Where is the long-term planning here?

To the Editor:

I am writing to express concerns about Berne’s 2021 preliminary budget.

Multi-year capital planning is essential to responsible fiscal management and effective budgeting. The preliminary budget presented to the town’s residents is devoid of such multi-year planning. Careening through the financial consequences of an unanticipated pandemic, the town board has raised some salaries egregiously, eviscerated funding for programs, and failed to recognize and prioritize essential projects.

One of the foremost tasks for good planning is recognizing a town’s assets and building on them. As a governing board, it is imperative that the town board recognizes “what they own” (Local Government Management Guide: Multiyear Capital Planning, Thomas P. DiNapoli, State Comptroller, page 1). Those key assets, with their needs and benefits, should be prioritized to maintain and improve them as a resource for the community.

That is not the case in this budget. Switzkill Farm, which has been recognized as an asset to the town by regional economic, conservation, and tourism boards, has had its budget gutted. Those boards, which have provided funding to support the farm’s success, recognized something that this town board has not. 

They recognized that Switzkill Farm is an asset to the town’s economic development, the businesses that operate here, and the Hilltowns in general. Though the current town board may be politically opposed to the farm, it still has a fiduciary duty to maintain and improve it as a town-owned asset, a resource for the town’s citizens, which they should be able to access and enjoy for years to come.

A multi-year capital plan ensures assets are maintained and improved. That is exactly what the strategic plan for Switzkill Farm does. It was painstakingly developed by a Switzkill Farm Board that thoughtfully defined its strengths, identified its weaknesses, and articulated its potential and the threats posed to it. 

Together they established goals, guiding values, and a vision that would make the farm the resource it was destined to be. They recognized it would take time to achieve, but they understood that, with persistence and focused energy, it would become a destination for our residents and out-of-town visitors alike.

But now, both its budget and board gone, citizens are being denied  access to a facility and property that has provided our residents a beautiful venue for celebrations and safe outdoor recreation at no cost, or half the cost, they’d encounter off the Hill. Tourism is being discouraged, and the board that was working so diligently to develop the farm as an asset for the town, dismissed.

Where is the long-term planning here? How is this maintaining and improving a town asset? It is irresponsible and fiscally unsound to allow a town-owned asset to crumble and decay. Through active neglect and shameful barring of its use, this town board’s intentional negligence is robbing the citizens of a resource that was growing in use and value.

Two years ago, our highway superintendent spoke to the town board about the decaying, in-ground fuel tanks located at the highway garage. He indicated they needed desperately to be replaced as soon as possible to avoid an ecological disaster. Two years later, that has not been achieved, and furthermore, there are no funds allocated in this budget for their replacement.

A multi-year capital plan, repeatedly requested by the former town board, was ignored despite the fact it would support the purchase of equipment and vehicles in an orderly, cost-effective manner and provide the highway department with the means to operate safely. The highway department consumes half of the town’s annual budget. A capital plan would ease the burden on our citizens with thoughtful planning.

Yet, despite the long-term benefits of capital and strategic planning, this board has collectively demonstrated it has no such plans. Instead, it has seen fit to give 6-, 24-, 25-, and 30-percent raises to a few, while defunding programs beneficial to all.

The state comptroller endorses and encourages capital planning. For smarter, wiser government, I wish this town board had taken his advice.  

Karen Schimmer


Editor’s note: Karen Sschimmer, a Democrat, did not seek re-election to the Berne Town Board last November.

See related story, “Is Switzkill Farm a white elephant or an untapped resource?”


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.