Tag Archive | "east hampton town"

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.

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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.”

Stanzione Says Report Shows Economic Benefits of Airport

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For many years, and certainly this political season, the benefits and detriments
of the growing East Hampton Airport has resulted in lively discussion. However,
according to East Hampton Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione, one issue
that should not be up for debate is whether or not the airport is a significant
contributor to the town’s overall economy.
Last week, Stanzione put out a press release detailing a report issued by the
New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) in May that details the
economic impact the airport has on the region.
According to the report — NYS Economic Impacts of Aviation issued by
Joan McDonald, Commissioner of the NYSDOT — concluded that the airport is
responsible, indirectly and directly, for the creation of 91 local jobs and brings
$12.6 million into the local economy.
The study was meant to detail the economic impacts over 80 airports in
the state have on their regions. It concluded the Wainscott-based airport was
responsible for the creation of 65 jobs, with another 26 jobs created indirectly by
the airport and the businesses its infrastructure supports. The income generated
by that employment totals $5,812,800, according to the report.
In total, when taking into account expenditures at the airport and at businesses
outside the airport, the report concludes the airport brings in $12,806,100
annually throughout the East Hampton economy.
Stanzione described the report’s conclusion as “important evidence of the
economic contribution our airport makes to every taxpayer in our community.”
“There are few, if any, other economic enterprises that can compete with that
performance,” he added.
The release comes on the heels of the recent approval by the Federal Aviation
Administration of the town’s Airport Layout Plan (ALP), which Stanzione
maintains will allow the town to gain greater control over its airspace by installing
a seasonal control tower, staffed by town-paid air traffic controllers.

For many years, and certainly this political season, the benefits and detriments of the growing East Hampton Airport has resulted in lively discussion. However, according to East Hampton Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione, one issue that should not be up for debate is whether or not the airport is a significant contributor to the town’s overall economy.

Last week, Stanzione put out a press release detailing a report issued by the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) in May that details the economic impact the airport has on the region.

According to the report — NYS Economic Impacts of Aviation issued by Joan McDonald, Commissioner of the NYSDOT — concluded that the airport is responsible, indirectly and directly, for the creation of 91 local jobs and brings $12.6 million into the local economy.

The study was meant to detail the economic impacts over 80 airports in the state have on their regions. It concluded the Wainscott-based airport was responsible for the creation of 65 jobs, with another 26 jobs created indirectly by the airport and the businesses its infrastructure supports. The income generated by that employment totals $5,812,800, according to the report.

In total, when taking into account expenditures at the airport and at businesses outside the airport, the report concludes the airport brings in $12,806,100 annually throughout the East Hampton economy.

Stanzione described the report’s conclusion as “important evidence of the economic contribution our airport makes to every taxpayer in our community.”

“There are few, if any, other economic enterprises that can compete with that performance,” he added.

The release comes on the heels of the recent approval by the Federal Aviation Administration of the town’s Airport Layout Plan (ALP), which Stanzione maintains will allow the town to gain greater control over its airspace by installing a seasonal control tower, staffed by town-paid air traffic controllers


East Hampton Town Takes Sharp Knife to Spending

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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.”


East Hampton Town Plans for the Future

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Ed McDonald has lived in Sag Harbor for five years, but being born and raised in East Hampton, generations of his family steeped in Bonacker history, McDonald feels deeply connected to the town.

“I am very highly invested in East Hampton,” said McDonald. “I feel like a traitor moving to Sag Harbor.”

Light-hearted groans erupted when McDonald admitted he lived on the Southampton side of Sag Harbor.

However, McDonald was one of roughly 60 people who turned out on a brisk Saturday afternoon at East Hampton High School for a special town board meeting aimed at setting new priorities as the town moves through solving a multi-million fiscal crisis under a newly-elected Republican administration. Residents expressed concerns about the estimated $25 million to $30 million deficit the town faces, the impact that could have on services and East Hampton’s commitment to preserving and protecting its environment.

“I love my town,” said McDonald. “I was very much embarrassed by the situation that came up with financial irresponsibility. I know you guys are going to put things back together.”

