In Berne: Misinformation, fiscal insolvency, and huge tax increases

To the Editor:

I have become increasingly alarmed, over the past couple of months, at the actions of the Berne Town Board. They ran on slogans of transparency, accountability, and people not politics. In fact, this administration has been one of secrecy, political maneuvering, and politics not people.

From their first actions of firing Cheryl Baitsholts as the dog-control officer and removing Emily Vincent so that they could put convicted felon Tom Spargo on as the planning board chair, Mr. Harris’s Altamont Enterprise letter describing the comprehensive plan as from “the early 2000s,” and every other action, there seems to be no understanding, knowledge, or concern for the law, the town of Berne, or its residents. 

In fact, everything they have done continues the town on a path of misinformation, fiscal insolvency, and huge tax increases.

New York State is the epicenter of an international pandemic and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. But, to look at the Berne Town Board agendas and actions over the past two months, there is no concern or plan to assist Berne residents who have lost their job, are elderly, shut in, may not have enough food, need a ride to the grocery store or the doctor, are sick, anxious, or may need assistance.

Instead of putting any time or energy toward helping Berne residents during this unprecedented crisis, Supervisor Sean Lyons and the Berne Town Board continue to fritter away our hard-earned tax dollars on totally unnecessary and even embarrassing items.

This includes the April 29 “public hearing” and ploy to put a convicted felon in as the planning board chairman, by increasing the cost of the planning board by 40 percent.  Yes, a 40-percent increase in the cost of the planning board so that they can appoint a convicted felon as chairman.

There is no need to do this during a national pandemic other than preventing public input. Why can they not wait eight months, when there will be an opening, and they can legally appoint Mr. Spargo, who was convicted of extortion and bribery, as planning board chairman? If Mr. Lyons and the Berne Town Board are not scheming to harm our town under cover of the pandemic, it would seem that this appointment and increased cost to taxpayers must wait.

Rather than continuing on this alarming path to fiscal insolvency and huge tax increases, I hope that they will reconsider and show leadership and concern for all Berne residents by confronting the impact of this national pandemic and the worsening fiscal crisis.

Just last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Division of Budget announced that, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York State’s economy will lose $243 billion over the course of the full recovery (the equivalent of 14 percent of the state’s Gross Domestic Product). The Division of Budget currently projects that revenue estimates will drop by $13.3 billion this state fiscal year and $61 billion over the next four years.

In a couple of weeks, there will be $10.1 billion in spending reductions that include an $8.2 billion reduction to local governments, K-12 schools, health care, and not-for-profits. New York State agencies will be cut by an additional 10 percent. These cuts will all impact Berne residents, and in some cases their livelihood. And, this is merely the first phase of cuts as the fiscal impact is projected to worsen.

The Berne Town Board needs to prioritize the residents and begin managing costs or we will be hit with tax increases of 25 percent to 75 percent.  Yes, 25-percent to 75-percent tax increases for Berne taxpayers as the result of poor fiscal management and overspending by Supervisor Lyons and the Berne Town Board.

In addition to the totally unnecessary recent purchases and spending, the current budget was balanced by increasing the estimated sales-tax revenue by more than 20 percent. When you add in the fact that sales tax revenues are projected to drop between 15 percent and 25 percent, the Berne town budget already has between a 40-percent and 50-percent revenue shortfall. When you add in state cuts (municipal aid, CHIPS [Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program], etc.), the outlook is dire and Berne residents will be facing tax increases of at least 25 percent and potentially as high as 75 percent.

Therefore, Supervisor Lyons and town board members Bonnie Conklin, Mathew Harris, and Dennis Palow must join townboard member Joel Willsey and stop this alarming path to fiscal insolvency and huge tax increases. The first step is easy and painless — they must not increase the Berne Town Planning Board by two members and 40 percent cost so that they can appoint a convicted felon as chair.

The Berne Town Board must begin immediately to carefully look at the budget, spending, and residents’ needs. The residents and the future of the town of Berne depend on what the Berne Town Board does today and in the days to come. 

Barbara Crosier 

East Berne

Editor’s note: Barbara Crosier is married to Kevin Crosier, former Berne supervisor.

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