The East Hampton Town Board held a hearing last Thursday on a proposed budget for 2013 calling for spending of just over $69 million. If adopted as proposed, it would result in tax rates of $27.86 per $100 of assessed value for properties in the town, a 4.6-percent increase, and a rate of $10.93 per $100 of assessed value for properties in East Hampton and Sag Harbor Villages, a decrease of 1.7 percent.
A coordinated presentation at the hearing by members of the town’s budget and finance advisory committee included recommendations regarding the scavenger waste plant, long-term capital planning, the Highway Department, a deer management program, and the town’s computer technology status.
Arthur Malman, the chairman of the committee, congratulated the town’s “whole financial team,” noting that the annual budgets being prepared are “vastly superior” to those in the past.
Bonnie Krupinski, also a member of the advisory committee, explained the group’s recommendation that the board authorize the purchase of a program that can be used to plan and manage ongoing road repaving efforts. Recommended by Steve Lynch, the Highway Superintendent, the system would help the department to assess the current state of the roadways and develop a long-range capital plan for bringing the town’s 300 miles of public roads back into good repair.
That could cost $25 to $30 million over the next few years, Ms. Krupinski said, as roads have been neglected. Recent budgets have included funds to repave only four to five miles a year, she said; the target this year is 20 to 30 miles. However, she noted, Mr. Lynch believes that the sum for repaving included in next year’s proposed budget will cover repairs to only about 12 miles.
To implement a deer management program that is being developed by the town board, the budget committee suggested adding $100,000 to $150,000 to the 2013 spending plan.
That would enable the town to cover the approximately $30,000 cost of doing a population count on the existing herd, pay $20,000 to coordinate an effort to identify and enlist landowners in a culling program, and leave $50,000 to $100,000 to initiate the culling, using trained sharpshooters.
On the scavenger waste plant, Mr. Malman reiterated the committee’s belief, previously asserted to the board, that environmental testing to determine what, if any, contamination exists at the plant is crucial and will provide the “background the board needs to make a decision” about the future of the facility. In addition, money will be needed to pay for preparation of a comprehensive townwide wastewater management plan, which the board majority has approved. Proposals have already been received from several consultants.
An additional $250,000 should be added to the budget for those things, Mr. Malman said. In addition, he said, Mr. Wilkinson’s proposed budget includes only enough money to keep the waste transfer station now being operated at the plant open for three months. “It’s unlikely,” Mr. Malman said, that the testing and planning procedures would be finalized in that time. The committee suggested that the transfer station be closed immediately, and remain closed until final decisions have been made, for savings of $25,000 to $30,000 a month that could offset the costs of the comprehensive plan and testing.
A description by Michael Diesenhaus of the budget committee, outlining a computer system that could put town records and applications online, drew a strong reaction from Councilwoman Theresa Quigley, who expressed doubt that it could be implemented in East Hampton.
Improved information technologies, Mr. Diesenhaus told the board, “are the best methods to achieve the goal of your administration, which has been to reduce the cost of government. I.T. is one of the best methods and tools” to increase efficiency, he said, “and furthermore can be a source of revenue.”
An “E-Gov” module, to which the town could sell subscriptions to real estate brokers, lawyers, and others who must consistently access town records, could pay for itself within a few years, he said, and then raise revenue. Such a capability would also “enfranchise” second-home owners who cannot easily visit Town Hall, he said. Beach permits and the like could be offered online, reducing staffing requirements.
“It’s a lovely concept, but there’s too many hurdles,” Ms. Quigley said. “Because the best intentions, the best work . . . it falls apart. Because there’s something much more wrong with government than the fixes can deal with.”
As an example, she cited the board’s approval of a new phone system installation at town offices a year and a half ago. “And it hasn’t happened,” she said.
Peter Wadsworth, the final speaker from the budget and finance committee, lauded the board’s work in clearing up the financial disarray left by a previous administration. “It makes it possible to have a forward-thinking conversation,” he said, suggesting that the town “develop a robust, multi-year capital plan to rebuild and modernize its infrastructure,” and to protect environmental resources.
Also at the budget hearing, representatives of several organizations appealed to the board to continue or restore funding to their programs. They included Tim Bryden of Project MOST, Ruth Appelhof of Guild Hall, and Robert Strada of LTV.
Zachary Cohen, the head of the town’s nature preserve committee and a member of the East Hampton Trails Preservation Society, proposed that the board increase by $35,000 the amount of money from the community preservation fund earmarked for land stewardship. The fund is separate from general tax levies, and the change would have no impact on tax rates.
Ira Bezoza endorsed that idea. The town has only one person working as a land steward for its thousands of acres of preserved land, he pointed out. “The C.P.F. has enough money to support more than one land steward,” Mr. Bezoza said.