However, McDonald said he also hopes the new board continues to preserve open space, noting it has enabled East Hampton to preserve its character and unique beauty that makes it a special place to live, and visit.

“If the financial crisis were not our first priority, then the environment would be,” said Supervisor Bill Wilkinson.

Wilkinson, who was joined by Republican board members Theresa Quigley and Dominick Stanzione as well as board member Pete Hammerle at the forum, explained the public input session was designed to bring transparency and inclusiveness to town government.

“Our intent here is to listen,” he said.

Like McDonald, Springs resident Barbara Jordan said she was concerned about any plans the town had to sell property it owns.

“I think it is being penny wise and pound foolish because whatever we sell we will be selling at a loss and land is finite,” she said.

“Our focus on land is not just for the purpose of dealing with the economy, but also to look at the properties we own and ask ourselves, why do we need them,” said Quigley.

Wilkinson added the land the town is contemplating selling is not preserved or protected land, and they would not be considering it but for the fact they are stuck dealing with an estimated $30 million in accumulated debt from the last administration.

Northwest Woods resident Jennifer Mulligan, a second homeowner who served on a financial committee that made recommendations to the town board in the wake of the deficit, quizzed the board on when financial information from the town auditors would be available to the public. She also suggested, as a means of generating revenue, the board could create naming opportunities at the new town hall, which is in the midst of construction. Lastly, Mulligan asked the board take a look at the town recycling center and whether it would be more costly to privatize the facility or charge contractors more than single families to dump there.

From a financial standpoint, Wilkinson said, “I can’t tell you how many surprises there are on a daily basis. The focus is trying to still get to the bottom of where we are and set the tone for our expectations dealing with the crisis we are in.”

Budget officer Len Bernard explained his office is attempting to get its arms around creating a system for capital projects that will allow the town to keep track of finances on a project-by-project basis. Bernard added the town is expecting an auditors’ report in the next two to three weeks as well as a report detailing the spending from CPF for 2008 at the end of this week.

“We are just about to reformulate the budget advisory committee, which will have an expanded footprint,” added board member Dominick Stanzione. That committee, which has focused on the annual town budget, will now also look at the CPF budget and the capital budget.

This week, New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. and Senator Ken LaValle also announced plans to work with East Hampton in increasing the town’s deficit financing through the state.

“Somehow we owe $28 million,” said Quigley. “We don’t have a choice here.”

Quigley said the town needs to make up that money either by raising taxes, bonding or selling assets and has decided the latter two methods will be easiest on taxpayers.

“We are not increasing the deficit,” said Wilkinson. “We are trying to deal with the cards we have been dealt.”

“Right now we are trying to figure out where the $25 million to $30 million went,” explained Bernard, who said the auditors’ report should detail what accounts were borrowed from during the last administration to cover annual expenses.

While members of East Hampton’s Guild Hall and Phoenix House, a substance abuse center, both implored the board to increase funding for their programming, resident Mary Jean Pinto said before the town spends money in any one direction it should have a handle on what the true demographics and needs of the community are.

“I feel we cannot serve a community whose numbers are unknown,” she said, imploring the board to make an effort to communicate more with the public, using the town’s website as a resource.

Stanzione and Wilkinson agreed understanding who government serves, and in what capacity it should, is a key question. Wilkinson added it is his belief that social programs should be supported, in part, by the town.

“Others may not agree with me,” he offered.

