The Southold Town Board last night voted 4-1 to approve a $44.07 million operating budget for 2017, increasing spending by 1.29-percent and raising the tax rate by 7.57-percent over this year. Councilman Bob Ghosio cast the lone dissenting vote and Town Justice Louisa Evans was absent.
Ghosio said he understands why the tax cap — set at .68-percent for the coming year — had to be pierced, but he could not vote for a budget that would hurt taxpayers.
“I believe the cap was unrealistic, but with that being said, I’m very sensitive to the folks in town who are gonna be hurt by this. A 7.5 precent increase is going to be something that they might have to struggle with and we did see that in some of the comments that we got,” Ghosio said.
“I don’t necessarily have all the answers about what we could’ve shaved, but I am very sensitive to those folks that are going to be hurt by us raising taxes as much as we have to this year, so I am voting no,” he said.
The increase will be an average of $135 per household for the year.
“I’ve been on the board many years and this is one of the most difficult budgets I’ve worked on,” Councilman William Ruland said. “There’s been a lot of hours put in, a lot of things looked at. I think in my mind, it is in the best interests of the town that we adopt this.”
Peter Harris of Greenport, the former Southold highway superintendent, was the only member of the public to comment on the budget at last night’s meeting. He voiced his concerns about road repaving.
“As much as I hate as a taxpayer to see my taxes go up, I understand why they have to go up and I’m glad that we’re finally taking that step forward. However, I also want to say that I went over [the highway superintendent’s four year plan] and there’s roads on that plan to be resurfaced that were done three years ago,” Harris said.
Councilman Jim Dinizio said the road maintenance plan Highway Superintendent Vincent Orlando presented to the board earlier this month needs more work. The plan calls for the expenditure of $8.86 million over the next four years: roughly $2.3 million per year in 2017 and 2018, nearly $2.5 million in 2019 and just under $1.8 million in 2020.
“I understand where he’s coming from but I know in my heart there is no way the town board is going to give him $8 million in the next four years, so I think it needs to be gone over with a fine tooth comb,” Harris said.
“The plan we got from the highway superintendent was woefully inadequate for what I’d hoped to do, which was to learn just what condition the roads are in,” Dinizio said. “But we averaged $250-350k to just maintain the roads for the past few years — we need to take a bigger bite out of it.”
“I can appreciate Mr. Ghosio’s vote and the reluctance of this entire board,” Supervisor Scott Russell said. “We were faced with a couple of issues and I have to say the idea of complying with the tax cap every year is far-fetched. It just can’t happen. Southold Town, we had to bite a bullet this year. We have a dire set of circumstances as a result of a couple of very bad winters. The phone calls I get… Our road conditions have eclipsed helicopters, deer and speeding combined. The public wants us to get something done,” Russell said.
“I’m certainly voting yes because I believe in all of this, though I’m sorry its got to be almost 8 percent,” Dinizio said during the roll call.
“It comes down to the safety of the poeple in this town and the roads,” Councilwoman Jill Doherty said. “It’s not easy spending that money, but when you think about the safety issues and everything it’s a must-do.”