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Aug 1, 2011 10:05 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampton Democratic Candidates Say They Will Restore Leaf Pickup

Aug 3, 2011 6:20 AM

Democratic candidates for East Hampton Town Board vowed this week to bring back the town’s leaf pickup program if they are elected, calling its elimination a “stealth tax” on residents who have been forced to pay private companies to cart away their leaves.

Zachary Cohen, who is running for supervisor, and Sylvia Overby and Peter Van Scoyoc, who are running for Town Board, announced their position in a press release on Monday, saying they came to the decision after conducting a cost-benefit analysis of the Highway Department’s past leaf pickup program, and studying the effects of wiping it out.

“These taxpayers will pay far, far more to landscapers to perform the same service,” the three candidates wrote in the press release. “This is financial foolery that most harms those who can least afford it, and most benefits wealthy taxpayers who get the largest savings and who often choose not to use the town-provided service.”

The current Town Board suspended the leaf pickup program last year, as part of sweeping budget cuts aimed at lowering taxes and helping the town deal with a $27 million deficit accrued over the last few years. The board eliminated the program altogether earlier this year.

The Democratic candidates claim that the Highway Department has racked up large surpluses under Superintendent Scott King, and had more than enough to fund leaf pickup in 2010 and beyond. The department, they said, ended 2010 with a $700,000 surplus, only $300,000 of which was due to the elimination of leaf pickup, and an additional $2.7 million in surplus saved from prior years.

“Taxpayers were not honestly told that the Highway Department had large surpluses, and that any new highway expenditures or savings would not affect the deficit,” the press release stated.

Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, whose administration ended the leaf pickup program, said restoring the service—as well as enacting other policies supported by the Democratic candidates in recent months, such as hiring a comptroller and administrative officer—would result in higher taxes.

“I just find that to this team, for a taxpayer the payment of taxes is a privilege, as compared to the Wilkinson administration, which sees a need for relief for that same group of people,” said Mr. Wilkinson, a Republican. “I’m astonished by it. It’s a chasm between the two sides.”

The Democratic candidates, based on their own analysis, argued that eliminating the leaf pickup program saved about $14 in taxes for a resident with a property valued at $800,000, which they said falls far short of the cost of hiring a landscapers to do the same work. They added that the program could have untapped benefits for wealthy residents, saying a homeowner with a property valued at $4 million saved about $70 from the elimination of the leaf pickup program, but likely would have to pay more to landscapers.

“Leaf pick-up is an example of government providing a service less expensively and more efficiently than the private sector,” they wrote. “One reason is that the Highway Department can organize the pickup so that all the leaves on a street are picked up on the same day. This is more efficient that having a dozen homeowners calling a dozen different landscapers.”

About half of the employees in a restored leaf pickup program, the candidates said, would be seasonal employees who worked in November and December. Full-time employees would be allowed to remain at a level “efficient for full year staffing,” they said.

Mr. Cohen is challenging Mr. Wilkinson, who took office in 2010 and is running for his second term. Ms. Overby and Mr. Van Scoyoc are running for seats on the Town Board against Republicans Steven Gaines and Richard Haeg and Independence Party candidates Marilyn Behan and Bill Mott.

The promise to restore the leaf pickup program is the latest in a string of announcements the Democratic candidates have made this summer in an attempt to flesh out their platform as they prepare to challenge Mr. Wilkinson and his running mates in November.

The candidates said, if elected, they will try to use surpluses to restore the program in 2012, then return it as an annual budget item in 2013.

