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New East End town supervisors face host of challenges

Voter rebellion on the East End on Election Day, largely over fiscal mismanagement, will result in three new town supervisors taking office with the new year, and all will face some daunting financial realities.

Here's a look at the new supervisors - and the issues they face:

Bill Wilkinson, who ran as a Republican, won with more than 60 percent of the vote. His message in part was that things had gotten much worse since he lost the race for supervisor by 10 votes two years ago. The town's total debt now hovers around $28 million.

Since he and his two town board running-mates were elected, Wilkinson, 60 has been meeting almost daily with various town departments, looking for ways to cut expenses. One large, symbolic expense Wilkinson will have to live with is the new East Hampton town hall, a collection of six 18th and 19th century buildings that were donated to the town. It appears he has no choice but to use the buildings.

"Although it's quite attractive and historic . . . we are spending $7.5 million to accommodate 26 employees," said Wilkinson of the renovations. "It's embarrassing to occupy such a beautiful facility when we are facing layoffs and a $28 million debt."

Sean Walter, 43, a Republican who is the former head of the town Conservative Party, says his election shows that the nation is returning to conservative Republican principles.

A practicing attorney, he has a degree in environmental sciences from Binghamton University and was environmental manager for the 106th Rescue Wing of the New York Air National Guard. He served as deputy Riverhead town attorney from 2000 to 2006.

How Walter fares as supervisor will depend in large part on two big land deals involving the sale of town property at the Enterprise Park at Calverton.

A proposal by Repcal to buy 300 acres of land and build 2.5 million square feet of industrial space - slated to close in 2010 or 2011 - would bring in $18 million.

Another proposed sale of 750 acres to Riverhead Resorts to build a themed resort park is scheduled to go to closing this summer, and could bring the town $100 million or more.

Meanwhile, Walter has two ticking financial time bombs on his hands.

Riverhead's municipal water system is old, and needs a major overhaul to the tune of millions of dollars. And, he says, the Suffolk County Water Authority wants to expand its own system by acquiring Riverhead's water system.

But the Riverhead system needs to build several expensive new supply wells. For years, part of the cost of running the system has been shifted to developers who want to hook into it. Now, there are fewer developers to pick up that expense.

At the same time, the town is under a mandate to upgrade its sewer system to meet changing federal standards. It'll cost $18 million, Walter says. The town still has four years to meet the new standards, but, so far, Walter says nothing is being done.

"I don't think you will see a change overnight . . . we have not been investing in our infrastructure for the past six years," he said.

What Walter will be doing is trying to get the town's moribund economy moving. One way to do it, he said, is to change town regulations and procedures to "fast-track" development, especially in the downtown Riverhead business district.

Anna Throne-Holst, 49, who ran as a Democrat, is the only new supervisor now serving on a town board. The former executive director of the Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreation Center, she also is co-founder of Hayground School, an alternative elementary and middle school in Bridgehampton. Throne-Holst is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and Columbia University.

Her proposal for the town's future - laid out in a 13-point plan on her Web site - involves cutting the budget by 15 percent by 2012, and maintaining a hiring freeze to reduce the town's workforce by 20 percent by 2012.

However, she is only one vote on the five-member town board, and before any real political compromise is reached there will be a new special election. The minute she takes office, her town board seat becomes empty - and under a new town law an election must be held to fill that seat within 60 to 90 days.

Like neighboring East Hampton, Southampton is still conducting forensic audits to determine precisely how much money is owed to various accounts because of improper commingling of funds. Officials estimate the total debt will be around $10 million.

Throne-Holst said there have been recent signs that the high-end real estate market in Southampton is coming back to life, which could provide a big boost to the town. And, the town board recently cut about 50 jobs, reducing its expenses.

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