On Thursday night, the East Hampton Town Board swiftly adopted its 2012 budget after increasing its contingency account by $20,000. According to town budget officer Len Bernard, that change in the spending plan was meant to increase funding to the after-school program Project MOST, although the current town board did not earmark the money specifically for the organization.
“I think that was done in an effort to give some of the new town board members some latitude in how much funding they give to Project MOST when they take office after the first of the year,” said Bernard on Monday morning. “They could actually take more out of the contingency account than $20,000 if they wanted to.”
Earlier this month, Democratic candidates Sylvia Overby and Peter Van Scoyoc were elected to serve on the town board. They join Republican board members Dominick Stanzione and Theresa Quigley. The supervisor’s race between incumbent Republican Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and his challenger Zachary Cohen remains too close to call.
Parents, teachers and community members implored the town board to increase Project MOST’s funding at the town’s only public hearing on the budget on November 10.
Project MOST is a not-for-profit organization that provides after-school care and education to close to 300 students at The Springs School and in the East Hampton School District. In Supervisor Wilkinson’s preliminary budget, the town proposed to maintain its current level of funding for the organization at $10,000.
Facing an increase in the number of students, and parents, who rely on the after-school programming, as well as the fact that grant opportunities are contingent on town and school district support, the organization asked the town to increase its funding to $60,000 annually.
After Thursday night’s adoption of the budget, it appears the organization is halfway to its goal, now expected to receive at least $30,000 in financial support from the Town of East Hampton.
The final $65,731,372 adopted budget raises spending by just over 2.5 percent, although taxes will be reduced significantly in the villages within the Town of East Hampton. Residents outside of the incorporated villages will see a less than one-percent decrease, according to Bernard.
According to Supervisor Wilkinson’s original budget message, the increase in town spending is primarily due to a rise in the cost of employee benefits and, in part, to begin paying off the $27.3 million debt left by the previous administration.
In order to cut spending, Supervisor Wilkinson said he has “restructured” town government by merging departments and streamlining them, allowing employees to serve several functions within the town. Supervisor Wilkinson has also said discontinuation of the leaf pick-up program coupled with the closing of the town’s Recycling Center on Wednesdays has resulted in $700,000 in annual savings.
The budget also includes the sale of East Hampton Town’s portion of The Poxabogue Golf Center. The board agreed to sell its portion of the golf center to Southampton Town for $2.2 million earlier this fall. In addition to that revenue, Supervisor Wilkinson said he expects the town to collect an additional $200,000 from Southampton Town for golf center revenues it is owed for the last year.
Since the budget was presented to the town board, outside of the $20,000 placed in the contingency account for Project MOST, the board also increased $35,000 for the town’s Office of Housing and Community Development funding. Director Tom Ruhle reported he expects a smaller portion of funding from Section 8 housing administrative fees in 2012 and would need more financial support to run his department.
After a computer error, Bernard said the board also added about $60,000 to the budget to cover the cost of the town’s planning board.
According to Bernard, in the villages of Sag Harbor and East Hampton, residents can expect to see a 9.17-percent decrease in their taxes. For a home with a market value of $900,000, Bernard said that would result in a $79 savings. For residents living outside the villages, Bernard said the tax decrease was “minimal” and would result in less than $1 a year in savings.