Tag Archive | "Bill Wilkinson"

East Hampton Town Supervisors Debate Finances, Experience & the Future of the East Hampton Airport

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On Monday night during the first televised debate between candidates vying for the East Hampton Town Supervisors seat, a brief sparring match erupted between incumbent Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Democratic candidate Zach Cohen over which candidate has the financial experience to shepherd the town through a multi-million deficit.

Outside of that interchange, while having largely differing views on the future of the town, the League of Women Voters-sponsored debate at LTV Studios in Wainscott remained largely civil between the opposing candidates.

Wilkinson, a Republican also running on the Independence Party line for his second term, couched the November 8 election as one that is just as critical as the previous two as the town faces a close to $30 million deficit left by the prior administration.

During his term in office,Wilkinson noted the town board has cut spending, offered now two years of property tax decreases for its residents and restored the $17 million pilfered from the Community Preservation Fund (CPF) to cover general expenses within town prior to his election.

“But much work still has to be done,” said Wilkinson. “We are at a critical time and the town cannot afford to slip back.”

Cohen has been involved with the town since 2002, when he joined the Nature Preserve Committee, which he has chaired since 2008. Cohen has served on the budget and finance advisory committee.

“My opponent came into office with a promise to do more with less,” said Cohen “I don’t see the more. In fact, we have far less then we did two years ago.”

Cohen noted the town no longer has leaf pick-up services, and the town’s recycling center in Springs is now closed on Wednesday. He also lamented the sale of the Poxabogue Golf Center to Southampton Town. What the town does have more of, said Cohen, is airport noise and crowded nightclubs.

Despite differing on several issues, Cohen and Wilkinson only really sparred towards the end of the evening when Wilkinson questioned Cohen’s resume when compared to his own.

“Sooner or later, this campaign will come down to resumes,” said Wilkinson. “We will make a selection on whose resume or body of knowledge is better.”

He pointed to the 30 years he served with the Walt Disney Corporation, leading its human resources department and said that has given him the kind of experience and insight to make good decisions of behalf of the town.

“We took a $27 million deficit and when the opinion of the world was East Hampton was near bankruptcy, turned that around in 22 months,” said Wilkinson.

“If he wants to get into resumes, I would be happy to go there,” said Cohen.

Cohen began reading emails sent to him by Wilkinson, auditors looking into the town’s finances and the New York State Comptroller’s Office, asking for his advice, as well as information Cohen had gathered in his own research as a volunteer working on the budget and finance committee.

Wilkinson responded by asking to see the emails, and later said Cohen was sent a cease and desist letter by the state comptroller asking him to refrain from referring to himself as a financial analyst for the department.

The debate was ended before Cohen could defend himself.

Earlier in the evening, the panel, which included The East Hampton Star editor David Rattray, The East Hampton Press editor Stephen J. Kotz and Susan Wilson from the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, asked the supervisor candidates beach access.

Preserving beach access, particularly in light of a recent lawsuit by a group of Napeague homeowners who have litigated to stop trucks from driving onto a stretch of beach historically kept open to beach driving, has been one of the most debated issues in East Hampton over the last year.

When asked about the town board’s commitment to fighting the lawsuit, Wilkinson announced the board would pass a symbolic resolution at its Tuesday meeting asserting its pledge to fight any attempts to take ownership of beaches in East Hampton away from residents. It was in fact adopted on Tuesday morning.

“This wasn’t about public access,” said Wilkinson of the lawsuit. “My God, the opposition has people that have campaigned for two years to keep people off that beach. This is all about jurisdiction.

Wilkinson noted the town trustees, not the town board, have jurisdiction over the beach and the board has been reluctant to violate that.

“Supervisor Wilkinson is rather late to the party,” said Cohen, noting the issue has been waging for the last year.

“One important difference is we have stated that is condemnation is necessary, we will do that,” said Cohen. “It is a strong strategic point because it tells other people, don’t even get started because all you will do is cause more lawsuits.”

Easily the most debated issue in this political season has been whether or not the town should accept funding from the FAA for the East Hampton Airport.

