September 27, 2006

A $500K Find

It was a case of your tax dollars not at work, but in limbo.

Last Thursday Supervisor Bill McGintee learned that a half million dollars earmarked for East Hampton has been sitting in Albany for over six years unclaimed.

According to the supervisor, back in the late 1990s East Hampton was awarded a $500,000 grant from the New York State Department of Parks and Historic Preservation. The money was to be put toward the purchase of the Shadmoor property in Montauk.

Trouble is, no one ever collected the grant.

According to the supervisor, state officials contacted his predecessors, then-Supervisor Jay Schneiderman and Budget Officer Len Bernard about the money, and were told it had already been received. They were wrong, McGintee said.

This week, once again state officials called, wondering if the town still wanted the money. "They told me, we've got this check sitting here," McGintee said. It's in the mail and may provide an unexpected budget boon for the town leader.

The supervisor grinned ear to ear as he spoke of the oversight. During his first year in office, he was on the receiving end of no small measure of criticism from Schneiderman and Bernard targeting his budget prowess, especially after the first draft of his first budget erroneously included a 25% tax increase. This year's budget is due for submission by the end of the week.

The partnership purchase of Shadmoor was the culmination of some 20 years of effort by preservationists. With close to 2500 feet of ocean frontage, the approximately 100-acre site is home to a variety of rare plant species as well as historic World War II bunkers. The town, state and county finalized the $17+ million buy in 2000. East Hampton and Suffolk both put up $5.43 million, the state contributed $5.6 mil and the Nature Conservancy also added a million dollars to the pot.

Asked to comment, Schneiderman had a different recollection of events. He remembered his predecessor Cathy Lester announcing the award of a half million-dollar grant. But that fell far short of the funds needed to purchase the property. "I got that money kicked up from half a million to $7 million," the former supervisor, now legislator said. The sale couldn't have closed without all the needed funding, he pointed out.

"I don't know what this money was supposed to be for," Schneiderman said, "If it's additional funds, that's great. I don't know what they're going to do with it, though, if it's earmarked for Shadmoor." The purchase and improvements to the parking area were completed during his administration, the legislator reminded.

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