December 11, 2012

In My Opinion: Elizabethtown budget questioned


---- — On Nov. 8, the Elizabethtown Town Council held its annual public hearing for the 2013 budget. It lasted 14 minutes.

Supervisor Margaret Bartley announced to the persons in attendance that no statements regarding specific items in the budget would be allowed. Only general statements would be accepted. 

I was prepared to point out the various inaccuracies in the budget documents, but the Town Council ruled that no specific articles of the budget could be discussed. If you had specific questions, a special conference with the supervisor had to be arranged.

There are numerous errors in the budget documents that influence the eventual tax-levy percentage of increase, which is wrong and underestimated.

The budget is broken down into eight funds; the big ones are the general fund, highway fund and the Fire District fund.

As presented at the public hearing, the general fund revenue total is in error by $1,387. This error leaves the general fund out of balance. Additionally, the total tax-levy increase in dollars between 2012 and 2013 is $41,329, not $37,209, as represented by the supervisor, both of which exceed the tax cap.

The 2013 budget analysis, which is supposed to compare 2012 to 2013, is incorrectly using 2012 numbers in both columns so the result is comparing 2012 to 2012 rather than 2012 to 2013. Therefore, the percent of increase in the tax levy is incorrectly calculated.

Supervisor Bartley states the tax-levy increase is under 3.5 percent, but I calculate about 5.5 percent. This exceeds the tax cap and is contrary to the law since no vote was taken to exceed the cap.

The Town Council adopted this budget on Nov. 20, and when queried about whether any changes had been made since the public hearing, the supervisor said there were none. Yet, interestingly, the supervisor submitted a “revised” budget to Essex County on Nov. 29 with $1,537 of changes. This appears to have been the second budget submitted to the county. When did the Town Council approve the changes?

A fund-balance amount of $101,957 was used to reduce the tax levy, but no vote was taken to allow this.

I think the taxpayers would have liked to know why the ambulance squad was cut $2,000, then the $2,000 was added to attorney fees. The total for attorney fees is now $5,000. Why?

Why was $1,000 cut from the library? At the end of 2011, the town had a fund balance of several hundred thousand dollars, even after the 6 percent tax reduction.

The highway line item for salaries is up $35,000. The highway line for health care is up by over $40,000, yet the benefits were reduced. Why?

The Elizabethtown Town Council is floundering. They concentrate on small issues, while the large important things aren’t properly resolved, at least not publicly.

The sewer project is toast, illegal meetings have occurred, the Comprehensive Plan land regulation is upon you, spending is up, taxes exceed the cap, and the budget documents are flawed. Great year, so far.

Ken Fenimore was a member of the Elizabethtown Town Council for six years before resigning in September, partly due to disagreements with the councilors and supervisor.