East Hampton Town’s longtime budget officer, Len Bernard, who town officials have praised for guiding the town from the depths of a $22 million budget deficit to a $40 million surplus and sterling credit rating, has announced he will retire in July.
Mr. Bernard, an East Hampton native who spent 10 years working for the General Accounting Office in Washington, D.C., first took the reins of the town budget from 2000-2003 with Supervisor Jay Schneiderman.
When Mr. Schneiderman was elected to the Suffolk County Legislature, Mr. Bernard, a Republican, ran to succeed him, but lost to former Supervisor Bill McGintee.
When he returned to Town Hall in 2010 with Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, he returned to a budget office in disarray following the arrest of his successor, Ted Hults, and the forced resignation of Mr. McGintee over the mismanagement of funds that had resulted in tens of millions of dedicated land preservation money spent to cover budget shortfalls.
By the time Mr. Wilkinson, also a Republican, left office and a Democratic majority took back control of the Town Board, Mr. Bernard’s grasp of sound fiscal management had earned him respect that transcended politics and he remained in the role through the Larry Cantwell administration and first two terms of Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc’s administrations.
“I’ve had a pretty good run since 2010,” Mr. Bernard said on Tuesday, announcing his retirement plans publicly for the first time. “I think the town is in a really good place financially.”
In 2017, having squirreled away tens of millions in reserves and with soaring assessment values, the town earned an Aaa rating for the first time in its history. Next month, the town will make the final debt service payment on the $22 million it borrowed to dig out of the financial abyss from 2009.
“You’ve been here, working through multiple administrations and I think that is a tribute to your willingness to be a team player, to really work on behalf of all the residents of East Hampton,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “We have an Aaa bond rating and it is a team effort … but I think a lot of that really falls on your shoulders and is a credit to you and the way you have steadfastly worked for our town.”
Councilman Jeff Bragman echoed the sentiment, saying that the highest praise you can give someone in government is that their work transcended politics.
“Your professionalism and objectivity are hallmarks of the advice that you give,” he said. “It’s been great to be able to rely on you.”
Mr. Bernard said that he will leave confident that the town is in sound hands with the current members of the Town Board and the staff of his budget office.
“The people in the finance division are just wonderful — they are professional, they’re dedicated,” he said. “You all, this board in particular, has been really good to me, good to the town, especially in the face of COVID and the pandemic. I hope the public appreciates this board’s performance over the last 11 months.”