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Jan 20, 2010 12:04 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town budget committee's fate uncertain

Jan 20, 2010 12:04 PM

Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst is pushing for the Budget and Finance Committee to be abolished, but members of the group say that their work was essential to cutting spending in the 2010 town budget, and they are considering forming their own private financial watchdog group if the committee is disbanded.

It may not come to that, though, because Town Councilwoman Nancy Graboski is pushing back, saying this week that she will propose reappointing several of the committee members at the Town Board’s meeting on January 26.

Ms. Throne-Holst was planning to abolish the committee at that board meeting and already sent out a letter to the members of the group informing them of its impending demise. The supervisor has said she wants to abolish the committee in order to focus her energy on appointing members to another advisory panel, the Audit Committee, and redefining its scope.

In a memorandum circulated to the Town Board this week, Ms. Graboski wrote that “it is more important than ever to have the benefit of the fiscal competency brought by these individuals.” She went on to write that the Budget Committee helped the town and “proved to be committed, hard-working, and effective—in short their involvement has been a real asset to the town.”

Town Councilmen Chris Nuzzi and Jim Malone—who, along with Ms. Graboski, make up the Republican/Conservative majority on the four-member Town Board—did not return phone calls seeking comment on the subject.

At least three members of the Budget Committee, including Mike Kelly of Water Mill, seem to be siding with Ms. Graboski and want to see the group continue in some shape or form, even if it is not under the banner of an official town committee. Mr. Kelly said that e-mails have been circulating among the members about the possibility of continuing the committee as an independent watchdog group.

“It’s very helpful for elected officials to have an outside group with financial expertise look at things, and give their opinion,” said Mr. Kelly, who has worked in the financial sector for more than 30 years. “It helps to have that.”

The committee consists of town employees—including Management Services Administrator Richard Blowes; former Deputy Supervisor and Human Services Director Bill Jones; Comptroller Tamara Wright; Janice Wilson, the supervisor’s executive assistant; and former Supervisor Linda Kabot— and town citizens Glorian Berk and Maura Doyle of Water Mill, Stan Cohen of Sag Harbor, Ian MacPherson and Jeffrey Vogel of Bridgehampton, Forest Markowitz of Westhampton Beach, David Run and Rick Sobrevinas of Southampton, and Mr. Kelly.

At a recent Town Board work session, Ms. Wright and Town Clerk Sundy Schermeyer expressed their frustration in working with the committee, complaining that the members demanded financial figures immediately. Ms. Schermeyer also said one of the members approached her in an unprofessional manner.

Mr. Markowitz of Westhampton Beach said that friction between the group and the town could have been due to differences in how the public and private sector handle finances and budgeting. Mr. Markowitz, who has spent most of his career in the public sector working for the City of New York, said that the private sector often has financial projections that go at least five years into the future. “Numbers are available on the drop of the dime, and they have projections going way out into the future,” Mr. Markowitz said. Public entities, however, do not complete projections well into the future, and also organize their numbers differently, he explained.

The conflicts also might have been due to the town’s financial crisis and Ms. Wright’s efforts to clean it up, Mr. Markowitz said. Last year, the town discovered some $13 million in capital fund appropriations that were never moved out of the capital fund. Ms. Wright might have been too busy unraveling the faulty accounting practices that led to the financial crisis to work with the committee, Mr. Markowitz said.

“In defense of Ms. Wright, she has a full plate and walked into a mess,” he said. “I thought she was doing a bang-up job fixing it. She had a lot to do, and trying to meet some of these requests for data was just too much.”

Still, Mr. Kelly said the committee played an integral role in bringing the budget down from $82.5 million in 2009 to approximately $78.8 million in 2010. “I think that is a significant accomplishment,” he said, adding that it is very difficult for municipalities to cut spending.

The Budget and Finance Committee also recommended keeping close tabs on benefits granted to union employees, according to Mr. Kelly. “We have said that government benefits on a pension basis and overall benefits are growing much faster than in the private sector,” he said, explaining that the growth is a problem because the town does not have the necessary financial resources to pay future benefits already granted to unions. “If you have future obligations for pension and health care that you owe a workforce, you should have financial planning to pay for it.”

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80% percent of the town budjet is mandated and goes to pensions and benifits of retired teachers and town employees. No one can change that, untill we reilize no one no company no town no state no country can hire someone for 20 years and then pay them for 40 more on a retirement deal we signed 50 years ago when heath benits were $50 dollara a month, now they cost $1500 a month and thats why your taxse doupled in last 3 years and watch out for the next 10 years when they bankrupt us all.
By take our town back (10), southampton on Jan 21, 10 7:10 PM
the only way to fix town, country and state proplems is make it 30 years and or 60 years age before pension s paid and make it a funded pension not unfunded, fix that and you fix the counrty. the rest of the world does it like that. who signed there deals for us back then we should sue them.
By take our town back (10), southampton on Jan 21, 10 7:15 PM