Cohen said he believes the town should have three goals in regards to the airport. First it needs to ensure there is minimal to zero tax burden places on residents to run the facility. Second, it needs to address the noise concerns plaguing residents of not just East Hampton, but Southampton, but thirdly must balance that with the understanding that people who use the airport must also be considered.

“One thing everyone has agreed on is a control tower would provide an increase in safe operations,” said Cohen. He added he would not take money from the FAA, which would extend federal controls over the airport past 2015, without first studying the effectiveness of the control tower, as well as completing a financial analysis of the airport.

Wilkinson said there is a legal debate that is ongoing on whether not taking FAA money would even have an impact over federal control, adding he believes the grant assurances through the FAA actually run through 2020.

Wilkinson added the board, through airport liaison Dominick Stanzione, have formed a noise abatement committee with the five East End towns, and have explored implementing a southern route into the airport over Georgica Pond

“The seasonal control tower has been put in the budget for next year, so hopefully that will have some impact on the 10-miles of airspace around the airport,” he said.

“The airport to me is something that is a precious asset we have in our community,” he added, noting it brings in 12 million into the local economy, and creates 90 jobs. It also provides a venue for Medivac services and would aid the town during an emergency, he said.

“I believe in taking FAA money,” Wilkinson added, noting it would cover basic maintenance at the airport and save taxpayers locally.

Cohen did counter that while some grant assurances do extend beyond 2015, the town could implement a curfew after that period if it did not take FAA money, and could prohibit plans that emit noise over a certain decibel level from landing in East Hampton.

“Part of the idea of a financial study is you can fund the airport without having taxpayer pay for it,” said Cohen.

The League of Women Voters has long pushed for both Southampton and East Hampton towns to create a town manager position, similar to East Hampton Village, in an effort to ensure continuity despite changes in power on town board. The creation of a town manager would have to be voted on by residents before the town could adopt that style of government.

Both Cohen and Wilkinson said they liked the concept, but were unsure given the financial crisis the town has been mired in that this was the right time to make such a big change in the way town government is run.

“People have said to me, you need a town manager when you leave and the person doesn’t have the same obsession you do,” said Wilkinson. “It is something worth considering.”

Cohen said that while he did question whether a town manager was the right step at this point, he has proposed replacing the town budget officer with a Certified Public Accountant, who would not be appointed politically as the budget officer is.

East Hampton Airport Debate Turns Contentious at Meet the Candidates Event

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Republican candidates Steven Gains, Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Richard Haeg at Wainscott CAC meeting last Saturday.

What started as a run-of-the-mill Meet the Candidates Forum at the Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting on Saturday morning quickly dissolved into a contentious debate over the East Hampton Airport. It was a debate that ended after East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson was repeatedly questioned by members of the Quiet Skies Coalition and CAC Chairwoman Diana Weir stopped further discussion about the airport from the gallery.


Following a roughly 50-minute talk with Democratic supervisor Zach Cohen and town board candidates Sylvia Overby and Peter Van Scoyoc, an hour-and-45-minute introduction and airport debate ensued during the Republican portion of the morning. Meanwhile, Marilyn Behan and Bill Mott, Independence Party candidates for town board, waited an hour past when they were scheduled to speak.

The Republican portion of the debate began cordially enough with Supervisor Wilkinson speaking. Wilkinson, who lost the 2007 election to then-Supervisor Bill McGintee, but won handily in 2009 after close to a $30 million town deficit was uncovered, detailed how he was able to streamline departments, cut 50 positions through voluntary retirement and present a 2011 budget that cut taxes by 11 percent. The supervisor’s 2012 budget, now under review by the town board, cuts taxes by an additional 0.2 percent.

But after his fellow Republican candidates, including town board hopefuls Steven Gaines and Richard Haeg, made their introductions, the topic quickly switched from finances to the airport.

The East Hampton Airport and its operations has become one of the most heavily debated issues in this campaign season, primarily due to the growing ranks of the Quiet Skies Coalition. The vocal group made up of East Hampton and Southampton town residents hope to control activity at the airport.

