In a split vote along party lines on Tuesday, the East Hampton Town Board adopted a capital improvement plan outlining an estimated $5.26 million in projects intended to improve East Hampton Airport that the town could opt to pursue over the next five years.
The board’s Republican majority—Councilman Dominick Stanzione, who is the airport liaison, Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, and Councilwoman Theresa Quigley—voted in favor of the plan, while Democratic Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc and Councilwoman Sylvia Overby were opposed.
The $5.26 million figure was slashed from an original estimate of $10.45 million after 15 proposed projects totaling about $5.19 million were pulled from the plan, following its unveiling at a lively public hearing on November 21. Town officials scratched those items after determining that they were not included in the previously adopted airport layout and master plans, meaning that they had not already passed state environmental assessments. The most expensive of the yanked items was a $923,332 proposal to repair taxiway lighting.
Proponents of the plan point to the need for maintenance at the airport for safety purposes and note that approving the plan does not rope a future Town Board into the full estimate of the work, as each proposed project will have to go out for bids and be voted on separately by the board.
“Not one single item has been approved to go forward. This is just a concept,” Ms. Quigley stressed. “It’s a long process, and this is step one. It’s the first step on the road toward realizing the improvements for the airport, as contemplated on the airport layout plan.”
Airport Manager Jim Brundige said a goal is to raise awareness among the board about what the airport needs to keep it safe and efficient.
Mr. Van Scoyoc said he did not take issue with the plan itself, noting that it is not a fixed document, but voted against it because he wanted a footnote stricken that referenced the Federal Aviation Administration. Submitting the plan to the FAA, he said, would be a first step toward securing FAA funding—a hotbed issue in the debate over local control of the facility. “It’s not a necessary step for us to send it to the FAA unless we’re pursuing funding from the FAA,” he said.
Ms. Overby echoed this concern, saying that she was unclear of the implications of the FAA footnote and required legal advice and more discussion. She added that board members only just received the revised plan less than 30 minutes before the start of that day’s work session, when the vote took place.
The footnote states, “Funding assumes FAA grants are accepted at 90 percent of project cost and state grants are accepted at a 5-percent matching share. Should the FAA funding not be available, or sponsor (Town of East Hampton) chooses to fund projects locally, the sponsor’s share will be 100 percent of project cost.”
Mr. Brundige interpreted the footnote as meaning that if the board picks a project and wishes to take a federal grant, rather than bond for it, then the federal government would pay 90 percent of the cost. He said it was not a commitment to extend grant assurances set to expire at the end of 2014.
Frank Dalene, a co-founder of the Quiet Skies Coalition, told the board he believes the plan is full of “pork fat” and that it would be impossible for members to cast responsible votes on it without knowing more details.
“The CIP looks more like the East Hampton Aviation Association’s wish list to Santa Claus,” he said, referring to the Capital Improvements Plan.
Gerard Boleis, president of that association, issued a statement that afternoon, thanking the board for adopting the plan, noting that the plan calls for the resurfacing and reopening of a runway that will be shortened, resurfacing another runway to be closed and turned into a taxiway and resurfacing a third runway built in 1936.
Next year, he wrote, the town can decide whether to pay for the repairs itself or apply for FAA funding.
“The airport opponents object to these repairs since if the airport continues to deteriorate, it will eventually have to be closed,” he wrote.
In another 3-2 vote along party lines on Tuesday, the Town Board passed a resolution to put any surplus between the approved 2014 budget and the rates issued by the New York State Health Insurance Program into the employee benefit reserve and to use it to offset future expenses related to employee benefits.
Again, the vote followed party lines: Mr. Wilkinson, Mr. Stanzione and Ms. Quigley voted in favor, while Ms. Overby and Mr. Van Scoyoc voted against it.
The board, following a heated discussion last month during budget adoption over health insurance premiums, had factored in a 5-percent increase into next year’s budget, based on NYSHIP recommendations. Since then, however, NYSHIP confirmed a 1.8-percent health benefit rate increase.
Mr. Wilkinson issued a statement on Sunday touting the town’s zero-based budgeting as saving taxpayers $500,000.
“Absent of insisting on maintaining the financial disciplines which saved us in the first place, history could very easily repeat itself,” he wrote.
Each percentage point is about $110,000, Ms. Quigley said.
The Democrats objected, calling for the surplus instead to go toward other areas, such as staffing.