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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 16, 2010

Budget battles in Rensselaerville center on purchase of trucks and copy machine

By Zach Simeone

RENSSELAERVILLE — Recent town board meetings have been dominated by debates over the use of town finances, specifically regarding the need for trucks in the highway department, and a copy machine at Town Hall.

A political fault line is exposed this week in a letter to the Enterprise Editor from Democratic Supervisor Marie Dermody, responding to a letter last week from a Conservative Party member. In it, she faults the town’s Conservative councilwoman, Marion Cooke, for not “feeding” the conservatives all the information. The Highway Superintendent, Conservative Gary Zeh, defeated the long-time Democratic superintendent in last fall’s election.

The five-feet-in-five-days snowstorm that hit the Hilltowns last winter has led Zeh to push for effective and reliable equipment; 14 of the town’s 23 vehicles are more than 10 years old, and the oldest is from 1975.

“A medium-duty truck plows your smaller roads and intersections, and the heavy-duty truck is for plowing the main roads,” Zeh told The Enterprise this week, explaining his need for two new trucks. “The problem we have here now is, our medium-duty is actually a one-ton, which is almost like a light-duty truck. And, it’s a ’99, and the thing is falling apart. It needs a new front end, a lot of work, and a lot of money, and it’s on its third transmission.”

At the Sept. 9 town board meeting, Zeh convinced the board to purchase a medium-duty, 2008 Ford F550, with a plow and sander, for $44,678. It has a 6.4-liter diesel engine with a three-year warranty, and has about 47,000 miles on it.

He also wants to purchase a heavy-duty, 1987 Oshkosh P2526 truck for $32,000, which has about 60,000 miles on it, and will come with either a dump-sander combination, or a stainless steel sander — whichever he chooses.

But Zeh was unable to sway the majority of the board on his need for the second truck, and the supervisor said this week that she will be more inclined to purchase another truck after seeing the results of the audit currently being performed by the county comptroller at no expense to the town.

Still trucking

Shortly after he took office in January, Zeh presented the town board with a tentative capital improvement plan that allots $1.36 million over the next 15 years. It involves a combination of selling and replacing all 23 town vehicles between now and 2025, and maps out when these proposed transactions would take place, and how much he plans on spending.

The plan would be coordinated with Zeh’s goal to improve town roads, and vehicle purchases would be financed by five-year statutory-installment bonds. Zeh was asked to present a revised plan that does not involve borrowing money; he presented his revisions at last week’s town board meeting.

The revised plan will be discussed at a special meeting on Sept. 23, as will the purchase of a heavy-duty truck for the winter.

In recent months, Zeh has presented bids for trucks that will replace two vehicles in his fleet: The medium-duty truck will replace a 1999 Ford F350 dump truck; and the heavy-duty Oshkosh, if the purchase is approved, will replace the town’s 1991 International dump truck.

Zeh conceded at last week’s meeting that he had not placed proper emphasis on the need for the heavy-duty truck at past meetings, as he was unaware of just how poor the condition of his 1991 International was.

Councilman John Kudlack, also the town’s Democratic chair, agreed that the truck was in unsafe condition, and Councilwoman Cooke urged audience members to take a look at the truck, which was parked outside.

“We’ve got to do something soon,” Councilwoman Cooke advised her fellow board members; Cooke was in favor of transferring money out of the town’s unappropriated highway funds to pay for the heavy truck, but Supervisor Marie Dermody would only approve the purchase of one truck.

“We realize this equipment needs to be replaced,” Dermody told Zeh. “We cannot bankrupt this town to do it all at once.” She said that Zeh had to choose between the medium and heavy trucks.

Free audit

According to the town’s final audit report for 2009, there is an unexpended balance of $455,242 for the general fund, and $361,839 for the highway fund, Dermody said this week. But she stressed the fact that those numbers could change, as the town’s finances are currently under review of the office of Albany County Comptroller Michael Conners, who agreed earlier this year to audit the town’s finances at no cost, after concerns had been raised.

