By Brian Bossetta
In the wake of a controversy over a proposal to shrink the size of certain advisory boards that serve Southampton Town, one councilwoman is appealing directly to those board members for suggestions.
Town Councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst, along with fellow council members Sally Pope and Nancy Graboski, drafted a letter and questionnaire to the members of the town’s Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals and Conservation Board, asking for their advice on cutting costs and increasing proficiency.
“The intent of this questionnaire is to ascertain if other options to achieve cost savings can reasonably be considered, and as such we are reaching out to you for your input,” the letter states.
In the questionnaire, the advisory board members are asked if they would be willing to serve with a reduction in the stipend and/or health benefits they receive, and if they would support eliminating higher stipends for chairs and co-chairs so that all serving would receive equal compensation. The board members are also asked to convey any additional cost-saving ideas and any general thoughts on increasing board efficiency.
The issue came to light earlier this month when Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi introduced legislation that proposed shrinking the size of the boards from seven members to five, a move aiming to save money. His plan would involve removing six members from the advisory boards, a total Mr. Nuzzi said would amount to a yearly savings of $96,000. In the councilman’s view, supported by Town Supervisor Linda Kabot, today’s economic climate dictates that the town cut costs wherever possible.
But the three council members who drafted the letter are opposed to Mr. Nuzzi’s plan, saying the dollars that would be saved are only a small percentage of the town’s $82 million operating budget, and maintaining that it is the process—not the number of board members—that needs to be reviewed.
Ms. Throne-Holst has argued that the decisions that come out of these boards influence the look and character of the town for generations and, therefore, require diversity and should represent as wide a spectrum of the town as possible.
Mr. Nuzzi, however, has pointed out that these boards functioned at one time with only five members and argues that they could do so again.
He has also made the argument that the Town Board operates with only five members. But critics of Mr. Nuzzi’s plan have pointed out that those five members are elected and that the members who serve on the advisory boards are appointed. Maintaining the status quo, they argue, limits the opportunity for political patronage.