East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson in a state of the town address on Thursday, January 6, announced that his administration has stopped the town’s “financial bleeding” but will continue to roll back government services and spending in the new year.
“Yes, at the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, I can say the town is recovering,” said Mr. Wilkinson, a Republican, at the organizational meeting that marked the start of his second year in office. “I believe we have stopped the financial bleeding but we must continue to test the strength of our organization by doing more with less.”
The last year was dominated by the town’s struggle to dig out from under its massive debt, which a recent audit put at $28 million, and which was accrued during the prior administration of Supervisor Bill McGintee.
In 2010, the new Town Board responded to the financial crisis by cutting 50 town positions through a retirement incentive and attrition, according to Mr. Wilkinson, as well as ending the town’s leaf pickup service, consolidating departments at Town Hall and putting a piece of public property, the Fort Pond House in Montauk, up for sale. In the process, the board reduced the town’s operating budget by $8 million and delivered tax reductions of 17 to 20 percent—facts that Mr. Wilkinson highlighted in his speech.
“Government started becoming smaller and smarter,” the supervisor said. “Town government must continue to become smaller and smarter.” Later, he said “services will continue to be cut, assets will be sold,” in order to trim the budget even further, although he did not mention specific cost-cutting initiatives.
When asked on Monday about possible future streamlining measures, Councilwoman Julia Prince said she did not know about any specific plans, but said she thought the board could find more budget lines and departments to cut and downsize. Councilman Dominick Stanzione said the town may look to privatize some of its waste management operations in 2011.
“We’ve looked at the landfill and the scavenger waste operations and we’re going to take a good hard look at both of those in the very near term,” said Mr. Stanzione, a member of the Republican majority that took power at the start of 2010. “Both of those operations have options of long-term lease and or sale.”
Ms. Prince, a Democrat, said she studied that proposal three years ago, and that the board could consider it again. “I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad idea,” she said. “I just think we really need to go over it as a board.”
Mr. Wilkinson’s 15-minute speech also covered a smattering of other issues facing the town in 2011. On the topic of the town’s eroding shorelines—an issue that came to a head in the wake of a late December blizzard that caused heavy damage in Montauk and Amagansett—Mr. Wilkinson committed to a review of the coast, and said “solutions must be forthcoming and implemented quickly.” The supervisor also brought up illegal housing—which has some residents of Springs up in arms—saying that the town will embark on a “total rework” of apartment legislation.
Mr. Wilkinson took the opportunity to hail a series of legislative and managerial accomplishments by the Town Board in 2010, including the authorization of the town’s first wind turbine, the approval of a master plan for East Hampton Airport, the signing of a new police contract, and the moving of Town Board meetings to Thursday evenings.
The Town Board, however, passed on making several appointments that were expected to take place at the organizational meeting, most notably that of town attorney. Deputy Town Attorney John Jilnicki has been acting attorney since Dan Adams resigned from the post in July.
In an interview following the meeting, Mr. Wilkinson said the Town Board hasn’t had time to hash out disagreements about potential appointees, but the board could make the appointments at its next regular meeting. “We’re still sorting amongst ourselves,” he said.
Mr. Wilkinson also said that salaries for a number of town employees that were set at the organizational meeting will remain the same as they were last year, except for those of a couple of employees who were promoted to replace department heads who retired last year. At the meeting, Bay Management Specialist John “Barley” Dunne was appointed to replace John Aldred as head of the Aquaculture Department and Patrick Keller, a site crew leader, was appointed to replace Eugene Garypie as head of the Sanitation Department.
Mr. Wilkinson’s speech set the tone for the rest of the three-hour meeting, prompting commentary from some residents who took the podium to speak on unrelated issues. Debra Foster, a former Town Board member who served from 2004 to 2007, touched on the speech before she spoke about housing legislation.