The Colonie Town Board appeared divided Thursday, April 10, when Board Member J. Brian Hogan brought to the table an alternative financial plan.
The new plan was introduced at the same meeting in which Supervisor Paula Mahan proposed a one-time corrective deficit tax on a sliding scale for homeowners, averaging $250, as part of a Strategic Financial Management Plan, which also includes reducing capital expenditures by 50 percent or more, including a deficit funding line in the general fund budget for $1.9 million over the next 10 years and wherever possible eliminating duplication of services within town departments.
Hogan announced his plan in the middle of a vote that would authorize the town to proceed with a financial plan that would involve being issued a deficit bond from the state.
Mahan asked that the plan be further discussed after a vote was collected on the resolution and the meeting’s agenda was completed.
`Deficit funding is strictly a safety net,` she repeated throughout the meeting.
Before introducing the plan, Hogan said he has questioned the numbers that the state comptroller and Munistat Investor Services have added together to reach the consensus that the town is $18 million in debt. Hogan said that this past week he has had a chance to sit down with town auditors Bollam, Sheedy and Torani and discuss the figures again.
Some key points of the plan introduced by Hogan, and Tom With and Nicole Criscione-Szesnat, the remaining two Republicans on the board, include a rush on the sale of one half of Heritage Park to Albany County; a 10-year pay down system for landfill closure costs; use of approved grants from the state Department of Environmental Conservation for waste reduction, recycling and the development of the landfill gas-to-energy program; and the charge back of town Enterprise Funds.
The plan also recommends studying the advantages of consolidating the Youth Bureau and Senior Resources Department into the Community Resources Department under the Parks and Recreation Department.
`They’re all in the people business,` said Hogan.
Another part of Hogan’s plan calls for cutting library operation hours and reducing library book purchases by $125,000.
Willliam K. Sanford Library Director Robert Jaquay said the library cuts proposed by Hogan’s plan are unreasonable.
`This kind of cutback would be devastating, and I’m shocked it was proposed,` he said, `I think the people suggesting this plan really don’t know what we’re about, and I don’t think these people really understand what we do.`
Jaquay said the library, which currently operates 72 hours per week, has already suffered due to cutbacks that have been in place all year.
`There are really issues in the town financially, and I appreciate that, but the library over the years has run a very tight ship. We haven’t asked for much of an increase,` he said.
According to Jaquay, the library created a budget last year with a zero percent increase from the previous year’s $2.5 million budget, which all but a small amount comes from the town.
`We recognized that the town was having financial issues, and in response to that, we decided to hold the book budget, but as book prices go up, demand goes up. Some libraries in this area’s book budgets are far greater than ours.`
But Jaquay thinks the Republicans’ proposal does not consider the coverage area the library serves. `I don’t think we overspent the budget, I think we were right on target, but we’re dealing with the size of Colonie. We’re the sole library in Colonie.`
As a resident of Colonie, Jaquay said he supports the idea of the supervisor’s plan that includes a one-time corrective tax.
Jaquay’s support was echoed by several residents who attended the Thursday night meeting.
Mike Ryan, of Loudonville, said Mahan is the right person for the job and that her plan is `excellent.`
`I took the main topics in her plan to heart. She’s doing a great job trying to raise revenue in a panic,` he said.
Others did not agree.
Mary Jane Smith, of Loudonville, said, `I think this is a great town that was run beautifully for 10 years, and I’m sick of hearing [former Town Supervisor] Mary Brizzell being trashed.`
Others were indifferent.
Cayla Consaga, a Siena College student majoring in English said, `I think they definitely went over a lot of information, and there is stuff I agree with in the new plan and stuff I agree with in her plan.`
After discussion of Hogan’s plan, Mahan raised questions about the previous administration’s financial decisions, including the promise of an extra $2 million to the Colonie Youth Center in 2007.
According to Nikki Caruso, the executive director of the Colonie Youth Center, the center approached the Town Board asking for four installments of $200,000 prior to the building of the Rudy A. Ciccotti Center. The then-board promised the money to the Ciccotti Center, and worked the funding into the town budget for that year.
However, what the money was to be spent on was never itemized in the budget, according to Mahan.
`I would think that [the previous board] knew what the services were and justification to provide the money, but we haven’t located either of those at this point,` said Mahan, who has said that future funding would depend on whether the center can provide documentation of where it goes.
Caruso said while there is no document that outlines what the money was spent on item by item, the funding went to assorted programs sponsored by the center.
`We look at a particular program and see what it will cost,` said Caruso.
Caruso said there are no outstanding `huge` losses if the Ciccotti Center does not receive the funding this year.
`The funding that we get from the town represents 3 percent of our annual budget of $6 million per year ` 91 percent comes from program fees and membership fees, 3 percent from the town and 6 percent from fundraising and program sponsors,` said Caruso.
But Caruso said several programs have been affected due to the lack of funding, including family counseling (free of charge to the family) and travel programs.
Mahan said, `At this point, there’s no money to give. I really don’t want to hear that I want to close down the Ciccotti Center and I don’t like kids, because that is nonsense.`
While neither plan was voted on during the Thursday, April 10, meeting, Mahan continued to stress that the request for deficit funding from the state is a lengthy and non-guaranteed process, and that she feels it must be agreed to use it as a back-up quickly.
`I will not be backed into a corner with no safety net for this town ` that’s not the way it is,` she said.
Also at the meeting, Criscione-Szenat introduced a motion to terminate Bob Sikura, of Munistat Investor Services, as the town’s financial advisor, a position he’s held since the 1970s.
`He claimed to be an expert. It is my belief that he failed to live up to the standards of Mrs. Mahan,` she said. `I really don’t think he is qualified to be the town’s financial advisor.`
The motion to dismiss Sikura could be voted on at the next Town Board meeting Thursday, April 24.“