Thursday, October 17, 2013

Code of Ethics Passed by Town Board - Jack Conway

Last night the Town Board passed a new Code of Ethics by a vote of 5-0. It includes a financial disclosure requirement that is reasonable and, if correctly monitored, will protect residents from most financial conflicts of interest.  The new Code includes much of what was in the version drafted by the original Board of Ethics but the sections on nepotism and post-employment restrictions have been watered down to the point that there is little or no protection in those areas.  All in all, though, it is a Code well worth having and the board should be congratulated for making it the law of the town.  Improvements will have to be made over time but it's a very good start

It took three years to get this Code passed but as the German sociologist Max Weber said "Politics is slow boring in hard wood."  It probably shouldn't have taken this long but it was worth the wait to get a Code that could be backed by the full board.  The original members of the Board of Ethics - Joe Slater, David Youmans, Jim Breig and Justine Spada - did a great job and deserve our gratitude.  The members of the public who attended meetings and made invaluable suggestions - Ray Mooney, Pete Stenson, Eileen Grant, Ed Gilbert, Tom Grant and others - also deserve a vote of thanks.  Thanks also to all the bloggers who remained concerned about this issue and helped keep it in the public eye.  Thanks to the Gadfly for printing all of my ravings about the Code.

Rick Matters and Keith Langley supported the draft prepared by the Board of Ethics from the start and managed to put that version into the public record, a move that kept the issue alive and before the public.  Their decision to make it a central issue in this Fall's campaign created pressure that helped the final Code become law.  Ginny O'Brien, Sue Mangold and Phil Malone worked with Joe Liccardi to produce the version that is now law.  Their revisions were carefully considered and respectful of the original draft in most respects.  On a personal note I owe Ginny O'Brien a debt of gratitude for appointing me to the Board of Ethics and then giving me the space to work independently and to the best of my ability.  Last night was her last town board meeting after twenty-five years of public service.  Since she brought me into the process I was glad she was there to cast a 'yes.'  I wish her all the best.  Slan go foill Ginny.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The 2014 Tentative Budget by Dwight Jenkins

In case you haven't reviewed the Supervisor's Tentative Budget yet, here is the link to it:

Now that you've had a chance to look at it, I'm just wondering if any of the following items jumped out at you or made you wonder. This is not an exhaustive list, feel free to chime in with your own observations. (Water and Sewer funds have not been reviewed.) Maybe one of the readers will be able to fill in some of the gaps, because the budget is important. It looks like the Supervisor has tentatively found a way to keep things moving in Town without making us pay more. Of course, there are a number of steps that still remain in the process before the budget goes from Tentative to Actual, and that's why this is the time to begin talking about it. When it comes time for the Public Hearing and the election you want to be as informed as possible. Hopefully this post is a small part of that preparation. In no particular order:

There's a separate expense line this year called "Library-2012 Arrears" for $40,160.  Arrears for what? 

The Bruen (East Greenbush Ambulance) tax levy remains the same as last year at $671,913. Estimated revenue is $400K, also the same as last year, but this is $330K DOWN from the previous 2 years, and the tax levy is about $330K more than in those previous two years. Why? Bruen revenues are basically down 50% while tax levies are up 50%. What changed in 2 years?  

And why doesn't Bruen provide the same level of detailed information that the rest of the budget provides? At least with the library you can go to their outdated web site of proposed budgets  (the last budget info on the site is the "proposed" 2013 budget, produced in September 2012) and see some potentially important things. You get nothing from Bruen except a page at the end of the tentative budget showing no expenditures except Contractual Expenses (which are up $160K from 2012), Workers Comp and LOSAP retirement expenses. There must be more. And look at Bruen's Revenue: their property tax revenue went up $196,000 from 2012, and ambulance charges more than doubled in that time, from $191K to $400K. Notice also that 2012 final and 2013 projected lines show no LOSAP expenses. Why? Why? And why?
General Fund Expenditures:  Independent auditing is still budgeted even though they haven't produced a damn thing yet; the Tax Collector Personal Salary line shows the greatest increase of all the Town Hall positions: up about 7 or 8 % to $56,300 even though the salary of the tax collector is supposed to be $56,800. Where's the other $500 going?  And what has the position acquired in terms of duties to justify such a large increase?

The Attorney salary line is down $20K while the Contractual Expense line is up $11.7K. Why?

The Data Processing salary line is down $3K but Contractual Expenses are up $20K. Why?
Judgment and Claims CE (hired attorneys?) went from $92K in 2012 to a projected $23.00 (yes, $23.00) this year, but projected to be $20,000K next year. Why?

We have a Contingency fund of $110,00 this year- none last year or 2012. That's good.
You never know what life is going to throw at you.

Association of Towns meeting expenses will be cut by 2/3 if the Supervisor has his way, from $5.5K to $2K.

Assessor salary and Contractual Expenses lines both show decreases, with CE down by $65K. Why?

Parks/Playground Salaries and CE consume more than $200K a year. Seriously?

Youth Programs eat up $90K a year.  Are we getting a good return on this? Are we changing lives? Maybe yes, maybe no, but it's a lot of money and the question needs to be asked.

Beautification of the Town and Band concerts get only $1,000. Veterans get $3K and the elderly get $4,500. Given the above Parks/Recreation/Youth expenditures, these 3 pittances stand out as way different. A lot.

Planning Dept. Contractual Expenses are massively down this year (to $0) from last year's $95K and projected to be only $34K next year. Why?

State Retirement is up from $149K last year to almost $484 next year. Fire and Police Retirement similarly go from $181K last year to $582K next year. Social Security contributions, a measure of wage increases or an increase in the numbers of employees, have remained fairly steady, hovering around $300K. So why the big increases in the other things?

Health Insurance Longevity Buy-Out is cut in half next year, down $47K.

Bond Anticipation Payments (debt) are dramatically down this year and next, from $108K to $20K. Why?

The Total salary line is fairly steady at about $4 million, while benefits are up by about $700,000.

Total Revenues are down $130,000 from last year, and more than $600,000 from 2012. It seems we are stagnating, maybe even contracting.  Safety inspection fees are down by half, Planning Board fees (for filings ) are down by 25%. In a growing economy these numbers would be going up, not down.

Scrap metal sales are down about 50% both this year and next. People might be doing their own scrapping to make a few bucks.  Doubtful that scrap price per ton is down that much...but maybe. Worth mentioning, given the Town's sketchy scrap past.

County sales tax revenue is projected to be up $100K next year. This is a good thing. 

Finally, on the bottom line of the Revenue page: we showed a net surplus of $937,775 in 2012, and we are projecting an even bigger surplus of $1.1 million this year, with next year slated to be $0. So where's the extra money been going for the last two years? Debt payments are down, a lot. Go back and look at previous years' General Fund surpluses: $431K in 2009; $113K in 2010; $153K in 2011; $937K in 2012, with this year slated to be even bigger. How is this possible? And don't forget, 2012 was the last year of the "State Aid" handout: $847,675 that year! This year it was only $6,048 and next year nothing. Somehow this tentative budget absorbs that blow and comes out smelling like a rose. And we've been collecting more than we're spending by what, 15% of our General Fund levies both this year and last, yet we're considered near bankruptcy (by one guy) and still a junk bond credit risk (by lots of guys) ? Something isn't adding up.

Here's where you help add to the questions, or add to the clarity of the 2014 Tentative Budget: