The Riverhead Town Board last night adopted a $55.45 million operating budget for 2017 in a 4-1 vote, with Councilwoman Jodi Giglio dissenting.
The adopted final budget is unchanged from the spending plan Supervisor Sean Walter proposed in September.
Giglio explained her vote against the budget with a statement that she believes the budget could have been cut but she did not say how or where.
The board did not hold a single public budget discussion since Walter unveiled his budget, which calls for a 4.19-percent tax rate hike to cover a 1.95-percent spending increase over this year and requires the town to pierce the state-imposed real property tax levy cap for the second consecutive year. The budget increases the tax levy by 4.81 percent, which is 3.39-percent higher than the 1.4 percent tax levy cap imposed on Riverhead Town next year pursuant to state law.
Two weeks ago, Giglio voted no on the local law authorizing the board to override the tax levy limit.
Before casting her vote last night, Giglio complained that while the budget requires the town to exceed the cap it also gives raises to some employees. While she did not call for the elimination of salary increases, she said the board could have made some cuts.
“I think that with exceeding the cap by the two percent [Editor’s note: the budget actually requires the town to exceed the limit by 3.39 percent, not 2 percent] and giving out increasies to several employees, including ones we’re not contracted to, I think that we should have made an attempt to at least make some cuts in the budget,” Giglio said.
“I did make some suggestions to some board members about some changes we could make to the budget, but there didn’t seem to be consensus, so I’m going to vote no,” she said.
The budget adopted last night provides for salary increases of about $10,000 each for all elected officials except for the supervisor and council members. The supervisor’s salary will remain $115,148 and the council members’ salaries will remain $48,955 each. The supervisor and town board members have not taken a pay increase since 2009. The other elected officials last had a salary increase in 2012, when they got a 2.9-percent raise.
The town clerk and highway superintendent, according to a notice published with the budget hearing notice, as required by state law, would see increases from $74,449 to $83,846 and from $84,178 to $94,803, respectively. The law does not require the town to publish the proposed salaries of the other elected officials as part of its official budget notice. The current salaries of the other elected officials are: tax receiver, $71,581; assessors $74,449; chairwoman of assessors $84,047; justices, $75,093. These office holders will receive about $10,000 more in 2017 under the adopted budget.
According to the supervisor, the budget does not include pay raises for department heads or the town’s unionized work force.
The other board members voted to approve the final budget without comment, except Councilman John Dunleavy, who said the plan is the “tightest budget that’s been made and it’s going to help out with our bond rating.”
The new tax rate will be $53.228 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, resulting in an increase of $96 next year for an “average” home with a market value of $350,000 and an assessed value of $50,000.
Peter Blasl contributed reporting for this story.