Posted on 16 October 2008
By Kathryn G. Menu and Melissa Lynch
Just two weeks before East Hampton residents will have the opportunity to formally comment on a proposed 18 percent tax increase for 2009, the town’s board unanimously chose this week not to accept a raise in pay this year.
“This was a board decision, not just a decision made by me,” said East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill McGintee on Wednesday.
The proposed spending plan of $67 million for the 2009 fiscal year includes a contractual 4.75 percent salary increase for union employees. In his budget proposal, McGintee noted that salary increases were extended to non-union and elected officials at a 3.75 percent rate.
While the proposed budget represents an almost $8 million drop from the approved 2008 budget of $75 million, residents in the town are still looking at a hefty tax increase of 18 percent, with those living in the village looking at a 28 percent tax increase.
Last week, some residents expressed concern over spending in town hall, and aksed that projects like the conversion of historic structures into town hall be halted in the face of an economic downturn and a projected $15 million deficit in the town by the close of 2009.
Rhoda Bation, an East Hampton resident, sharply criticized the board for even considering raises for themselves.
“Times are so difficult,” she said. “Can you tell me how you can justify giving yourself raises of just under five percent?”
At the time, McGintee responded to Bation that traditionally non-union employees are extended the same raise as those negotiated with union employees. However, during Tuesday’s work session, the board agreed not to extend the raises to the board, saving an estimated $12,000. Town board members are currently paid about $60,000, while the supervisor makes just over $95,000. Other non-union employees are still slated to receive a raise.
McGintee said on Wednesday, the move was a “good faith” effort on the part of the board to show taxpayers it is trying to curb spending where it can.
“It was a decision that we made amongst ourselves some time ago,” said board member Brad Loewen on Wednesday. “We recognized the dire straits we were in. We considered that we were willing to do this as a good faith gesture and stand in solidarity with our citizens.”
“We need to show people that we are with them in all of this,” said board member Julia Prince on Wednesday. “Honestly, if the board had agreed to take the raises, I would have placed mine in an escrow account and donated it to one of the organizations whose funding is getting cut.”
The proposed budget does have a series of cuts in funding for organizations like Project MOST — the town’s after school program — and East Hampton Day Care. According to Prince, on Tuesday, small cuts continued, although she cautioned it is her belief that historically under-funded budgets are to blame, in part, for the fiscal crisis the town currently finds itself mired in.
“We have to be realistic because not being realistic is how we got here,” said Prince, who said the board is receiving monthly reports from department heads, making spending more easily controllable. “Why should we leave it to the state comptroller to come back to us and say, you completely under-funded your budget. We are the elected officials, we should do what is right.”
McGintee agreed that cost cutting measures are necessary, but that the board should be careful.
“At the next meeting you will see that some may say the budgetary increases are too much, but at the same meeting I will have people saying there is not enough money,” said McGintee. “You can’t win no matter what you do in this situation.”
Posted on 21 August 2008
The Springs Fire House was filled with local pilots on Tuesday morning concerned over plans to possibly eliminate runway 4-22 at the East Hampton Airport.
Representing the Save East Hampton Airport Group, Bill Esseks informed the board that 100 percent of Long Island airports have a runway similar to 4-22. The runway runs in a southwesterly direction to accommodate the prevailing winds in the area.
Tom Gibbons told the board that every one knows the safest way to land and take off, particularly in a small aircraft, is into the wind. And local pilot Bruno Schwenk said not only do pilots know that, but ducks and geese do as well.
The controversy over 4-22 began at a work session two weeks ago when the town board was discussing the airport layout plan that has been in the works for over two years. It had been decided at another work session that the plan would focus on repairing and maintaining runway 4-22, which has been shut down for over a decade, to be used as the secondary runway at the airport. However at the work session two weeks ago, the option of making runway 16-34 the secondary runway instead of 4-22 was discussed.
Town Councilwoman Julia Prince recalled the meeting and said, “It was presented [by the consultants] to us to scratch 4-22 and go with 16-34 instead.”
The rationale was because the take off patterns for 4-22 go directly over residential neighborhoods. She said, though, that the missing information at that work session was the notion of the prevailing winds.
Town supervisor Bill McGintee tried to calm the crowd on Tuesday, saying, “The discussion two weeks ago was not meant to abandon 4-22. It was meant to take a harder look at 16-34.”
Audience members on Tuesday speculated that the need to take a harder look at 16-34 was politically motivated.
“The town board was not stupid in 1932 when it created three runways,” said Tom Twomey. “They built all three for a good reason. So why would you decide all of a sudden to cut out a runway? I’ll tell you why. Political influence from neighbors.”
McGintee said the town was not in the position of ignoring those neighbors’ concerns.
“It’s easy to say, they built by the airport so the hell with them; but we don’t have the luxury of doing that,” said the supervisor.
Also debated on Tuesday was whether or not the town should accept money from the Federal Aviation Administration. Currently the town is working on a financial model to see whether or not the airport can be self-sustaining without help from the FAA. Critics in the audience said the only reason not to take the money from the FAA would be a political one as well.
Local pilot Bill Berkowski said the way he saw it, the town’s hesitancy to approve FAA funding was because they would have less control over the airport. He said taking money from the FAA would not allow the town to close down a runway during the day to appease those who may be “sipping tea on their front porches.”
Prince said on Wednesday, “Personally I think it would be unwise to not accept money from the FAA. Regardless of whether or not we accept it, they still kind of have their say. They control the place.”
She said the assumption over the years has been if the town accepts funding from the outside agency, they would not have control over the airport. She said, though, even if the town refuses funding, the FAA still runs the show to an extent.
It was decided on Tuesday that the town would move forward with a Draft Environmental Impact Statement on alternative two of the airport layout study. That alternative makes 4-22 the secondary runway and also utilizes 16-34 as an alternate runway.
“We are closer to finalizing this than anybody has been in along time,” said the supervisor, referring to two abandoned layout studies over the past two decades. “And we will get this done, if not to the full satisfaction of everybody, but at least to a passing grade of satisfaction.”
Top Photo: Tom Twomey addresses the audience at Tuesday’s brown bag session at the Springs Firehouse in East Hampton.