- Shining a ray of light on to the murky municipal landscape of budget practices that has stymied town proceedings for the past few weeks, the East Hampton Town Board entertained two proposals from Town Supervisor William McGintee Tuesday, April 1, seeking to establish budget oversight committees to safeguard future budgeting practices.
Acting in unison, with an eye on never finding themselves in a predicament akin to the one they are currently unraveling with the aid of the state comptroller's audit division, the board promptly adopted these measures.
Proposing the formation of a Community Preservation Fund (CPF) Committee to draft an independent CPF management and spending plan, McGintee also called for the creation of a Budget Committee aimed at cauterizing the current budget which has suffered cash-flow gouges the current administration claims resulted from historical debt issues inherited from the administration of now County Legislator Jay Schneiderman
The State Comptroller's Office is taking a close look at the town's spending and accounting procedures with a particular concern to recent yearly budget shortfalls. Subsequently, a subpoena issued by the Suffolk County District Attorney's office on March 19, requesting all documentation on CPF transactions, further calls attention to the administration's budgeting practices.
Town Board members Julia Prince and Pete Hammerle listen in on East Hampton
Town Supervisor William McGintee's proposed formation of two budget oversight
committees to address the growing concern over town spending.
The short-term budget committee will include Councilwoman Pat Mansir, who outlined that her particular concerns with the budget center on the 2006 and 2007 deficits, as well as the deficit projected for 2008. "This will give us a pretty good start with what we need to do to get into the budgeting this year," she added.
"I would love to have two members of the town board, someone from [the independent auditors], Budget Officer Ted Hults and one or two municipal accountants [on the committee]," Mansir added. "I want to find out what reports we should be getting on a regular basis."
The work of the committee will also parallel the efforts of the town board as they work to finalize the capital
expenses budget, aiming to cut costs and reduce spending in all departments. Taking a first step, McGintee called for a freeze on all new hiring by department heads until June 1.
"I have directed department heads in every department that there will be no budget transfers from the personnel line into operating line," McGintee clarified. "The committee will look at areas where we can cut expenses and to see how those expenses grow during the year."
Coupled with the formation of the budget committee, McGintee has suggested a new policy be put in place stipulating that the Town Board meet with the finance office quarterly. As part of the new budgeting measures each town board member will meet with the Supervisor over the next two weeks to review liaison budget reports.
"Every liaison needs to sit down with their departments to see what can be cut another five percent. We are not talking about laying off or reducing money," Mansir clarified. "We are talking about hiring freezing and cutting costs as best we can to get back on our feet."
Calling it a 'short term' committee and emphasizing that it must convene right away, Mansir stated, "I would like to say that I will be at every one of those meetings, and if anyone wants me to leave they will have to carry me out," she quipped.
Once charged, the Budget Committee will present its findings and recommendations to the public after which time the board will entertain public comments. It is expected that a report from the committee will be composed by the end of June.
Addressing the Community Preservation Fund
Town Supervisor William McGintee opened the brown bag meeting at the
Montauk Firehouse on Tuesday, April 4, with proposals for the formation of
two budget oversight committees, demonstrating his initiative to get town
budget practices under control.
Finding his long-range preservation goals at odds with the 15-member Community Preservation Task Force established by New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele
at a March meeting of local political leaders and environmental preservationists looking to reevaluate the goals, policies and practices of CPF spending, McGintee offered that he does not want people from outside of the town dictating rules that will affect East Hampton taxpayers.
"Scott Wilson and I left the Task Force meeting on Thursday," McGintee told his fellow board members. "There were a lot of decisions being made by people that are not taxpayers in the Town of East Hampton."
Amidst growing criticism of the varied use of the funds in the widely lauded land preservation program, including recent criticism of Supervisor McGintee's $8 million loan from CPF coffers to cover a budget shortfall which has since been returned with interest, the Supervisor maintained East Hampton is different from other municipalities and does not need to conform to blanket CPF guidelines.
McGintee accounted for his leaving the meeting Tuesday, March 25, by addressing two particular concerns - first, undue restrictions being placed on CPF spending with a proposal offered at the meeting to place a three percent cap on spending for historic buildings and parks and recreation combined, and second, a discussion concluding "that no management stewardship money could be used for restorations."
"We will form a committee in town with myself and Councilman Loewen, our historic preservation liaison, a planner, someone from the town attorney's office and someone from the nature preservation committee," McGintee asserted. The intention of the committee is to develop a draft plan to outline proper designation of management and stewardship charges in CPF usage, which the committee can then present to the board.
"We are looking to have the plan completed within two months," McGintee offered. "Once it is completed we can take a look at where our charges are this year and see exactly what charges would be for management and stewardship."
Addressing the wishes of the board and the recent backlash from borrowing against the CPF to balance the 2007 budget, McGintee clarified that "regardless of the outcome [of the state audit], it will not be the policy of the town to borrow from the CPF fund. The budget office has been directed not to do so in that manner."
Part two of the brown bag meeting this week took place in the
town hall conference room where town board members continued their meeting with a discussion of projected capital project expenses in 2008.