As a child growing up in East Hampton, when she wasn’t playing after-school sports Christine Eberhart would go home after the school bell rang and wait a couple of hours for her parents to get home from work. That was 20 years ago, and the mother of two young children recognizes that in this day and age allowing her son and daughter to do the same thing is not a viable option.
Eberhart was one of several parents, teachers and community members who implored the East Hampton Town Board to increase funding for Project MOST during a public hearing on the town’s proposed 2012 budget.
The proposed $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.
While Supervisor Bill Wilkinson was able to reduce taxes, for the second year in a row, the town has seen a spending increase as the cost of employee benefits and paying off a $27.3 million deficit the town has incurred has added to the town’s non-discretionary spending needs.
Project MOST is a not-for-profit organization that provides after-school care and education to close to 300 students at The Springs School and in the East Hampton School District. While the town board has not cut Project MOST’s funding from last year — the organization is slated to receive $10,000 in the 2012-spending plan — the growth of the program and the fact that grant opportunities are contingent on town and school district support has meant the organization needs more funding if it is to survive.
The organization has asked the town board to increase its funding to $60,000 so it can continue to provide the service to the 275 students in East Hampton and Springs whose parents depend on the program, unable to get home from work until after 5 p.m.
As both a teacher and parent, on Thursday night Eberhart said she has seen the positive effects of Project MOST first hand.
“Children require a safe and productive environment to do their homework in, where they receive support, socialize and have the opportunity to experience new activities like yoga,” said Eberhart.
Springs resident and parent David Lys agreed and said his oldest daughter, a kindergartner at The Springs School, has thrived in the program.
“Project MOST allows me extra time to make that extra dollar to stay out here, and that is the goal — to stay here my whole life,” said Lys, who grew up in East Hampton.
Sag Harbor attorney Stephen Grossman, an East Hampton Town resident, echoed support for Project MOST and for the town funding social programs in general. Through a statement read by Averill Gues, Grossman was critical of the town board, which he said has budgeted $80,000 for security at the town’s justice court, but cannot find funding for children’s programming.
Grossman, who ran for town justice earlier this month, but was not elected, was also critical of the town justice’s salaries and called on an audit to show how much actual time each justice spends on the bench each month. The two town justices each receive a $70,346.46 salary.
Springs School Superintendent Michael Hartner added that Project MOST is not just an after-school homework club, but a program that provides enrichment.
He added that Project MOST can only receive grants equal to the financial support given to the organization by the town and school districts.
Teacher Dan Hartnett, a former Sag Harbor School Board member, said imagining John M. Marshall Elementary School without Project MOST is difficult at best.
“Project MOST is more than just babysitting,” said Hartnett. “It provides academic enrichment and support, as well as recreation for children who in the age of testing have had a long, stressful day.”
“For me, the question is where are the priorities of the town,” he said. “What better program could you fund as affordably?”
Sylvia Overby, who was elected to the town board last week alongside her Democratic Party running mate Peter Van Scoyoc, said she would like to see funding increased for the program as well.
“This is the time to grab them and this is the time to make sure they become the good citizens we need in East Hampton and have in East Hampton,” she said.
Overby said she was concerned that the town has not budgeted any monies to run the Scavenger Waste Facility in Springs — a $1.2 million department, Overby said was essentially deleted from the budget.
Since last Spring, the town board has been talking about leasing the facility to a private operator to run, rather than having the plant run by the town.
“We actually don’t know what we are doing yet,” said Deputy Supervisor Theresa Quigley.
“Why would we delete it from the budget if we don’t know what we are doing yet,” asked a puzzled Overby, who said she was concerned without any monies outside of $57,000 that budget officer Len Bernard said was budgeted to transition the facility into private operation.
On Tuesday, during the town board work session, the board passed a resolution allowing the town to request proposals for private companies looking to operate the facility.
Last Thursday, Overby also asked the board to consider hiring part time employees for the town’s planning department, noting it would give the town expert opinions without the cost of health insurance.
Supervisor Wilkinson noted that the reason positions have not been re-hired within the town once people resigned was an effort to reduce the size of town government without having to resort to layoffs in the future.
The town board is expected to consider adopting the proposed 2012 budget at tonight’s town board meeting at 7 p.m. in town hall.