Friday, November 7, 2008

Budget Review

(intended budget hearing remarks prefaced by previous post)

I’d like to begin by drawing attention to an article in today’s newspaper. “There Will Be Pain.” That’s a quote from Mayor Bloomberg, roundly regarded as a pretty sharp budgetary navigator. His proposed budget spares no one and no thing and will surely be very unpopular with those affected. But his approach serves as a blueprint for us in some respects.

The very first question when considering the budget should be: what is absolutely essential? In my mind, that usually suggests police, fire, and paramedic services – basically, safety-related services. Much of the anticipated increases are in fact, locked in contractually anyway if I understand correctly what I’ve been told and most people, I think, are rightly reluctant to cut in those areas.

The second question becomes: can we cut other departments? Without even looking, my initial gut reaction is to cut every single item by a straight, equally applied percentage. Equal pain, if you will. Some view that as simplistic but I’d love to hear the argument for why it can’t be done. There’s always a lot of talk about “fairness” – so where is the fairness to the taxpayer that routinely is asked to pay more for less?

That’s right, MORE for LESS. We keep hearing that old, worn-out cliché, DO more WITH less, but in actuality we always PAY more and then GET less. Every level of government is too big and too expensive and if the example can’t be set from the top level down than we should seriously consider setting it from the bottom level up – starting with our own Town government.

The harsh reality, if anyone has the guts, is to start doing without. Layoffs are ugly but it’s going on across America and I’d like to know why our own Town government should somehow be exempt? Start with my suggested across-the-board % cut and perhaps you retain jobs if that is an objective, but in my opinion it should be more about priorities at this juncture.

Looking for specific cuts? Start with the easy stuff. Freeze salaries for town employees rather than doling out raises, even if they seem inconsequential. I’m personally irked by the apparent end-around on the previously considered councilmember raise by including what you’re calling a stipend instead. I don’t recall voting for a Deputy Supervisor position and any additional duties it involves should be considered a privilege. My mindset on this is a reflection of my belief in being citizen legislators and certainly not a reflection of any perceived shortcoming on Mr. Signore’s abilities.

We should also be cutting back on things like office supplies by eliminating any unnecessary mailings or interoffice correspondence or the like. From what I recall, virtually every department has a projected increase on that line. We paid a lot for state-of-the-art telephone systems and other technology and we ought to be squeezing every penny out of our technology by thinking of creative alternatives to achieve results. I realize in the scheme of things, these items are small potatoes but they start to add up when viewed cumulatively and more importantly, cutting them reinforces and cultivates a culture and atmosphere of ACTUALLY doing more with less.

One budget area that concerns me is the legal and attorney lines. Why are the budgeted amounts increasing on the scale they are? In fact, the department request was even larger. What gives? I remember arguments that having a contracted legal team would be cheaper for us than having our own Town Attorney, especially since most of the pending tax litigation seems to have been resolved. Similarly, what about considering a Town Engineer to replace what appears to be a significant burgeoning of contracted engineering expenses?

We’ve spent inordinate amounts of money on a plethora of studies…many for worthwhile endeavors…but it’s been money ill-spent probably because many of these capital-intensive, infrastructure projects have not come to fruition and will likely have to be delayed even further because of the economic backdrop. The data collected may not be valid later on. I’m not suggesting that we suspend all these projects but realistically, we both know priorities and timetables will not be friendly to our objectives. We should be giving serious consideration to changing our engineering approach.

Another line that jumps out at me is the Economic Development Specialist for $11,875.00. What the heck is that for? It seems redundant to me. We already have an IDA, involvement with Metroplex, an Economic Development Chairperson in the form of Mr. Mertz, and of course, each of you, who I thought were elected in part to foster that sort of activity. It sounds like an unnecessary liaison type of position that we could do without.

There has been an indicated desire to tap the surplus to mitigate the tax increase. I’m not necessarily against that notion but I caution strongly that doing so is merely a recipe for putting off until tomorrow that which should be done today. The Town collectively does that trick well. No increase now, followed by a big increase down the road does no one any good. It’s time to start the bloodletting by cutting EVERYTHING that can be cut. If it’s not contractual, then it should be on the table – period.

My comments are not meant to imply you’re doing a horrible job or are insensitive to the budget reality. But it’s way past time to take the burden off the taxpayer. The taxpayer needs real, lasting relief, not some politically expedient quick fix. With declining revenue streams, it’s time to get the machete out and start hacking.

A tax increase is not acceptable to me…and it shouldn’t be to you either. We need to make deeper cuts and we need all of you to muster the resolve to do so.

