Board balks at cuts, adopts $53 million spending plan for 2013

Riverhead Town Board, Riverhead Town Hall,
TIM GANNON PHOTO | The Town Board talks budget last week.

The Riverhead Town Board on Tuesday added $103,730 in spending to the 2013 budget Supervisor Sean Walter had proposed and added back a personnel director the supervisor had cut.

In what the board then adopted as the final 2013 town budget, the additional spending will be taken from reserves, called fund balance, and thus will not change the townwide tax levy or tax rate numbers from the supervisor’s budget, which increased both numbers by 2.9 percent.

The 2013 budget uses just over $3 million in fund balance to offset tax increases.

With the additional $103,730, spending in the adopted 2013 spending plan increased from the 2.6 percent proposed in Mr. Walter’s budget to 2.8 percent, which brought the total spending plan to just over $53 million.

For someone with property assessed at $50,000, which town officials say is an average assessment, the approved budget adds about $67 more in town taxes annually.

It was the potential loss of extra money that could be used as a “cushion” in emergencies that led Councilmen John Dunleavy and James Wooten to oppose a resolution that would have restored the youth bureau director for half a year.

“I don’t like wringing the sponge dry,” Mr Wooten said of not leaving any room for budget adjustments. “I just don’t like it.”

He said that while some proposed cuts used to fund the youth bureau position were “overages,” he also felt money should be saved.

“Some of these I think is cutting it too close,” he said. “Like the supervisor says, there’s just no cushion. I’m going to vote no.”

“Departments need a little cushion in case emergencies come up, and we’re taking out that cushion and saying whatever you have, you have to spend,” Mr. Dunleavy said.

Mr. Walter has warned that only about $8 million remain in the fund balance and that the town faces huge tax increases in the future if it spends all the fund balance.

In a 3-2 vote Tuesday, board members rejected a resolution calling for $91,257 in additional budget cuts and $52,000 in new revenue increases that would have allowed the town to fund a youth bureau director position for six months, beginning in July 2013.

At a work session on Nov. 15, that resolution seemed to have the support of all board members except for Mr. Walter.

However, last Tuesday, after Mr. Walter warned the board about cutting too deep and not leaving any cushion in case of emergency, Councilmen Wooten and Dunleavy voted against the proposal, which had been submitted by council members George Gabrielsen and Jodi Giglio.

Mr. Gabrielsen and Ms. Giglio said that by rejecting that resolution, the board also wipes out the rejection of planned 2.8 percent raises for council members they had included in that resolution. The two council members had also proposed eliminating a $22,213 part-time building inspector position.

Mr. Gabrielsen, Ms. Giglio and Mr. Wooten all say they will refuse to take their raises.

Mr. Walter did not include a raise for his position in the budget, and Mr. Dunleavy said he will take the raise because, as a retired town police officer, he already saves the town money in insurance and other benefits that he doesn’t need.

The resolution to restore the personnel director, using fund balance, was approved 4-1, with Mr. Walter opposed.

The so-called townwide budget refers to the three funds (general, highway, and street lighting) paid by all town residents. Overall, the town spends more than $89 million, when water and sewer districts, ambulance, garbage collection and other special districts are included.

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