Finance Talk Takes Backseat To Bickering

Posted on 21 August 2008

Last Friday the Southampton Town Board met to go over the financial state of the town. While it was revealed that the town is looking at a $2.9 million-deficit in the general fund, what generated the most discussion was a last minute special meeting called by supervisor Linda Kabot.
Shortly after town attorney Kathleen Murray began briefing the board on the subject of the special meeting, councilman Chris Nuzzi asked how such a substantial discussion could just appear on a work session agenda. Kabot responded, “Because I’m the supervisor and I can put resolutions on special meeting notices.”
The meeting in question was called to adopt a public hearing on a resolution concerning vacant seats on the town board. It was essentially a carry over from earlier in the year, when the issue arose as Kabot’s town board seat was left empty after she won the supervisor spot in last November’s election.
A public hearing was held on the resolution back in February, which at that time stated the town “may” consider a special election to fill a vacant seat rather than appoint. The sticking point though was whether the town or Suffolk County would absorb the cost. Ultimately the resolution was not adopted and Republican Dan Russo was appointed to fill Kabot’s vacant seat.
“What usually happens with an item like this,” said Nuzzi, “is a phone call or a memo.”
Kabot informed Nuzzi that the subject had been discussed at a previous work session that he was unable to attend. Nuzzi then asked “which of the 2,420 work sessions” held this year was that.
Kabot explained that the decision to call the special meeting was based around time constraints. The new law, in order to appear on the ballot in this November’s election, must be adopted by September 4. She also explained that the special meeting was simply to adopt a date for a public hearing where the issue could be further vetted.
“I think the point Chris [Nuzzi] is trying to make is we’re being asked to hold a work session and immediately vote on a public hearing, which immediately eliminates a discussion among all of us,” said councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst.
“Well what kind of discussion would you like to have? That’s what work sessions are about,” said Kabot.
“In this case the work session has come with a resolution in front of us and expectation we vote on it an hour later,” responded Throne-Holst.
Kabot made it clear that there was no pressing need to set a public hearing or to even have the law on the November ballot. She said she had no problem putting it off until next year.
“I’m not going to pressure anybody to favorably vote on something,” said Kabot. “At the end of the day anything like this needs voter approval, and I was trying to meet time constraints.”
“Don’t worry so much about the headlines [in the paper],” said Nuzzi. “Worry about the issue.”
“I’m not here running around looking for headlines, and I really resent that statement,” said Kabot. “What I did not do correctly, was vet this out with the entire board.”
“The point is we need to have a formal process,” said Throne-Holst. “Frankly what should have happened, because of the timeline, is this should have been discussed months ago.”
Ultimately, the special meeting was called to order and Kabot withdrew the resolution.
As for the financial health of the town, independent auditing firm, Albrecht, Viggiano, Zureck and Company, presented the municipality’s 2007 financial statements and reported on the balances of the town’s major funds.
The town’s police fund deficit grew from $4 million to over $4.5 million at year-end 2007, the highway fund deficit grew to $669,567 at year end 2007 and the waste management enterprise fund deficit grew to over $2 million at year end 2007.
The auditors also disclosed that the town has negative fund balances in certain special districts, including the Hampton Bays Water District at approximately $215,000 as of December 31, 2007. Year End deficits in lesser amounts are also present in the Hampton Bays Public Parking District, Bridgehampton Public Parking District, Noyac Fire Protection District, and Bay Point Fire Protection District.
Kabot stated, “Working with the town board, I am committed to steering the town toward greater fiscal well-being.”
She said that over the next several weeks, she will be meeting with department heads to review the 2007 audited figures for each cost center and the current status of the 2008 budget, in order to prepare the 2009 budget with an eye towards tightening up expenses and streamlining operations.

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