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Mar 30, 2010 7:31 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampton plans to cut number of departments in half, offer early retirement

Mar 30, 2010 7:31 PM

Downsizing is coming to East Hampton Town, in the form of a restructuring that will likely cut the number of town government departments in half. Town officials also say employees are champing at the bit to hear the details of a voluntary separation agreement the new administration plans to unveil in the upcoming weeks.

Supervisor Bill Wilkinson promised during last year’s campaign that he would cut the size of government, and on Saturday he revealed his plan to reduce the number of departments in Town Hall from 26 to 13.

“Twenty-six departments are not manageable,” he said Saturday, though he added later that he has not yet begun to discuss the details, including union rules, with the town’s labor attorney.

“This was really a functional alignment rather than a department head consolidation at this point,” he said.

The new plan gives broad authority to the town’s Finance Department, which would oversee the human resources, audit, tax receiver and assessor, information technology and purchasing departments.

The police department would oversee marine patrol, whose officers carry guns, harbormasters, the harbors and docks departments and the fire marshal.

“This started a while back. I’ve always had the belief that if somebody’s going to have a weapon I want one person in charge,” said Mr. Wilkinson.

His plan also includes placing animal control under the town clerk, placing the town engineer under planning, placing the scavenger waste plant under sanitation, and parks, beaches and youth services under recreation. Currently, youth services are handled by the Human Services Department.

Mr. Wilkinson said that he would like to keep human services and housing as separate departments but would like the departments to work together more closely.

The plan also calls for the building inspector and code enforcement to answer to the town attorney. Buildings and grounds, highways and the airport would remain stand-alone departments.

Mr. Wilkinson also said that he would like to see the Land Acquisition Department answer to the Natural Resources Department.

Mr. Wilkinson, who said he had jotted down his ideas, invited “anybody who wants to come look at my chicken scratch can come,” but on Monday he said he had received very little response to the plan.

Along with the downsizing of departments, the Town Board has asked the New York State Legislature for authorization to borrow up to $2 million to finance voluntary separation agreements that would give employees who want to leave the town a significant amount of money to either retire early, return to school or relocate.

Town Board member Julia Prince was skeptical of the borrowing, since, she said, if workers left the town and their positions were not refilled, there would still be money in the budget to pay their salaries for the remainder of this year.

Mr. Wilkinson said that it was likely that the program wouldn’t come on-line until the third quarter, when there would not be enough money left in the salary lines for the year to cover the payout. He added that the town has no reserve to pay accrued vacation and sick time.

“If I were to offer Julia $50,000 to leave, that’s just an example ’cause she’s not eligible, that’s up front money,” said Mr. Wilkinson. “We have to fast-forward the payout. It’s probably going to be greater than what’s provided in the budget.”

“What if it’s only 10 people” who want to take advantage of the program? asked Ms. Prince.

“Based on the telephone calls I’ve gotten over the past few weeks, it’s going to be a lot more,” said Budget Officer Len Bernard. “We would be done paying for this in a year and a half. This isn’t instant gratification here. You’ll see substantial savings a year or two down the line.”

“Downsizing is the key word,” said Town Board member Theresa Quigley. “This government is bloated and over the top. The days of spending wildly are over.”

Superintendent of Highways Scott King said that he thinks five people in his department alone are planning to take advantage of the early retirement program.

“We’re down eight people already. We have 33,” he said. “That’s 10 miles for every person. It’s going to get down to a point where it’s public safety. I will stand up against that.”

Mr. Wilkinson said that he believes the town’s Civil Service Employees Association and every manager in town will have to work more closely together to ensure that vital work is done. He added that he had assured State Senator Kenneth LaValle, as a condition of the financing, that the town would not fill the positions of people who take the voluntary separation agreement.

Mr. King countered that some of his workers had very specific skills that could not be duplicated without a high level of training.

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Mr. King was elected to manage a department, now he can prove he can do it.
By hohum123 (91), springs on Mar 30, 10 6:58 PM
A very positive development, although borrowing more money to fund the buy-outs is a concern.
By zaz (197), East Hampton on Mar 30, 10 7:28 PM
Downsizing sounds good, perhaps someone could've said this government is bloated at the top too.
By fix-it-now (216), sag harbor on Mar 30, 10 8:54 PM
1 member liked this comment
It's "chomping at the bit," not "champing at the bit."
By Flyingpoint (2), Bridgehampton on Mar 30, 10 11:58 PM
"Champing at the bit" is in fact the correct idiom. "Chomping at the bit" has arisen as a modern variant, but "champing at the bit" is the original and correct phrase.
By BOReilly (135), 27east Web Editor on Mar 31, 10 8:57 AM
yep - you're right
goes back as early as the 16th century but seems to have taken on its current meeting in the 19th century. There are a number of web sites devoted to the meaning and origin of phrases.
By diogenes (57), westhampton on Apr 1, 10 1:46 PM
Devil's in the details...Town needs to reduce headcount and also packages of those with the bloated union contracts, i.e. police department. Town police department is almost as bad as the county. Some control needs to be exercised...last contract still falls short.
By voter (33), Amagansett on Mar 31, 10 10:00 AM
The Town police provide a necessary sevice that is unique in itself. The work of a police officer is dangerous an demanding, yes even in East Hampton, the public can only see the salary and not what officers do on a daily basis. The point is stop bashing the Police Dept, you cannot put a price tag on the services provided, and lets not forget this is an open competive civil service position open to all.
By BlueStreak (34), East End on Mar 31, 10 1:34 PM
McGintee's crap aside........re-assess the whole damn Town and we wouldn't have a problem affording to run the Town. The McMansions are getting a free ride here and we're forced to deal with this mess.
By YEAROUNDER (81), East Hampton on Mar 31, 10 2:49 PM
This sounds like a great plan! I hope the Town is able to reduce the number of staff without costing too much in "buy outs" -- why not just lay off people? I mean, I can understand wanting to help them out as oppose to just cut them loose, but if you need to borrow money to do it, maybe its not a good idea? I understand too, peoples feelings that the police contract is bad although I don't know the details of it, I don't think you can underpay police and expect to have a good force. I like that ...more
By Rich Morey (378), Brooklyn on Mar 31, 10 3:06 PM
A good idea to reduce staff, but why not consult with Department Heads over what positions are redundant, or can be combined? I have heard that none of the Department Heads were involved in this decision.Also, last year's Budget Advisory Committee had some sound ideas on staff reduction. Evidently those have also been ignored.
Also, if early retirement positions cannot be replaced, what about someone choosing early retirement who is in a pretty important slot, eg. what if our one accountant ...more
By P.A.B. (23), East Hampton on Apr 6, 10 2:44 PM
I disagree. Each dept. will place their own interests above any greater good, and none will offer up anything without being forced. What doesn't work at this crisis stage is more talk, especially the "imaginative" variety.
By zaz (197), East Hampton on Apr 6, 10 6:01 PM