Liquor License for Poxy Golf Course Withdrawn

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Prompted by a liquor license application for the Poxabogue Golf Course, the Sagaponack Village Board has been paying particular attention to the public nine-hole course at recent board meetings. Although the course’s co-owners, the towns of East Hampton and Southampton, sought to eventually expand the operations at Poxabogue, Sagaponack Village Mayor Don Louchheim maintained that any expansions or renovations of the property would be under the purview of the village, in regards to terms of use and building and zoning code requirements. Mayor Louchheim recently met with a representative from East Hampton as well as Southampton Town Services Administrator Town Blowes and his assistant Sandra Cirincione, and councilwoman Nancy Graboski where they detailed their long term plans for the golf course. The towns hoped to build a new club house and to create a catering facility available for parties and events at Poxabogue. Since the plan was unveiled in the beginning of this year, it seems the towns have deferred the project due in part to protest from Sagaponack Village officials and the Wainscott Citizen’s Advisory Committee, said Louchheim.
Despite delaying these long term construction plans, the towns did agree to consolidate the management of operations for the course. As Louchheim explained it at the board meeting on Monday evening, the towns are set to lease the use of the links and buildings to a golf course operator who will then subcontract the use of the restaurant at the site. Currently, Dan Murray is the proprietor of the Fairway restaurant at Poxabogue. Michael Avella, who owns the Mattituck-based Love Lane catering business and restaurant, however is expected to take over operations of the Poxabogue eatery in March of next year. According to Louchheim, Avella submitted a liquor license application to serve wine, beer and other alcoholic beverages at the course’s restaurant and also wished to extend the hours of operation to include a dinner service. Avella’s attorney’s have since sent a letter to the board noting that his liquor license application has been withdrawn. Should Avella seek to expand the footprint of the building, noted Louchheim, the project would be subject to a full State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) by the village. Time is of the essence for Avella, added board member Lisa Duryea Thayer, if he hopes to move into a renovated space by the spring when he assumes the restaurant lease at Poxabogue.
“I’ve gotten feedback from community members that they like [Poxabogue Golf Course] the way it is and they don’t want it expanded into a major facility,” remarked Louchheim at Monday’s meeting.

AHRB Review Committee

Hoping to expedite the review of minor architectural work, the Sagaponack Village Board of trustees plans to create a one-member review committee to forward insignificant projects to the building inspector and thus bypassing approval from the Architectural and Historic Review Board (AHRB). The sole member of the review committee would be appointed by the chairman of the AHRB.
“We want to try and unclog the AHRB from very routine matters. This is both to get [these types of projects] off its plate and to provide not an unnecessary delay for someone wanting to replace a window or door. It shouldn’t take two months to get it done,” statedLouchheim at Monday’s board meeting. Village clerk Rhodi Winchell added that the committee would allow building inspector John Woudsma to process construction applications throughout the month and not after the monthly AHRB meeting.
“No one has brought it to our attention that this is a problem,” argued Ann Sandford, chairman of the AHRB.
Louchheim urged ANN to sign off on the committee saying the village would test out the idea. He added that if the one-member committee felt an application pertained to a historically or culturally significant structure, of the project was substantial, it would be directed to theAHRB for further review.
“The alternative is [the AHRB] can meet twice a month,” said Louchheim, adding that frequent meetings would allow insubstantial applications to be approved more readily.
The village board plans to set a date for the public hearing on the law at the next board meeting on Monday, December 21.

East Hampton Adopts $71.7 Million Spending Plan

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The East Hampton Town Board of Trustees adopted its 2010 budget on Friday, November 20 with very few changes made to the spending plan since it was formerly introduced earlier this fall.

The $71.7 million budget has been pared down from the original $72.1 million spending plan submitted by former town Supervisor Bill McGintee just before his resignation in October. The budget will increase taxes by 10.7 percent for residents of the town who do not live in the village with village residents looking at an almost 9 percent tax increase.

Last year, town residents had to swallow a 23 percent tax increase with village residents having their taxes raised 39 percent.

The incoming Republican majority – Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and new town board members Theresa Quigley and Dominick Stanzione – promised during their successful election campaign they plan to spend roughly $10 million less than the current budget calls for. They will join existing board members Julia Prince and deputy-supervisor Pete Hammerle in January.

A majority of the increases projected in the now-adopted budget will cover the cost of debt service on a state backed $15 million in deficit financing to cover rising deficits over the last two years. The total town deficit is predicted to be above $20 million by the close of this fiscal year.

In the last two weeks, minor changes have been made to the budget, including the addition of funding for Project MOST, the East Hampton Day Care and the East End Special Players. All three not for profits lobbied the board to continue their funding at the first budget hearing in the beginning of November and after learning the town would receive approximately $100,000 more than expected in sales tax revenue from the county, board members decided to add the funding back into the budget. Project MOST will receive $15,000, the East Hampton Day Care will get an additional $25,000 in town funding and East End Special Players is slated to receive $10,000 to continue their Saturday afternoon programming in Bridgehampton.



