When Governor Cuomo nominated Cesar Perales to serve as the state's Secretary of State, he described him as one of the "most distinguished" New Yorkers. Last Thursday East Hampton Town Hall habitués were host to the political luminary, as he arrived to honor town officials for their efforts at solving the town's fiscal crisis.
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Perales explained that part of his job as secretary of state involves finding ways for government to operate more efficiently and reduce costs. His Local Government Performance and Efficiency Program is part of the effort to reward and incentivize municipalities that find ways to streamline government and save cash. Earlier this spring East Hampton Town received a grant of over $500K from the LGPEP; Perales was in town to acknowledge the award.
Stating he was "delighted" to be in East Hampton, Perales explained the LGPEP program, adding, "if local government can show they've done things to save money, we're going to reward them."
A restructuring of government as well as the implementation of additional efficiencies and cuts resulted in annual savings of $4.2 million under the administration of Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, who took the helm in 2010. He inherited a multi-million dollar deficit from disgraced former supervisor Bill McGintee who resigned following investigations by the New York State Comptroller and Suffolk County District Attorney. The financial turn-around was most recently evidenced by an upgrade of the town's bond rating.
"We're so very, very impressed with what happened here in East Hampton," Perales enthused on Thursday. He said that as he travels the state he plans to "tell other towns and villages, East Hampton has done it. You can, too."
Wilkinson acknowledged the assistance the town received from Assemblyman Fred Thiele and Senator Ken LaValle as officials began to try to right the financial ship. Thiele, in turn, lauded the efforts of town budget officer Len Bernard and chief auditor Charlene Kagel. He and LaValle were able to provide the town with additional tools, but, said Thiele, "The hard decisions had to be made at the local level."
In addition to celebrating East Hampton's success, Perales was in town to receive an update on the town's financial progress. Wilkinson offered an extensive power point presentation discussing how he and his colleagues went about re-engineering government. The presentation included before and after charts depicting how staff was streamlined.
Back in 2009 when he was on the campaign trail, Wilkinson decried the waste inherent in McGintee's historic town hall. When he took office, the supervisor called for a reconfiguring of spaces to enhance efficiency.
But the old town hall building, decrepit, disgusting, and almost uninhabitable, continued to sit as a landmark to government inefficiency. Plans to renovate the building and create a town hall campus were sidelined as the true extent of East Hampton's financial state was revealed. Wilkinson said Thursday that he hopes to use the proceeds from the LGPEP award to begin work on the old town hall.