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Southold ends 2012 with better-than-expected funds

Southold Town Hall is at 53095 Route 25,

Southold Town Hall is at 53095 Route 25, seen here on April 1, 2012. Credit: Ursula Moore

Superstorm Sandy walloped homes, businesses and the Southold Town budget, but despite the October storm's $2.6 million cost, the town ended the year with a better-than-expected fund balance.

In his annual State of the Town address, Supervisor Scott Russell said Southold had $8.24 million in its ending fund balance for 2012, $1.12 million more than it had projected. That's in part due to controlling costs, such as eliminating three vacant full-time positions, reducing fuel costs and overtime.

"Remember, that's good news, but it's peppered with bad news," Russell said Tuesday night at Town Hall.

The town still has $58 million in outstanding debt, including $40 million spent on open-space preservation. While he described the debt as "well managed," Russell said continued vigilance is necessary.

"We cannot, and will not, operate the town" on debt, he said. "Times are still tough. The economy is still on very shaky ground," he added, citing the continued decline in the real estate market.

Job creation is also a concern, and Russell said the town -- which has a population of 25,000 but is losing residents -- is focusing on increasing employment to help address the decline. "We need meaningful employment opportunities for our young people," he said.

Despite the storm and its costs, Russell said the fiscal state of the town "stays in very good standing," with the town maintaining a top bond rating with Wall Street. He cautioned that the town is still learning lessons in the aftermath of Sandy.

Evacuation centers on the North Fork struggled to find enough volunteers, and for future emergencies, the town is planning to create a digital evacuation map for residents and first responders.

Federal officials told the town that many of the storm costs, including debris removal, operating shelters and damage to the town's infrastructure, will be reimbursed by the federal government, Russell said. But he warned that it would take time to get the money, noting the town is still waiting to be reimbursed for damage from Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

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