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.”


LWV Debate: East Hampton Council Candidates Eye Governing in Stressful Times

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Seemingly more amenable to each other than the supervisor candidates, East Hampton town board candidates hashed out their views on the town’s financial crisis and conservation, during a League of Women Voters sponsored forum last Thursday at the East Hampton Firehouse and Emergency Services Building.

Republican and Independence Party candidate Theresa Quigley opened the debate providing the close to 100 residents in attendance a little background on her Northwest Woods upbringing.

“We all love East Hampton,” said Quigley, an attorney with Farrell Fritz. “There is not much not to like, except for our government.”

Noting the town’s finances are a “train wreck,” Quigley said while both parties promise to protect the environment and restore strong fiscal management of the town, the professional backgrounds of her fellow Republican candidates will “professionalize” town government.

Patti Leber, who is running on the Democratic line, said her experience with a number of local not-for-profits, including the Children’s Museum of the East End (CMEE), the Montauk Playhouse, as well as her work on the Montauk School District’s PTA and board of education gives her the credentials to aid the town in such tumultuous times.

“Every year we have to balance a budget and bring it to voters,” she said of the school district.

Leber added another focus would be to bring “green collar” jobs, or those focused on environmental sustainability to the town.

Dominick Stanzione, who is running with the Republican, Independence and Working Families parties, and has a background in professional and financial services, noted that he was also instrumental in the creation of a town budget advisory committee.

Some of his professional experience, he added, was when he was assigned to a team of analysts working on the financial crisis in New York City in the 19070s.

“It seems very close to what is happening in East Hampton,” said Stanzione.

Like Quigley, Democrat and Working Families party candidate John Whelan is a native East Hampton resident, who grew up on a farm in Northwest Woods with 11 brothers and sisters.

“It teaches you to listen to other people and respect other’s opinions,” said Whelan.

With a father entrenched in East Hampton Town government and a background in architecture, including a number of years as the project manager for the Ross School construction project, Whelan said he is very comfortable working in government and managing large budgets.

When asked how the town can continue to preserve land given the dwindling resources in the Community Preservation Fund (CPF), Quigley said she believes the town should aggressively conserve land, but only after it is sure it can cover debt from borrowing against anticipated revenues. Leber, Stanzione and Whelan echoed Quigley’s position.

When asked should the town consider selling preserved lands or other assets, Leber noted anything preserved with CPF, by law, cannot be sold, and given the real estate market, this may not be the best time to sell other land.

“Yeah, I think we are probably going to have to sell some assets,” said Stanzione. He said he would like to see 2010 dedicated to forums to figure out what residents think should be sold. Ideas he has include leasing the town-owned skating rink to a new firm and creating a new revenue source for the town.

While agreeing CPF-preserved lands cannot be sold, Whelan said he would be open to selling other parcels if it was carefully analyzed. He also said he would like to see affordable commercial spaces developed in the town and supported selling other assets as well.

While supporting continued land preservation, like Stanzione, Quigley suggested making new revenue sources out of properties already owned by the town, including the skating rink and the Montauk Playhouse.

Stanzione suggested renegotiating the contract at the scavenger waste plant, which he said costs $1.4 million annually and is only operating at 30 percent capacity. Turning it into a scavenger waste facility, he said, could give the town an additional million dollars in revenue. He said reducing the cost for commercial carters could also help boost revenues.

Whelan said he would hate to see any jobs lost, but would ask department heads to cut 10 percent from their budgets, would freeze all new projects and recommend a policy of attrition.

“There is going to have to be a paring down and a paring down of services,” he said.

Leber said recommending the leaf bag program over pickup could give the town an additional $500,000 to work with. Keeping consultant work “as much in house” as possible is also a priority, as is better reporting of the town’s finances “so we can all stay on top of all the numbers.”

Political Moves

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By Karl Grossman

This is a moment of many political questions involving an array of Suffolk County people and governments—on the town, county, state and federal levels.

