Stressful Economic Strategies

The link below is to an article from yesterday’s Press Republican

http://pressrepublican.com/0100_news/x1538947844/Economic-Development-Strategic-Plan-unveiled

Although the plan is interesting it will have tax increase implications for all Town residents.

At the July 7th Town Meeting finance manager, Patrick Bowen, presented the Board with documents compiled by the NYS Comptroller’s office. (To see these documents CLICK here to read an Excel file, or  CLICK here for Adobe Acrobat file.) These documents are about the fiscal stress monitoring system devised by Comptroller Di Napoli’s office and gives a “score” for the Town of Plattsburgh. Our score 40.8%:Plattsburgh Score A 2 minute video explanation by Di Napoli is available here https://www.osc.state.ny.us/. Or you can watch it in this little window:

 

Transcript:

New York’s local communities are facing significant budgetary and financial challenges.

Chronic budget gaps, increasing local needs, population losses and crumbling infrastructures are not passing problems. It’s the new fiscal reality for many local communities.

Difficult budgeting choices are ahead. It is time to have an honest conversation about fiscal stress in our communities before a full financial crisis develops.

This is why State Comptroller DiNapoli has developed a Fiscal Stress Monitoring System to help identify early warning signs of financial problems.

His office has calculated a fiscal stress scoring system. The first release will be for counties, cities, towns and nine villages, followed later in the year with the remaining villages and all school districts. The system has four classifications so taxpayers know where their communities stand.

It’s based on nearly two dozen financial and environmental indicators, and local officials gave input as the system was developed.

NYS Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli: “Reporting on fiscal stress will be a wake up call for local officials and for taxpayers. Knowledge is power, and by sharing this information, I’m really hoping that we can prompt a more thoughtful discussion at the local level as to how communities can manage in these challenging budgetary and economic times and avoid a full financial crisis.

“The Comptroller’s office can make available a variety of services. We can certainly help with self-assessment tools, long-term financial planning, legal analysis, technical assistance of various kinds – we really want to be a support and a help for local governments. We think that our resources and our advice can help guide local communities to make better choices.

“We can all help local governments become more efficient, more creative, more forward-thinking, and more effective as we navigate this difficult fiscal environment. Citizens and taxpayers will be better informed about what’s happening in their own communities; that’s very key, because if we have to make tough choices, the citizens, the taxpayers should be involved in helping to guide local officials in making those choices.”

To learn more about the fiscal stress monitoring system, visit our website or contact our Division of Local Government and School Accountability.

Please note that Di Napoli says that the taxpayers should be involved with helping to guide local officials in making choices. So I am writing this blog to encourage you to get involved. It’s your Town and your taxes, too. We all need to let our Board know what we want and how much we are willing to pay for it.

The Comptroller’s documents show that the Town is not, at this time, in fiscal stress. However, things of concern are the fund balance in both the highway department and the general fund. The general fund pays for administration of the Town as well as partially funding the Highway Department.   $1.3 Million of sales tax revenue was transferred to the highway dept. in the 2013 budget.  (Highway is also funded by direct tax revenue of $.70 per $1000 of assessed valuation.  So remember you need to keep track of any rise in your assessment) The general fund had a healthy fund balance at the end of 2012 (perhaps not 17% of the budget as recommended by the Comptroller, but healthy nonetheless) Instead of keeping the fund balance the Board elected to spend the money in the 2013 budget. There was an alternative to using the fund balance. Cutting spending! But apparently that was not an option for the T.O.P. Board.

As concerns the Comptroller’s reports it is important to note that the following caviat is included in the reports:

Financial information provided on this page is pulled from reports submitted by the municipality. OSC performs a formal review of the information on an annual basis. However, OSC is unable to verify the accuracy of all the data elements upon which an entity’s prior year fiscal stress score is based.

If the Comptroller is unable to verify the accuracy of the data how can we be certain of their findings? I actually have a written document stating that there are errors in the 2011 information the Town of Plattsburgh submitted to the Comptroller. So should the Town be relying on a report derived from erroneous data as a justification to raise our taxes?

