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May 4, 2010 4:28 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampton to state comptroller: No kidding. We're cutting the budget

May 4, 2010 4:28 PM

East Hampton Town’s budget officer and recently elected Republican Town Board members lashed out this week at circulated reports of the New York State comptroller’s response to a three-year financial plan required once the town receives $30 million in deficit financing.

In an April 19 letter, Deputy State Comptroller Steven Hancox told the administration that its plan, submitted in late March, “contains several ambitious assumptions that create risks for the town’s long-term financial position.”

Debra Foster, an active town Democrat, and Jennifer Mulligan this week circulated the fourth edition of their “East Hampton Financial Report,” a purportedly non-partisan e-mail update on the town’s financial health, which included a number of statements that drew the ire of Town Board members, who are struggling to grapple with a deficit believed to be as high as $30 million inherited in January from the previous administration of Democrat Bill McGintee.

Budget officer Len Bernard told the board on Tuesday that nearly every point in the e-mail bulletin included a misstatement, while Supervisor Bill Wilkinson last week sent Mr. Hancox a letter stating, in essence, that he’s not surprised that the comptroller believes the plan’s goals are not consistent with past practices.

“I said, ‘No kidding. It is a significant departure from the past,’” Mr. Wilkinson said at Tuesday’s work session.

Mr. Hancox’s letter stated that the plan’s projected 15-percent decrease in personal services and employee benefits expenditures was optimistic, which Ms. Foster and Ms. Mulligan, in their document, stated incorrectly was a planned 15-percent decrease in services.

“You can reduce personnel without reducing services,” said Mr. Wilkinson.

The plan calls for $2 million in additional state-approved financing for a voluntary separation plan, which would enable the town to offer retirement incentives to 45 to 50 town employees without refilling the positions, for a projected savings of $2.25 million per year, after a $250,000 per year 10-year financing plan for the incentives is taken into account. The town would also save $750,000 per year in benefits for those employees.

The deputy comptroller also expressed skepticism about the new administration’s plans to realize $4.5 million in revenue from asset sales between now and 2013, when the town has only received, on average, $200,000 per year for sales of property in the past five years.

In his response letter, Mr. Wilkinson said that the town will likely net $750,000 to $1 million from the sale of one property on Fort Pond Bay and that the town has identified “another 10 parcels similar to the Montauk piece” to be sold over the next three years.

Mr. Bernard added that the town had already received $70,000 from an equipment and vehicle sale that concluded last week.

“Obviously, there are more of those to come,” he said of the auction.

Mr. Bernard said that he was also shocked that the private financial report e-mailed to community members stated that the comptroller’s office must approve the plan before the town can receive financing, since the former administration began borrowing the initial $15 million in 2008 and never filed a three-year plan, despite the fact that it was required to do so.

“That is absolutely not true. It’s an intentional misstatement or stupidity,” said Mr. Bernard, who added that he was unsure what impact the e-mail would have on the State Legislature’s approval of the financing.

“That depends who reads that and gets on the phone and calls them,” he said.

The conversation reached fever pitch in the context of the town’s long-anticipated audits of its financial position, which are needed to gauge the true depth of the deficit.

Mr. Bernard said that he anticipates the 2008 audit will show that the town’s general funds were in debt to the tune of $21 million and that he anticipates the capital fund will be $9 million in debt. He said that he expects the 2008 audit and an audit of the town’s Community Preservation Fund will be completed soon.

“Based on the 2008 audit, it looks like we’re going to need every penny” of the deficit funding, he said.

Mr. Hancox said that the plan’s goal of reducing property taxes by 5 percent each of the next three years is ambitious, and that “if the planned spending reductions don’t materialize, additional deficits will occur.”

Mr. Bernard acknowledged that the plan was a blueprint that was subject to revision.

“It is a plan. It has projections,” he said. “We’re going to create budgets that reflect the reality of what we’re experiencing.”

“We will not put on the backs of the citizens of East Hampton another tax increase. That was the catalyst for this design. I will not burden the taxpayers of this town because of what I think is mismanagement for the past six years,” said Mr. Wilkinson, who added in his letter that he believed his slate’s 70 percent margin of victory in last November’s election made clear that residents expect him to cut the town’s budget.

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I love Debra Foster's comments. She was on the Town Board for four years and is partly responsible for the mess we are in. If she couldn't help then what makes us think she knows what to do now. That's a laugh.
By housewife (79), east hampton on May 5, 10 11:07 AM
Time to stop talking...more drastic actions are needed now...spend less, sell more...pretty straightforward plan.
By voter (33), Amagansett on May 5, 10 11:19 AM
Indeed, Ms. Foster has and is a party hack of the worst sort. Always has been, and never "non=partizan". She saw the handwriting on the wall and got out rather than blow a whistle.

