Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith as she delivered her 'State of the Town' address in April 2019. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith has proposed a $100,390,400 total town operating budget for 2020, calling for a 2.76% spending increase over the 2019 adopted budget of $97,690,700 and a 2.58% increase in the town-wide tax rate.

The supervisor’s tentative budget proposes expenditures of
$59,757,300 in the three town-wide funds — the general fund, highway fund and street-lighting fund — up 1.17% from the town-wide expenditures in the 2019 adopted budget.

The remaining expenditures are for special districts, such as sewer, water and garbage districts, which are supported by taxes collected from property owners within the districts, as well as expenditures for programs that are supported by user fees, such as recreation programs, or special taxes, such as the Community Preservation Fund..

The budget document, presented in a new format that was used for the first time last year, does not include actual expenditures and revenues for the prior year (2018) or any actuals for the current year (2019). In previous years, the budget document had prior-year actuals and first-half actuals for the current year for each line of each fund.

The town board has not yet had a presentation by the town’s outside auditors of the town’s audited financial statements for 2018.

In a budget message to the town clerk and town board, filed with the tentative budget yesterday, Jens-Smith said her budget proposal includes additional personnel in the code enforcement division, buildings and grounds division, tax receiver’s office, and the accounting and personnel departments. The supervisor did did not provide specifics about the additional personnel.

The budget gives town employees “the tools to best do their jobs by investing $1 million long-neglected town infrastructure and capital improvements,” according to the budget message.

The spending plan includes salary increases for two elected officials: the tax receiver, whose salary would increase $3,230 to be on par with the town clerk and two town assessors, who are each paid annual salaries of $83,846; and the chairperson of the board of assessors, who would see a $1,893 increase, bringing her salary to $96,549. It also includes $20,000 in salary for the highway superintendent, for his oversight of the municipal garage, bringing his annual salary to $114,803. The other elected officials’ salaries would remain at their 2019 levels.

“The 2020 budget reflects my commitment to help improve the quality of life for our residents, while remaining within the tax levy cap,” Jens-Smith wrote in the budget message.

The proposed 2020 total tax levy of $55,457,000 is up 2.96% ($1,596,600) over the 2019 tax levy of $53,860,400. The proposed tax levy required for the three town-wide funds in 2020 is $48,406,200, up 2.5% over the the 2019 tax levy of $47,227,600.

The tax levy limitation is fixed by a 2012 state law at the lesser of the rate of inflation or 2%, with some exceptions. The state comptroller announced in July the the tax levy cap for 2020 would be set at 2%The law allows a municipality an increase in the tax levy limit based on tax base growth. Also certain types of expenditures are excluded from the limitation. A municipality can override the tax cap by local law requiring a supermajority vote of the town board.

Budget process and timetable required by state law

The town supervisor — by law the town’s budget officer — is required to file her budget proposal with the town clerk on or before Sept. 30. This document is called the tentative budget.

What happens next is mandated by state law.

The town clerk is required to present the tentative budget to the town board at a regular or special meeting on or before Oct. 5.

The town board shall review the tentative budget and may make such changes, alterations and revisions as it shall consider advisable and which are consistent with law. The board may call on any department head and the supervisor to discuss the tentative budget and the department heads’ estimates.

After the town board completes its review, and approves any changes it deems advisable, the tentative budget and any changes made by the town board becomes the preliminary budget.

The town board is required to hold a public hearing on the preliminary budget, showing any changes made by the board, on or before the Thursday immediately following the general election, which this year will be held on Nov. 5.

After the public hearing, the town board may make additional changes to the preliminary budget.

The law states that the preliminary budget, as amended, shall be finally adopted by resolution of the town board not later than Nov. 20. The preliminary budget as adopted shall be known as the annual budget for the next fiscal year, which begins Jan. 1.

Upon the adoption of the budget resolution, the amounts proposed to be appropriated shall thereupon be appropriated.

The law says that should the town board fail to adopt a budget as of Nov. 20, the preliminary budget, as amended by prior resolution of the town board, shall constitute the budget for the ensuing fiscal year.

In the last 10 years, the Riverhead Town Board held no budget vote in four years: 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2018. In each of those years, the supervisor’s tentative budget became the adopted budget for the next fiscal year.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.