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Southold's $43M budget adds 6 officers to force

Southold Town Hall is at 53095 Route 25,

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

Six new police officers will patrol the North Fork next year if Southold Town's proposed 2015 budget passes next month.

The additions are included in the town board's $43.1 million spending plan and would bring the force to 50 officers.

Southold hasn't hired officers for a few years as a contract dispute with the police union played out. But Supervisor Scott Russell said he expects an arbitrator to issue a decision on a new contract "any day."

The budget also includes funding for two officers to replace two expected to retire next year.

Southold PBA President Richard Buonaiuto said the department is understaffed and should have about 52 officers.

Southold police patrol a rural town of 22,000 people where wineries and pumpkin farms draw long lines of tourist traffic in the summer and fall. The North Fork's growing wine and tourism industries have added to the town's traffic and the department's workload, Buonaiuto said.

"It would definitely help us," he said of the proposed hiring. "We certainly can use guys."

Russell said Tuesday that the 2015 budget would increase the amount the town raises in taxes by 1.87 percent, which he said is within the state's cap. He could not immediately estimate how that would translate to taxes paid on an average house.

The budget also includes funding for a second part-time court officer, who would be paid about $16 an hour, town officials said.

The hire is meant to help address safety concerns raised by justices and the single officer who guards the justice court, which convenes two days a week in the town board's meeting room, said Councilwoman Jill Doherty.

The town is seeking grants to pay for a metal detector, bulletproof casing and other safety measures, she added.

"It's getting more popular out here, and the court's getting busier," Doherty said. "We may even need to open a third day."

Southold's 2015 budget also would nearly triple the amount allocated for land preservation in the rural town, raising it from $2.4 million to $6.9 million. That money comes from a dedicated account that is separate from the town's budget and is funded by a special tax on real-estate transfers on the East End.

Southold has a public hearing on the budget scheduled for Nov. 5 at 4 p.m.

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