October 03, 2012

East Hampton Town Budget Up $3 Million

The tentative 2013 budget submitted by East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson exceeds the state mandated two percent cap . . . and it can.

In his budget message Wilkinson explains that a tax levy decrease this year meant a credit for next year, and a state-computed tax cap of 4.19 percent. Wilky's budget proposes a 3.17 percent increase, meaning it still doesn't use all the cap space available.

The tentative budget of $69 million and change, is lower – once again – than the budget inherited from disgraced former supervisor Bill McGintee in 2009. "In our first three budgets, the tax rate for those living outside the villages has decreased by 13.19 percent, and for those living inside the villages that decrease has been 28.69 percent," Wilkinson's message states. (The difference in the two rates relates to higher assessed property values in the villages.)

Next year property owners outside the village will see their tax rate increase by 4.6 percent, while those inside the villages receive a 1.7 percent decrease. That works out to a tax rate of $27.86 per $100 of assessed valuation outside the villages, and $10.94 per $100 AV inside the villages.

Looking back over the last three years, the supervisor's message offers a synopsis of the fiscal crisis inherited from the last administration -- "budgets and spending that were replete with undisciplined financial decision-making and borrowing; structural deficiencies and a lack of organizational cohesiveness."

The supervisor described how he and advisors were able to pull East Hampton out of the monetary mire -- using restraint when borrowing, lowering overall debt, enacting zero-based budgeting, and streamlining staff. Wilkinson points out that financial and reorganizational decisions he made "were not always popular" and often met with opposition and ridicule from some sectors of the community. Still, he self-congratulates, with "East Hampton is in a much better position to face the future financially than it would have been if the tough decisions were not made early and decisively."

One of the criticized decisions, to include enough money to operate the town's scavenger waste facility for just three months in the 2012 budget, led to a deficit in the fund. New Democratic Town Board members Sylvia Overby and Peter Van Scoyoc stalled a planned privatization of the plant earlier this year.

Wilkinson reminds, in his message, that the prior board voted unanimously to sell or privatize the plant. The stalemate over the plant's future this year, means "We are now forced to levy more than $700,000 in property taxes on residents that I believe would not have been necessary if the previous Town Board's decision of 2011 was implemented in 2012." And though consensus on the future of the plant remains elusive, Wilkinson crafted his spending plan for next year the same way, with just three months' funding for its operation.

Almost 33 percent of the overall $3.3 million increase in the tentative budget is attributable to the scavenger waste fund and airport. Cost overruns at the airport triggered the need to use over $100,000 in surplus.

Wilkinson's proposed budget continues to provide grants to a limited number of area social programs, including the adult daycare and senior nutrition programs, plus Phoenix House and the Family Service League. It also includes a two percent pay raise for department heads, appointed and elected officials.

With the tentative budget distributed to the town board, members will now make their revisions. Last year, the supervisor killed the annual leaf pickup program to save money. On the campaign trail, also last year, both Dems promised to restore it in the next budget.

According to Town Budget Officer Len Bernard, the tentative timeline for adoption of the budget includes a work session discussion of Wilkinson's proposed document on October 16, a public hearing on November 1 and a vote on November 15. By law the budget must be adopted by November 20.


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