Tomorrow night, the East Hampton Town Board is slated to adopt its 2013 operating budget. Overall, the document gleaned a good review from state officials.
When the town sought state approval to finance the multi-million dollar deficit incurred by disgraced former supervisor Bill McGintee, part of the approval involved a requirement that the annual budget proposal be reviewed by the Office of the State Comptroller. In a release last week, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli offered an overview: "The revenue and expenditure projections in the town's tentative budget are reasonable. The tentative budget for 2013 complies with the tax levy limits."
The budget review letter offered no recommendation on the budget. However, it did comment regarding whether town officials had acted upon recommendations made about the 2012 budget.
In one area, it doesn't look like it. According to the OSC missive, the 2012 tentative budget included estimated revenues of $250,000 from the sale of Town property.
"At the time of our review," the letter states, "Town officials could not provide documentation to show that this revenue would be realized in 2012. Although we cautioned Town officials regarding the attainability of this estimated revenue, the Town Board retained this amount in the 2012 adopted budget. As of September 2012, the Town's 2012 year to date and projected revenue for the sale of real property totaled $40,000, resulting in an expected revenue shortfall of $210,000 in the 2012 fiscal year."
According to town budget officer Len Bernard, the revenue was to come from the sale of the Fort Pond House in Montauk and the town-owned office suites on Pantigo Place in East Hampton. The house sale is currently the subject of litigation.
Earlier this month, on November 1, the board held a public hearing on the 2013 proposal. Although one speaker asked members to keep the hearing open so those occupied with super storm matters could have additional time to weigh in, they agreed to close it, the consensus being there had been adequate opportunity for public input since the draft document was first released at the end of September.
A significant part of that opportunity was comprised of the hearing, with the bulk of commentary offered by the town-appointed Budget and Finance Advisory Committee.
Four members of the BFAC offered the group's opinions on such topics as the town-owned scavenger waste facility, deer management and information technology services.
Bonnie Krupinski spoke of deer and roads. The BFAC supports purchasing a computer system that would collect data on the condition of roads, in order to increase efficiency with regard to maintenance.
The committee also suggests including between $100,000 and $150,000 in the budget for deer management – for undertaking a count of deer, coordination between governmental and private landowners and for the commencement of a culling program. Currently, there's nothing in the budget to fund a deer management program.
BFAC chair Arthur Malman reiterated earlier opinions related to the town's scav plant. The group recommends the development of a long-term wastewater management plan and comprehensive environmental testing, which would mean an addition of an estimated $250,000 to the budget.
The group also supports the immediate closure of the transfer station currently operating at the plant. The draft budget includes funding for just three months' operation of the station, at an estimated $25,000 to $30,000 per month. Closing the station immediately would offset the cost of some of the environmental testing.
On the IT front, BFAC member Michael Diesenhaus said an investment in a special computer system that allows residents to conduct a lot of their business with the town via the Internet would pay for itself in efficiency and reduction in the cost of government. However, he noted that an earlier contemplation of outsourcing the entire town IT function must still include town staff to manage the outsourcing.
Councilwoman Theresa Quigley opined that such a system might be worthwhile, but she doubted it could be implemented. She said she's been trying to get a new phone system for the town for three years, and it still hasn't happened. In the private sector, she said, such a failure to accomplish a task wouldn't be tolerated.
Peter Wadsworth spoke of the town's capital plan, which is a sort of "wish list" of projects to be undertaken over the next several years. He praised the town board for including the capital plan with the tentative budget, a move that has never beeen taken by prior administrations. In the past, town officials adopted capital plans at varied times of the year, if at all.
Some community members also weighed in on the budget, slated for adoption at the town board's next meeting this month.
Tim Bryden, the executive director of Project MOST reminded that Project MOST offers the only afterschool program for children in town. He asked for an increase in the level of grant money awarded by the town.
Sara Davison from the Animal Rescue Fund lobbied for a $10,000 grant to support the non-profit's Operation Cat program.
Zack Cohen spoke of the Community Preservation Fund budget, asking board members to use more of its allotted stewardship and management line to hire a land steward to oversee open space. Ruth Appelhof from Guild Hall sought support for the institution's student arts program, which reaches 5000 area kids each year.
David Buda echoed an earlier expressed desire for more code enforcement officers, while local attorney Steve Grossman said the town doesn't need more code enforcement, it needs a better town code.