Press-Republican

October 26, 2013

Town candidates oppose tax-cap override

By DAN HEATH
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Three of the four Plattsburgh Town Council candidates are opposed to overriding the 2 percent property-tax-levy cap.

Michael Cashman (D, WF), Thomas Metz (R) and Bill Brudvig (R) made that clear at a Meet the Candidates Forum hosted by the Cumberland Head Taxpayers Association. Incumbent Paul Lamoy (Democratic, Working Families) didn’t participate.

About 40 members of the public attended the meeting at the Cumberland Head Fire Station on Thursday night. 

Metz said he believes the town could stay under the cap by cutting expenses and finding or increasing sources of revenue. He said his study of the budget has found a way to create a $1.6 million surplus in the general fund without raising taxes.

“The tax-cap override, in my numerical consideration, is not necessary, and it is wrong,” Metz said.

OPPOSE EXCEEDING CAP

Brudvig said he’s completely against the move. He said Town Supervisor Bernie Bassett started to call for a self-sufficient highway fund as far back as July 8, but no one on the council appears to have asked to find another way to do that. 

The tentative budget calls for a $1.5 million increase in the highway fund tax levy, Brudvig said, yet the budget low balls Clinton County’s estimate of sales-tax revenue by $360,000.

That early version of the spending plan for next year shifts away from the use of sales-tax funds for the highway fund, which translates to a levy increase of about 198 percent.

Cashman said he is opposed to exceeding the tax cap and to the increase in the highway fund.

He said the town should explore ways to cut expenses by looking for what he called “low-hanging fruit,” such as getting sponsors for items such as the Welcome to Plattsburgh signs.

PERSONNEL CUTS

The candidates were asked where they think cuts in personnel should happen if layoffs were needed to get under the tax cap.

Metz said he would call for a manpower study to determine which employees are doing essential work and which are shuffled among departments to find them enough work to do. He also said the town could identify employees nearing retirement and possibly offer them incentives to leave early.

“We need to reduce the average salary and the number of people,” he said.

Brudvig said he thinks cuts would be made by attrition. He would also like to see if the next round of contracts could be negotiated with no raises for at least a year.

If additional cuts are to be made, they would most likely be based on seniority, he said.

Cashman said that any reduction to unionized employees would be made based on seniority, if he made the decision. He said the town would have to be extremely responsible if it offered incentives for early retirement.

The possibility of using more internships, externships and volunteers should be explored, he said.

PUBLIC-COMMENT PERIOD

Asked how to make town government more transparent, Metz said his first step would be to try to repeal the measure that moved public comment from the regular council meetings to the work sessions. 

He would also like to see the public gain access to information on upcoming issues in advance of meetings and less reliance on Freedom of Information Law to obtain that information.

Brudvig also said the public-comment period should return to the regular council meetings.

“I think that is important,” he said.

More timely posting of meeting minutes on the town website should also be implemented, he said.

Cashman said he has created a website and Facebook page to make his efforts more transparent. He also provides constituents with his phone number and email address.

The town should make a more detailed copy of the budget available to the public, he said.

“I want to see a line-item budget for our community,” Cashman said.

‘DEFICIT SPENDING’

In opening remarks, Cashman said his passion for the community has inspired him to work for its betterment. His involvement with students at SUNY Plattsburgh has taught him to listen, to learn and to lead, he said, qualities he wants to bring to the council.

“Together, I’m sure we can build the town we want and the town we deserve,” he said.

Metz said that though the council’s mission is to bring the best services to town residents at the best price, it has not adhered to that mission, as it has drained its reserve funds through deficit spending for several years.

“Our revenues have not grown as fast as our expense appropriations,” he said.

Brudvig said he never imagined going into politics but has the business experience to bring the town’s spending under control. 

He said it appears that, with the present Town Council, one person runs the show and the others go along with it.

“I’m not here to be a politician,” he said.

Email Dan Heath:dheath@pressrepublican.com