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Jan 14, 2009 12:36 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Pope holds swing vote on Nuzzi proposal

Jan 14, 2009 12:36 PM

Had a proposal to reduce the size of town advisory boards that has been touted by Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi as a cost-saving measure been introduced last month, it most likely would have been adopted into law. But, with the addition of Sally Pope to the Southampton Town Board, Mr. Nuzzi’s proposal to reduce the number of members who serve on the Planning Board, Conservation Board and Zoning Board of Appeals will now most likely fail.

When Mr. Nuzzi first introduced the measure last year he had the support of Town Supervisor Linda Kabot as well as former Town Councilman Dan Russo. But, Ms. Pope made it clear during her first Town Board meeting on Tuesday that she favored keeping those boards at seven members, a position shared with fellow board members Anna Throne-Holst and Nancy Graboski.

Though Mr. Nuzzi asked the board to keep the public hearing open for another month, tabling his resolution until February 10, Ms. Pope is the swing vote on the issue, a position she said she did not expect to find herself in so quickly. “In crisis there is opportunity,” Ms. Pope said, echoing the sentiments of Ms. Throne-Holst who said she favored a holistic look at the performance of the boards, not just the configurations, and suggested the formation of a diverse working group with the goal of creating a more efficient and effective application process.

“I respect Chris’s proposal,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “There’s no doubt we are in an austerity budget mode. And having worked in the not-for-profit world, that’s my background. And we’ve already made significant cuts, and I, personally, have taken much heat for some of those cuts. But we need to look at improving the process, from the bottom up and how we can get the biggest bang for our buck.”

Ms. Throne-Holst added that the decisions that come out of the Planning Board, ZBA, and Conservation Board shape the look of the town for generations and that seven members provide much needed diversity and expertise. “We are expecting a lot from those who serve on these boards,” she said. “There is a tremendously high learning curve and the older members often bring the newer ones along.”

But in Mr. Nuzzi’s view, today’s tough economic times require cost savings wherever possible, and reducing the size of the boards would benefit the town’s taxpayers.

“These proposals are not meant to judge the value of any individual serving on any board,” Mr. Nuzzi said. “Regardless of where we stand we respect what they do and who they are. They are all good and decent people who wish to serve this town.”

The councilman’s plan would not only reduce the number of board members from seven to five, but would also decrease the length of terms on the Planning Board and ZBA from seven years to five. Conservation Board members serve one-year terms.

If adopted, when a board member’s term expires that individual would simply not be reappointed. As it stands now, Jacqui Lofaro and E. Blair McCaslin are in holdover status and would be removed from the board if Mr. Nuzzi’s plan goes through. Until the Town Board makes a decision, both members will continue to serve.

Shrinking the three boards would remove six individuals in total, which Mr. Nuzzi estimates would save the town $96,000 yearly and $670,000 over a seven-year period. “These are trying economic times,” the councilman said. “We’re all feeling the pressure. Mortgage taxes and CPF revenues are down by a third as well as site plans, applications, fees and building permits.”

Ms. Kabot said that “$96,000 is nothing to sneeze at,” adding that the town did not collect the expected revenues that fund the various boards. “The focus here is on the budget and cost savings, not on personalities or any one individual.”

But the public comments on Mr. Nuzzi’s resolution, both for and against, highlighted the emotional impact of the issue. “There are four full-time assistants in your office, Madame Supervisor, at a cost of $600,000 a year,” Sag Harbor resident Meg Taylor said. “Before you passed your budget you should have considered that.”

But, Tax Receiver Terry Kiernan said she favored Mr. Nuzzi’s plan and said the Town Board had an opportunity to make cuts and should take it. Ms. Kiernan also pointed out that the boards had functioned at one time with only five members and could do so again. “With all due respect, the supervisor asked us to uncover every stone to save costs,” Ms. Kiernan said. “And this is a good opportunity to do that.”

Aram Terchunian, vice-president of the Southampton Business Alliance, said his organization favored Mr. Nuzzi’s plan and said five-member boards were able to handle the workload during periods of active developments in the 1980s and early 1990s.

But, Frank Zappone, chairman of the Southampton Citizens Advisory Committee, summed up the sentiments of many residents when he said that Mr. Nuzzi’s plan was “penny wise and a pound foolish.” Mr. Zappone said real savings and efficiencies would come about only through an improved process, “not simply by reducing the number of people from the boards.”

