Commendable budget needs to be more transparent

To the Editor:

Town budgets are hard work. They involve just about every level of management in the town government structure to review and project their departmental needs for an upcoming year.

This year is different from most in that we have been dealing with a pandemic that has changed the revenue for the town of Guilderland. This is reflected in the budget with a decrease in expected revenues from sales tax as an example.

I took the opportunity to review this year’s town budget to get a sense of where we are as a town in these trying fiscal times. I have to commend those who worked on the budget for doing what they were able to do.

It appears to meet the needs of the town, including holding the line on unnecessary expenditures and granting unionized employees their 2-percent negotiated raises and non-union employees the same raise. This is commendable in that, during these trying times, every little bit helps.

I called in to the budget hearing this week to gain clarification on several budget items, but did not feel as though the explanations were that helpful, or fully explained the issues I was looking at. For example, in looking at the budget, you have no way of knowing how many people the town employs.

What you see is a budget document that uses OSC [Office of the State Comptroller] codes for delineation of function/department. You see line items with partial salaries for positions such as planners and attorneys. You see a budget line for comptroller, but nothing for human resources.

The answers I got were that each department may have the services budgeted to them, but one person may be working with several areas. The example given was a planner position that performs certain tasks for the water department and sewage department, but not full-time in each. The same thing with attorneys.

The services are spread across several departments and budgeted as such. I was also told that the human-resources functions were combined with the comptroller’s office. The town clerk and tax collector are one person and collect one salary as the functions were combined. The deputy town clerk and deputy tax collector are the same person, according to the town’s website, yet they are showing two salaries totaling close to $70,000.

What I was told is that the budget document shows these functions according to department and that is how the town reports it to the public in the budget document. The town supervisor could not even say how many were employed by the town.

The town uses a common system called Munis that contains all the data for the budget. It is a very common system that allows the users to manipulate data into a usable format for many purposes.

My question/comment to Mr. [Supervisor Peter] Barber was that the budget was not really helpful to town residents in its current format. His response again is that is what the town uses and OSC wants the town to use.

I find this a totally unacceptable answer to the residents of this town. As taxpayers we have the right to review and question the budget, and we should be able to know how many people are employed.

If the town feels it is as transparent as it claims to be, then the town should be providing a budget that is comprehensive enough for the citizenry to be able to read and understand it without an accounting degree. With answers such as the one given, it makes me wonder what is being hidden that we as onlookers wouldn’t see without further clarification.

Robyn Gray


Editor’s note: See related story.

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