Cohen and town board candidates Sylvia Overby and Peter Van Scoyoc have already announced their positions on the airport. In the wake of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) approval of the town’s Airport Layout Plan (ALP), which has led the town towards the construction of a seasonal air traffic control tower, the Democrats said they support implementing the tower, but would refrain from taking FAA grants and the accompanying assurances until they are convinced the tower would solve some of the noise issues and other environmental factors being voiced.

The team has called for a two-year comprehensive study of the tower’s effect, as well as the finances of the airport.

On Saturday morning, Quiet Skies Coalition vice chairman and Wainscott resident Frank Dalene credited Supervisor Wilkinson with his handling of the town’s finances, and said now it was time to discuss the airport.

Dalene recounted a situation last week where he had a helicopter fly within 10-feet of his house to avoid the cloud layer coming off the ocean.

Supervisor Wilkinson, who said he had been to Dalene’s house in response to his complaints, believes the airport is an asset. He said he would take FAA funding since it has already been taxed federally, and will continue to work with state and federal officials, as well as a new regional noise abatement committee, to develop solutions like a southern flight path over Georgica Pond and the installation of a seasonal control tower to address issues at the airport.

Dalene asked the supervisor to take his own data on air traffic “more seriously,” after which Gaines said the airport issue had “hijacked the whole meeting”

Noyac resident Dan Rudansky said the helicopter and aircraft situation was also impacting Southampton Town residents and that taking FAA money would not allow the town to have full control over the airport.

Wilkinson said he believes the FAA grant assurances actually prolong the town’s agreement with the FAA to 2021 and that he would accept additional funding in the future.

At that point, Weir — a former Republican town board member — began trying to wrest back control of the meeting, calling for an end to all airport questions.

“Why are questions being restricted,” asked Quiet Skies Coalition chairman and Wainscott resident Barry Raebeck.

Weir said the airport was a “contentious issue” and the forum was not hosted solely to discuss that one issue.

“It is the number one campaign issue,” said Raebeck.

“It wasn’t the number one issue four years ago, six years ago,” replied Weir.

“I didn’t have seaplanes flying over my house constantly four years ago,” said Raebeck.

After a discussion about the impacts of what has become known as “The Pit,” an industrial commercial property that, like the airport, has drawn the ire of some residents for a decade, Dalene took to the floor again, objecting to the fact that the CAC denied the right of Wainscott residents to speak about the airport.

Weir responded that she felt “things were getting out of control.”

Gaines added he felt the debate was “disingenuous.”

“To tell the truth, I don’t know what the truth is,” said Gaines. “I know the noise issue is intolerable. I know we have to change it. It just can’t go on.”

While the issue was not as hotly debated among the Democratic candidates, Cohen said he has gotten more emails about the airport than any other issue.

“There is a real division in the last 20 years that has not led to a good dialogue,” Cohen said.

Cohen admitted all the candidates for supervisor and town board believe the installation of a seasonal control tower would be a benefit. But he said he would not take risks that would shut down “future options to control the airport” until the town knew it would have full control with the tower in place. He called for a two-year-study to ensure that would happen before taking FAA money, saying he was not against taking federal funds, only that he would first want more assurance through a study, if elected.

Cohen added that even if the town gains local control it would have to use that power under approved standards, for instance, only allowing some of the less “noisier” jets to fly into the airport.

Raebeck said that while noise is an issue, and a form of pollution, he is concerned with the other kind of pollution being generated by the airport. “If there were a coal power plant being operated on that property, it would be monitored,” he said.

After the meeting, Independence Party town board candidate Marilyn Behan shared her views on the airport.

“The airport is not going away,” she said. “It is going to be with us for a long time and yes, it is growing.”

Behan said that she feels the town should take FAA funding, based on her research on other airports, talking with pilots and the FAA.

“It is better to be on the safe side than any other place,” she said. “We need a deer fence, we need to repair a runway, we need a tower to control the landings and take offs and their approach positions and we will be able to work with that once we have the ALP plan in place. I feel there is a noise problem.  That would be something for us to work on.”

Behan added she would like to see discussions about limiting the times aircraft is allowed to come into the airport.

