New York Secretary of State Cesar A. Perales traveled to East Hampton last week to praise the town’s financial turnaround and restructuring under Supervisor Bill Wilkinson’s administration.
His visit on Thursday followed a $536,425 award to the town from the state’s Local Government Performance and Efficiency Program announced in June and meant to reward East Hampton for a savings plan said to save taxpayers $4.2 million annually, an 18-percent drop in the tax levy. It also comes on the heels of last month’s upgrade of the town’s credit rating from A1 to Aa3 by Moody’s Investors Service, a stark contrast to the town’s finances in 2010 when Mr. Wilkinson took office and inherited a deficit of some $27 million.
Mr. Perales, in brief remarks at Town Hall, said he was delighted with the town’s extraordinary job of streamlining government and said its success could be held up as a standard to follow throughout the state.
“You’ve done a fabulous job. It’s our job now to reward you like we promised we would,” he said. “And I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to go around the state telling other towns and villages that East Hampton has done it, you guys can do it too.”
The award will be doled out in three checks of equal amounts over three years, and the first check was in the mail, he promised.
During his visit, Mr. Wilkinson presented an overview of the town’s economic recovery plan, highlights of which included introducing new budgeting processes, such as zero-based budgeting—in which no baseline is assumed; each line item must be approved anew, not just the year-to-year changes—and trimming 26 town departments to 13 through attrition, staff reduction and consolidation of functions. The supervisor also talked about how the town has returned the “sanctity” of its Community Preservation Fund, from which millions of dollars were diverted for general purposes under his predecessor.
Montauk is close to 70 percent preserved, while East Hampton is probably more than 50 percent preserved, Mr. Wilkinson said.
“It’s a huge plus for this community to know that you’re going to have that kind of open space in the future,” he said. The money that goes into CPF should have an “armored wall around it,” and it does now, he said.
East Hampton plans to apply the state money toward revamping the former Town Hall, which sits vacant next to the current Town Hall. Mr. Wilkinson envisions a modern, state-of-the art, European-style layout, what he dubbed “the new office.”
He also thanked State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. for his role in helping the town out of its financial quagmire.
Mr. Thiele credited the Town Board, as well as Budget Officer Len Bernard and Chief Auditor Charlene Kagel, for their efforts, as well as those of State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, who was in Italy on Thursday and therefore unable to attend the event. He was represented by his press officer, Drew Biondo.
After the respective pats on the back, Mr. Wilkinson and town officials led Mr. Perales on a brief tour of the former Town Hall to show where the award money will be applied.