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Oct 14, 2008 4:58 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town considers privatizing waste disposal operation

Oct 14, 2008 4:58 PM

Town Supervisor Linda Kabot has proposed privatizing the town’s disposal operations as a way of cutting costs in Waste Management, a department that has posted a budget deficit in recent years.

The supervisor argues that fewer residents are using the department’s disposal centers, and that the town is collecting less revenue from bag fees and recycling fees. As a result, Ms. Kabot is also suggesting cutting back on the hours of operation at the disposal centers. “The Town Board has some tough decisions to make on waste management,” she said.

Bill Masterson, who oversees Waste Management as well as the Highway Department, acknowledged that privatizing the waste disposal operation may be necessary, but during budget talks last week he asked the supervisor to move slowly in that direction. “I don’t want to lose jobs,” Mr. Masterson said. “Especially today.”

Currently, Waste Management is running a $2 million deficit, a budget shortfall that stems in part from bookkeeping matters that overstated the department’s income. Town Management Services Administrator Richard Blowes said the department provided services for other town departments, such as garbage pickup at the beaches, and brush and leaf pickup in parks, but never charged those other departments for those services. Still, on its balance sheet, the department counted the interdepartmental work as a source of income.

“They were counting on revenue that was never pulled in,” Mr. Blowes said.

The problem, according to Tamara Wright, a private consultant the town hired to help with this year’s budget, was that the Waste Management Department operates with a government mindset instead of a proprietary one—something that would change if the department were privatized.

“They incurred expenses of other departments but never billed those other departments for those services like a private firm would have,” Ms. Wright said, adding that the supervisor’s suggestion to privatize the department might better serve taxpayers. “The taxpayers would be paying a private company instead of the town, and a private company may be able to handle a larger volume of waste and garbage at a lower cost,” she said.

No further action was taken on the plan to privatize the operations at the town’s four transfer stations in North Sea, Sag Harbor, Hampton Bays and Westhampton, nor was there any discussion of how the per-bag disposal system might be transferred to a private enterprise.

While Mr. Masterson may understand the need to privatize his department’s disposal operations, he rejected another proposal that aims to address the town’s roads. The town is in the midst of a 10-year “road reconstruction program,” costing a total of $50 million over that period. Each year, according to the supervisor, $3 million in bonded funds is allocated to the work, and another $2 million for road maintenance is assigned from the general fund as a “pay as you go” supplement. However, Ms. Kabot noted that the Town Board in recent years had eliminated the “pay as you go” payment in order to help keep the tax rate low.

Ms. Kabot told Mr. Masterson on Wednesday she planned to continue the practice, dropping $2 million and relying only on the bonded funds for the work.

“You’ll cut me $2 million, but you’ll hire 10 new police officers,” Mr. Masterson snapped. “There’s always an excuse to cut my department.”

“I have to make these cuts to keep within the tax cap,” Ms. Kabot said.

“Then cut somebody else,” Mr. Masterson said. “That’s not my problem. I’m tired of being your whipping boy.”

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no roads no people house values drop further, no need for police. simple ! problem solved
By typical (63), southampton on Oct 18, 08 6:40 PM
Ms Kabot, go for it! I suggest you plant a "spy" at the North Sea Recycling center and see how little works gets done, and how many unnecessary employees there are. Someone I know did community service there for a while and he was shocked about the countless hours the workers there do nothing but stand around and talk. There needs to be accountability- you're the person to make sure that happens!
By fishcove (39), southampton on Oct 20, 08 6:09 PM
Although I agree with the above comment, what of the employees that do work hard, and their families, should all the employees be punished because of the slackers?
By onlyinSH (2), Southampton on Nov 17, 08 10:54 AM