Mott, a decades long member of the Bridgehampton Fire Department, which services Wainscott, said there are maintenance and repair issues that need to be completed at the airport. Like all candidates, he agreed the tower was a key component to controlling the airport. However, he said he would like to take a “wait and see approach” on whether or not to take FAA funding.

“I don’t know if we should take money for the next two years,” he said. “I like the concept, but I believe we should operate cautiously.”

East Hampton Town Supervisor’s Budget Lowers Taxes, Sells Poxabogue

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The tentative budget submitted to the East Hampton Town Clerk by Supervisor Bill Wilkinson on Friday raises spending by 2.5 percent — but it also cuts taxes.

The $65.6 million budget shows a 0.2-percent tax cut for residents of the town who live outside the villages of East Hampton and Sag Harbor and a 9.4-percent reduction in taxes for town residents who reside within those villages.

“With the 2012 tentative budget, like the 2011 adopted budget, we continue our sensitivity to the tax burden on town residents and limit spending to the greatest extent possible,” wrote Supervisor Wilkinson is his budget message. “Our 2012 tentative budget decreases tax rates for those living inside and outside our incorporated villages. Spending increases slightly, due primarily to employee benefit cost escalation and in part to money needed to eliminate the $27.3 million deficit created by the previous administration.”

In his budget message, Supervisor Wilkinson goes on to note that in the last 20 months, town government has been “restructured,” merging the Harbors and Docks Department into the Police Department. There has also been a “streamlining” of Human Services, brining ordinance enforcement, the building inspector, fire marshal and animal control under one Public Safety department, and the establishment of a Finance Office representing finance, information technology, human resources, the tax receiver and purchasing.

These changes, he wrote, have helped reduce spending and maximize how town personnel are used.

Supervisor Wilkinson 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 tentative budget also maintains funding levels from 2011 for the East Hampton Daycare and Learning Center, the Family Service League, the East Hampton Food Pantry, Phoenix House, the Montauk Youth Association, the Springs Youth Association, Project MOST, RSVP for Seniors and the Pediatric Dental Fund.

The tentative budget also includes the sale of East Hampton Town’s portion of The Poxabogue Golf Center to Southampton Town. A resolution authorizing that sale, for $2.2 million will be offered at Thursday night’s town board meeting.

On Tuesday, during a town board work session, Supervisor Wilkinson said that in addition he expects the town will receive about $200,000 in owed revenues from the golf center.

Supervisor Wilkinson added that he was told East Hampton residents would not be charged differently from Southampton Town residents for the use of the golf center as a result of the sale. Deputy Supervisor Theresa Quigley explained that the town had done what it hoped to accomplish – prevent the close to 40-acre course from being privately developed. The Town of Southampton originally purchased the property with Community Preservation Funds (CPF), which will protect the land from future development, she said.

In 2004, East Hampton Town purchased half of the golf course for $3.25 million alongside Southampton Town in an effort to preserve the recreational use of the land. It could not use CPF monies for the purchase, explained Supervisor Wilkinson on Tuesday, because the property lay outside the town.

On Tuesday, Supervisor Wilkinson did not say how much debt the town still owed on that purchase, but estimated with the sale to Southampton, East Hampton Town should about break even.

The East Hampton Town Board will meet tonight, October 6, at 7 p.m. The town board must approve a final budget and send it to the state by November 20.

“I am proud of this 2012 tentative budget because it builds on and continues the management and financial disciplines introduced in the 2011 adopted budget and places the town in a stronger position as we move forward,” said Wilkinson in his budget message. “Over the next several months I will be introducing, and the town board will be reviewing, a three-year capital improvement plan and budget that will address plant, equipment and the future infrastructure needs of the town.”

New Town Supervisors Promise Openness

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By Georgia Suter

Promising more open governments and  more aggressive planning for the future, the newly elected supervisors for Southampton and East Hampton towns addressed a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons on Monday evening. Centrally located for both towns at the Unitarian Universalist Meetinghouse on the Sag Harbor-Bridgehampton Turnpike, the forum was intended to give the public a chance to hear how the two leaders will work to revamp their respective governments which have been battered by economic challenges.

