After six sessions, the Town of Colonie Financial Information Session tour concluded Wednesday, Sept. 3.
The tour, which began in July, involved presentations in various locations throughout the town, during which Colonie Town Supervisor Paula Mahan and Town Comptroller Craig Blair discussed the town’s financial situation and possible measures the administration will be taking to remedy its large deficit.
These sessions were developed in response to news of Colonie’s $18 million deficit, as projected by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
The sessions also began weeks after the supervisor had introduced a plan to have a one-time corrective tax imposed on home and commercial business owners throughout the town, the idea being that should the residents pay the tax one time, they would not have to pay higher taxes on a yearly basis.
The one-time tax, which received stark criticism from all three Republican Town Board members, was last estimated at $155 per household residence in the Town (it was originally estimated at $250 per household) and $135 for both the Village of Colonie and the Village of Menands.
The bill pertaining to the tax in the State Legislature, sponsored by Assemblyman Bob Reilly, D-Newtonville, and Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Delmar, died on the Senate floor after the town had sent a home-rule message to the Legislature.
The one-time tax bill could come up for a vote again in January when state legislators return, so it was an integral part of the supervisor’s presentations.
The meetings, held at fire departments and town buildings, lasted about two hours each, depending on audience participation. The supervisor and comptroller would present a slideshow to the public, outlining the cause of the deficit and the town’s long- and short-term plans, allowing for a question-and-answer session where residents would put their concerns on 3-by-5 note cards.
The note card method received mixed responses from those at the meetings.
Jack Van Wie, a Latham resident, said he thought the note cards allowed the supervisor and comptroller to maintain a level of structure during the presentation.
I’ve been tired of the political fighting that’s been going on for months ever since the supervisor came in, he said. `After the first night, the second time around and the third time around they started reading each and every card.
If anything, the supervisor has maintained a professional approach to things [and] eliminated the political garbage.`
Van Wie said he had attended at least three of the meetings, but after the first, he was not going to watch the presentation ` he was going to watch the residents.
`I was interested in initially seeing what the supervisor had to say and wanted to see what the general reaction has been,` he said. `At this point, I think she’s been very tactful at how she’s approached the subject; she was trying to keep the whole process constructive.`
Van Wie said he realized the residents were not going to understand all the details but wanted to hear what they had to say about certain aspects of the town’s financial plan, such as the one-time tax.
What he found was that `the one-time tax tended to stir the pot.`
`People are in denial over what has happened in the past because they ignored maybe some of the responsibilities, and I found the meetings to be really something to help the town move on,` Van Wie said.
One thing about the tax that was brought to Van Wie’s attention through the meetings was the notion that some residents felt the cap on the one-time tax, which would stop even wealthier homeowners from paying over a certain amount, should be removed from the plan ` something the supervisor promised to look into.
In fact, that was one of many resident suggestions the supervisor said she will bring back to her office and consider in the wake of the sessions.
`We are very focused on solutions. That’s our main priority,` said Mahan.
Mahan said the town is working to move forward.
`When we reach that goal to a point that there’s enough information to bring back out to the public, that might be a good idea to bring that right back out to the community. That is a topic that might make good sessions as we go around to the community,` she said. `This one proved to be very successful.`