By Claire Walla
In an attempt to trim costs in the Town of Southampton for the upcoming fiscal year, Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst introduced a number of cost-saving measures in her $80.3 million Tentative 2012 Budget to achieve what she hails as a zero percent tax levy increase. But these cuts won’t come without layoffs and reorganization — two topics of major concern for some within the town.
At a public Budget Hearing on Tuesday, October 25, members of the Southampton Town Superior Officers’ Organization (SOA), which oversees the police department, and employees of the town’s Human Services Department flocked to the microphone to voice disapproval over the supervisor’s proposed cost-saving measures.
“No member of the SOA should involuntarily be terminated,” said SOA’s attorney Michael McClellan.
Under the supervisor’s budget, eight superior police officers would be forced to retire, garnering the town a savings of $1.7 million. The layoffs are in keeping with a provision adopted in 1971 that allows the town to force into retirement those officers who have been with the force for at least 20 years. It has never been invoked before.
However, McClellan — who referred to the provision as “ancient, arbitrary, capricious and in our minds discriminatory” — urged the town to work with members of the SOA to solve the town’s budgetary woes without sacrificing senior officers.
“That has been my position from the very beginning,” Throne-Holst informed the room.
“I was hoping that we would not have to resort to anything like this,” she added. “But, having to find $5.1 million of cuts … this was a way to get there that would affect the least number of officers.”
To that end, Councilwoman Nancy Graboski added that while she supports the effort to trim costs within the town’s police force, she doesn’t support the method currently detailed in the supervisor’s budget.
“The town board has in the past spoken about how we are carrying officers at a high level of pay and that we need to begin to look at that and come up with a plan to systematically see that they retire,” said Graboski.
Throne-Holst added that she and members of the SOA will hold a meeting this Friday in an attempt to revisit the issue. As for other proposed cost-savings alternatives, the supervisor said “I am all ears.”
However, Throne-Holst is sticking with her proposed plan to break-up the town’s existing Human Services Department and fold Youth Services into Parks and Recreation. This move is nothing new — the supervisor actually pushed for a similar plan (unsuccessfully) with last year’s proposed budget. This year therefore marks the second time human services personnel are fighting to keep their department intact.
Members of the youth services division — including assistant director Tracy Kolsin and youth counselor Karen Hurst — argued with the logic of combining the two departments.
“With this move you’re taking the youth development from the Youth Bureau,” Kolsin said. He added that “It will only cost the town more in the long run by putting a burden on other departments.”
He, Hurst and a handful of other Southampton Town residents also called for the town board to recreate a space in the budget for Youth Bureau Director Nancy Lynott.
“The Youth Bureau was started by Nancy and it [is what it is today] because of her,” Hurst said. “By cutting her, you are cutting one quarter of our staff, which will ultimately lead us to cut programs.”
“I’m not proposing that the youth bureau be eliminated,” Throne-Holst explained. She expects the youth bureau to perform the same functions it does now, only under the umbrella of a different department. In fact, she added that the model of joining youth services with recreation “is a healthy one.”
The supervisor’s tentative budget calls for 28 layoffs in total. And during Tuesday night’s regularly scheduled town board meeting, the board adopted a resolution proposed by Councilman Chris Nuzzi to extend the town’s hiring freeze another year. Only Councilwoman Bridget Fleming opposed.