Riverhead’s 2011 budget is reasonable

A spending decrease and a modest tax hike increase. A workforce reduction. The possibility of union concessions such as a lag payroll. Realistic revenue projections. The cutting of miscellaneous fat. Using but not depleting the surplus.

All these elements combined have made for a reasonable 2011 town budget proposal from Supervisor Sean Walter.

Town Board members should continue on the path set by the supervisor as they tweak and otherwise prepare the budget for final approval — as long as those tweaks don’t mean raising property taxes further.

The town’s well-compensated police union members, who are — and should be — attentive to the concerns of Riverhead residents — should approve a lag payroll, as the union leaders have recommended. Union members have yet to vote on the measure.

By deferring some compensation until retirement, a lag payroll would save the town $230,000 in 2011 and keep the tax rate hike under 5 percent, according to Mr. Walter. While the savings per citizen may not be much, staying below that mark could be psychologically therapeutic to Riverhead residents because it’s a clear sign that the town’s government is stable.

Keep in mind that delaying officers’ pay may not be the only sacrifice coming out of the police department next year. In his budget speech last week, Mr. Walter said he had proposed a “dramatic” decrease in police overtime as well.

He has budgeted $600,000 in police overtime for 2011, about $135,000 less than was spent in 2009. Since 2003, overtime costs have never fallen below $720,000. That is an uncertain component of the supervisors’ spending plan. Police overtime hours can always be reined in, but they often have to do with factors beyond the supervisor’s or anyone else’s control; the timing of crimes and arrests cannot be planned a year ahead of time. To rely on that anticipated savings may not be realistic.

Those reservations aside, kudos to Mr. Walter on his first spending plan. And he crafted it without any major cuts in vital services.

This post was originally published Oct. 6