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Oct 29, 2014 11:14 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Bigger Union And More Police Requested For Southampton Budget

Oct 29, 2014 11:14 AM

The Southampton Town Board is reviewing an $88.5 million budget, which includes a $3 million spending increase, and weighing whether to tack on more than $1 million more to take advantage of a state tax rebate for residents.

But just two people—one of them the president of the town’s civil service union—turned out to weigh in at the town’s first budget hearing on Tuesday night.

The spending plan proposed by Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst takes the town down a number of new paths. It includes the hiring of three more police officers and seven new employees altogether; the implementation of a new salary schedule for non-union employees; a proposal to use $1.3 million from town savings to offset additional spending without raising taxes; and potentially could bring a 1.5-percent tax increase. Should the supervisor introduce the latter proposal officially, the town would take advantage of a state incentive: Most town taxpayers would receive a check from the state for the equivalent of the 1.5-percent tax increase’s effect on their individual tax bills.

The plans for salaries of non-union workers was the lone issue to spark substantial discussion. Laura Smith, the president of the town’s Civil Service Employees Association union chapter, suggested that the town consider dropping its plans to institute a new “salary matrix” for its non-union members and simply make all of its administrative staff civil service positions. The shift, she said, would be simpler than trying to develop a policy that essentially parallels the civil service contract structure.

“I understand the motivation behind this, I get what you need to do ... but I think you already have a system in place, with the union,” Ms. Smith said. “It would be more consistent, it would give you the control you’re looking for, and it would give you the ability to say no more free agents and negotiate with one entity, the union. If we can partner on this, I think it would be to the benefit of the town.”

The 2015 proposed budget includes a salary schedule for non-union staff developed by the town that sets base salaries for various non-union positions and assigns various standardized raises for growing expertise and longevity, similar to what unions do with step increases and contractual raises.

“The thinking behind creating this matrix was … this is my fifth budget, and from the very beginning we struggled with the fact that salaries were all over the map, and in many cases had nothing to do with the length of time served,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “In the end, we decided the best way to do it ... was to mimic what the union has ... so that if you have a title, you get your step increases and your longevity on a rather predictable schedule.”

To Ms. Smith’s suggestion of bringing more employees into the union contracts, and acknowledging that prior administrations had made an effort to make more positions non-union, the supervisor said she was willing to discuss letting staff members choose to make their job a union position, using existing union titles with similar duties.

“I’m happy to do that if that’s what staff wants,” she said. “In the meantime, it’s helpful to have some sort of predictability.”

On another point, Ms. Smith asked the town to not eliminate the position of general supervisor in the Town Highway Department, as requested by Superintendent Alex Gregor. Mr. Gregor’s requested budget called for the elimination of the position, currently held by 31-year veteran Lance Aldrich, and using the savings to pay for two new equipment maintenance workers.

Ms. Smith said that Mr. Aldrich was too valuable an employee to lose. “His leadership helped get them through Superstorm Sandy and all the winter storms last year,” she said. “I understand the need for the two equipment operators, but maybe this is the time to look at the staffing levels in the Highway Department and give the superintendent what he needs and also keep the leadership in place.”

Ms. Throne-Holst said that while she agreed with Ms. Smith’s desire to see Mr. Aldrich remain in his highway position, she was inclined to defer to the management decisions of Mr. Gregor. “I, too, am unhappy to see that suggestions, but the highway superintendent as an independently elected official has the prerogative to bring forward his staffing recommendations and any reorganizations,” she said. “It is generally my policy to abide by what department heads, especially independently elected ones, would like.”

The lone community member to address the board about the budget, Vincent Taldone, president of the Flanders Riverside Northampton Community Association, pleaded with the board to bolster police coverage of his neighborhood, to create a better program for bringing unimproved private roads into the town highways system, and to dedicate to money to seed a planned park and walking trail along the shore of the Peconic River in Riverside

“The northwest corner of the town does not have adequate police protection,” Mr. Taldone said. “There are two cars on occasion; more often than not, one of those cars is off, and if that second car is busy, as it often is, people can wait a half hour for the police to show up.”

Ms. Throne-Holst noted that the budget, as proposed, budgets for the hiring of three new police officers, and that if the county adopts County Executive Steve Bellone’s proposed budget, there would be an additional $295,000 in police funding for the town, which she said the town has pledged to dedicate to the hiring of additional officers in 2015.

“All of us agree that the coverage needs to be beefed up there,” the supervisor said. “We are oh so happy that the county budget contemplates an increase in our sharing of ... revenue. We need to wait and see that the county adopts that budget and, if so, that will allow us to add at least one more officer.”

The board will continue its budget hearings at its next meeting on Wednesday, November 12.

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Only in politics can spending a million extra dollars mean you saved the taxpayers money.
By bird (829), Southampton on Oct 30, 14 9:31 AM
The last thing any municipality needs is more union workers on the books......
By New Guy in Town (10), Westhampton on Oct 30, 14 10:22 AM
New guy....Union workers earn far less than non Union employees, so this may put a cap on the higher salaries that some non Union employees will earn.
By Resident tax (186), Hampton bays ny on Oct 30, 14 2:38 PM
But, an examination of the CBA will show that union workers get better funded health care and pensions. Salaries matter little because the Town has to fund them as people work. Pensions and health care are delayed liabilities that cause much financial problems, if you dont believe me, ask Detroit.
By New Guy in Town (10), Westhampton on Oct 30, 14 4:34 PM
Municipality workers are civil service workers, union and non Union. They all receive benefits. Are you saying municipal workers should NOT be civil service employees?
By Resident tax (186), Hampton bays ny on Nov 4, 14 2:03 PM
IMHO employees should pay for their own health care and retirement that goes for both the private and public sector.
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Nov 4, 14 3:57 PM
Mo' people, mo' problems.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Nov 4, 14 4:45 PM
Municipal workers can be whatever they want, union or non-union, so long as they have to contribute to their own retirement and health care. Again, municipalities cannot afford long term, astronomical debt associated with pensions and healthcare.
By New Guy in Town (10), Westhampton on Nov 7, 14 9:27 AM