The town had budgeted $25,000 this year for independent auditing and accounting — a $20,000 increase from the previous year — in anticipation of an audit. But due to Conners’s offer to audit the town’s fiscal activity for years 2006 through 2009, that money will not be used.

At last week’s meeting, Dermody told the board that she had charged each council member with investigating building improvements for Town Hall that will use the unexpended general funds, depending on the outcome of the audit: Cooke is to look into adding another well; Dale Dorner, expanding the records room; Kudlack, an emergency generator, in the event of a power outage at Town Hall; and Councilman Gary Chase, who was absent from the Sept. 9 meeting, is to look into options for fencing and surveillance.

“I don’t understand your logic,” Zeh told Dermody at last week’s meeting. “We’re not going to bankrupt the town.”

Zeh said this week that the town expects $143,646.17 in state Consolidated Highway Improvement Program funds (CHIPs).

But Dermody is waiting to see the results of Conners’s audit; Conners told The Enterprise this week that he hopes to have the work completed by mid-October.

“I had already told Mr. Zeh that I had no problem, if the money was there, using the highway unexpended balance for a new truck,” Dermody said this week.

“For the general [fund], I was looking at these building improvements; for the highway unexpended balance, if the money was there after the audit, I have no problem going with the new truck. But I’m not committing to anything till we get that audit, to be sure our books are in order.”

Now that the board has agreed to purchase the $45,000 medium-duty truck, less than $5,000 remains in the highway budget’s equipment reserve. Councilwoman Cooke proposed at last week’s meeting that the town transfer the necessary funds out of the unexpended balance to buy the heavy-duty Oshkosh, but was not backed by the Democrats.

“There’s lots of money in unappropriated [funds],” Cooke said this week, “and the way I feel is, this man needs trucks before winter’s here.”

The special meeting on Sept. 23 will decide the next step.

Do you copy?

At the Aug. 12 town board meeting, Supervisor Dermody informed the board that the five-year lease was up on one of the two copy machines at Town Hall. This Savin copier was costing $306 a month to lease, and it could not be networked to computers at town hall.

There was an option to buy the machine for $1,600, Dermody said then, but a motion soon passed that sent the machine back to the leasing company. Dermody said later that an additional $600 would have had to be spent on insuring the copier.

Also at the Aug. 12 meeting, Dermody proposed that the town begin leasing a Canon ImageRunner 2530, which would cost $128 a month, and this cost would include “all travel; all labor; all parts; all supplies except paper and staples; it would be set up; delivery; installation on our network; and on-site training,” Dermody said.

The town needs a second copier, Dermody said, because the demand for copying and printing at Town Hall is too high to be handled by one machine. At the Aug. 12 meeting, a motion by Dermody to begin the lease failed.

The issue came up again at the board’s Aug. 31 meeting, and Dermody told the crowd that the lease allows for printing 1,500 pages a month, with each additional page costing .008 cents. Leasing the copier at $128 a month means spending $1,536 a year, or $7,680 total for the five-year lease.

Councilwoman Cooke told the board on Aug. 31 that a brand new Canon ImageRunner 2530 can be purchased on the Internet for $3,000.

Digitalsystemcopiers.com sells the machine new for $2,975, and Google product searches show results from two other websites offering the same machine, also new, for $3,000.

Cooke went on to say that the town could purchase a Hewlett Packard copier on state contract for about $5,100, though it does not come with the services that come with the lease. Cooke added that, in her experience, these services are seldom, if ever, needed.

Later on at the Aug. 31 meeting, another motion to lease the Canon passed; Cooke cast the lone dissenting vote.

Councilwoman Dorner seconded Supervisor Dermody’s motion to lease copier, telling Dermody that she supported the motion based on “the fact that I know that you’re cost-conscious, and that you do the research, and that you’re the one that has to deal with this.”

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