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Aug 19, 2011 4:48 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Graboski Calls For Reducing Number Of Planning Board And Zoning Board Of Appeals Members

Aug 24, 2011 11:46 AM

In what is being billed as a cost-cutting move, Southampton Town Councilwoman Nancy Graboski is calling on her Town Board colleagues to reduce the number of people who sit on the town’s two appointed boards that govern land use.

The measure would eliminate two seats from the Planning Board and two from the Zoning Board of Appeals over two years, trimming each board from seven members to five, while also lengthening the terms of existing members from four to five years.

The plan is similar to one opposed by Ms. Graboski when it was introduced by Councilman Chris Nuzzi two years ago, at which time she described it as “weakening these boards and potentially compromising their ability to function optimally and in the best interest of the town.”

Times have changed, she said this week, noting the uncertain economy and a stronger need to cut costs than two years ago.

If the plan is enacted, it would save the town the cost of stipends awarded to the board members and associated benefits, Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said at a work session on Friday. Two public hearings on the measure—one for the Planning Board and the other for the ZBA—will be held on September 27 at 6 p.m. at Town Hall.

“Things are not good at the moment, and the signals out there are strong to municipalities in particular to do everything you can to reduce the cost of government,” Ms. Graboski said this week.

In total, $54,200 would be saved in stipends, according to the 2011 budget, but the overall budget impact is a matter of interpretation. A Planning Board member earns an annual stipend of $14,600; a member of the ZBA earns $12,500 annually. Ms. Graboski said the amount saved would be closer to $80,000 when accounting for benefits. According to Ms. Throne-Holst, Town Comptroller Tamara Wright estimates that the savings could be between $66,126 and $102,726, depending on whether an individual board member receives health or retirement benefits.

Planning Board member George Skidmore and ZBA member Denise Burke O’Brien would lose their seats after their terms end in December. Planning Board Vice Chairman John Blaney and ZBA Chairman Herb Phillips would follow in December 2012, when their terms are up. Of the four, all participate in the town’s health plan, and all but Mr. Skidmore are enrolled in the retirement plan. In total, about half of the members of the two boards take advantage of both benefits.

Ms. Graboski’s actions represent an about-face from her previous stance on the issue in 2009, when Mr. Nuzzi spearheaded a similar measure that was eventually thwarted after facing strong opposition from Ms. Throne-Holst, Ms. Graboski and former Councilwoman Sally Pope. Mr. Nuzzi proposed eliminating two positions on the town’s Conservation Board, in addition to two positions on the Planning Board and ZBA.

But this year’s dismal financial landscape, coupled with a 2-percent tax levy cap mandated by New York State, will force town officials to cut somewhere between $4 million and $5 million in spending just to stay afloat. It’s one of the harsh realities that Ms. Graboski said is coloring her change of heart. “I was taking a strong position in defense,” Ms. Graboski said of her comments two years ago. She added later, “I don’t know how to get rid of that contradiction.”

Ms. Throne-Holst said this week that she was willing to revisit her original stance on the issue due to tough economic times. She said she looks forward to hearing public input on the plan. Councilwoman Bridget Fleming said her initial reaction was opposition to the plan, but that she is also eager to hear the public’s take.

“We’re just beginning to explore Councilwoman Graboski’s proposal, so I look forward to public input,” Ms. Fleming said. “But my initial reaction is that we can’t afford to further constrain the diversity of these crucial land use boards. If anything, we should be moving in the other direction.”

Appointments to the two boards have traditionally been labeled as political plums. Two years ago, many cried foul when Republican Mr. Nuzzi’s legislation would have removed Democrat Jaqui Lofaro from the Planning Board.

Ms. Graboski, a Republican, firmly said that her measure was not motivated by politics. Due to term limits, she will no longer sit on the Town Board after her term expires at the end of the year. “As you know, politically, I have nothing at stake,” she said. “My only intention is to carry out my responsibility.”

Neither board chairman believed the measure was politically motivated. In fact, Mr. Phillips, a Republican who would lose his seat under the measure, said he supports reducing the number of board members, because the seven-member panels have become too “unwieldy.”

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Ridiculous proposal to reduce the Boards. There is a bigger bang if you cut benefits to Town employees. Time to Increase staff in Code Enforcement too. Lots of violations written and no consequences.
By auntof9 (135), Southampton on Aug 19, 11 6:30 PM
1 member liked this comment
Yeah! Who needs benefits. It should be every man and woman's responsibility to take care of themselves no matter what the cost. Of course, you might not have anybody willing to pave your roads, pick up your litter, guard your beaches......
By tenn tom (218), remsenburg on Aug 20, 11 8:00 AM
It's a Republican power grab just like what Chris Nuzzi tried in 2009 and it should go down again. The difference here is that it's being cloaked as a money saving measure in a time when we need to save. While every little bit helps, $54,000 really isn't much to save in the whole scheme of things -- not at the cost of frustrating the election process by limiting the appointments of the winners, one of whom is sure to be the (unopposed) Supervisor. And besides, how do you save anything by extending ...more
By fidelis (199), westhampton beach on Aug 22, 11 1:37 PM
2 members liked this comment
I would like to point out that retiring but one of the six STPD sergeants still serving years beyond his Town Code mandated retirement date would save the Town $$200K/yr. Why IS it that the Town Council continues to overlook savings of this magnitude in the years since Linda Kabot originally proposed them (before she was falsely arrested for DWI?)
By highhatsize (3886), East Quogue on Aug 22, 11 7:32 PM
2 members liked this comment
How about we cut the town electrical dept to zero employees. This is a disorganized mess that loses money. The private sector does their job for a lot less money. How about getting rid of some cops. Go down to the Boardy Barn on Sunday and see Southamptons finest hard at work. Usually a minimum of ten officers protecting private property and oogling girls. What about highway workers? With out the leaf pickup what the heck will they be doing this fall?
By chief1 (2605), southampton on Aug 23, 11 11:26 PM
If the Town is looking to make money, maybe they shouldn't allow the judges to throw out tickets given by law enforecement, some of which are working OT when issuing tickets.....Lets pay them OT but then not make any of it back and let the offenders slide....IDIOTS..there is plenty of money to be made in this town!
By special k (3), Southampton on Aug 25, 11 4:27 PM
Shameful move IMO.

Tough economic times call for tough budget cuts, but diluting the "Power of the People" on these boards is disingenuous at best.

Really Nancy, is the article correct in saying that you opposed a similar move a couple of years ago.

Hmmmmm, what kind of wacko board-stacking is below the radar screen here?

By PBR (4895), Southampton on Aug 26, 11 7:27 PM
I seldom butt in on SH news but the "power of the people" on these boards? Really, PBR - it hasn't escaped anyone's attention - I would hope - that these are APPOINTED positions for a limited amount of time - and each member has his/her own "views" which may/may not be swayed by those who annointed - oh I mean appointed - them -- so which party are YOU in? No . . . let me guess . . .
By Board Watcher (530), East Hampton on Aug 26, 11 11:43 PM