Facing mounting criticism for East Hampton’s borrowing from its Community Preservation Fund to cover bills, Town Supervisor Bill McGintee last week walked out of a meeting of a new East End committee that is drafting guidelines for the use of CPF funds.
The supervisor said that he had left the working group’s meeting at the Stony Brook Southampton campus last Wednesday afternoon, along with town preservation manager Scott Wilson, because the group was proposing a rule to limit the use of Community Preservation Fund money for historic preservation work and the development of parks and recreation.
“We have a major historic preservation program in the town of East Hampton,” Mr. McGintee said on Monday. “There wasn’t a historic preservationist on the committee and they were proposing limiting what can be spent on management and stewardship for historic preservation and parks and recreation to a combined 3 percent. That simply will not work for us. I found it insulting.”
Mr. McGintee said that he plans to form his own committee within the town to draft a plan for the accepted use of CPF funds—including the restoration of historic structures and the development and upkeep of municipal parks.
The CPF’s original state enabling legislation, adopted in 1998, allows up to 10 percent of a town’s annual CPF revenues to be spent on the management and stewardship of properties purchased with CPF money.
Late last year, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele and State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, the founding fathers of the CPF program, convened a task force to look at the statute and make what Mr. Thiele this week called “minor changes” to make the program work better.
The task force is made up of more than 30 members of local East End governments, environmental groups and local residents. The meeting last week was of a smaller working group, made up of one representative from each town and land preservation organization, that was discussing specific aspects of how CPF money can be used in the upkeep and management of CPF properties.
Kevin McDonald, director of public lands for the Nature Conservancy and chairman of the working group, said that Mr. McGintee was clearly frustrated that a majority of the members of the group did not agree with his interpretations of what should be allowed under the CPF’s management and stewardship guidelines.
“I think his direct words were that he was going to take care of it himself,” Mr. McDonald said. “There is a little tension between different members of the task force—those that have an expansionist and broader interpretation of what ?the fund can be used for and those with a more narrow and historically ?consistent interpretation.”
Mr. McGintee’s departure “was unfortunate,” Mr. McDonald said, “because East Hampton had been a spirited participant in these meetings.”
Last week’s gathering was to be the last meeting of the working group before it presented its recommendations to the larger task force next week.
Mr. McGintee said that East Hampton will continue to participate in the meetings of the larger task force and will attend its next meeting with Assemblyman Thiele on April 11.
Mr. Thiele this week said that Mr. McGintee’s apparent beliefs as to how CPF money can be used do not seem to match those of any of the other parties.
“The supervisor is not just outside the mainstream of thought on this, but far outside the mainstream,” Mr. Thiele said on Monday. “I don’t know if it is just him, or if it is the opinion of the whole Town Board, but what the town of East Hampton has been looking to do is utilize the fund for routine maintenance and operation of parks and recreational facilities. This is not intended to be a way to subsidize the parks department to balance their budget.”
Mr. McGintee said that he is not seeking subsidies for unrelated town operations but wants to have the ample CPF coffers cover the costs of work that is vital to the spirit of historic preservation so that taxpayers don’t have to bear the burden. The repair and upkeep ?of historic structures is a necessary ?but expensive component of historic preservation, Mr. McGintee argued, and town employees are doing much of the work.
Councilman Pete Hammerle agreed with Mr. McGintee’s assessment of the need for CPF money to support historic preservation work but added that divorcing the town from the group may not serve the ultimate purpose.
“When you buy a historic building, you need to fix it up—if they cut us off from that, it would be ridiculous,” Mr. Hammerle said Monday. “But they’re going to issue their recommendations with or without us, so we should at least have some say.”
Mr. McGintee has been under fire in recent weeks since he disclosed that some $8 million in CPF funds were temporarily moved into other town funds in 2007 to cover bills and payroll. It was also discovered that the town has been earmarking as much as $450,000 a year for town departments from the CPF. Mr. McGintee has stridently defended both practices as compatible with the bylaws of CPF and in the best interests of East Hampton’s taxpayers.
The working group’s specific recommendations, when vetted by the larger committee, are intended to lead to proposed legislation that Mr. Thiele, Assemblyman Marc S. Alessi and Senator LaValle can present as an amendment of the original CPF statute.
“I guess I understand the supervisor’s frustration, he’s a minority—a minority of one,” Mr. Thiele said. “He’s heading in the wrong direction, though. Ultimately, it will be the State Senate and Assembly that decides what is going to happen. If you disagree with the recommendations, talk, don’t walk out.”