Taken at face value, a statement that East Hampton Town needs help enforcing the laws on its books is disturbing. Patrick Gunn, a town attorney who heads the Division of Public Safety, told the town board last week that the Ordinance Enforcement Department was understaffed and could not meet the “level of service” of previous years.
This comes at a time when the town’s budget director has been touting the healthy condition of the municipal coffers and considerable surpluses. Something doesn’t add up.
The way things shake out in East Hampton, the Ordinance Enforcement Department handles almost all of what might be called non-police irregularities. These include investigating potential violations of the town zoning code, littering laws, and noise, lighting, and home-occupancy rules.
Mr. Gunn told the board that the four full-time enforcement officers were recently reduced when one, who is also a volunteer firefighter, was injured while battling an UpIsland brushfire. Mr. Gunn expects him to be out on disability for the duration of the summer. On top of that, the Ordinance Enforcement Department’s director, Betsy Bambrick, has to split her time since she also runs the Animal Control Department. Meanwhile, one Animal Control officer is going on maternity leave, which will mean that demands on Ms. Bambrick’s time are likely to increase significantly. Hiring replacements for the busy season might run the town $22,000, Mr. Gunn said.
Considering that the town has now amassed sizable budget surpluses, adding one or two part-time enforcers would appear to cost taxpayers not one more cent. The town should do so immediately.
Surpluses are supposed to be for unanticipated expenses, such as replacing personnel. If the money is there, it should be used, not squirreled away to be used — as it has been in the recent past — to lower taxes and help win elections.