An audit report released by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli places the current deficit for Colonie at nearly $18 million. The audit, which was released Wednesday, Feb. 27, examined the 18 months between January 2006 and June 2007. It found that many of the problems emerged from ineffective Town Board oversight.
Local officials have to manage public assets responsibly in good times and bad. It’s pretty clear that wasn’t happening under the prior administration in Colonie,` said DiNapoli in a press release.
According to the Comptroller’s report, the deficit was caused by allocating funds in excess of what were available, misjudging revenues and underestimating costs. This resulted in short-term borrowing from 2004 to 2006.
Brian Hogan, one of three remaining Republicans on the Colonie Town Board, said he believes a number of options, such as bonding the landfill, will bring about needed revenue right away.
`I think this year, we can get half this projected deficit,` he said.
Hogan said increasing staff and energy costs are contributing to the deficit.
`Part of the issue is the increase in retirement, health insurance and energy costs,` said Hogan.
Hogan said other measures, such as cutting down on outside contract use, selling Heritage Park, and acquiring the buybacks from the 2007-2008 Enterprise Fund, which includes funds such as Pure Waters and the Latham Water District, could help alleviate the financial burden.
But new Democratic Supervisor Paula Mahan cautioned that fixing the deficit may not be as easy as it seems.
`I don’t think that’s realistic,` she said of Hogan’s idea to find solutions within the year. `There’s been a deficit for four years. If it was so easy, I don’t understand why they didn’t correct it years ago.`
Added Mahan: `When drawing from Enterprise funds, there are certain rules you have to follow. You’re only supposed to take so much. They [the old administration] were using those funds for operating costs.`
Most officials agree that it remains important for the town to rely on the independent auditors that the previous administration hired.
`In our conversations [with the auditors], it was clear we need to reduce the deficit and start building a surplus from a restricted fund for closure of the landfill,` said Mahan.
She also said that in light of the recent state audit information, she does not know whether legal action needs to be taken.
`I am going directly by the reports,` she said, adding that deficit reports came from auditors from her administration and the previous one.
Both Hogan and Mahan said they remain optimistic about relieving the financial burden that the deficit has caused for the town.
`I think everybody is trying to work as hard as they can. I would like to see us have as little impact on the community as possible,` said Hogan of possible deficit-reduction measures.
Mahan said that the town will work closely with residents to find a solution.
`There will be many components to the long-term plan. Obviously it involves addressing the significant cumulative deficit and ongoing cash flow issues. We have put a freeze on all non-essential items,` she said.
Mahan notes that little efforts such as monitoring travel expenses, selling methane gas from the landfill, and consolidating inter-municipal agreements could also have an impact.
Ultimately, she said she wishes to keep the town a desirable and attractive place for businesses and residents.
`We really want to be able to have the residents be part of the process,` she said.
Colonie Democrats took the majority on the Town Board following the November elections, with Nancy Hernandez, William Carl, Robert Becker and Supervisor Mahan being elected into office amid voter concern over the deficit and money management of the past administration.“