Spending cuts put in place during 2010 have given East Hampton Town an estimated $11 million budget surplus, which will be used to help pay off the internal fund deficits created in the financially disastrous years when Bill McGintee was in charge. Credit for this turnaround goes to Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and Len Bernard, who runs the town budget office. Cost-saving moves included offering seductive early retirement incentives to town employees and not hiring others for whom places had been reserved in the 2010 budget.
A huge surplus like this is not likely to be repeated when this year’s numbers come in. Mr. Wilkinson’s 2011 to-the-bone budget was based on substantial tax cuts, and the greatest expense reductions came in the first year of his administration. However, cost cutting, such as by eliminating fall leaf pickup, and revenue growth, from such things as hiking the household waste-hauling fee to $100, will probably head off a big tax increase in 2012. Borrowing to pay off the town’s $27.2 million internal debt will be costly in the long run, but it will not add much to individual tax bills on a year-to-year basis.
The spending reductions have in several instances aroused anger, but there appear to be no reports of serious ill effects from the town’s doing less with less. Further cuts, however, might begin to hamper the effectiveness of some government functions and the maintenance of key infrastructure. Whether Mr. Wilkinson and Mr. Bernard’s tightfisted spending can be sustained over the long term will be the real test. For now, residents can enjoy lowered taxes and a much surer hand on town finances than in years past.