As the clock ticks down on the terms of three town board members, another regular meeting will occur tonight. The agenda can be read here. There is also a a so called Public Information Meeting on a rezone request for a development called Partridge Hill scheduled for 6:30PM.
Probably the most significant item on the agenda is the discussion of town finances. With the release of the budget due later this month by law, the size of the cumulative two year deficit and whether sufficient action was taken to erase it has the potential of becoming an election buster for the GOP Supervisor and his two running mates, Hoffman and Bott.
When we look at a report sent to the State Comptroller affirming that the town finished 2008 with an $85,000 deficit, we look back and ask what could have been done to address it. The size of this deficit has to rest squarely on this Board majority. Think back to the waste and ineffective management and add up the costs.
They awarded a needless no bid contract to LaBerge to redo the completed Comprehensive Plan and incidentally, did most of it over in total violation of the Open Meetings Law. They could have simply adopted the completed plan and amended it anyway they chose without spending $40,000 dollars. Then add up the waste allowed in town insurance costs. A contractual employee was improperly left on the insurance for 4 plus years at a cost to taxpayers of more than $5,000 a year. Sure, they took him off and made him pay for the coverage, but not retroactively. As such they failed to collect $20,000 from him, twenty grand that could have reduced that deficit.
Add to that the Town Supervisor himself who placed himself on the town insurance for single coverage at $5,000 plus a year for 3 years. That's another 15 grand that could have reduced the deficit, IF they made him pay back taxpayers for the premiums he improperly ordered paid on his behalf.
There was also the great insurance buy outs that should never have been allowed for folks in town hall who are simply not part of the union bargaining unit which permits the buyout program. Two employees were given buyouts by the Supervisor without any authority or discussion from the town board. Remarkably, the board made one employee pay back the money while it allowed the other to keep the public money improperly spent by the Supervisor. More mismanagement and ineptitude which had everyone who received money improperly been treated equally, would have put another three grand or so back in the treasury.
When you add up all the lost revenue, you come up with at least $78,000 down the drain which if had not been mis-spent, would have left the town with a deficit of only $7,000.00
It's also comforting to know that with the town in such a fiscal quagmire, officials like the Supervisor tried to grab a $42,000 mid term pay raise of 280%, money that would have padded that deficit pretty significantly. There were other raises attempted in that 2008 Tentative budget too, a couple by the town clerk for 9% in the clerk's position and about 42% for the second job she holds as Registrar, but those raises, like the Supervisor's request were not approved.
We can also thank town hall employees who kindly refused to help reduce the deficit by foregoing those abused health insurance buyouts as a good faith effort to reduce the deficit and save some of their jobs from the budget ax. It's called shared sacrifice and we saw none it from the UPSEU members whose hands were out for buy out checks issued earlier this year. Most received a NET payment of $3,093.00 . Forgoing the buyouts would have erased the deficit and created a surplus. Imagine that!
But it all serves as a lesson not only to why we are facing this fiscal crisis, but how much worse it could have been without citizen oversight and the FOIL law which exposed much of the mismanagement.
As for the FOIL law, there is a discussion of an appeal of denial of access of records on the agenda tonight. Some it it has to do with fiscal matters, some with the Comprehensive Plan Committee's failure to comply with the Open Meetings Law and some with the failure of the Supervisor to obey laws governing the IDA which he chairs.
We're sure, given the past performance of this Board, there will be plenty of criticism of FOIL as a nuisance. Thank god for the nuisance.