The Village of Port Jefferson Board of Trustees unanimously approved the annual budget Monday evening, April 3, though appropriations weren’t top of mind for the sea of residents crowding the boardroom.
Dozens turned out to confront the board over its recent decision to extend the terms of service for village offices from two to four years — a decision it promptly reversed. Less than 90 days until village elections, the community and board instead now grapple with the competing demands of streamlining election administration and public oversight over term changes.
“We wanted to kind of say ‘sorry’ and take a giant step backward,” Mayor Margot Garant told the public.
Upon rescinding the resolution, the mayor noted the need to relieve village clerk Barbara Sakovich in administering the coming June elections, adding that neighboring municipalities have generally implemented such changes.
“Probably the majority of other townships and municipalities — villages specifically — have their elections in March and have moved to four-year terms,” she said. “I think it’s the direction we may all agree to at some point,” but the board is “taking pause” before rendering further judgment.
Trustee Rebecca Kassay offered to begin exploring how other municipalities procedurally implemented term changes, keeping open the possibility of forming a committee to collect public input on the matter.
“Please look probably to the next meeting if you want to get this going while everyone has it in mind,” she said, adding the board “will be talking more about the process of helping to gather resident input and really handing it to the residents to make these decisions.”
In the wake of the reversal, Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden and trustee Lauren Sheprow, both mayoral candidates, offered their commentary. Snaden said she had a change of opinion after learning of the high signature threshold to move the measure onto the June ballot via permissive referendum.
“It just made sense to me at the time, again, because of the ability for the residents to come forth and let us know,” she said. “After that happened and I heard from some residents — what the numbers were for them to bring forth the permissive referendum, that’s when I said that’s burdensome.”
The deputy mayor added, “We’ve had discussions, and we talked about bringing it tonight and considered rescinding and starting from scratch, giving it to you guys to say to us what you want to do.”
Sheprow raised the possibility of the village acquiring electronic voting machines ahead of the June elections.
“What we didn’t realize when we were meeting, and it really wasn’t discussed holistically at the last meeting, was whether or not there are voting machines available to rent or purchase,” she said. “As long as they’re certified by the Suffolk County Board of Elections, we have that option available to us.”
Leaders of the recently resurrected Port Jefferson Civic Association made formal contact with the village government, exchanging introductions and outlining their organizational agenda.
Civic president Ana Hozyainova thanked the board for rescinding the resolution for term extensions but asked for more public input over village decision-making.
“The civic association didn’t take a stance on whether it should be two or four years but really took objection to the fact that such an important issue which doesn’t have a clear-cut solution … was taken without any public debate,” she said, adding that more public deliberations over fortifying the eroding East Beach bluff could have occurred.
The board approved $0.50 increases in managed parking rates for weekdays and weekends, setting the rates at $1 per hour Monday through Thursday and $1.50 per hour Friday through Sunday.
Village treasurer Denise Mordente delivered the fiscal year budget presentation, highlighting the budgetary constraints imposed by rising inflation and costs, also declining public revenues from the Long Island Power Authority through the Port Jefferson Power Station.
“The interest for our [bond anticipation notes], gasoline, heating oil, all of that ties in,” Mordente said. “We tried as best as we can to not put the burden again on the taxpayers.”
The budget increased by 7% from last year from $10.59 million to $11.37 million. However, the village drew $257,882 from its $1.8 million fund balance to minimize tax increases, Mordente explained. The village lost roughly $107,000 through the LIPA glide path agreement, with 15% and 20% increases in medical benefits and insurance, respectively.
The village committed to reductions in staff, opting against filling some vacant positions while assigning multiple titles to existing personnel. The administration also instituted a spending freeze for department heads, who stayed within their respective budgets from last year.
“The overall for our tax increase on an average house of $1,500 [assessed valuation] is $75 a year,” Mordente said. “We’re trying not to impact the way of life for our village.”
The Board of Trustees will meet again Tuesday, April 18, at 3 p.m., with scheduled presentations from Johnson Controls and the Six Acre Park Committee.
To watch the full general meeting, see video above.