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Apr 7, 2010 11:57 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town restructures, considers staffing needs

Apr 7, 2010 11:57 AM

Following last year’s financial crisis, Southampton Town officials restructured and cut back on the number of employees—and Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst intends to continue that work by revisiting her plans to trim staffing through attrition.

But some departments are feeling the pinch and struggling to make do with the workers they have. Southampton Town Planning and Development Administrator Jefferson Murphree, for example, said his department is operating at about 50 percent of what it should be and, as a result, he’s had to put long-term projects, such as studies undertaken during the Hampton Bays and County Road 39 moratoriums, on the back burner. That’s the only way the planners can keep up with the department’s more pressing, current projects.

Mr. Murphree’s dilemma is a product of the staffing cuts at Town Hall, which started in 2008. Between 2002 and 2008, the employee ranks swelled by 11 percent: in 2002, there were 497 full-time employees; and in 2008, there were 554. In 2009, when the town enacted a hiring freeze, staffing declined to 534, and in the budgeting process for 2010, town officials aimed to decrease staffing to 501 employees, according to documents from Town Hall.

Now, there are 511 employees earning full-time salaries and collecting benefits, according to the supervisor’s spokeswoman, Jen Garvey. Ms. Garvey said that the town currently spends $32,944,962 on salaries per year, not including benefits or overtime pay. Benefits cost between $15,000 and $6,500 per worker.

In budgeting for 2011, which is expected to begin in June, Ms. Throne-Holst plans to revisit the restructuring component of the “13-Point Plan” she drafted while campaigning for the supervisor’s post. The plan called for a 15-percent decrease in town spending by 2012 and a 20-percent staff decrease, which would bring the employee roster down to 400 people. Those staff cuts would be achieved through attrition and early retirement incentives, Ms. Throne-Holst said.

Deputy Supervisor Frank Zappone said that he and Ms. Throne-Holst have heard from some department heads about how town government can be better organized to “create efficiencies,” or ways to save money.

One potential reorganization is the combination of the tax assessor’s and receiver’s offices, which are now separate. He explained that while some of the functions those offices complete must be separate, according to municipal law, there are ways both departments could work together to save money. And bookkeeping training for the town parks and recreation department during the season that beach permits are issued could be eliminated by having other staff with accounting skills help out.

The organizational philosophy that may govern some of the potential changes in Town Hall stresses that smaller units, with more specific functions, are easier to manage and monitor, Mr. Zappone explained. He also said that employees whose manager has the same skill set complete their work better. That organizational idea will help changes in the future, he said.

So far this year, the Town Board made official 17 staffing cuts that will save the town about $1.17 million, or approximately $338,000 in benefits and $828,100 in salaries, according to a document from Town Comptroller Tamara Wright. Those positions included Assistant Town Management Services Administrator Steve Brautigam, who worked in General Services and previously served as comptroller; planner Matt Briones, who worked in the Planning Department; a building projects coordinator and field operations supervisor in Public Works; and a number of kennel attendants and staff in the animal shelter, which has since been taken over by a private organization. In addition to those, 20 vacant positions have not been filled.

There have been some exceptions to the hiring freeze thanks to pleas from some department heads. At the request of Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor, the town hired a new mechanic for the Highway Department. And a confidential secretary was hired for the tax receiver’s office. The town also moved a woman working as a traffic control specialist to an ordinance inspector position in the code enforcement division, which the Town Board has been trying to beef up, Ms. Garvey explained.

The Town Board also voted to hire an energy coordinator, whose position will be funded by grants, and also made a part-time court officer full-time.

Despite those small gains—Mr. Gregor lobbied the board to hire the mechanic at one public meeting, and town justices did the same for the court officer position—others are still making do with less.

“We are a team player,” Mr. Murphree said of his department. “Good employees are how we make this department work.”

In his 12 years working as the planning and development administrator, Mr. Murphree has seen a full planning staff twice. He has only three people devoted to planning now, but full staff is six, he said. He said that the problem is not entirely the Town Board’s fault—planners who work for the town make around $50,000 and cannot afford housing on the East End. Mr. Murphree said he even took a pay cut for his job.

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Laudable but really not enough. Big money is in the police department, and with an arbitration looming anything you save here will be shifted to higher police salaries.
Depending on attrition and early retirement sounds great but in hard financial times these avenues for savings slow down. Can't the unions make some relatively painless concessions like deferring wage increases and agreeing to a payroll lag? These are softies and I re-call the Linda Kabot tried these and got nowhere with them.
By North of Highway (280), Westhampton Beach on Apr 7, 10 12:31 PM
they forgot to mention the new staff in the supervisor's office.

ath really thinks she's going to can 100 people this year? she couldn't even part with the 40 proposed kabot cuts!
By ridiculous (214), hampton bays on Apr 7, 10 6:53 PM
1 member liked this comment
ATH is not planning to "can" anyone. The article states:

"Those staff cuts would be achieved through attrition and early retirement incentives, Ms. Throne-Holst said"

This means no one will be fired, however it's possible people will be "pressured" into retiring. There's a big difference between attrition/early retirement incentives and firing people. I don't think ATH could get away with firing 20% of the Towns employees and it certainly would torpedo hopes of getting re-elected.
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Apr 8, 10 11:27 AM
HMMMMMM- 6-15 K of benefits per employee. How about no benefits at all? All of the self employed take care of their own insurance and retirement, why should our EMPLOYEES have a better benefit package than we do? Don't forget, all of the Town employees work for us!!
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Apr 8, 10 7:41 AM
It's called a Union.

Also, many people assume gov. workers all make great money. Excluding police (which is a seperate union anyway) and dept. heads/political appointments (as they are not in the union) government workers get paid relatively low wages (in comparsion to similar jobs in the private sector). Many civil servants work for the government because they want to help their communities, do good work, etc. etc. and forgo big fat paychecks. In return, however, these employees and ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Apr 8, 10 11:20 AM
1 member liked this comment
Nature is correct. I've got 25 years working in the public sector as I felt I could contribute something meaningful, and I think I have; the pay has always been modest and its been the good health insurance plan and the idea of a defined benefit pension that kept me on the job. You can make all the arguments you want about the need for government and so forth but in the end it comes down the fact that its a job, here's the functions of that job, and here's the compensation.
Police do well (as ...more
By North of Highway (280), Westhampton Beach on Apr 8, 10 12:21 PM
actually, what it comes down to is that the economy is in the dumpster right now, and we need to cut some of the excess spending in the bloated private sector.
By nicole (96), Hampton Bays on Apr 8, 10 2:10 PM
sorry. i meant public sector.
By nicole (96), Hampton Bays on Apr 8, 10 2:11 PM