Getting Southampton Town's financial house in order and preserving open space and waterways are two sides of the same coin, each dependent on the other, said Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst in her State of the Town address Thursday at .
The address focused on the measures taken to provide both financial and environmental sustainability for Southampton's future, and plans in the works to keep the town on track toward balanced budgets and healthy water bodies.
As a sign of Southampton Town's successes in cleaning up a financial mess unearthed in 2008, Throne-Holst pointed out that, because of a favorable bond rating, the town may borrow money at a rate of 0.5 percent, the lowest interest rate the town has borrowed at in 10 years.
She noted that budgets in 2011 and 2012 has 0 percent increases in operating costs and said this was achieved through ingenuity — finding ways, such as using new technology, to exercise stricter controls over town resources and become more efficient. Town departments have been reorganized and personnel redeployed, she added.
To further efficiency and reduce costs, Throne-Holst said, she is vice chair of the Regional Supervisor's Association, seeking to share services among towns, including health care coverage.
Throne-Holst said all town fund balances are currently in the black and she repeated points new Town Comptroller Leonard Marchese made in a recent report. She said the town's police fund has gone from a $1 million deficit to $1.2 million surplus since 2009; the land management/zoning fund turned around a $300,000 deficit to a $539,000 surplus; and the beaches and waste management enterprise funds have gone from deficits of $5.7 million to surpluses of more than $800,000.
However, Throne-Holst said, financial challenges still lie ahead, including at least four more years of a state-mandated 2 percent cap on annual tax levy increases simultaneous with diminishing state, federal and county aid and mortgage tax receipts.
"For all these reasons, we must continue to be diligent in protecting and improving upon the initial progress we have made," Throne-Holst said.
On the environmental front, Throne-Holst said the town has recently made strides toward protecting water quality and mitigating density of development, though there is still more to be done.
She pointed to School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences Prof. Chris Gobler's recent presentation on nitrogen loading in Southampton waterways, in which he said that pollution is killing fish and plant life.
To reduce nutrient pollution to town bays and ponds, Throne-Holst said the town must take steps to address antiquated septic systems, explore better ways to flush waterways, review land use policy and educate the public on the threat.
One way the town is protecting open spaces and sensitive parcels from development, Throne-Holst said, is a borrowing plan to make strategic land acquisitions of 2,000 acres and repay bonds through future Community Preservation Fund revenues.
Throne-Holst also pointed out that — though by the Town Board and educational efforts involving industry leaders and community members are underway.
Recent Wins, Near Future Plans
Throne-Holst also highlighted that Councilman Chris Nuzzi and Councilwoman Christine Scalera have , intended to address code enforcement issues, and Councilwoman Bridget Fleming will again this summer spearhead the .
Looking to the near future, the supervisor said the Town Board will be ready to move forward with a plan shortly to . And, she said, the Community Preservation Fund, the Landmarks and Historic Districts Board and the Town Board have made progress on restoring a number of the town's historic buildings — the in Bridgehampton and the in Hampton Bays.
Other bullet points Throne-Holst mentioned are more police coverage in the village of and improved property assessment review for the parts of Southampton Town that fall within the Riverhead School District, namely Riverside, Northampton and Flanders, which results in fairer tax bills compared to school district residents who reside in the town of Riverhead.
See a video of Throne-Holst's entire address at this link.