New York State has awarded more than a half million dollars to East Hampton Town for reducing its deficit and lowering taxes during the 2010-11 fiscal year. According to Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, the award is a recognition of his administration’s efforts to whip the town’s finances into shape.
Mr. Wilkinson held a press conference on June 12 to announce the award and said that the money will be put toward design and concept plans for restoring the former town hall building, which is located behind the main Town Hall, where the supervisor, the Town Board, the division of finance, the attorney and the town clerk now work. The goal is to make it an “open office space” with rows of desks and new equipment and technology.
“This is a performance-based award,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “This is an award that not only falls under a free source of income, but it’s recognition for our team.”
The $536,425 grant was awarded as part of the State of New York Department of State’s Local Government Performance and Efficiency Program, which awarded more than $12 million to 13 municipalities statewide for undertaking significant and innovative actions that reduced property taxes for residents. East Hampton Town is the only municipality in Suffolk County to receive the award and one of just two on Long Island. The award money will be doled out in equal parts over a three-year period.
According to the town’s grant application, the town’s finances “spiraled out of control” under the prior town administration, from 2004 through 2009. Former East Hampton Town Supervisor William McGintee, who was supervisor during that period, was the subject of harsh scrutiny for the state of the town’s finances during his time in office. The town went from a large surplus when Mr. McGintee took office to having an approximate $15 million deficit in 2008 alone. The town’s former budget officer, Ted Hults, pleaded guilty in 2010 to two counts of securities fraud and misconduct for his role in the at least $8 million transfer from the Community Preservation Fund to the town’s general fund and for misleading investors.
“During that time of mismanagement, the combined lack of proper accounting finances, illegal interfund borrowings and complete utter disregard for budget compliance resulted in a general fund operating deficit of over $27 million and the eventual indictment of the former town budget officer,” the town’s application stated.
In 2010, the current administration drafted and implemented a fiscal recovery plan.
Mr. Wilkinson said 26 departments were downsized into 13 through retirement incentives and staff reduction and the reorganization of tasks. That resulted in a savings of $4.2 million, representing an 18-percent drop in the tax levy, he said. Since the town put its plan in action, $8 million in savings has been realized, according to the supervisor.
“Through a combination of fiscal restructuring, municipal consolidations and organization re-engineering and by taking advantage of programs offered by New York State, East Hampton crafted a fiscal recovery while reducing operating expenses and property taxes for its residents,” he said.”Those efforts were not simply a snapshot in time—they continue every day.”
The town applied for the grant last July and officials found out two months ago that the town was in the running. Town Budget Officer Len Bernard said officials got word last week that the state was going to announce the winners on Wednesday.
“We feel this is the result of someone taking an unbiased, objective look at what we did here in East Hampton to bring the town back from where it was financially,” he said.
The amount of the award was based on the town’s number of full-time residents. Mr. Bernard said it came out to be approximately $25 per resident.
The town was given extra bonus points on its application because it outlined how the grant money would be used for the open space office.
Since 2010, the tax receiver, tax assessor, the planning, natural resources and code enforcement departments, the building inspector and the fire marshal have been stationed at office suites located at 300 Pantigo Place, which is adjacent to the main Town Hall campus. The old town hall building has been empty since then.
For over a year, Mr. Wilkinson has wanted to get all town departments on the main campus again.
Instead of building a new facility, the town will use the old town hall’s infrastructure to create a modern, energy-efficient workspace. Once the town finishes the project, officials intend to sell or rent the office suites on Pantigo Place. The employees who work in those suites will relocate to the new open office space.
Mr. Wilkinson said town officials been trying to restore the building and the award money will allow them to do so. He said the open office space idea is inspired by a European trend, where collaboration among departments is encouraged with an open floor plan.
“Our workforce is mobile and often shares responsibilities,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “Shared space, open flooring and technology-advanced work atmospheres should be pursued.”
He said renovating the old town hall building and creating an open environment would be an exciting project for the next generation of leadership.