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Jun 10, 2008 9:58 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampton board calls for budget officer to be fired

Jun 10, 2008 9:58 AM

The four members of the East Hampton Town Board formally asked Supervisor Bill McGintee to replace town budget officer Ted Hults this week, saying that they have “lost all confidence” in Mr. Hults’s ability to manage the town’s finances.

In a week when the town learned from state officials that its budget deficit is likely more than $10 million, not the $8.1 million most recently reported, board members penned a memo to the supervisor asking that Mr. Hults be replaced as soon as possible. The four councilpersons, Brad Loewen, Pete Hammerle, Pat Mansir and Julia Prince, all signed the memo.

“He’s a nice man but he cannot stay in that position,” Councilwoman Mansir said on Monday. “We’ve talked with Ted and told him we are asking him to step aside and allow us to get someone who can answer the questions that we have asked him and gotten no satisfactory answers to.”

Supervisor McGintee, in a memo responding to the board’s request, said on Monday that he has no plans to replace Mr. Hults.

“The budget officer serves at the pleasure of the supervisor and he will continue to do so,” Mr. McGintee said. “It’s very unfair of the board to do this but it’s not up to them, it’s up to me, and I have every confidence in Ted Hults.”

The budget officer is appointed by the supervisor and must be confirmed by a majority of the five-member board. The four councilpersons do not have the power to fire him on their own, according to Town Attorney Laura Molinari.

Board members have grown increasingly critical of the budget office in recent months as the extent of the town’s fiscal crisis has come to light. The board has requested detailed statements of town spending and revenues from the current year on a regular basis; an accounting of costs incurred by the town in connection with Community Preservation Fund acquisitions, and a breakdown of the status of each of the town’s numerous capital projects from the budget office. They have received none of the information they have asked for, according to Councilwoman Julia Prince.

“I’ve been asking for these statements, simple statements of how much money there is, for two months now—and nothing,” Ms. Prince said in late May. “He keeps saying it’s because of the new computer system. But these are basic things a budget office should be able to provide no matter what computer system they have.”

At a meeting with board members last month, Mr. Hults said that the computer system used by the budget office does not allow the office to print out monthly updates of the town’s spending and revenue intake. He said a new system currently being installed will allow such reports to be issued automatically but that uploading the information has bogged down the shorthanded budget office staff.

Most of the board members have mentioned replacing Mr. Hults but have never taken the formal step of demanding the supervisor to remove him.

Councilman Hammerle said that the last straw for him was the inaccuracy of the financial statements released to credit companies when the town put out bond requests recently. The statements understated the extent of the town’s fiscal troubles, he said; they showed, for example, that the 2008 budget would produce a funding surplus. The 2008 budget will more likely produce an increasing deficit, Mr. Hammerle said, though a smaller one than in recent years following efforts by the board in the last month to cut spending.

Mr. Hammerle said that, in interviews last week with auditors from the New York State comptrollers office, who have been reviewing the town’s finances, state officials told board members that the town’s bookkeeping is in such disarray that they have been unable to trace accounting paperwork for some town capital projects.

“When the state auditors are looking at you and shaking their heads and saying that they’d love to help us fix things but they just can’t get the information they need, you’ve got a real problem,” Mr. Hammerle said. “Department heads … have been talking about this for years—that you never get an answer out of that office. They say ‘we’ll get back to you’ and then you never hear from them. That is how we got into this mess, plain and simple.”

Board members have said that they have long been kept in the dark about the status of the town’s finances because of a lack of information provided by the budget office and the supervisor regarding spending and revenues. Mr. Hammerle has accused Mr. McGintee and his predecessor, Jay Schneiderman, of “playing politics” with the town budget—increasing spending to appease residents without taking the politically dangerous step of raising the necessary taxes to cover the spending.

Mr. Hammerle said that the board’s request for Mr. Hults’s replacement raises the question of who would replace him. Finding a replacement would technically be the job of the supervisor but Mr. Hammerle has said board members are doing their own searching.

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