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Oct 28, 2008 5:43 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

New budget in East Hampton calls for 22 percent tax hike

Oct 28, 2008 5:43 PM

The latest version of East Hampton Town’s proposed 2009 budget calls for an even higher tax increase for local residents than first proposed in Supervisor Bill McGintee’s original version, though one that is a good bit lower than some critics have said it should be.

The preliminary budget released on Friday calls for a 22-percent tax increase for most town residents, up from 18 percent in the original tentative budget. Supervisor Bill McGintee, whose office released the new budget, said the increase is necessary even though the board cut some $250,000 from the first draft. One reason is most of $710,000 in funding for the YMCA RECenter had to be restored to the budget because of a contractual obligation. Also, there are higher estimates in increases in police salaries and debt service on the loans the town has taken out to cover the repayment of its multimillion-dollar deficit.

The budget calls for giving the YMCA $600,000 for the RECenter in 2009, even though its contract calls for $710,000.

The police salaries, which total $400,000, are in anticipation of raises that would accompany a new contract with the police union, which has not had a contract with the town in three years. The supervisor said that whenever the new contract is inked, it will include incremental raises for officers that will have to be funded in the budget for the year they are applied. Otherwise they would have to be made up by future budgets.

Another $600,000 was added to cover principal payments on two large short-term loans the town expects to roll into long-term bonds next year. The move will save the town from even more in interest payments, Mr. McGintee said.

The supervisor said the budget proposal still eliminates about $125,000 in grants to social and educational programs and organizations such as East Hampton Day Care, local chambers of commerce and school PTAs. He said making such cuts is painful but necessary because the town is hamstrung by contractual obligations.

“Most of what is in the budget is mandatory, contractual spending,” Mr. McGintee said. “Other than cutting personnel and discretionary spending, there is not much else that we can do here. I can’t cut our retirement costs, they’re mandated by the state. All salaries are contractual, they’re negotiated by the unions.”

The supervisor noted that the budget is being reviewed by accountants with state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoi’s office, a requisite of the state allowing the town to finance the paying down of its deficit. The board will discuss the budget again at its meeting on November 6. The board must adopt the final budget at its work session on November 18 so that it can be filed with the state by the November 20 deadline.

Other board members had mixed opinions of the budget, which was presented to the public at Tuesday’s budget hearing.

“I’m generally happy with it,” Councilwoman Julia Prince said. “I’m nervous about the mortgage tax line—if we don’t make it, we’re in trouble. I understand that this is the worst possible time to face a 25-percent tax increase but without laying people off and without getting rid of entire departments, there isn’t much else to cut and we can’t have a deficit again.”

“I’m furious with this budget,” Councilwoman Pat Mansir said, calling it “very well padded” with unrealistically high spending estimates intended to ensure the town comes in with a surplus at the end of 2009. She said that could be cut back to allow for a smaller tax increase. “They have this budget so full of fat. Some lines are higher than department heads are even asking for. You can’t tax people for a surplus.”

Ms. Mansir said that the town should eliminate entirely the computer department it created three years ago and roll its duties back into the individual departments that draw on the services of the town’s technicians.

Ms. Mansir also said the town could save $1 million or more by cutting out incidental costs on things like paper, pens and ink cartridges for printers and greatly curtailing the use of town vehicles. The town budget calls for nearly $800,000 for gasoline for town vehicles and automotive repairs.

Ms. Mansir also objected to some of the fees that remained in the budget—particularly a new fee for residents to obtain parking stickers for the beaches and hikes in dump fees.

“I’m at the end of my rope,” Ms. Mansir said. “Charging people to go on their own beaches. That’s the first time I thought to myself I don’t want to live here anymore. We’re going to charge our own citizens $25 a year, or $100 a year to dump your garbage. They’re going to start dumping in the woods.”

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