Financial Books in Order

 

    East Hampton Town’s 2009 financial audit is complete, and a 2010 audit has begun, an accountant for the town told the East Hampton Town Board at a work session on Tuesday. That not only brings the town up to speed financially after years of financial mismanagement and inadequate recordkeeping, but puts things ahead of the game this year. 

The 2010 audit is due to be submitted to New York State in the fall, but up-to-date financial statements that could perhaps be finished next month will give the town board the data it needs to make decisions about handling the town’s approximately $27.5 million budget deficit. 

The deficit amount has been certified by the state comptroller, paving the way for the town to issue long-term bonds to raise money. 

Under the previous town administration, various town accounts were tapped in past years to pay for day-to-day operating expenses and other items that should have been covered by general budget or other funds, and now that the process of determining which fund is owed what is done, repayments have begun.

The community preservation fund has been repaid $4 million of between $10 and $11 million it is owed, Len Bernard, the town budget officer, said at the town board meeting on Tuesday.

During a presentation to the board at that meeting, Dave Tellier of Nawrocki Smith, the town’s accounting firm, reviewed the procedures followed during a forensic audit of East Hampton’s capital projects fund.

Income to and expenditures from the fund had to be recreated, beginning from 2003 and going through 2009, a period when there was no separating accounting for capital projects, Mr. Tellier said. All capital projects save one — a restroom in Montauk required by the County Health Department in order to keep Edison Beach open to the public — have been on hold until the accounting for the capital fund could be completed.

Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson complimented Mr. Tellier and Mr. Bernard because, he said, “they have really supervised the cleanup of just a financial management nightmare.”

“You’ve done an incredible job,” he said. Going forward, he promised, “We’re going to question every dollar. We’re going to be tough on it.” Judging by fourth-quarter 2010 data, Mr. Bernard said, the town ended the year with between $5.5 million and $7 million extra in its general funds — $4 to $5 million in its whole-town general fund, and $1.5 to $2 million in the part-town general fund. 

Also at its meeting on Tuesday, the town board discussed its initiative to promote media industries in East Hampton. 

A large building designed as a film studio, built some years ago on town land at the industrial park in Wainscott, received a go-ahead specifically because the board at the time sought to bring film productions into the town as an economic stimulus.

Now, the owner of the building wants to sell it, Town Councilwoman Theresa Quigley reported. “I’m very concerned about that building not continuing in that capacity,” she said. Terms of the property lease limit its use to media-based businesses, John Jilnicki, the town attorney, said, although the board recently authorized the use of a portion of the building for storage. 

Ms. Quigley, who was key to the formation of the town’s Media Advisory Committee, charged with encouraging the film and photography business here, said that she and Mr. Wilkinson had met recently with state and county film commissions about tax credits that could be offered to the industry, and that “one of the attractions is to have that studio there.” 

“I think it’s important for the town to retain its priority for that area, and that’s media,” said Mr. Wilkinson.

The town’s public-access cable television provider, LTV, is based in a town-owned building, also at the industrial park. Mr. Wilkinson said that after learning that Southampton Town is discussing building a new studio for SEA-TV, its own public access provider, he had contacted Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and Councilwoman Nancy Graboski to propose sharing the Wainscott facility.