East Hampton Town Takes Sharp Knife to Spending

Posted on 08 October 2010

East Hampton Town Supervisor William Wilkinson has presented a tentative 2011 budget of $63.67 million, which cuts net spending by $8.05 million or 11 percent from the 2010 budget.

The tentative spending plan presents a 20.4 percent town tax decrease for residents living inside the Village of East Hampton, with residents outside the village looking at a 17.7 percent decrease in town taxes.

The tax levy, the actual amount of property taxes collected to fund town services and government, is reduced by $10.4 million in the tentative budget, an 18.5 percent decrease from the 2010 budget.

“My tentative budget moves the town away from the six year financial wasteland from 2004 to the period prior to January 1, 2010, when general fund deficits exploded to a projected $30 million, proper accounting of finances ceased to exist, and the budget process lacked basic discipline; towards the priorities of closing our huge structural deficit, properly guarding and accounting for the people’s money, and making the processes of government professional, honest and open,” stated Wilkinson in his tentative budget message.

During a town board meeting on Tuesday, Wilkinson said the tentative budget was achieved through the hard work of board members, the budget office and department heads alike, and a commitment to a zero-based budgeting process.

According to the tentative budget, over half of the decreases in spending come from 34 full time positions being eliminated through New York State’s early retirement program, saving $2.7 million in annual salary and benefit costs. Additionally, Wilkinson reports that 18 funded positions within the town, positions either not filled or those that became vacant over the course of the year, were kept vacant and have been eliminated in the 2011 spending plan. This has resulted in a savings of $1.53 million, for a total of $4.23 million saved as a result of staff reductions within the town.

The tentative budget also shows a net decrease of $1.2 million through cuts in equipment costs, operations, insurance costs, contingency and debt throughout town departments. Wilkinson states in his tentative budget message that the overall decrease is significant as the town has seen an $824,000 increase in its state retirement contributions, a $943,000 increase in the cost for health insurance premiums and has increased its debt service payments in regards to the deficit financing to pay down the town’s $30 million deficit.

“Importantly, the tentative budget does not rely heavily on the sale of assets to meet our tax-cutting goals — although we hope to generate far more revenue from asset sales in 2011 than we project in the budget,” said Wilkinson in the tentative budget message.

According to the budget, the $63.67 million revenue target will be achieved through $46 million in collected property taxes, $1.13 million of appropriated Highway Department surplus funds and $16.54 million in non-tax revenues. The tentative budget includes a $1.25 million net increase in new non-property tax revenues, some of which Wilkinson states will come from a new town program that auctions surplus equipment. The town has projected that program will raise $207,500 in revenues, although Wilkinson said he predicts the revenues raised in the sale of assets exclusive of real property will in fact be higher than budgeted.

Wilkinson estimates net revenue of $250,000 from the sale of surplus property.

The supervisor also proposes to cut the town’s leaf pick-up program, which traditionally costs around $450,000 annually plus an investment of $120,000 in equipment.

“For some of our residents this decision is not a popular one, but it is a program that has become a luxury in light of the dire financial situation created over the last six years,” said Wilkinson. “We will be working with local volunteer groups and the town’s community services program to assist seniors in moving their leaves from their residences to the Town Recycling Center. As in the past, residents can self haul their leaves to the Recycling Center with no drop off fees.”

The Recycling Center will also be closed one day a week, which Wilkinson said will save the town $250,000 annually in operating costs.

Reorganization of staff in order to share resources between departments, and a stricter car pool policy, are other areas Wilkinson said would be addressed towards cost savings.

On Tuesday, October 5 at a town board meeting, Wilkinson said the board will spend two hours discussing the budget in work session on October 12 and again on October 19, prior to a November 4 public hearing. Copies of the tentative budget are available in the town clerk’s office.

After a November 9 work session to take into account public sentiment on aspects of the spending plan, Wilkinson said he hopes to have the budget adopted by November 18. The town board must adopt the budget by November 20.

“My tentative budget is the product of many difficult decisions, the most difficult of which is the implementation of staff reduction remedies,” concluded Wilkinson. “We thank each and every member of the staff that has retired through the State early retirement program. I thank you for your years of service and for your actions that prevented so very many more involuntary terminations.”

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