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Nov 19, 2014 10:54 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Throne-Holst Won't Push Tax Rebate Spending For Southampton Town

Nov 19, 2014 10:54 AM

In a reversal of course, Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said she will not introduce a resolution adding almost $1.3 million to her proposed $88.5 million budget—a move that would have spurred an estimated 1.5 percent tax hike next year—before the Town Board adopts the 2015 spending plan later this week.

The supervisor said she is dropping her proposal, which sought to take advantage of a state tax rebate, because it lacked universal support among board members. She also pointed to her own concerns regarding the wording of the state bill, and whether or not all town residents would eventually be reimbursed by Albany.

When she unveiled her budget proposal in late September, her fifth since taking office, Ms. Throne-Holst touted the fact that her plan keeps taxes flat thanks, in part, to a $1.3 million booster shot from the town’s fund reserves. But she also proposed that, if the Town Council were amenable, the town could add another approximately $1.3 million to the budget to cover “one-shot” expenses. The additional spending would have meant a tax increase for residents—only about $40 for the average household, the supervisor has stated—but under a program by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office, the hike would be offset by a state tax rebate offered to municipalities and school districts who stay within the state’s 1.5 percent tax cap in 2015.

But earlier this week, and ahead of today’s deadline for the budget’s adoption, Ms. Throne-Holst said she has abandoned the idea of tacking on the additional spending to take advantage of the state rebate offer, citing lack of support by the council and the fine print of the rebate legislation itself.

“I think it was one of those things that if we’re going to do it, I’d like there to be a consensus around it,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “Getting into the nitty-gritty of the legislation and how the rebate works, I wasn’t absolutely comfortable that everybody was going to get the rebate as it was described, and I didn’t want to take a chance that people who would have expected to get the rebate wouldn’t get it.

“There were enough outstanding questions that I wasn’t going to ram it down anyone’s throat,” she continued.

Support on the board had not been resounding, with Republicans Christine Scalera and Stan Glinka both voicing reservations early on about the idea, despite the seemingly neutral ultimate tax impact. This week Ms. Scalera said she remained staunchly opposed to the idea.

“I am happy she’s rethought and changed her position,” she said. “Raising taxes for the residents of this town to take advantage of a rebate while sitting on close to a $30-million surplus is not only a position I would not have supported, but one I would have fought hard to prevent.”

The town’s fund reserves currently stand at some $29 million, with the expectation of millions more in surplus left from the 2014 budget thanks to the region’s soaring real estate market.

With spending in her 2015 budget climbing by approximately $3 million, Ms. Throne-Holst has included $1.3 million in surplus funds to augment increases in revenues and keep the tax levy stable.

The additional spending she had proposed would have been on one-time expenses, so that they would not be passed on to the 2016 budget. The purchase of new police cars or other large equipment, and capital spending on plans for Good Ground Park in Hampton Bays, were among the list of items that the supervisor said would have been candidates for the inclusion in the budget.

The bump in spending would have passed along a tax hike to town residents, who then would have received a rebate check from the state in the amount of the total increase in their town taxes. But according to the fine print of the legislation, the rebate would not have been universal. The law states that the rebate would be awarded to residents who are enrolled in the New York State School Tax Relief Program—essentially all property owners in the municipality—and who have an annual household income of less than $500,000. Those with incomes exceeding $500,000 would have had to pay the commensurate 1.5-percent increase in their property taxes.

The wrinkle keeps in line with some of Governor Cuomo’s other policies that have asked the state’s wealthiest residents to shoulder more of the burden for state services. But Ms. Throne-Holst said the concept made her uncomfortable.

“You can make the argument of why not make those who can afford it pay, but you can’t come out and make the argument that you’re offering a rebate and then have it be that some people actually don’t get it,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “I’d rather stay the course of tightening our belts and finding efficiencies.”

State law requires that the town adopt its 2015 operating budget by Thursday, November 20. The Town Board has scheduled a special budget meeting for 11 a.m. this morning. In contrast to the deep rifts between supervisors and Town Board members in the past, strained relationships that resulted in a plethora of last-minute changes to prior budgets, Ms. Throne-Holst said she does not expect any fireworks this time around. Still, she said there will likely be a number of changes made to the final budget before it is adopted.

Among the new items will be an additional police officer, the fourth in the budget, in the wake of the Suffolk County Legislature’s adoption of its own $2.9 billion budget for 2015, which includes nearly $300,000 in new tax revenues that will be shared with Southampton Town for police and public safety costs. The supervisor and Town Board had pledged early on that the additional revenue, once secured, would be used to add another officer to the town’s ranks.

Beyond that, Ms. Throne-Holst said there would be some other minor modifications to capital spending and to some proposed salary increases for non-union employees.

“There will be some tweaks here and there,” she said. “Government should work well together and have a little give and take all around, and we’re getting to that. But, all in all, we’re pretty much on the same page.”

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