The fight to reduce the ‘cost of government’

Our town is in bad financial shape. I didn’t cause the problem. In fact, the day I took office I warned that our tax rate was about to soar because over the years we have employed nothing but one-shot gimmicks to balance our town budget. Why are we in such bad financial shape? Well, obviously the American economy isn’t helping, but here in our hometown our woes can be directly tied to our landfill. Our landfill costs this town more than $6,000 every business day in interest payments alone. If we are ever going to balance our budget we have to pay the piper for this huge mistake of attempting to reclaim the landfill.

Believe me folks, these have not been pleasant times at Town Hall. I have had to cut back; we’ve cut everything from paper clips to town vehicles, overtime and everything in between. Amid the downdraft of a bad economy, I have recognized that our taxpayers have had enough. As supervisor, I have to submit a town budget. My budget calls for a modest tax increase and it calls for cutbacks in staff. In fact, rather than cut staff, I offered our town’s principal labor union (CSEA) a plan to avoid layoffs by utilizing lag payroll, which means withholding some employee pay until a later date. That offer was rejected by union leaders.

How fitting it is that we are in an election season during which near everyone thinks we are taxed too much. Everyone talks about shrinking the size of government. Everyone talks about hard choices and tough solutions but no one really wants to be the one to make those decisions. I will and have made those tough choices.

The budget battle has begun in earnest. Last week there were fire trucks and protestors at Town Hall. I am sure I will be burned in effigy a few times this month. The unions are mad at me and if I were them I’d probably be mad at me too. It is easy to talk about cutbacks until you are the one with your belongings in a box. However, if we are serious about reducing the size of government and getting out of debt then we must swallow some bitter medicine.

The easiest thing for an elected official to do is to promise things, rack up debt and hope the public doesn’t notice. I could take more money from our fund balance to bring down taxes and pray the economy improves quicker than it is. I won’t do that. I could overestimate revenue and pretend we will collect more in taxes and fees than we will to artificially make the tax rate go “down.” I won’t do that. I could “paper over” the debt and roll it out to a future supervisor. I won’t do that.

Maybe I’ll be re-elected next year or maybe I’ll be run out of town on a rail. But I want you to know, whatever my personal fate is, as long as I am supervisor I am going fight to reduce the cost of government, hold the line on taxes and be honest with the public about my budgets.

I take seriously the displacement that staff cutbacks cause. We are diminished whenever we lose a town employee but I also recognize the day-to-day struggle that each taxpayer has, making ends meet here in Riverhead. The question before us now is this: Do we mean what we say when we talk about cutting the size of government and balancing our books? I believe the public is crying out for Town Hall to live within its means; I am going to fight to do just that.