Please take the time to watch the fiscal stress portion of the July 8th 2013 Town meeting video and the ensuing discussion regarding raising taxes. (CLICK here to go directly to that portion.) Things to note:

1. Mr. Basset thinks that the Highway Tax we pay in the Town is ridiculous . Please CLICK HERE to see what he says. As a help, I have transcribed his opinion here:

A, a seventy three, four, whatever it is, cent Highway Tax is ridiculous compared to just about a hundred percent of the municipalities in the County. If Highway were sustaining itself that would have a huge impact on General, and, uh, would be one really good step to take, uh, and enable us to maintain the status of being a, you know, general tax free community.

If you miss the implication, please be aware that this means that Mr. Basset wants to raise the Highway Tax to the point that Highway is “sustaining itself”. (This is not the first time he has said this) What that really means is that Mr. Basset wants the tax payers to sustain The Highway Department via direct taxes so that he can realize the “huge impact” of retaining all Sales Tax revenue in the General Fund. This would allow him to, “wink, wink”, continue to claim that the Town of Plattsburgh is “a, you know, general tax free community.” Or in other words he can continue to say that the Town of Plattsburgh has no Town Tax.

If the Town decides that all highway funding is to be raised by highway taxes, highway taxes will be somewhere between $2-$3 per $1000 of assessed valuation instead of $.70.  DO THE MATH to find out your potential highway tax increase.

 

2.Finance Manager, Mr. Bowen states that the Town’s biggest cash reserve is in the Water and Sewer Dept.  Have you noticed that your water and sewer rates have been increasing over the past few years?  But apparently the Board doesn’t think they are yet high enough.  CLICK HERE to see how Mr. Rennadette talks about how low our rates are.  He states they are “one the lowest in the country” but this is a statement absent of any supporting data.

 

3. The Town attorney says that our rates are the lowest in the United States (once again without supporting data) and  CLICK HERE to hear him say: “we are either geniuses or something is  wrong.”

I say if the T.O.P. citizenry can be provided water at a low rate, what’s wrong with that?

 

4. CLICK HERE to see the Clerk crow about his $160+ quarterly water bill and how he’s thrilled to pay so much.  Do you think the Town will raise our rates?  Please give this some thought.

 

5.  Note that cutting spending is not mentioned except by the finance manager in conjunction with the cost of annual audits. CLICK HERE to hear him.

 

 AND THERE’S MORE:

Please also note that the Board has recently passed resolution #013-202.authorizing a bond for $690,000.Bonding Resolution

If you would like to read this resolution Please CLICK here for the original Word document or Click here for an Adobe Acrobat file.

The Press Republican let us know about this T.O.P. move in an article you can view by clicking on the following live link:

http://pressrepublican.com/0100_news/x218351758/Town-OKs-bonds-for-park-lights

The intent would be to use $290,000 to purchase the Cadyville rec park property from Clinton Community College and use $400,000 to purchase street lighting fixtures from NYSEG which NYSEG says are only worth $275,000:Light Price

To be fair, you can CLICK HERE and see the full agreement in which the above price and worth disparity is disclosed. You will find the information on page two of the “Petition” portion of the documents in the file, which is page four of the Adobe Acrobat file.

The T.O.P Board also recently passed resolution #013-213.spending $1,800,000 of excess funds in the water and sewer budget to update some infrastructure. 13-213 Pipes Bad

To see the rest of this resolution please CLICK HERE for a Word version or CLICK HERE for an Adobe Acrobat version.

CLICK HERE to see Mr. Scott Stoddard present his Capital Projects in 2012.  He mentions $10,000,000.00 as the possible amount that his list of improvements would cost.Water and Sewer Capital Projects title page

 

Please CLICK HERE to see Mr. Stoddard’s full wish list of spending

 

At the July 15 Town of Plattsburgh Board Meeting Mr. Gerard Rennadette  mentioned the above capital project presentation by Scott Stoddard in the Press Republican article and reiterated the $10,000,000.00 of spending needed.  Please CLICK HERE to hear and see what he had to say.

 

It appears they plan to pay $10,000,000 for infrastructure repair over 5 years.  This year about $2,000,000 will be paid in cash.  Will the remainder be paid in cash as well or will it be bonded? At any rate we need to know how much it will cost us.

If you are concerned about your taxes, take the time to review this information and decide what all of this means and how it might affect you. I’m certain this is only the beginning so “fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride”.

 

FYI:  The July 21, 2013 Town Board meeting has now been posted on the CHTA website if you want to view it.  And please consider forwarding this blog to all those who you think might want to know what’s in store for them.  The more who know the better.