What are the prospects of Rick Lazio, former four-term member of the House of Representatives from Suffolk, in his bid to be New York governor? Mr. Lazio, a Brightwaters Republican, announced last week he’s running. Could he, taking advantage of what polling shows is the low popularity of Democratic incumbent David Paterson, become the first Suffolk person ever elected governor?

But if Mr. Paterson refuses to heed President Barack Obama’s call not to run, won’t former New York City Mayor Rudoph Giuliani, smelling political blood, jump in, too? Becoming governor would for Mr. Giuliani, a weekend Hamptons resident, greatly enhance his chances for being the GOP nominee for president.

If Mr. Paterson does drop out, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo will be the Democratic candidate for governor in 2010—but then what about attorney general? Look for Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy to reach for that.

Another incumbent with less than solid state backing is Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Readying a challenge is Suffolk Legislator Jon Cooper. He’s the legislature’s Democratic majority leader and, interestingly for this situation, was the Long Island campaign chair last year for Obama. The Obama White House got Representative Steve Israel of Dix Hills to back away from taking on Ms. Gillibrand. Will it try and succeed at getting Mr. Cooper of Lloyd Harbor to back off?

Mr. Cooper was making appearances upstate last week in his “exploratory” moves toward a primary contest against Ms. Gillibrand. The conservative positions of upstater Gillibrand when she was in the House are viewed with disfavor by some Democrats. If he wins a primary against Ms. Gillibrand and then the general election in 2010, Mr. Cooper, the first openly gay elected official on Long Island, would become the first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate.

Will former Brookhaven Town Supervisor John Jay LaValle restore the Suffolk GOP to winning ways? Last week, the once highly powerful LaValle was back in politics, elected Suffolk Republican chairman.

The Suffolk GOP was once all but omnipotent here but has been in a major decline for years. The Suffolk’s Congressional Representatives Israel and Tim Bishop of Southampton are both Democrats. The county executive is a Democrat. The Suffolk Legislature has a Democratic majority. The heavily-populated Suffolk towns of Huntington, Babylon and Islip, for years solidly GOP-controlled, have Democratic governments. The district attorney (an especially sensitive spot in long scandal-racked Suffolk) is a Democrat.

Brookhaven, after Mr. LaValle left the supervisor’s spot in 2005, had, for a time, a town board with a Democratic majority. They ran charging the town had become “Crookhaven” under GOP rule—and this was well-documented by criminal convictions.

Democrat Mark Lesko, a former federal prosecutor, is making a robust run for re-election as Brookhaven supervisor. Will a Democratic town board majority be voted back on Election Day this November 3?

What about East Hampton?  It’s been run by Democrats for most of recent decades but upsetting many now is the financial mess the town is in and scandal involving indicted town Budget Officer Ted Hults who says he followed the directions of Supervisor Bill McGintee in juggling funds. Mr. McGintee is not running for re-election. Deputy County Executive Ben Zwirn is the Democratic candidate for supervisor, and he was a reformer as supervisor of North Hempstead. But the GOP nominee, Bill Wilkinson, nearly beat Mr. McGintee two years ago. Will the GOP win big this year in East Hampton?

Is this a good Democratic year in Southampton? Supervisor Linda Kabot, seeking re-election, has troubles because of a split within the town GOP and her recent arrest for alleged drunken driving. She faces a strong Democratic opponent in Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst.

On Shelter Island, where politics is more than local, it’s personal, and with incumbent Democratic Supervisor Jim Dougherty not being opposed by the GOP, what will be the impact of Bill Smith, nemesis of Brookhaven National Laboratory and Plum Island Animal Disease Center, running for supervisor under the banner of his Shelter Island Preservation Party, and Paul Shepherd running for supervisor under the banner of his Local Liberties Party?            

State Criticizes Budget As Taxes Rise In East Hampton

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In an effort to reinstate funding to a number of youth related programs in the Town of East Hampton and ensure revenue projections from 2009 are at conservative levels, the town board discussed adding roughly $1 million back into its proposed budget last week. If adopted the plan would result in an almost 24 percent tax increase for town residents.

