East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson released his 2013 budget last week, which contains a pay raise for elected and appointed officials, including himself, and more money for water safety. Also going up is money for ordinance enforcement, but only somewhat: The $338,000 budgeted is still below what was spent in 2010. This is too little for a chronically short-staffed department, one that is critically important for assuring that town rules are followed.
The Ordinance Enforcement Department has a difficult job to do and a tangled history. It is responsible for seeking out and dealing with health, safety, housing, zoning, environmental, noise, lighting, and permit violations. The department’s qualifications and training are the subject of litigation, which has resulted in a spate of town code amendments. Its effectiveness and reputation have been damaged in recent years by political interference and the fact that its director moonlights as the town’s top animal control officer.
Topping the department’s list of priorities should be efforts to help the town gain the upper hand on overcrowded and unsafe illegal rentals, whose residents put pressure on infrastructure and local schools without concomitant property tax increases for landlords. A considerably more effective enforcement team is needed to tackle this and other tough problems.
More money in and of itself will not improve this chronically over-stressed department, but the 2013 budget discussions now under way are an opportunity for officials and interested taxpayers to debate its direction.