Bill Wilkinson, who was elected East Hampton town supervisor in early November, was the first to speak, focusing on his administration’s agenda during his first sixty days in office. Among top priorities, Wilkinson noted that he plans to bring more transparency to the administration.

“The first thing I’m going to try to do is live up to a campaign commitment of open government,” he stated, adding that very little will actually be rehearsed at the administration’s board meetings. Wilkinson also emphasized the importance of bringing more participation from the community into the town’s meetings, noting in the future at least one work session a month will be held on a Saturday in order to allow the participation of a majority of East Hampton community members that are weekend homeowners.

“The most important thing that I’m addressing on a day to day basis is the $28 million dollar deficit, it’s a daily problem,” he noted. Wilkinson did touch upon problems with the former administration’s financial choices, noting they failed to categorize the allocation of funds appropriately, which resulted in an “intermingling of funds.” Wilkinson’s administration is now in the process of looking more closely at past expenditures to determine how much money was allocated to various projects, such as the Community Preservation Fund and the renovation project of East Hampton’s town hall.

Moving into notable accomplishments for the new administration, Wilkinson noted that East Hampton Town and the East Hampton Police Benevolent Association reached an agreement on a six-year contract spanning from 2007 to 2012, in the first days of being in office. The agreement was reached after a five-hour bargaining session with Wilkinson, P.B.A. representatives and the arbitrator in late February. In terms of community outreach efforts, the town has also been making steps to build more conversation and interaction with East Hampton residents. Wilkinson explained the town is reaching out to the artist community to build stronger relationships with artists because “they’ve been ignored.” Additionally, the town recently held a forum to discuss the best ways to manage the local deer population. The forum brought community members together from deer refuge and animal rights groups, hunting groups and from the wildlife preservation.  Wilkinson concluded his remarks by reiterating perhaps his most pressing agenda for the coming term; “it’s finance, finance, finance for the next sixty days.”

Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst started by noting that “Bill and I share an enthusiasm for the job, and an enthusiasm for doing it differently.” Throne-Holst began by dividing her administration’s agenda into two categories: partnerships and planning. She explained she hopes to “open up and partner with the community in bringing an agenda forward,” adding that immediate responsiveness of the board is also going to be a top priority.

“Whatever your issue is, we will get back to you in 24 hours,” she promised.

In attempt to bring the community into the day to day processes of the town, Throne-Holst noted that “We’ve invited different community groups that represent various parts of the town into our meetings, to meet with us.”

She also expressed the importance of planning and of communication and collaboration between different areas of the East End: “What’s happening in Hampton Bays may be helpful to something that is going on in Sag Harbor.”

At a recent luncheon with the mayor of East Hampton, Throne-Holst said they began talking about sharing services between East End municipalities, such as purchasing for highway needs. “We’re working on changing the paradigm under which municipalities plan,” she stated.

Among specific agenda items for future months, Throne-Holst stated the town will be putting together a planning reform group, organizing different advisory committees such as the Green Committee for Sustainability, and revamping the budget and finance committee so that it has improved goals–among them, devising a more organic budget proposal and a more detailed revenue projection. She also described the proposed organization of a police management committee, which will work to alleviate the years of disagreement between the top level of police management and the working level.

Among notable achievements for the Town for Southampton is a revamped website that has a more inclusionary feel. Community members can view current issues the town board is working on. The site also has information for the community such as the location of recycling centers, and there’s an online forum which provides a place for open and ongoing discussion.

“Our goal is really to revamp how the town does business with the public,” said Throne-Holst.

Keeping Promises

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We were struck this week by the promise of truly open governments in both East Hampton and Southampton towns. Not governments that simply offer transparency — which every government is ultimately obliged to provide — but ones that encourage active participation from the public; and not simply suffer it.

On Monday night Supervisor Bill Wilkinson of East Hampton and Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst of Southampton made an obvious effort to portray themselves as something new, people who were anxious to work with the public. Both appear to come from the position that the public has been deeply wounded by their predecessors and they have been elected to privide a healing salve. That their predecessors, under pressure from the public, closed up.

Mr. Wilkinson said his first order of business was to live up to a campaign promise to provide open government, and said board meetings would not be “rehearsed.”

