Less Than Nothing

Posted on 26 November 2010

Southampton Town is trying to pass a budget for the coming year. This is what municipalities do in this season — look ahead, make difficult decisions, tighten or loosen belts and get on with it.

The problem is, there are members of the Southampton Town board who, while objecting to some of the proposals included in the budget, aren’t offering any concrete solutions or suggestions about what to keep and what to toss overboard. And in the end, it’s very difficult to move a budget along if all the players aren’t participating.

No one wants to see taxes go up, and no one wants to see services cut. But when you’re on a board crafting a budget, just voicing objections to one item or the other isn’t going to suffice.

If board members want to introduce a new budget item, fine, and if they want to reduce the budget they need to suggest a way to do that as well. Because come Friday, the budget by law has to get passed and they need to have this together.

We’ve been watching the budget process over in East Hampton as well in recent weeks, and even with a split board, the board seems to have negotiated a reasonable budget crafted of the kind of give and take that is required in this process. A few community service items that had been cut were added back in and they seem to have moved much closer to an endgame.

But in Southampton there seems to be a lack of clarity about what the final dénouement will be. Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst wants to add a modest tax raise into the budget in order to pay off some of the debt the town has incurred in recent years. The logic being it might be a bit painful now, but in long term will get the town out of debt earlier. Is this the right thing to do? Maybe it is if it saves the town money in interest payments in the long run. Maybe it isn’t given the difficulties residents are still facing with the floundering economy.

But this is not the kind of debate that came up with this proposal. Instead of a give and take over the pros and cons of raising taxes or not, what we heard from councilman James Malone was a staunch refusal to increase taxes. What we heard from everyone else was even less.

It reminds us a lot what was said during the recent election season. Candidates who offered heartfelt pledges to spare taxpayers the pain of parting with any more of their hard earned money, but who never ultimately came forward with any plans or details about how government would function as a result.

Don’t get us wrong, we feel it’s fine to object to the notion of raising taxes and cutting of services. But board members who object owe it to the public they serve to bring concrete alternatives to the table and engage in real and fruitful debate. This is not a campaign. It’s a working budget. So let’s have the conversation.

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