The work session, held last Thursday, came as the New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released a report on November 6 stating the town has over-estimated some projected revenues in the proposed 2009 budget, while under-estimating some projected costs. This would set the stage for what the comptroller’s office calls the possibility of “a budget shortfall next year that could amount to several millions of dollars.”

The proposed 2009 budget comes in around $69 million, although the board has the ability to revise the budget through November 20 when it must be adopted and submitted to the state. The board is expected to do just that at its Tuesday, November 18 board meeting. The comptroller had the authority to review the spending plan in a deal struck after the town and the state reached an agreement for the town to acquire some $15 million in state bonds to cover a growing deficit that could reach as high as $12 million by the close of 2009.

According to the comptroller’s report some of the revenue and expenditure projections presented in the budget “are not reasonable.” The report states that revenues for the mortgage tax, revenues from the community preservation fund (CPF) to cover town expenses as a result of administering the fund, beach parking permits, and the federal aid for a bike path in the town are overestimated. It adds that a number of appropriations are “understated.”

According to the state comptroller, the proposed budget for 2009 estimates $4.5 million in revenues from mortgage tax. The report notes that while the town received mortgage tax revenues in 2006 and 2007 reaching $7 million, in 2008 the town has only received $4.2 million “as a result of the current economic downturn.”

“With the downturn continuing, it is unwise for the board to estimate a revenue increase for 2009,” reads the report. 

During the Thursday work session, the town board agreed to cut $500,000 from the projected mortgage tax revenue figures – one of the largest additions to the spending plan made throughout the day. Despite the change, board members did say they believed revenues would ultimately be higher than what is now projected in the 2009 budget.

The report also points to $250,000 projected in revenues from charging town residents $25 for resident beach permits as questionable. The town has proposed charging for the permits annually – a practice already in place in the Town of Southampton, but one East Hampton has never implemented. However, the comptroller notes the town clerk’s office only issued 6,863 permits to residents at no charge in 2008. At $25 apiece that would result in $171,575 in funds.

On Thursday, supervisor Bill McGintee noted that residents have not been required to come back for the free permits each year, but only when a permit is needed for a new vehicle. He argued because of that, the number of residents who would pay for their annual permit this year would likely be greater than the number of permits granted last year.

The report also suggests the board take a second look at projected Federal grants for a bike path, as money it expected to receive last year never materialized, and expressed concerns about a proposed $420,000 earmark to cover management of the town’s Community Preservation Fund. The comptroller’s office simply states because accounting of these costs in the past was not provided, it has difficulty determining whether this expenditure is reasonable.

A number of appropriations have also been underestimated, states the report, specifically in employee health benefits, for personal services for the town police department, which is in the midst of contract negotiations with the town, and for auditing services.

After some discussion, and at the request of the comptroller, the town board agreed to pay $710,000 to the YMCA RECenter. The town is contractually obligated to pay the grant, but had considered accepting a proposal by the YMCA to enter into a five-year funding contract with the RECenter in return for the organization agreeing to the reduction in funding by over $100,000 this year. The board chose instead to fulfill the last year of its contractual obligation to the YMCA and renegotiate funding next year.

The comptroller also suggested a contingency fund, $1.1 million, that is used to cover unforeseen expenditures be beefed up. On Thursday, McGintee said he believed the contingency appropriated was sufficient and he would provide more information to the state.

On Thursday the board also agreed to reinstate funding to a number of youth-related organizations in the town – organizations that saw their grants cut in the first round of the budget in the face of a looming town tax increase. The East Hampton Day Care Center’s $25,000 reduction in grant assistance from the town was restored, as was $7,500 for the town’s youth court program.

In other budget news, the East Hampton Town Democratic Committee issued a statement this week on the proposed 2009 budget, which it said it was “disappointed by.”

“The budget makes no significant cuts in any town spending,” states the letter. “With the unconscionable exception of cuts to social and educational services, there is scarce evidence in this budget of the things most municipalities do in a budget crisis, such as cutting expenses, nonessential projects, activities and purchases.”