Budget Prelude

(Intended opening budget remarks)

I began reviewing the Preliminary budget that was posted on line line by line but I’m going to move on to more general comments because…

Page 1 Town Board Major Subtotal indicates a 28.879% overall decline from ’08 Adopted to ’09 Prelim. I believe that is incorrect. That is based on town board salaries of $15,000 each thus increasing the ’08 major subtotal by $20,000. The correct ’08 subtotal s/b $46,900 which yields an approx 1% increase in comparison.

Based on the fact that the very first line in the 62 page document was inaccurate, it didn’t seem very productive to continue examination.

I’ll make a few observations nonetheless, which I will address further in my prepared comments:

TB Conf = 750
TB Subscriptions = 450
Supvr Conf = 350
Supvr membership dues = 600
Compt Conf = 2230
Compt membership dues = 100
Tax membership dues = 50
ASR Conf = 1500
ASR membership dues = 400

Town Justice Office Supplies = 7750 3% increase
Supvr Office Supplies = 4000
Compt Office Supplies = 2500 11.1% increase
Tax Office Supplies = 700

Supvr Office salaries for various positions 24.04% increase
Tax Collection salaries avg 6% increase
ASR salary reflects 5% increase

Telephone services for all these areas reflect increased expenditure too which I’m wondering if is a one time increase for installation of new system?

Overall legal services show nearly a 15% increase
Overall Supvr Office shows 20.6% increase
Overall Compt Office shows nearly 6% increase
Overall Tax Collection Office shows nearly 6% increase
Overall ASR Office shows roughly a 37% increase

ALL of this contained on the first 3 pages!


The Rotterdam Town Board conducted a well-attended 2009 budget hearing last night. I prepared the best I was able by examining the Preliminary Budget posted on the town website on Monday. Of course, the Tentative Budget had been available previously as well. The document, if you’ve examined it, is an unwieldy beast of some 62 mind-numbing, vomit-inducing pages. With a contemplated 8% tax increase looming, there was plenty of unprettiness contained not only within its pages, but in the room as well.

Anger was palpable. People have had more than enough. Another tax increase of any magnitude will not be received well at all by the masses.

Supervisor Tommasone made a decent enough presentation to lead the night off. I think we all understand the revenue constraints we face. The real problem is the expenditure side of the equation. We simply have to reduce spending in order to survive. That’s not an easy task. In fact, the challenge is enormous in many respects. The Comptroller and others have done an outstanding job in many of their revenue forecasts. The bulk of our town budget is locked in contractually for things like police services and such. Those items cannot change by next week when by law we must adopt a budget. But the preliminary budget as it stands contains many salary increases, a costly newly proposed Economic Development Specialist position, and line items like office supplies, conferences, etc. that certainly can be reduced or eliminated.

I’m angry. Actually, I’m fuming mad. I almost did not attend the meeting because I don’t like to be that angry publicly. I also strongly dislike the procedural manner that our town budget hearings manifest themselves. “Town Hall style” Q & A went mostly unchecked, resulting in much off topic discussion and several hours of venting. The Supervisor bore the brunt of the wrath, with the rest of the Town Board occasionally weighing in from around the room. Too many distractions, I thought. I much prefer comments at the podium directed to the entire Town Board. I purposely brought prepared remarks to deliver in hopes it might help temper my rage but the format sucked me into a free-for-all that forced me to improvise poorly. I’m not proud of my conduct.

I’m not optimistic about prospects for next week. I certainly don’t think the Town Board will achieve 0%, or even desires to, without seriously raiding the surplus. Even a generous tapping of the surplus may leave us staring down the barrel of something on the order of a 5% increase.

We need to make deep, painful cuts to spending regardless. I suggested a simplistic approach to that task, in addition to identifying specific smaller potato cuts. Apply an equal % cut to every line that isn’t contractual. With one week available to achieve results, this would apply the pain equally and relieve the Town Board from needing to identify priorities. It may not be an ideal solution, but it works for me.

Later, I’ll post what were my intended remarks last night.

Experiment Concludes

For the past year, I have been evaluating if I should create a new party and mount an independent campaign for Town Board. After my attendance at last night’s Town of Rotterdam budget hearing, I believe I have all but made my decision regarding any immediate involvement in politics. I am 99.9% positive of how I intend to proceed.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


I spent October on the sidelines…watching…and waiting for events to unfold. I’m disappointed.

The updated Comprehensive Plan we were promised in March for Fall has not uttered even a peep since. The oft promised water tank for Rotterdam Junction looks to be delayed yet again as the Town considers new siting and design elements. The 2009 tentative budget is dismaying. It goes without saying that further progress on Spring preparations for work in Masullo Estates is nonexistent.

Times will be getting tougher in the near term. Money will become even scarcer. Many things will be left undone as a result. This is the inevitable and regrettable price of inaction, indecision, and procrastination, sadly letting possible achievement slip away.

Fortify the gate. There’s a storm coming.