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Dec 9, 2008 8:34 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampton will ask business owners to help with budgets

Dec 9, 2008 8:34 AM

The East Hampton Town Board has agreed to create a panel of local business people as an advisory committee to help the board cut costs and improve future town budgets. Overspending has led to a funding deficit that could reach $15 million by the end of 2008.

The five members of the volunteer committee will be appointed for two years, after which the need for the committee will be reevaluated by the board. The panel will meet monthly. Members of the committee have not yet been named. Supervisor Bill McGintee said he expects the board to appoint the committee members by the end of this month and for the committee to meet for the first time in January.

The formation of the committee was approved unanimously by the Town Board on Friday, December 5. Board members said this week that they hope the committee members will be able to help them look more critically at some areas of spending, including the staffing, that could be streamlined to save money.

“I want this to be a kick-ass committee that won’t take no for an answer from anyone in town government,” Councilwoman Pat Mansir said. “I don’t want it to just be budget, I want them to be able to look at all the things the auditors looked at, to see the things we haven’t been seeing.”

Auditors from State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office conducted an audit of all town spending in recent years, setting up offices in Town Hall for several months last spring and summer, after the extent of the deficit became apparent.

The town had to present its 2009 budget to the auditors before it was adopted. The $68.5-million budget raises town taxes by 24 percent even though the town is borrowing $15 million to pay off the deficit. Supervisor McGintee has blamed the deficit on escalating medical costs for town employees and on the board’s failure to raise taxes to keep pace with spending in recent years.

The supervisor said the committee should be able to look at broad spending habits in an independent way that the Town Board has not been able to do in the past. But he added the committee would not be expected to have a say in town budgeting decisions.

“I don’t envision them looking over the day-to-day operation of the budget, that’s my role and the board’s role,” Mr. McGintee said. “They will be taking a more long-term look at the budget and how we can improve spending to get more bang for our buck and giving us recommendations on what can be cut.”

Ms. Mansir said that board members have already been discussing possible appointees to the board. She said she will nominate Village Hardware owner Bernard Kiembock and that other board members are expected to recommend Montauk businessman Joe Gaviola.

Supervisor McGintee said the committee’s monthly meetings would probably be kept open to the public though no public comment would be allowed to avoid contentious debate over town business. He said two Town Board members would be expected to sit in on each meeting.

Supervisor McGintee and Councilwoman Mansir each proposed forming a citizens financial advisory committee last spring but the concept got bogged down in disagreements over how to tackle the growing deficit and the drafting of a 2009 budget. A similar committee to advise the town on its Community Preservation Fund budget was formed and helped draft the 2009 CPF budget, which will be the subject of a public hearing on December 19.

Instead of forming a budget advisory committee, the board hired an independent financial consultant, Nicholas Lynn, to examine the town’s spending and budget plan. But Mr. Lynn was fired by the board in October after he sent an e-mail to Democratic Party leaders outlining how to minimize the political impacts of the town’s fiscal problems. Mr. Lynn’s departure rekindled the idea of forming an independent committee of local residents who could examine town spending and advise the board.

“I don’t think this would have come up again had the Nick Lynn thing not happened,” Ms. Mansir said. “Had he been successful, we wouldn’t need this, but I had never given up that this was the answer all along.”

At Friday’s Town Board meeting, a handful of residents urged the board to appoint the advisory committee. “In times like these, we can use all the help we can get,” Amagansett resident Dominic Stanzione said. “In my mind, the organizing concept of [the committee] is for a robust panel, empowered to provide non-partisan, professional analysis of financial operations and recommendation that would stimulate transformational change in the financial affairs and management of town government.”

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The committee must be bi-partisan to have any validity or credibility. We will all wait and see how it turns out.
By Waincott Resident (42), Wainscott on Dec 10, 08 10:57 AM
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