Legitimate expenses are being ignored in the proposed Berne budget

To the Editor:
The proposed Berne budget is pure demagoguery and an inane attempt to buy votes by the Berne GOP. Taxes are to be lowered 86 percent! Property owners would receive additional tax breaks adding to nearly $400,000 from the fund balance and pandemic relief funds.

Those in the sewer district are to have their fees reduced in 2021 and 2022 with pandemic relief funds. Who wouldn’t vote for these folks? They have created a tax utopia in Berne!

The answer is that any rationally thinking person wouldn’t vote for these charlatans. If this budget is approved and carried out, I predict what they portray now as a tax utopia will in a couple of years become a painful tax dystopia. This nonsense needs to be stopped and your vote is crucial.

They erroneously claim the unappropriated fund balance is growing too fast due to increased sales-tax revenue from the Dollar General in Berne. They think they need to spend it down like drunken sailors and use it to offset property taxes and buy votes. This will compromise the future of the town.

Sales tax is considered a volatile revenue source by the comptroller. If the economy tanks or the county changes our share, our property taxes will skyrocket.

I’m not an accountant, but I think this is the case: The tax rate was $3.79 per $1,000 in 2021. They are proposing just $0.52 per $1,000 for 2022. When they are done playing games, if the rate needs to increase back to say just $2.00, won’t property owners be faced with a tax increase of 284 percent?

They claimed in the town newsletter that projects like municipal water, new buildings for the highway department, new town offices, expansion of the town museum, and sidewalks were all projects underway. I’ve seen no evidence that anything has been done at all on these projects.

But expensive needs were identified. If we need to keep the unappropriated fund balance down to a targeted level, reserve funds should be created now to fund big projects like these later. Instead, they are buying votes with sales-tax dollars that should be reserved for projects to benefit everyone.

Think about the amount of money identified recently that needs to be spent for equipment. The new transfer station truck will cost nearly $200,000. Another plow truck is proposed too. We just paid $256,000 for one in July. New highway garage fuel tanks will be $220,000. That’s nearly $950,000 in equipment needs now.

Legitimate expenses are being ignored in the budget. An equipment reserve fund should be created, but they are buying votes instead.

The remaining service life was estimated for all of the trucks and machines. Many were on borrowed time two years ago and are big-ticket items. We should be chipping away at that list to the tune of about $200,000 a year.

All these highway expenditures would add to well over a million in a year. But the superintendent of highways was absent for the discussion on Oct. 20! Instead they are buying votes.

It is well documented that the superintendent of highways ignores many of his responsibilities like dangerous highway defects, guide-rail maintenance and hazards, trimming brush and trees, proper signage, employee safety, providing flaggers, work-zone safety, highway design, etc. All this would cost money if he cared about his responsibilities.

These expenditures would add to about $150,000 a year for a few years until maintenance issues get caught up. Review the attached pdfs with gps located and dated photos that very clearly document absolute negligence for five years or more. If our unappropriated fund balance is too high, it’s because legitimate expenses are being ignored at the expense of your safety.

Appropriations were estimated at $2,366,071 for the 2021 tentative budget. The 2022 tentative budget proposes nearly $650,000 more. This includes hiring a facilitator to do the work for Mr. Dennis Palow in case he wins.

So, these guys are increasing spending significantly and lowering property taxes 86 percent?  They propose taking in just $88,492.00 in property tax and “rebating” $200 to every taxable parcel.

This to be funded from the fund balance ($350,274) and pandemic compensation funds ($48,126). They propose discounting $398,400 from property taxes collected that add to only $88,492.  

As I understand, the unappropriated fund balance used to offset those property taxes in this proposed budget ($350,400) represents fund sources like sales tax. Are people who don’t own property at all paying the property taxes for Berne property owners?

I am told this is inequitable and potentially illegal as well. The $200 amount has absolutely no relationship to the tax amount paid, and the tax you paid buying your car pays someone’s property tax.

Then the pandemic relief portion is targeted to a group based on the parcels they own? I’m told that is illegal too.

Legal or not, it makes no sense at all. This money should be targeted for pandemic preparedness. Emergency and health-related expenses would make sense. Maybe another automated stretcher for the ambulance crew? Instead, it’s used to buy votes.

It is my understanding that public funds, intended to benefit the general population, cannot legally be dropped into a special tax district like a sewer district and such funding must be in the form of a loan.  Personal expenses of a select group, sewer fees, are being paid with public money.

The budget proposes offsetting sewer fees for two consecutive years with public money intended to benefit everyone, pandemic relief. The district loan is amortized in such a way that the loan payment increases each year.

The money they are using now to reduce fees is not an annual income and, as I understand, it will have to be paid back by the fee-payers.

As currently proposed, I believe the illegal infusion of public money will stop in the 2023 budget, that money will have to be paid back to the general fund, and the loan-payment rate will be three steps higher! This will devastate fee-payers in 2023.

Stop this nonsense now. Vote Row A.

Joel Willsey

Berne Town Board

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