East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson delivered his 2012 State of the Town address last Thursday night, calling for unanimity on a bipartisan board that, with three Republicans and two Democrats, mirrors that of the last two years, which he said did “incredible work.”
“In 2010, we encountered an estimated $30 million deficit, a bloated operating budget, an inefficient government management structure, and a total lack of accountability. We were lacking a moral financial compass,” he said.
The issues have been addressed, he said, “through appropriate deficit borrowing,” as well as “rightsizing town government” and the adoption of a 2012 budget “that falls well within the newly 2-percent enacted state property tax cap.”
Beyond dealing with “the financial debacle,” he said, the board rectified problems with the community preservation fund and enacted “aggressive C.P.F. purchasing” of land.
The preservation fund was “once a badge of honor for the East End that swiftly became an ornament of embarrassment” after money from the fund was improperly used elsewhere, Mr. Wilkinson said, but, he noted, “all illegally taken money has been returned.”
The supervisor said that “it is time for all our taxpayers to understand their tax bills,” and the difference between the portions assessed for town taxes and other taxing entities, such as school districts, and Suffolk County, as well as “the impact of decision-making on the money each of us spends for the various services we receive.”
East Hampton “must demand from federal, state, and county governments our fair share,” said Mr. Wilkinson, citing areas such as fishing quotas, beach replenishment and shoreline stabilization, and the repair and upkeep of state roads.
There should be information from and accountability on the part of the county as to how much sales tax is raised here so that the town can know “how much money we are sending to the county as compared to the value of the services we are receiving from the county,” he said.
“We have successfully introduced business practices into town government,” Mr. Wilkinson said, pointing to workplace changes such as “employees working harder with less,” as well as “performance management . . . taking place.”
Members of the Police Benevolent Association, police dispatchers’ union, and the Civil Service Employees Association “have all sacrificed through their bargaining contracts,” Mr. Wilkinson said, “. . . and have become members of Team East Hampton.”
“And we must not discourage ideas from surfacing during work sessions,” said the supervisor, who has at times been confronted with waves of public opinion about proposals in preliminary stages of discussion by the board, “regardless of how the press reports them or how undeveloped the thinking is. And we must ensure that competence shapes opinion, not political bias or self-interest.”
Other initiatives Mr. Wilkinson pointed to in his speech included a unanimous board vote to apply for Federal Aviation Administration funding for East Hampton Airport, the work of the Lake Montauk watershed committee, the approval of permits for two wind turbines, and efforts to ease zoning applications for farmers and to revise the licensing procedures for home improvement contractors.
The supervisor also mentioned the formation of a business advisory group, which he said is helping “plan the place of business for the next 20 years, whether through the attraction of high-tech, low-density technology ventures or recognizing the hurdles facing nonconforming businesses, many of which are designated as such even though they existed before zoning itself existed.”
In closing, Mr. Wilkinson thanked the new board for the efforts members will make in the coming year as well as town “management” and employees, and East Hampton residents, “for their efforts in returning our town to the prosperities that you deserve.”