A steady stream of critics took to the lectern at Tuesday's Southampton Town Board public hearing on the 2012 preliminary town budget to urge the board to reverse plans for layoffs.
Michael McClellan, the attorney for the 18-member union representing the police department's top brass, the Superior Officers Association, told the board that if the town pushes for officers to be forced into retirement, as is the plan under the draft budget, the SOA will sue.
Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, I-Sag Harbor, said she looks forward to discussing other options for cost savings with the SOA that would avert the retirements. She pointed out that state law, specific to Southampton Town, allows the town board to "separate from service" officers with 20 years under their belts. She said the employment provision was agreed upon in exchange for the town increasing contributions to officer's pensions, but acknowledged the town board has never invoked it before. Throne-Holst's budget calls for the retirements of officers with more than 25 years on the force, rather than 20. Eight officers meet the criteria, but two had planned to retire in 2012 anyway.
McClellan said the 20-year rule is a Sword of Damocles hovering over police officers' heads, calling it ancient, arbitrary and capricious.
“If we cannot reach an agreement, we will be forced to litigate,” McClellan said, later adding, "The town of Southampton is not Wisconsin. We will protect the rights of our members."
Councilwoman Nancy Graboski, R-Bridgehampton, spoke against invoking the retirement provision. She said she doesn't agree with gutting the police department of highly regarded professionals in one fell swoop.
But Throne-Holst countered, “There will still be 15 officers with more than 15 years of service on the force,” which would have 90 officers.
A plan to merge the youth bureau with the parks and recreation department, and eliminate Director Nancy Lynott's position in the process, had several people upset.
“I’m concerned about cuts being made to staffing and consequently to services to our children," Steven Kaczmarek, the chairman of the Southampton Youth Board, told the town board. “Families need additional resources to occupy and educate their children, not less.” He noted that funding for youth programs remains at less than 1 percent of the town budget.
Throne-Holst said that under her plan services would not be cut. Rather, there would be a reduction in management.
Graboski took exception to Throne-Holst's statement. “The individual whose position is being eliminated and axed out of the budget — she does interact with the kids."
Southampton Youth Board member Judy Sherman of Water Mill sung Lynott's praises: “She is supportive, she is innovative, she is sensitive to the needs of our neediest population.”
Karen Hurst, a youth counselor for the bureau, said letting Lynott go would cut one quarter of the bureau's staff, which would indeed result in programs being cut.
“Eliminating programs … will only cost the town more in the long run by putting the burden on other departments and reducing quality of life,” Assistant Director Tracy Kolsin said.
Throne-Holst emphasized that the budget does not call for cutting any programs.
John Mulvaney, a groundskeeper who said he is one of three slated to be let go, said the town would be left with only five full-time groundskeepers. He said it is an insufficient number, and businesses would be crippled for days after a snowstorm if the staff is cut.
"None of these decisions were rash," Throne-Holst said. "These decisions were difficult decisions to make." She said the she needed to find $5.1 million in cuts to carry double digit increases in health care and pension costs.
Marietta Seaman, a former town clerk and former Republican councilwoman, criticized raises being granted for specific positions. Linda Kabot, Throne-Holst's predecessor as supervisor and a to take the seat back, leveled the same criticism, saying it is inappropriate to have $10,000 or $15,000 raises.
Throne-Holst said the raises will insulate the town from litigation, because Southampton has a history of unequal salaries for similar positions.