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East Hampton Town Reviews Priorities in 2022 Capital Plan

Thu, 02/10/2022 - 11:35
Christine Sampson

A new, online portal through which East Hampton Town residents could interface with town staff in departments like planning, code enforcement, animal control, and the town clerk is among the projects in a first draft of the town’s 2022 capital plan, the budget officer told the town board on Tuesday.

Becky Hansen unveiled the draft at the board’s work session, emphasizing that it will change. The portal, she said, “could be an exciting opportunity to modernize the way we do business in the town.” Heath Liebman, head of the town’s Information Technology Department, “is very excited about this plan,” she said, and has met with some of the departments that would potentially use the portal. “They seem excited about it as well.”

Ms. Hansen described a means for residents to apply online for permits and licenses, and submit applications to various boards. The town staff would use the same portal to process such applications. “It’s a good way to try to modernize,” she said. “With Covid, we’ve seen a decline of foot traffic through Town Hall.” That encouraged officials to “take a step back and say ‘What other services can we provide online to people and make it as efficient for them as possible?’ “

The projected $614,500 outlay to the I.T. Department, which also includes funding for an upgraded telephone system, represents a small portion of a $13.54 million plan for capital projects, infrastructure improvements, equipment purchases, vehicle replacements, and other annual requests from department heads, which Ms. Hansen said total around 80.

The plan includes $2 million for the initial phase of construction of a new senior citizens center, which will be in Amagansett; $950,000 for completion of the restoration of Second House in Montauk, $1 million to the Montauk Playhouse, and $500,000 for energy sustainability projects.

The town will also retire $12.705 million in debt in 2022, Ms. Hansen said. “Our Aaa rating continues to allow us to borrow with modest and very low interest rates, which makes debt service on a plan like this a practical way for the town to finance a majority of this plan,” she said.

Last March, the town made its final payment on the $21.2 million deficit financing bond issued in 2011 to address a shortfall due to prior fiscal mismanagement. Ms. Hansen noted that the town submitted its final reporting requirement to the New York State comptroller, as mandated by state law. The regional office for the state comptroller signed off on the town’s submission of its 2021 fourth quarter report, she said, “and they have confirmed that the town has met all obligations under the law and that no additional reporting is required at this time. That, I think, is a really huge milestone.”

“That’s great news,” said Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc.

With the town on secure financial footing, Ms. Hansen proposed that smaller projects, such as those costing under $25,000, be paid with money from existing fund balances so as not to incur long-term debt. “Use of fund balance to make some of those smaller-scale purchases is a good idea when the town has the surplus ready to use,” she said. “The town is beyond the point where in the past, borrowing was used so that the town could build up an adequate fund balance. Now we’re at the point where that fund balance can be used for some of these capital plan purchases.”

The town has additional funding sources, including around $2 million from the American Rescue Plan Act, the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill signed into law by President Biden last year. “The Treasury Department, when it finally issued its final rule on the project, included a provision that greatly loosened up the ability to use these funds,” Ms. Hansen said. “You can use your full funding amount for what they’re calling general government services, which include road construction, public safety, health, and education services. That has really opened up a number of ways that you can spend that money as well.”

To date, the town has also received $250,000 from the developers of the South Fork Wind farm, an initial “milestone” payment on the host community agreement that will ultimately see almost $29 million paid to the town and the town trustees.

The capital plan will allow purchase of electric vehicles and landscaping equipment, Councilman David Lys said, with purchasing policies guided by the town’s goal to transition from fossil fuel-powered vehicles and equipment. “Also, you will see, a lot of this” — almost $2 million — “goes into maintenance of buildings with new roofs,” he said. Solar panels will be installed on most of those roofs.

“This budget reflects our ongoing, concerted effort to maintain infrastructure of town facilities throughout the town,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “That’s been something that had lagged for a number of years during the financial crisis. Being in good financial stead now, we’re able to catch up with some of the infrastructure issues.”

A follow-up review of the plan will happen at the board’s next work session, on Tuesday.

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