This will be a relief, as many times board meetings — whether they are town board, village board or school board — have the air of plays being acted out by a cast that already knows its lines by heart. Hardly the stuff to make us feel like our elected officials are being spontaneous, open or honest about their discussions.

And Ms. Throne-Holst has said local community gropups should feel welcome to bring their concerns to her.

We are happy to say that both Mr. Wilkinson and Ms. Throne-Holst appear to be on the right track. In addition to participating in Monday’s forum, they have both been making good on their promises. The members of the East Hampton Town Board met in an open meeting with their constituents recently and Ms. Throne-Holst has been actively reaching out to, and meeting with, all the local community advisory committees.

For all of us, we hope they continue this openness, even when the inevitable public pressure comes upon them.

GOP Sweeps East Hampton Race

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Republican, Conservative and Independence candidate Bill Wilkinson handily defeated Democratic and Working Families Party candidate Ben Zwirn Tuesday night in a GOP sweep of East Hampton’s town board race.

According to unofficial results from the Suffolk County Board of Elections, Wilkinson earned 67 percent of the votes cast in East Hampton, with 4,587. Zwirn captured just 2,286 votes, or 33 percent of the vote, giving Wilkinson a clear mandate of support with a 2-to-1 margin of victory.

In the supervisor’s race alone, 6,873 ballots were cast of 15,894 registered voters. That represents the highest percentage of ballots in any of the town races, with 43 percent of East Hampton residents turning out to have their voices heard in the supervisor’s contest.

In Sag Harbor, voters preferred Democratic challenger Zwirn, although by a small margin. Zwirn captured 165 votes in Sag Harbor’s lone East Hampton voting district to Wilkinson’s 144.

It was just before 10 p.m. that Zwirn conceded to Wilkinson, with just two election districts in the town reporting results at that time. By that point, Wilkinson already held a 2-to-1 lead over Zwirn.

After his concession, Zwirn stopped by Republican headquarters at Indian Wells Tavern in Amagansett to shake Wilkinson’s hand in congratulations.

Republicans were also victorious in the race for town council. Similar to the supervisor’s contest, no candidate in the town council race was an incumbent with current board member Pat Mansir choosing not to run for re-election and board member Brad Loewen failing to get support from the Democratic Party to seek another term.

Wilkinson’s running mates, Theresa Quigley and Dominick Stanzione bested Democratic opponents John Whelan and Patti Leber, with Quigley earning the most votes – 4,057 or 31 percent of the vote. Stanzione followed with 3,590 or 28 percent of the vote to earn a seat on the town board, with Whelan earning just 2,834 or 22 percent of the vote and Leber garnering 19 percent of the vote with 2,481.

Similar to the supervisor race, voters on the East Hampton side of Sag Harbor preferred the Democratic candidates to the Republican victors. Whelan scored the most votes in Sag Harbor with 179, followed by Leber who earned 149. Quigley gathered 137 votes out of the district with Stanzione earning 121.

Results for Prudence Carabine, a candidate who pursued a vigorous write-in campaign for town board, will be unavailable until the Suffolk County Board of Elections certifies its results.

“I was hopeful we would be successful because we ran, I thought, such an above the board campaign and in no way responded to what I thought was an unattractive campaign ran by our opponents,” said Wilkinson on Wednesday morning. “This is an outstanding endorsement from the residents of our town.”

Wilkinson said his first plans include setting up a transition team. The Republicans will walk onto the town board in January with an instant majority, which Wilkinson said was a priority moving through the election season.

With a deficit he predicts will reach as high as $28 million by the close of the fiscal year, a supervisor that has resigned under the cloud of fiscal mismanagement and a budget process seemingly stalled by disagreements within the current town board, Wilkinson said the priority will be to hit the ground running with a plan on how to deal specifically with the growing deficit. He said he plans to tap people like Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman and state assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. and state senator Kenneth P. LaValle, to aid in the transition and offer the new team guidance moving forward.

