Under state law, the deadline to approve a final budget is Nov. 20, and if the board doesn’t vote to make any changes to the supervisor’s budget, it automatically becomes the final budget at that point.
Councilman John Dunleavy, who — along with Councilwoman Jodi Giglio — said in October that he opposes the budget because he thinks the revenue projections it makes are unrealistic, submitted a resolution Tuesday to merely vote on adopting the budget. Ms. Giglio, who had sought additional cuts in the budget, voted in favor of voting on the budget as well. She wanted to cut two accounting positions, a town attorney position and a position in the supervisor’s office but said it didn’t have support from the board majority.
Councilmen George Gabrielsen and Jim Wooten, who support the supervisor’s budget, voted against the resolution to vote on the budget, saying it doesn’t propose any changes to the budget, and the budget will go into effect automatically if no changes are approved. Mr. Walter, who voted last among the five board members, abstained, meaning the resolution to vote on the budget did not have three votes in support.
“I stand behind the budget,” he said.
Mr. Walter’s $53.7 million proposed budget called for a 1.5 percent spending decrease, a .58 percent tax rate increase and a 2.08 percent tax levy increase. For someone with property assessed at $50,000, that’s a difference of about $14 in town taxes, although that figure doesn’t include special districts like garbage, sewer, water, ambulance and Business Improvement District and public parking district.
There were no speakers at the public hearing on the budget two weeks ago.
The budget is balanced on anticipated revenues that are not certain to arrive, such as money from anticipated leases of land at the Enterprise Park at Calverton to energy companies that must first be approved by PSEG.
“I don’t know how you guys can say this is a structurally sound budget,” resident Steve Romano told the board Tuesday night.
Mr. Walter, who said the town budget hasn’t been structurally sound since 1999, said that the town has a $4 million general fund deficit, but that it would require cutting up to 30 positions to eliminate that deficit through spending cuts, which he says would not be practical. To raise $4 million in taxes would increase taxes by 12 percent and would cost the average taxpayer $300 more per year, he said.
“I’ve put my entire political career on this decision,” Mr. Walter said of the revenue projections in his budget, which he said even his political supporters have questioned.
He added that the town’s Community Preservation Fund account, which uses a voter-approved two-percent land transfer tax for farmland and open space purchases, will also be $4 million in the red by 2017, and that he is hoping a state bill will be approved to extend the CPF’s tax another 10 years, to 2014, because this will allow the town to refinance that money and lower annually payments from $6 million to about $2.7 million.
Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) announced recently that he is working on extending the tax to include a provision that would permit revenues from the tax to be used toward improving water quality in the area.