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Southampton projects problem with tax cap

The Southampton Town comptroller has given the Town Board a sobering look at next year’s budget — which she projects to be $2.8 million to $4 million away from meeting the state’s new 2 percent property tax cap.

Comptroller Tamara Wright’s comments came after Assemb. Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) spoke to the board about the new cap at a work session Friday. The cap, proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and passed by the State Legislature last month, limits municipalities and other taxing districts from raising the tax levy by more than 2 percent each year.

A tax levy is the total amount of money raised in property taxes.

Within the past two years, Southampton has cut $2.2 million in salaries, either through the town’s hiring freeze or elimination of positions, according to Wright.

But mandated costs, such as a projected 13 percent increase in health care premiums — about $1.3 million — and a $1 million payment on debt service, as well as an expected 10 percent increase in workers’ compensation costs, has had a heavy effect on the town’s finances, she said.

In an interview, Wright said the 2 percent cap has left towns little time to renegotiate contracts with vendors or unions. By law, the towns must have budgets for the next fiscal year in place by Sept. 1.

“Now you are down to service cuts,” Wright said. “For instance, we have beaches. We need adequate lifeguards.”

Thiele said the town board could override the property tax cap with a three-fourths majority, or four of the five board members.

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