“They are the two who will have to shepherd any potentially new deficit financing plan coming out the state,” said Wilkinson of Thiele and LaValle. The state has already provided the town with $15 million in deficit financing, but Wilkinson predicts much more will be needed to get through the town’s fiscal crisis and added going back to the state a third time will be out of the question, so it is tantamount the new board gets a handle on how deep this deficit will ultimately run.

“If we can get the deficit financing straight, we can then start working on the things necessary to support the kind of payments we will need to make on such a loan,” said Wilkinson.

On his first day in office, Wilkinson said his first priority will be to meet with department heads in order to fully assess the town’s needs.

Republican’s also swept the town trustee race with John Gosman, Jr. – who was endorsed by both parties – earning the most votes at 5,386. Stephanie Talmage, Timothy Bock, Kayla Talmage, Diane McNally, William Mott, Edward Norman, Jr., Joseph Bloecker and Lynn Mendelman were also elected to trustee seats.

Closer races were waged between superintendent of highway candidates and in the town justice race. Democrat Scott King squeaked out a victory against Republican Tom Talmage earning 53 percent of the vote to keep his job as highway superintendent. Democrat Catherine Cahill also kept her seat as a town justice, besting Republican Andy Hammer by also earning just 53 percent of the vote.

Town clerk Fred Overton, who was running unopposed, was also re-elected to his post as was town assessor Eugene De Pasquale.

LWV Debate: East Hampton Supervisor Candidates Focus on Finance

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Which supervisor candidate in the Town of East Hampton is best equipped to handle the town’s financial crisis was at the root of a majority of the questions posed during a League of Women Voters-sponsored debate between the town supervisor candidates on Thursday night at the East Hampton Firehouse and Emergency Services Building.

Republican and Independence Party candidate Bill Wilkinson opened the forum by noting he predicted the financial mismanagement of the town during a failed supervisor race against Bill McGintee in 2007.

Two weeks ago, McGintee resigned from his post as supervisor of the town. The resignation came amid criticisms from the state comptroller about the financial health of East Hampton, a multi-million budget deficit and in the wake of the arrest of budget officer Ted Hults who faces felony charges related to the financial mismanagement of the town.

“For three years I have spoken about the corrective actions necessary,” said Wilkinson. He said during the same period, Democrats were looking to their party leadership for answers – answers they did not receive. While noting Ben Zwirn, the Democratic and Working Families candidate for town supervisor, had nothing to do with the financial crisis, Wilkinson added he also did not take his party to task for the situation.

“Instead the East Hampton Democratic committee and my opponent stood silent,” he said.

“We have gone through one of the most traumatic periods in this town’s history,” replied Zwirn. “We are rudderless.”

Zwirn said Wilkinson would like residents to believe it was the Democratic Party at fault for the town’s budget crisis.

“It wasn’t a party that caused this problem, it was people,” he said, noting both McGintee and town council member Pat Mansir were once Republicans, and that state Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. and county legislator Jay Schneiderman have both left the Republican Party.

“Does that make them anything less,” asked Zwirn. “Of course not.”

“For three years Bill Wilkinson has been going around town pointing fingers,” said Zwirn. “That is not a plan.”

The question on everyone’s mind was asked first by East Hampton Star editor David Rattray, who wondered what the candidate’s budget plans entailed and how they differed.

Wilkinson noted his slate came out with their plan on September 25, waiting late in the race because “we didn’t want to politicize it.”

“We are the only group that has recognized the 800-pound gorilla in the room and that is a $28 million deficit,” said Wilkinson. Wilkinson said his team’s financial plan aims to prevent a one time tax increase by increasing the amount of deficit financing currently provided to the town by the State of New York.

“I am tired of the poor people of East Hampton bearing the burden of financial malfeasance by the town board,” said Wilkinson, adding both Assemblyman Thiele and state senator Ken LaValle have endorsed this plan

Zwirn criticized the Republican’s plan, first noting that a $28 million deficit has yet to be confirmed with the books in 2009 still open.

“That number is not real until it is certified by state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli,” said Zwirn, adding whether to bond over a long or short term period to cover the deficit will be contingent on the final figure.

Zwirn said the major difference between the two plans, is while the Republican plan focuses on the deficit, Zwirn believes over-spending is also key.