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Hold on to your wallets, the Democrats are at it again!!!! Spend, spend, spend. Isn't it bad enough that far less than half the town residents even enjoyed the leaf pick up and that those that did were subsidized by those that did not? Most of Montauk didn't benefit (all those rich people out there in Montauk Zack should be paying for all those "poor" people in Northwest Woods who live in million dollar homes). Napeague, Beach Hampton, half of Wainscott, a lot of Amagansett, parts of Springs ...more
By formertbm (76), east hampton on Aug 2, 11 6:47 PM
Dems you've got my vote back. Stealth tax, you are absolutely right, and with no discernable savings. I just didn't rake my leaves and I am sure my neighbors weren't happy. There are many ways to make leaf pick-up more efficient for the town, rather than eliminating it altogether.
By ehresident57 (4), East Hampton on Aug 3, 11 2:48 PM
I would vote for them if I lived in EH. I wish the candidates here in SH realized that there are electoral advantages to reversing the suspension of leaf pickup. Requiring people to bag their leaves into a 5x5x4 feet pile is a fundamentally underhanded and dishonest way to suspend the program in SH. It justifies the collection of the same highway tax while reducing services. That is also a 'stealth' tax increase.
By Toma Noku (616), uptown on Aug 3, 11 5:41 PM
My question to resident 57 is how would you make it more efficient? How do the the Dermocrats propose to make more efficient? Naybe King and Cohen can let us in on the secret. If it could be made more efficient then why didn't Chriss Russo and Scott King make it more efficient over the last 15 years? There is little doubt that it is costly and that it is subsidized by all those people who do not benefit from it -- which is well over half the town. The promise to restore it by the Democrats ...more
By formertbm (76), east hampton on Aug 3, 11 7:05 PM
And likewise the people who don't have children would not have to pay school taxes and only those that would split the costs among themselves. I like the new A la carte tax system. Would cut my tax bill in half.
By Toma Noku (616), uptown on Aug 4, 11 7:02 AM
I wonder if they know that the equipment was auctioned off?
By pinga (90), hamptonbays on Aug 3, 11 7:18 PM
I checked and equipment was not auctioned off by the Highway Superintendent. Maybe there was a plan all along to pull this pandering political stunt?
By formertbm (76), east hampton on Aug 6, 11 10:30 AM
former town bd. member -- The real question is why didn't you make it more efficient? It's in the public record that Russo and King, on numerous ocasions, recomended ways to make it more efficient. However former town boards and former town board members (you?) refused to enable Russo or King to act. Why? Because former town boards and former town board members (you?) knew how popular the program was and were pandering for all the votes they could get. It took Wilkquig to realize the real pandering ...more
By facts man (148), east hampton on Aug 3, 11 8:29 PM
No, Russo and King personally came to Board members and asked to END the program. I know because I was one who was aked several years ago. The board never had three votes to do it. Two votes would not have done it so it did not get done. This current board had the guts to do it in the long term financial interest of the entire town. Look at what is happening in the economy and what is happening as a result of the federal government not getting spending under control
By formertbm (76), east hampton on Aug 6, 11 10:34 AM
I was a regular atendee at brown bag meetings when the public was allowed to be there. I know that Russo and King made presentations themselves and through town board members about their ideas to reduce the cost of leaf pickup. It must be in the public record, ask the town clerk. It wasn't them who were pandering it was the town board. And the fact that it needs 3 votes to pass doesnt reliese you from your responsibility to vote with Russo and King unless you were pandering to keep a popular program. ...more
By facts man (148), east hampton on Aug 6, 11 1:39 PM
Just read the articles in the Independent about leaf pick up before this became a political football. It was very clear that King wanted to end the program. Specific numbers were even presented by him to the Independent on how much could be saved if the leaf program was ended. When the new Republican majority had the guts to propose ending it, the Dems saw it as a good political issue and King mugged for the cameras and flip flopped to secure his future re-nomination, which was becoming more ...more
By formertbm (76), east hampton on Aug 6, 11 4:25 PM
Again its the public record thats real not a report in the Independent or any other news paper. And your the one who brought up the pandering issue. I say King proposed a number of ways to save money on the leaf program including bagging but NOT the compleat elimination and I'm sure the record will bear that out. I'm also sure you and others on the town board voted to deny Kings request so you would look good to the public because you voted to support a popular program inspite of the cost or the ...more
By facts man (148), east hampton on Aug 6, 11 6:02 PM
Fomertbm is right about these guys. Same thing happened in Southampton. The Highway Super says he wants to end the leaf pick up program (which is a financial black hole) then when a few complaints come in from the big mouths he caves and says he will continuie if we put the leaves in bags. Its too bad because all the Highway officials know leaf pick up is a money pit that should be stopped but no one has the resolve to to it because it may cost the votes of a vocal minority of cry babies. I ...more
By mrmako61 (148), southampton on Aug 6, 11 6:07 PM
This is SUCH a non-issue in EH that has been created by Democrat Party Leaders. When the public hearing took place on eliminating this program one - ONE - did I say one? non-present person - Sylvia Overby who was probably in Florida at the time - wrote a letter read by someone else opposing the elimination of the program because it would hurt the "the poor people". Watch the tapes of Town Board meetings - ALL of them regarding this issue over the last 3 years . . .King has flip-flopped and is ...more
By Board Watcher (534), East Hampton on Aug 31, 11 11:52 PM