Ask Town for Financial Aid

The financial affairs of the East Hampton Town Trustees, who own much of the common lands and waterways in town on behalf of the public, were front and center in August, as the town looks ahead to a new fiscal year in January. The East Hampton Town Board allots about half the trustees’ annual budget each year — it was $251,456 this year — while other revenue comes from fees, including those for mooring or docking in waters under their jurisdiction, and from leases of trustee land at Lazy Point in Amagansett.

At a meeting on Aug. 13, Diane McNally, the trustees’ clerk, Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell, and Len Bernard, the town’s budget officer, went over the panel’s finances. “We’ve tried to be fair and consistent with user groups,” Ms. McNally said following the meeting. “The fees that come to us, we do put back into the community. The bulk of the monies from the town are for the salaries and our secretary.”

The trustees are seeking an additional $87,000 from the town for next year and also would like to add a part-time secretary and increase the clerk’s salary commensurate with those of other department heads. The town provides Ms. McNally’s annual salary of $39,047, with an additional $2,500 per month coming from the trustee budget. The assistant clerk, Stephanie Forsberg, has an annual salary of $9,800, while the other seven trustees receive $7,400 per year.

Among other trustee expenses, dredging from 2009 to the present has cost $237,000, while the water-quality monitoring program instituted last year in conjunction with Christopher Gobler of Stony Brook University has cost another $68,000.

In recent years the trustees’ coffers were boosted by $99,000 from the sale of sand excavated from Georgica Pond and from the settlement of a lawsuit targeting manufacturers, their subsidiaries, and distributors of the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether, or M.T.B.E. Among a dozen known M.T.B.E. spill sites in East Hampton Town was one near Three Mile Harbor. “We’ve been very fortunate that we’ve had that to utilize,” Ms. McNally said, noting that some of the money has been appropriated to ongoing litigation.

Litigation is, in fact, a major fiscal consideration, and the trustees would like town assistance with what it costs. The body has spent almost $106,000 on legal fees so far in 2014, Ms. McNally said, noting that from 2009 to the present, the legal bills, all related to lawsuits over boundaries between public and private land, have amounted to $388,000.

The trustees have expressed frustration over what they call a lack of respect for their jurisdiction among local governing bodies, and differences between them have also prompted legal action. For example, last year, the East Hampton Village Zoning Board of Appeals issued a permit to an oceanfront property owner for a rock revetment on the beach, which is claimed by the trustees. The trustees brought suit against the property owner, as well as the village and the town. The revetment was constructed, and the case remains in litigation.

Supervisor Cantwell would not comment specifically on the meeting with Ms. McNally, citing ongoing discussions with multiple town departments and an expected overall town budget of $70 million.