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Apr 7, 2009 5:33 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampton belt-tightening recommended

Apr 7, 2009 5:33 PM

A thorough financial action plan for East Hampton Town, prepared by a group of concerned residents, will soon be in the hands of citizens, Town Board members, and the candidates running for town office.

Former Town Board member Debra Foster convened the group earlier this year in an attempt to guide the town on how to recover from what will likely be at least a $15 million deficit when the 2008 books are closed.

One member of the group, Jennifer Mulligan, compiled a bound, eight-section action plan that the group hope to make available, after it is finalized in one week, at local libraries and at Town Hall. The group held its final meeting to present the plan on Thursday, April 2, at Gurney’s Inn in Montauk.

The plan offers a number of potential cost-saving measures that are bound to be controversial, including selling or leasing the indoor skating rink on Abraham’s Path, leasing or selling the seven office suites that the town owns at 300 Pantigo Road, or perhaps leasing space in the historic Town Hall complex now being built in front of the existing Town Hall. The plan also recommends that the town lease out the Donald Lamb Building on Bluff Road in Amagansett. That building currently houses the town’s Housing and Community Development and Trustees offices. Ms. Foster said that the New York State Office of Parks and Recreation might be interested in leasing the building.

Town employees’ salaries and benefits make up between 60 and 70 percent of the town’s budget, according to Ms. Foster, and though the report details a number of potential savings measures that could be discussed in union negotiations, the group did not discuss the measures publicly at its meeting.

“This is not something where you need to show your hand and say what you are going to say,” said Ms. Foster.

The report details a number of measures other towns and municipalities have taken to reduce the costs of employees, including capping annual salary increases below currently agreed upon levels, instituting a shorter work week, requiring greater employee contributions to health care plans and re-evaluating whether to postpone retiree health care benefits beyond the age of 55.

In the short term, the group recommends creating a fee for people who rent their houses, increasing peddler license fees and mass gathering fees, and perhaps charging residents by the bag to dump their garbage at the town transfer station, as is done in neighboring Southampton Town.

State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and Deputy Suffolk County Executive Ben Zwirn, who are both members of Ms. Foster’s committee, cautioned that the town needs to ensure that the fees correspond to the cost for the town to provide the services. If the fees were higher, said Mr. Thiele, they would be considered illegal taxes and could be challenged in court. The plan also calls for increasing the town’s fee for cell phone towers. The town currently charges between $2,000 and $2,500 per month for contracts with cell phone providers, but the committee believes that it could easily charge each carrier at least $5,000.

The group also recommends installing GPS tracking systems in town-owned vehicles, cutting down on leaf collection, involving more volunteers in the upkeep of the town, and perhaps contracting with an outside carter to pick up garbage at beach road ends and town parks, as has been proposed by Councilman Brad Loewen.

The group also recommended an energy audit. Councilwoman Julia Prince recently brought a plan for such an audit to the attention of the Town Board, which is looking into the possibility.

The town’s landfill costs $8.1 million per year to operate—which is roughly 10 percent of the entire town budget—while it is expected to bring in only $3.6 million in revenue this year.

“We need to take a hard look at that,” said Ms. Foster.

Committee member Bonnie Krupinski said that she had contacted Winters Brothers Waste Systems, Inc., which has a facility across Springs-Fireplace Road from the town transfer station and operates nine other transfer stations on Long Island.

The firm’s director of government affairs, Peter Casserly, has agreed to sit down with the town, at no cost, to explore options for saving money at the transfer station, Ms. Krupinski told the committee.

The group also recommended renegotiating a contract with the YMCA, which operates the town’s RECenter on Gingerbread Lane in East Hampton Village.

“I think it’s healthy that the Y is a little concerned,” said Ms. Foster in reference to a recent public relations effort on the part of the YMCA after the group initially suggested that the YMCA might not be the best organization to run the center. “Sixty percent of their entire budget is for administration. It’s become very top-heavy with administration. You can do better than that or we can find someone else. But nobody is recommending that the town run it.”

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Rethink any of the above that would hurt the employees and/or taxpayers. The whole town board which included Deb Foster have hurt us enough due to their ignorance and negligence. Now we have to pay for your mistakes?
By disappointed (96), wainscott on Apr 4, 09 6:08 PM
As ususal the information you read is never fully accurate. Keep in mind that the Y offered last year to renegotiate their contract with a funding reduction that would have allowed the town to save over $100,000 THIS year. No action was taken at that time. The Y is a tremendous organization serving over 6,000 residents with really good programs that benefit from being a part of the Long Island "Y". Its easy to make comments looking at numbers with no context. The Y is doing a great job for its ...more
By cpilato (3), East Hampton on Apr 8, 09 9:23 AM
$300 to bind the books. Is that necessary.?Save the money and give everyone regular copies, or make a donation, if its that important to you........Every little bit counts - right.
By cpilato (3), East Hampton on Apr 8, 09 9:25 AM
how come billy boy doesn't take out the town employee's on the taxpayers dime?no he takes out the moody boys at the tune of 500.00 for lunch all 8 of them.business as usual.
By pinga (90), hamptonbays on Apr 8, 09 6:16 PM
just want to say the whole town board has to go as well as deb fosters group.
you want to use a outside company to pick up the trash as well as gps in the town vehicles will the town police get them as well?where are you getting the money for that?you froze all upgrades cause the town cant afford it.why don't you take that money and fix up the town hall i have seen junk yards look better. that joke out front you call a new town hall is that up to code?ooh that right town make up the rules as ...more
By ehrez (3), easr hampton on Apr 10, 09 10:24 PM
right on ehrez
By pinga (90), hamptonbays on Apr 12, 09 10:44 AM
Actually, cpilato, you are an example of not completely accurate. You forgot to say that the Y offered to let the town save money by reducing its payment ONLY if the contract would be extended longer than it already is. You left out that little arm-twisting detail.
By justthefacts (9), East Hampton on Apr 13, 09 10:09 PM
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