Supervisor: Money from EPCAL sale to offset budget deficit

09/20/2014 8:00 AM |
Town Board members Jim Wooten and John Dunleavy, left, and Supervisor Sean Walter at Wednesday night's Town Board meeting. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Town Board members Jim Wooten and John Dunleavy, left, and Supervisor Sean Walter at a town board meeting earlier this month. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

Supervisor Sean Walter says his tentative 2015 town budget will include about $1.6 million in anticipated revenues from the sale of land at the Enterprise Park at Calverton, or however much is needed to plug what is currently viewed as a $1.6 million deficit.

“That’s the only way I can balance a budget without increasing taxes,” Mr. Walter said following Thursday’s work session, where the budget was discussed publicly for the first time. “There is interest in EPCAL. We’ve received unsolicited offers of $150,000 per acre to buy the entire site. I don’t know if that’s real or not.”

Mr. Walter said the town also has an offer of about $40 million to buy the entire 90-acre “energy park” site the town has proposed in the southwest corner of EPCAL.

Earlier this year, the town selected about a dozen companies that responded to a request for proposals from energy companies and sent them to LIPA, which has issued a similar request island-wide.

The town’s plans depend on LIPA selecting one of the companies and LIPA won’t make that decision until December.

However, Mr. Walter said the firm interested in the energy park is on LIPA’s “short list,” and he said the company offering to buy the entire 600 acres the town owns at EPCAL is also an energy company, although he wouldn’t identify either by name.

“I hope it’s true,” Councilman John Dunleavy said, although he said he’s not as optimistic that the town will be able to sell land in 2015.

“I’m confident,” Councilman George Gabrielsen said, indicating that the town has the EPCAL energy park, as well as potentially a smaller energy park at the town landfill.

Mr. Walter also said the town could allow solar panels on the unused western runway at EPCAL, although that would also need LIPA approval.

In past years, the town used fund balance to offset tax increases, but this year, only about $1 million to $2 million in fund balance is expected to be available by the end of the year, although it started 2014 with $3.5 million.

Mr. Walter had recently proposed a two-year, $6 million “bridge loan” to avoid a tax increase, but the town board opted against that route. The board also decided against holding a public hearing to authorize piercing the state’s tax cap.

The town finance administrator, Bill Rothaar, said the deficit is currently at about $1.6 million, which Mr. Walter said projects to an eight-percent tax increase.

The budget proposal discussed Thursday did not call for the elimination of 20 to 30 jobs, which Mr. Walter had warned could be an option.

Some of the projections leading to those estimates discussed Thursday include: a $640,000 reduction in salaries, based largely on 11 employees retiring; a $623,800 reduction in payments to the state retirement system, a number determined by the state; and the $500,000 sale of the Second Street firehouse along with the $275,000 sale of the East Lawn building on East Main Street.

While the supervisor must propose a tentative budget by Oct. 1, the entire board must adopt a final 2015 budget by Nov. 20, under state law. A public hearing also must be held before the budget can be adopted. Usually, that hearing takes place at the first meeting after election day.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio asked Thursday if there is still enough time for the board to hold a hearing on piercing the cap.

She had voted against doing so a few weeks ago, and said she’s not advocating that, but just asking the question in case the board needs to do so.

Mr. Rothaar said it would have to be done soon, since a two-week hearing notice must first be published.

Mr. Walter also said the town could borrow from a $3 million insurance reserve fund. And a $5 million retirement system pension payment could net a $50,000 discount if paid in November rather than the due date in February.

The supervisor said the criticism that this is a “political budget” is not accurate because he and two other board members run for reelection next year.

“This is the worst thing I could do for politics,” he said.

“The three town board members who have to run for reelection next year, their entire political future is going to be determined by this budget.”

He said he’s confident that the town can “deliver,” but said, “there’s no room for error.”

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