Vapor budget hearing put us in a state of shock

To the Editor:

The Presentation That Wasn’t. For those of you that may not have been aware, the sitting New Scotland town government held a budget hearing on Nov. 4 at 6 p.m. It was buried somewhere on the town website under public notice.

I attended by Zoom, with my colleague Charissa Mayer. Personally, I’ve been to more than 100 budget hearings at various levels of government in multiple states and have never experienced anything quite like this. There was no audience. No speakers list. No department heads on hand. No formal budget presentation. No handouts. There was nothing at all. Kind of like a celebration of freedom in North Korea.

Basically, the town supervisor greeted everyone. Asked if there were any questions and then closed the hearing. Our plan was to listen to the presentation and ask some questions based on the information presented. But there was no information presented.

No overview of a financial plan and accompanying discussion of how the proposed tax levy went from an increase of $1.52 to $1.55 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to a decrease to $1.50. Good news, but we’d like to know more. Such as why reserves were used to finance the tax cut and more specifically, what is the out-year impact of using non-recurring resources to finance a politically expedient tax cut?

The New York State Financial Plan includes a projection of outyear budget gaps for three years. For example, the FY 2022 Mid-Year Update includes projections for State Fiscal Year 2022 through 2025. This provides a broad roadmap for the purpose of fiscal planning and added transparency.

In addition, does depleting the town’s reserves for political purposes impact bond covenants?

Why do some residents have $7,000 water bills?

Why are elected officials giving themselves raises and town employees have been essentially flat for around the last 10 years? That, of all things, seems to be self-serving.

We’d also like to also know the status of the barn financing: specifically, the $440,000 for the roof and repairs. How much was from grants? How much from town reserves and which ones? How much (if any) is coming out of the levy in 2022 or 2023?

Lastly, may we please have a copy of the annual financial statements or information that the town submits to the state comptroller? This could include a balance sheet, income statement, statement of cash flows and notes. Even a scaled-down version of this could work.

Sadly, the current budget document amounts to nothing more than a barely printable spreadsheet with no explanation and analysis. There should at least be an overview of the general fiscal state and current projects, new projects, and proposed cuts (if any).

Our approach, if there were a hearing, would have been to ask these questions of staff or the appropriate department head. Admittedly, we should have just asked them out of the blue during the budget hearing that wasn’t, but quite frankly we were both in a state of shock and by the time the self-congratulatory snarky comments had me hitting the talk button, they were in the middle of a vote and the vapor hearing was over.

Following the budget hearing that wasn’t, The Altamont Enterprise ran a decent piece summarizing the budget recently passed [“New Scotland budget for 2022 up 2%, taxes down 1.5%,” Nov. 5, 2021]. This ... could have been the focus of an overview presented during the vapor budget hearing. It might also have been accompanied by a couple of charts and tables. Likely a 15-minute presentation at most.

This is exactly what we mean by lack of transparency. There should at least be a document or hand-out available for the annual town budget hearing. Not a lot to ask. All of this reinforces the need for adding transparency and balance to town government.

Peter Drao

Charissa Mayer

New Scotland

Editor’s note: Peter Drao and Charissa Mayer ran for the New Scotland Town Board Nov. 2, both on the Conservative and Republican lines.


More Letters to the Editor

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.