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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, October 13, 2005

Knox budget proposal at $1.8M

By Matt Cook

KNOX — Knox Supervisor Michael Hammond has proposed a town budget for 2006 with an estimated tax-rate increase of 2 percent.

At a meeting Tuesday, the town board unanimously voted to have Hammond’s tentative budget become the town’s preliminary 2006 budget. The town will hold a public hearing on the budget in November, after which the board may vote to officially adopt it.

The $1.78 million preliminary budget is about $136,000 higher than this year’s. It calls for $418,926 to be raised from taxes.

Hammond, supervisor since 1973, told The Enterprise, "This was not a hard year to do the budget."

The most difficult part, he said, was compensating for unpredictable fuel prices, which have been high since Hurricane Katrina hit the South this September.

Other unavoidable increases, he said, include insurance, which goes up every year; ambulance services; and $5,000 to pay for required updates to voting machines.

Most town employees’ salaries increased a little, as they do every year. The highway department employees received a 3-percent raise in their new contracts, approved a few months ago. The dog control officer’s salary went up by a significant percentage, from $5,150 to $6,000.

"We did a major adjustment on that one individual," Hammond said, referring to John Norray. "He’s been very active this year."

Other increases pay for a $500 higher donation to the Altamont Free Library, repairs to the town’s tennis courts, and repairs to the Knox Museum.

Money budgeted for highway buildings has decreased, from $25,000 to $15,000. It was higher this year to pay for some renovation work, Hammond said.

Of the $1.78 million in the budget, $811,700 is for the highway fund, $3,300 is for the Knox Lighting District, $16,000 is for the Berne Fire District, and $192,833 is for the Knox Fire District.

Budgeted revenues include $280,000 from sales tax and $75,000 from mortgage tax. The mortgage tax is up $25,000. Hammond said the money the town gets from that tax increases every year, and, "We made an adjustment to reflect that."

Other business:

In other business at the Oct. 11 meeting, the Knox Town Board:

—Voted unanimously for a change to the zoning ordinance that requires applicants for variances to inform their neighbors. According to the new regulation, five days before a public hearing, applicants must inform those who own property within 500 feet of theirs of the public hearing.

"Telling your neighbors what’s going on is always a good idea," said Councilman Nicholas Viscio.

Planning board Chairman Robert Price recommended the change at a town board meeting in July.

At Tuesday’s meeting, zoning board member David Holley said the change was going to be one of a number of recommendations the zoning board is currently drafting.

"It’s just one small piece of what we feel needs to be formalized," Holley said;

—Passed a resolution, unanimously, supporting the Knox Reformed Church’s application for funding to make it fully accessible.

Church member Gayle Burgess said the church is applying to the Community Foundation of the Capital District for funding, and the town’s support will strengthen the application.

The resolution, which Burgess wrote, emphasizes the church building’s secular functions; it is used by the Knox Nursery School and the community food pantry;

—Approved job descriptions for the transfer-station employees. The descriptions, written by highway Superintendent Gary Salisbury, are for three jobs: main transfer-bay attendant, recycling-center attendant, and auxiliary-transfer station attendant;

—Heard a complaint from resident Pauline Williman about her property’s assessment, which, she said, has gone up without notice.

Town attorney John Dorfman told Williman assessments never go up without notification and the property owner’s being allowed to go through the grievance process. He told her it was probably her equalization rate that has increased. Equalization rates are set by the state to balance taxes among towns with assessments at different percentages of actual value.

Williman responded that a representative of the state’s Office of Real Property Services told her that the state does not set equalization rates. Dorfman agreed to set up a meeting with Williman, himself, Councilman Joseph Best, and Real Property Services to clarify the matter; and

—Heard a complaint from residents Linda and Peter Novello. The Novellos said they were upset after hearing the town was investigating a noise complaint on Thompsons Lake Road. The town did not put a similar effort into enforcing zoning violations on a property neighboring them, the Novellos said.

Dorfman said the town had investigated the Novellos’ complaint and a case was heard before a town justice. He agreed to meet with the Novellos following the meeting.

"If there’s any new information on which we can act, we’ll do that," Dorfman said.

BKW gets an A on audit

By Matt Cook

BERNE — The Berne-Knox-Westerlo School District passed its annual audit with flying colors.

"Everything is according to general accounting principals," said Neil La Mere, of the district’s auditing firm, Washburn Ellingwood Sheeler Thaisz & Pinsley. "I can tell you your business office does a super job."

At a school board meeting last Monday, the auditor said, besides BKW, he is responsible for auditing 17 other school districts.

"BKW is doing as well as anyone," he said.

In the audit report given to the school board and district administrators, the firm wrote, "We noted no matters involving the internal control over financial reporting and its operation that we consider to be material weaknesses."

The report does note a few "immaterial matters," all having to do with extracurricular activities.

Based on a review of receipts, clubs are not properly preparing profit or loss statements for fund-raisers, the report says, or proper inventory tabulation forms for fund-raisers involving product sales. The report recommends that clubs be required to do those things.

The report also recommends shutting down inactive clubs, if it is found that the clubs will continue to be inactive. The report found three inactive clubs: the elementary music club, the foreign-language club, and the bowling club.

Two clubs, bowling and the Athletic Association, have negative balances, which the report recommends eliminating. It also recommends that the district review all its clubs to verify that they meet the regulations of the State Education Department.

"If the activity does not meet SED regulations, it must immediately comply with regulations or be removed from the Extraclassroom Activity Funds," the report says.

At last Monday’s meeting, board member Maureen Sikule asked La Mere if he thought it was a problem that the school’s deputy treasurer is also the superintendent, Steven Schrade. Sikule had brought this issue up at a previous board meeting.

"There are enough controls from an internal control standpoint that it’s not a problem," La Mere said, noting that, in small school districts, officers are often forced to serve different functions.

Other business

In other business at the Oct. 3 meeting, the Berne-Knox-Westerlo Board of Education:

—Heard a report from Business Administrator Gregory Diefenbach on the rising price of gas.

The district budgeted $2 per gallon for this school year, Diefenbach said, but paid $2.49 per gallon in September.

At this rate, he said, "We’ll run out of money for gasoline in May."

Deifenbach said he would keep the board informed of the situation;

—Discussed the makeup of the facilities’ planning committee. The committee will be responsible for investigating the long-range facility needs of the district.

The board decided it should consist of 10 people, including staff, teachers, board members, community members, and a student or two.

Sikule recommended seeking out committee members who "are knowledgeable about facility-related issues";

—Tentatively approved a spring-training trip to Florida for the baseball team. The team requested permission to take the trip during spring break of 2008.

Baseball coach Jeff Teats said no more than 15 players, the varsity squad, would take the trip. Each player would be guaranteed to play in the spring-training games, he said.

Board members asked about players who cannot afford the trip.

"My only concern is everybody gets to go," said board member Edward Ackroyd.

Teats said that, by starting fund-raising early, it would ensure there would be enough to pay for players from lower-income families.

"I think we could find a way to do it," he said. "I think we have enough positive around here."

The board asked that, before fund-raising begins, Teats have parents of players sign a statement acknowledging that they understand money spent toward the trip is not refundable if their children become ineligible for disciplinary reasons.

Teats said he has talked to some travel agents, but was told it is too soon to predict what the trip will cost; and

—Recognized Diefenbach for being selected for the board of the Municipal Bond Investors Association.

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