More than two dozen Civil Service Employee Association employees protested at Southampton Town Hall on Tuesday evening over layoffs in the $78 million tentative 2010 budget.
On the steps of Town Hall, Southampton CSEA President Pete Collins told union members to send a message to the Town Board.
“Stare into their eyes and give ’em hell,” Mr. Collins said.
The rally came as the Town Board held its first public hearing on the budget proposed by Town Supervisor Linda Kabot, which includes 44 layoffs and numerous cuts to government services. Hardest hit includes youth services and the animal shelter, which is seeing its budget cut completely, from $1 million this year to just a $200,000 emergency fund next year as part of a bid to privatize operations.
League of Women Voters of the Hamptons Vice President Judi Roth decried proposed cuts of two full-time staff in SEA-TV, the public television station that broadcasts educational programs and government meetings.
“The League of Women Voters is a strong advocate of transparency in government. We believe in a robust discussion of issues that affect the community,” Ms. Roth said. “The role of SEA-TV in dissemination of this information cannot be overstated. Therefore, we respectfully ask the board to carefully consider the effect that budget cuts to SEA-TV programming will have on the entire fabric of the community.”
SEA-TV Director Bruce Nalepinski warned that services would be reduced if the cuts went forward. This year, the station covered government meetings on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday and covered weekend events, he said. “We would not be able to shoot as many meetings and go to as many events,” he said. “A lot of the stuff that is done at night and over the weekend would have to be cut.”
However, Ms. Kabot said that at least one of the positions can be restored by diverting additional money from Cablevision franchise fees. “No one wants to wipe anyone out,” she said. “These are very difficult times we are facing. Difficult decisions need to be made—and they are very difficult.”
Also at the meeting, Ms. Kabot released audit results focusing on the town’s capital fund and general fund deficits. The audit, which began in May and cost more than $800,000, was performed by FTI Consulting Global of Boston.
Ms. Kabot said the capital fund deficit was $5.32 million in 2007. She cautioned that only 2003 through 2007 figures for the capital fund are available, and that more up-to-date figures are expected in the coming weeks. She said she expects the deficit to be above $6 million.
She announced the total general fund deficit is $7.68 million. She said that number has been confirmed by the auditors.
Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst, a Democrat who is running for supervisor in the November 3 election, voiced criticism that the final capital fund deficit numbers are not yet ready. “No matter what you hear tonight, we still don’t know the numbers,” she said.
Ms. Kabot responded, “Of course, but this is a work in progress.”
To keep the town solvent, Ms. Kabot has proposed paying off the deficits in two ways: By raising the property tax rate by 5 percent next year, the total allowable limit under town law, Ms. Kabot hopes to pay off the general fund deficit by the end of 2010. However, to pay off the capital fund deficit, Ms. Kabot is seeking Town Board approval to have a supplemental tax hike added to property tax bills. If her proposal is approved, Ms. Kabot said the capital fund deficit can be paid off within five years.
The supervisor said she opposes borrowing from the state to pay off deficits. Such a move could bring the town closer to “junk bond status” with downgrades in the town’s bond rating, she said, adding, “I am flatly against that.”