Seems to me that current Gvt. is going in the correct direction. Let's look at the results next Jan. before making decisions.
By Lost Tribe (66), East Hampton on May 6, 10 2:03 AM
I applaud what the Board has done thus far, they are on their way to doing exactly what they said they would do. While it may sound ambitious to try to actaully reduce taxes int he future - I am happy enough that we will not get smacked with any more huge increases in the near future due to financial mismanagement and cow-towing to special interest groups. The decisions this Board is making are tough on on spot. Keep it up.
By Board Watcher (534), East Hampton on May 6, 10 9:50 AM
Now if only the school districts would take the hint.
By montaukman (98), easthampton on May 6, 10 11:05 PM
Maybe we should think why the comptroller ridiculed the town financial plan.What has the Town Board done so far?
They eliminated $375,000 of income from beach stickers and replaced it with increased dock fees of $40,000. Fired only part timers. Sold assets for about $70,000 including a $25,000 boat for $13,000. Discovered there are fewer then a dozen real estate properties to sell rather then scores. Consolidated departments with no decrease in personell. Begged the State for $30 mil. ...more
By facts man (148), east hampton on May 9, 10 10:28 AM
facts man sounds like a Conservator. Wilkie has been there 4 months give him a chance to deal with the $30 million audited deficit he inherited. From my reading of the article and the related articles listed above I count $3 million a year in salay cuts, $500,000 reduction in leaf pick up, $300,000 a year in one day a week dump closing, like $100,000 savings from cutsin part time jobs and whatever they call the extra someone gets like the Dep. Supervisor, another $200,000 for not backfilling ...more
By connwatcher (112), east hampton on May 9, 10 1:32 PM
WHAT insurance is going up? W/C, liability, health, fire/property coverage? What? Has it been put to bid? Have we a volunteer dollar a year man retired ins. guy/gal to review the cost/benefit of coverages? ETC ETC.....$1MILL in one year seems excessive and r4pe for competition.

By Lost Tribe (66), East Hampton on May 9, 10 6:26 PM
Nope, not a Conservator. Wish I were that rich. Not a town employee. Wish I was civil service and union protected. Not a member of ANY political party. I'm a retired guy living on the edge who, in the last 35 years, has watched the inmates take over the assilum on the streets as well as in town hall.
The report to the comptroller is only a wish list and he believes it won't work. He used politically correct language to describe it but he really means he thinks its full of it. And its ...more
By facts man (148), east hampton on May 10, 10 9:40 AM
Facts "man" is definitely a Conservator. You have five board members who all have the stomach to cut staff and reduce costs. The three new members ran on it and got almost 70% of the vote and the two returning board members were ready to read off the staff cuts they believed could be made until Mansir and Lowen got up a walked out of the meeting last November. if this board can't cut then no one can. By the way civil service does not translate into protection. Cuts can be made.

One ...more
By connwatcher (112), east hampton on May 10, 10 8:11 PM
Hey facts man do you think our UNELECTED New York State Comptroller even knows how to spell the words 'budget cut'? Remember he was a member of the legislature in Albany. All he knows how to do is spend.
By montaukman (98), easthampton on May 11, 10 6:26 AM
1 member liked this comment
Thanks, montaukman for reminding me that Ben Zwirn touted the fact that he was FRIENDS with DiNapoli throughout his ill-fated campaign . . . perhaps if the Democrats came up with this plan the UNELECTED NYS Comptroller would be praising it to the high hills . . .just a thought... and "factsman" - ??? sounds like a lot of mindless "predictions" rather than "facts" - are you and David Rattray related??
By Board Watcher (534), East Hampton on May 12, 10 3:39 PM
Come on guys. The publishers of 27 East are giving you the chance to debate. Take advantage of it. I'm stating facts as I understand them and reaching conclusions based on those facts and my experience. Also I'm who I said I am. I'm not a Dem.,a conservator, McGintee, Foster, an unelected official, or related to Rattray. Nor any other boogyman you have hiding in your closet. Go ahead make me look stupid, its OK. Because right now your just calling me names and your the ones who look dumb. Fact
By facts man (148), east hampton on May 14, 10 10:57 AM
Facts Man I'm not calling you anything but Facts Man. I do however believe that so many people are angry about what's been done to them and their town that there is just no patience any more for debate. People see this administration as their last hope. These people( the administration) are doing exactly what they campaigned on, and those who screwed it up are just standing around throwing rocks. It's time for them to get with the program'stop the lies, deceit, and politics and offer something ...more
By montaukman (98), easthampton on May 14, 10 2:30 PM
you can thank mcguilty for the insurance change what did you think the insurance company was going to do when they got there hooks into the town coffers?lower there rates not.now is the time to switch back to island group.but remember business as usual up at town hall don't forget the pr woman.
By asurest (117), easthampton on May 14, 10 8:05 PM