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It isn't about the "impact on human beings" but rather whether you can apply a single rule to all aspects of a business (Town Government being a business) and expect the results to be the same. It's very easy to cut payroll but you must look at a much larger picture if you are to truly do the right thing. Sorry Ms. Kabot and Mr. Nuzzi, but you are not on the side of the angels on this one. You have positioned yourselves as "fighters for savings" whose ideas (poor tho they be) will only be used ...more
By foodie (74), Remsenburg on Jan 14, 09 4:57 PM
It's too bad that Ms. Kiernan did not feel this way when they renovated her office. How much did that cost us?? Or perhaps the Kabot slate roof. What was that...$50.000?? Did we really need to move the justice court?? With all due respect Ms. Kiernan, what about those stones ?? As for the "Business Alliance" they are an off-shoot of the Southampton GOP , why are they being quoted.
By SHNative (554), Southampton on Jan 14, 09 7:50 PM
It's a little tricky to claim that you'll save $670,000 over 7 years. Once budget cuts are made (presumably permanently) you've reestablished a new budget base. You save the $96,000, that doesn't mean that you cut $96,000 every year. The implications of Nuzzi's reasoning is that he would cut $96,000 from these boards this year and then cut that same $96,000 every year after that for 7 years. The result would be negative board membership. Let's assume that the town board cuts two million dollars ...more
By number19 (111), Westhampton on Jan 15, 09 10:21 AM
i'm confused. whats this comment about Kabot getting $600K a year for 4 assistants? so, thats $150K /per assistant /per year. even with benefits factored in, thats a bit wacko!
Im hoping that math is wrong.
in any case, i dont think you need 4 full time bureucrats to fetch you coffee and answer the phone, no matter what their salary is. and it better not be $150K each!
why is it that just the boards are being targeted? cant every office in town hall just fire 1 bureaucrat, ...more
By nicole (96), Hampton Bays on Jan 16, 09 12:55 PM
How anyone can argue that this cut is a bad idea is beyond me.
And to "number19," what you said above makes absoultely no sense. The cuts will simply save $96,000 a year. If the boards were 7 members for the next 7 years, the Town would have spent $96,000 more a year than if they were 5 member boards. It's not rocket science.
By WHB Resident (9), WHB on Jan 16, 09 2:50 PM
Again, where was this cost-cutting spirit when it came to all of the luxurious upgrades to Kabot’s and Kiernan’s offices? How many “assistants” does Kabot have? Let us remember that under this administration the town asked for and received a fourth justice….who was added to an existing schedule with no new court time added. Now they are going to reduce these boards…this would make the town even more exclusive than it is now.
By SHNative (554), Southampton on Jan 16, 09 8:11 PM
Congratulation SHNative on the good point about the town justices. As I remember the net cost, with benefits, of the 4th justice was approximately $160,000 and that it yielded absolutely no additional bench time. And that it in effect gave a 31% raise to each of the then sitting black robed overlords. If we use Mr. Nuzzi's math process, then over a period of seven years the COST to the taxpayers of Southampton is $1,120,000 - yes one million one hundred and twenty thousand dollars. This is truly ...more
By foodie (74), Remsenburg on Jan 17, 09 9:10 AM
Wasn't the justice issue brought up by newly elected Town Justice Andrea Schiavoni? Didn't she say she was going to fix this and put more time on the bench? Wasn't the fourth justice appointed by Heaney? Didn't Kabot bring this issue to light at a Town Board Meeting?
As far as her 4 assitants, they do not make 600k. If you would look at the Town Budget on the Town Website you can see the budget for the Supervisor's office along with their salaries. If my memory serves me correctly, her 4 assistants ...more
By ridiculous (214), hampton bays on Jan 18, 09 2:45 PM
I am all for cutting the Town budget in these economic times.

However, a "budget cut" cannot be used as an excuse to wage a politcal witch hunt against non-Republicans and ease the way for rampant over-development. A recent article in this newspaper indicated that the Speonk plume is bigger than first suspected. We may have known that earlier had the proper environmental studies been performed.

To offer a refresher course to those in public office: the job entails doing what ...more
By CommonSense (71), Southampton on Jan 22, 09 1:39 PM