TOP Tentative Budget Bouncing Numbers

On Thursday, October 1, 2015, the TOP 2016 tentative budget came out.  The bad news is the highway tax went up again.  BUT the good news is, it really didn’t!  That’s right.  It didn’t.

What on Earth am I saying, you may be asking yourself.  Well, quite frankly, I think I am the only person to have taken a close look at the budget.   First let me give you a bit of history and then explain what I found.

As you probably know, a few years ago when the Town had spent all their general fund, fund balance (because there was no one running the town who understood finance), when audit after audit stated that that fund balance depletion put the town in dangerous territory, (audits cost taxpayers $30K/year and no one took them seriously), the town board, instead of cutting spending decided to raise a tax in order to grab more revenue.  They chose to raise a highway tax and set the rate at $0.40/ $1000 of assessed valuation on property.  (Ad Valorum tax)  At that time the taxable assessment in the town was about $1 Billion and, doing the math, the tax raised $400,000 in revenue for the highway department.   Contrary to what you might think, that $400,000 did not give the highway department more money to spend.  Why?  Because the town board decided to keep $400,000 of sales tax money in their general fund to fund the administration instead of allocating it to the highway department as had been done since 1981.  So even though there was a new highway tax the highway department wasn’t getting any extra cash to improve services to the taxpayers.  The money was, in essence, being used to fund the bureaucracy.  (pay salaries, and benefit packages)

When this happened I began to scrutinize the highway budget each year and as you know, the tax continued to rise annually.

So on Friday, when I looked at the highway budget something seemed amiss.   I had previously FOILed (a document request under the Freedom Of Information Law) the draft preliminary figures for the Highway budget.  Jim Woods, Highway Superintendent had not raised any line items from 2015, except for salt and that only because the cost had risen by $10/ton.  Furthermore the taxable assessed valuation of the town had increased by well over $43 million.  As I looked at the page I wondered how it was possible for the tax rate to increase when there was more property value to assess taxes on and the budget figures were, for all intents and purposes, the same as the previous year.

Well folks, I’m here to tell you it wasn’t possible!!!!!  I took my pencil and paper did a quick division problem and found an error, then called the Town and BAM, saved us all 6% on our next tax bill.  That’s right, notwithstanding all the computer programs, taxpayers $ spent on IT, excel spread sheets, financial wizards and all the other myriad paraphernalia the Town uses in the bureaucracy, not to mention the endless prattle at board meetings about how well they are doing things, I, a concerned taxpayer, found the error by using my brain and a paper and pencil, and this is what I found:

Banner with click here

Now, I don’t mention this to pat myself on the back, but rather to point out that, as important as the budget is (it’s probably the most important document the Town produces each year) not one person on the Town Board, not the Town Supervisor who is the treasurer and Chief Financial Officer of the Town in charge of the purse, not the finance office who prepared the budget, in essence NO ONE responsible for the budget scrutinized the budget summary enough to see the error.

I don’t know about you, but I sit here scratching my head wondering what we, taxpayers, are getting, other than the shaft, for the $121,000 we pay our Supervisor and Town Board, and the $329,669 we pay for salaries and benefits for accounting personnel.