“If you keep spending more money than you have we will have deficit financing forever,” he said, questioning where the Republicans plan to cut an estimated $10 million in 2011 with costs predicted to rise across the board..

“They don’t tell you what jobs, what programs, will be affected,” said Zwirn.

Zwirn said whoever is elected should take office immediately following the election, and his first order of business would be to go after the town’s independent auditors, Albrecht, Viggiano and Zureck, for half a million dollars for budget software they recommended, and sold, to the town that has never worked.

Continuing to maintain that spending needs to be cut in the town, Zwirn said, “The reason we survived without any problems is because the real estate market was booming.” Now, with a downturn in the housing market nationally, Zwirn said the town has been left with an unsustainable budget.

While Zwirn said he believed educating the public on the benefits of a town-wide reassessment, which would benefit homeowners in Springs and on the Sag Harbor side of East Hampton, he added safety measures, such as a four-percent cap, would need to be put in place to ensure elderly homeowners were not negatively affected.

Wilkinson said after building his own home two years ago, and suffering through reassessment, he views it as a dramatic adjustment and not one to be made with such a large deficit to contend with.

“I think it will cost us $3 million to do an assessment of the Town of East Hampton,” saying the town’s focus should be on reducing the deficit.

The hiring of a professional town manager, similar to a system of government used in East Hampton Village, has been posed at several town board meetings. While Wilkinson said he would wait a few quarters to decide on that issue, he believed it was important enough to ask the town’s comptroller Janet Verneuille to budget in the expense.

“It is a form of government that has worked well in other municipalities,” said Zwirn, who said ultimately he believes such a shift in government should be approved by voters in a referendum.

Wilkinson said referendum rules could be avoided in the job description of a town manager, making the decision one for the town board.

“I think that is a good distinction between you and I,” said Zwirn. “I think it should be [the people’s] choice, not three or four people sitting on a board.”

Dems Pick Zwirn to Face Wilkinson

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On Tuesday night, the East Hampton Town Democratic Committee held its nominating convention for the next November’s town elections, selecting deputy county executive Ben Zwirn to lead their ticket, pitting the deputy county executive against Republican businessman Bill Wilkinson in the race for town supervisor.

Incumbent supervisor Bill McGintee announced in March he would not seek reelection amid revelations of a multi-million dollar town deficit that led to an over 20-percent tax increase town-wide.

The Democratic Committee also selected former Merrill Lynch employee and the vice president of the Montauk School Board Patti Leber and East Hampton architect John Whelan to run for the two board seats currently held by Brad Loewen and Pat Mansir. Mansir had already announced she would not seek another term. According to Democratic Committee Chairman Bill Taylor, the consensus of the committee was it would likely be easier to run a new slate of candidates in the wake of the town’s fiscal crisis rather than run incumbent board members.

Zwirn, 57, has served Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy for the last six years and was a two-term supervisor in the town of North Hempstead. According to Taylor, Zwirn has been a resident of the town since the 1970s when he bought his first home in East Hampton. The biggest battle in getting Zwirn to run for the position, said Taylor, was convincing Levy, who ultimately gave his blessing last week.

“He was the most attractive candidate in our view because he has the most relevant experience to deal with a town like East Hampton,” said Taylor on Wednesday. “He is an attorney, he is a businessman, he has lived here for ages and he has government experience.”

Running on a platform of wanting to steer the town out of fiscal mismanagement, the East Hampton Republican Party decided over a year ago it would run candidate Bill Wilkinson once again for supervisor, after he narrowly lost election to McGintee in 2007 by just over 100 votes.

Wilkinson, a regular town board attendee, is a Montauk resident and businessman. Founder of W.J. Wilkinson and Associates, a consulting firm focused on management and executive search, Wilkinson has worked with a number of large corporations in his career including Disney, ABC Radio Networks and Viacom. He also served as senior vice president of human resources for the Walt Disney Company. Locally, he has served as a member of the Montauk Lions and the Montauk Historical Society.

Running with Wilkinson for town board seats will be East Hampton attorney Theresa Quigley and financial advisor Dominick Stanzione, of Amagansett.