According to Southampton Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, the state's new property tax cap might mean as much as $5 million in budget cuts next year.
Throne-Holst, I-Sag Harbor, said at a press conference Tuesday that last year's budget woes — $5 million slashed, bringing spending down to $79.8 million — were "the tip of the iceberg."
Faced with uncontrollable pension and healthcare costs, in order to meet the tax cap, the supervisor said another $4 million to $5 million will need to be slashed in 2012. Healthcare costs are expected to spike 13 percent, Throne-Holst said.
The requires municipalities to limit annual tax levy increases to 2 percent, or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.
The supervisor said that last year, while she presented a preliminary budget that was "structurally sound," the GOP majority of the town board presented a series of 11th hour amendments that resulted in an adopted budget that reflected measures, such as cuts to the town attorney's office, that she said have proven "unsustainable."
At the time, the supervisor's budget reflected an increase in taxes, amounting to approximately $20 per average homeowner, geared toward a deficit reduction plan. Throne-Holst said the GOP thwarted the deficit reduction plan, leaving the situation unresolved.
Councilman Chris Nuzzi, R-Nuzzi, said this week that the supervisor had proposed the maximum tax increase possible. "I would argue that is not what our taxpayers want or expect," he said.
"Proof of the structurally sound adopted budget is the affirmation of our bond rating, positive fund balances, and continued personnel savings provided through the 2011 budget, all of which the supervisor takes credit for when convenient, even though she abstained on its adoption."
The public will be able to weigh in at three open forums at town community centers in Hampton Bays, Flanders, and during the week of September 12.
At the outset, the supervisor said she hopes to avoid layoffs, and achieve savings through reorganization, working with labor unions, optimizing resources and shared services.
Since 2006, the number of town staff has been reduced by approximately 70, due to attrition, reorganization and an early retirement incentive.
"We have to look at the way we provide services differently," Throne-Holst said. Her examples included having the planning board meet less days per month, cutting down desk hours in the assessor's office, or raising fees for certain services.
Department heads will be asked to give their divisions a hard look.
Certain revenue generating departments such as the building department need manpower, the supervisor said. Last week, Nuzzi questioned filling an empty building inspector's post during fragile financial times and said larger discussions need to be had before hiring anyone.
Although the legislation has a provision for piercing the tax cap, the supervisor said she plans to craft a budget that complies with the 2 percent. "The cap is there for a reason," she said.
The supervisor must present her tentative budget to the board by September 30. The final budget must be adopted by November 30.