East Hampton Town Board members agreed last Tuesday to slash $4 million from this year’s $68.5 million budget, while seriously broaching the topic of laying off employees for the first time.
The board considered a number of cost-saving measures after a presentation from Town Comptroller Janet Verneuille, who last week estimated that the town had entered 2009 with a $1.8 million deficit and would likely face an additional $2.3 million shortfall in revenue this year because of declining mortgage tax receipts.
“I don’t care how I come up with $4 million, as long as I come up with $4 million,” said Town Supervisor Bill McGintee. “That plan has to be in place by the end of the month. ... I think we need to shrink the workforce. If we can, do it by attrition, but any way possible. If not, you run the risk of same old, same old.”
Mr. McGintee suggested that at least $1 million be cut from salaries.
“Part-time has to go first,” said Councilwoman Julia Prince.
Councilwoman Pat Mansir said she was worried that the town’s 554 employees are already coming to work with knots in their stomachs every day wondering if they will lose their jobs. Layoffs would be her last choice, she said. But raises and new hiring are also off the table, as far as Ms. Mansir is concerned.
“Any employee that asks for a promotion or raise, I don’t want to hear it. They’ve got a lot of nerve,” she said. “I will not support any more hirings or any more promotions.”
As of April 20, the town had 264 employees in the Civil Service Employees of America union, 76 employees in the Police Benevolent Association, 90 part-time employees, 46 seasonal or temporary employees, 44 other employees who are not represented by the unions, 17 elected officials and 17 department heads, according to the town’s Human Resources Department.
Councilman Brad Loewen said that he wanted the board to look at cutting services before considering layoffs.
“But we have to make sure they’re not giving us paper clips when we need vehicles,” he said of potential departmental cuts.
Ms. Verneuille said that someone on the board needs to talk to the town’s labor attorney to open negotiations to discuss early retirement incentives. She also said that the board needed to look into eliminating $90,000 in stipends that it is slated to pay out this year.
Mr. McGintee offered to sit down with the town’s CSEA union, but Ms. Prince suggested that another board member talk to the union because of the bad blood that developed between Mr. McGintee and the union over the town’s health care negotiations last year.
“Publicly, I couldn’t disagree with you more,” said Mr. McGintee. “I’m not here to be in a love-fest with the union. ... It’s like what children do. If mommy says they can’t have something, they run to daddy. It’s a mess.”
The town is due to enter binding arbitration with the PBA in June and to renegotiate the CSEA contract next year.
Ms. Verneuille said that, in the process of digging through the town’s records in her search for the bottom of the financial quagmire, the one thing that keeps her awake at night more than any other is that she does not know when the town will run out of money this year.
“We need to make decisions quickly,” she said. “If you run out of cash, there’s not a lot of time.”
Mr. McGintee added that he knows that mortgage taxes in the second and third quarters usually come in late and the town will need to issue a short-term note to cover the anticipated income. The board also discussed a number of other cost-saving measures without making a decision to move forward on any of them, including leasing out three offices at the town facility at 300 Pantigo Place when departments that are stationed there move to the new Town Hall complex and selling town-owned land and cars. Ms. Verneuille said that she looked at the mileage on the town’s vehicles and discovered that many of them are rarely used.
Near the end of the discussion, Ms. Prince asked if it would be possible to go back to New York State to ask for more money in deficit financing. The state gave the town permission to finance $15 million in bonds to cover its shortfalls in 2007 and 2008. Ms. Verneuille estimated on Tuesday that the town was at least $16.8 million in debt at the end of 2008.
“I don’t think it’s the right or prudent thing to do,” said Ms. Verneuille of the prospect of asking the state to allow the town to borrow more money.