Saturday, March 31, 2007
I am grateful that you are offering emails and pictures from NH residents SICK AND TIRED of the massive stormwater problems. My husband and I live on Oneida St in Chadwicks. We bought the property in 1997. We had no water problems when we bought the house, although the previous owners had a sump pump in a sump pump well in the basement. Infrequently, the pump would turn on and we would drain the water out of our basement, piped into the grassy area on the north side of the yard.
Starting in... I'd say 2001? we started to have some major, major water problems. The church next door to us got permission to build a huge parking lot, and our problems started then. I don't know if it is related. I could send a small novel instead of an email, filled with a history of the water problems we have had here. For your sake and for my sanity, I will keep it brief!
So in 2001 or so (a few months after the church put in their parking lot-- with a pipe underground pointing toward us), we had 3 feet of water in our basement and the fire dept spent all night pumping us out. Ever since then, we have had major water problems on my property. My basement floods every time we get a heavy rain. We have TWO powerful sump pumps going and still the basement floods. It all comes up from the sump pump well. It is a very long story-- there is a catch basin between us and the church, and it frequently backflows underground into our basement.
Also, with a heavy rainstorm (any rainstorm that lasts 6 hours or longer), water comes gushing down Oneida Street and flows cross our property. This never used to happen. The town has told is that this is because the catch basins south of us have been clogged... I don't know about that, because the town would clean them, and a week later we'd have another flood. I have seen up to one foot of runoff water raging down Oneida Street, and it all comes into my yard. I have 1.25 acres of land, and a good three-fourths has been completely underwater with a foot of water or more when it rains heavily.
Tony deCuffa from the Highway Dept has tried to deal with this many, many times. He has been available and sympathetic, and he has tried to help us. He has sent DPW crew again and again to clear out and suck water from catch basins, to clear out pipes, and chop down trees that clog pipes. But the water problem remains. Sometimes we get more water, sometimes less. I've had Ralph Humphries come and see, Roger Cleveland and Bob Payne come and see. They all keep telling us they will fix it, but the problem remains.
Because this is a problem with RUNOFF and mismanagement of the catch basins and improper development south of me, I see this as a TOWN problem and not my own personal property problem. I am being consumed with runoff, which completely fills my yard and elevates the water table underground. The water then floods my yard and the water table comes gushing into my basement through my underground sump pump well.
Residents need to be told where they are on the "list" for assistance with their Stormwater problems. If there is a plan, let us see it.
All Town of New Hartford Residents--If you have stormwater problems, please Email Us! pictures and a brief summary of the problem and we will your post your story on this blog.
Look into Town Law and find out for sure if there are any Town Laws specific to necessary steps town government needs to take before asking residents to fund $150,000 for sidewalks. There a big difference between putting the Rayhill Trail along a stretch of Route 840 where there are no residents and putting sidewalks in front of residents' homes. The Town Board needs to look into that. When asked at the last Town Board meeting, the response was "we don't know".
Check out the Opinion Letter from the State Comptroller's office regarding contracts between the town attorney's law firm and the town. Perhaps choosing another law firm might be in order.
Check Town Law to see if Villages can legally be charged for town improvements. It might be a wise move since if they can not be charged, it will affect the cost to taxpayers--the "real cost" should be disclosed BEFORE the vote, not after.
Let's see the "real" plans for 1 Oxford Crossing--they were requested via a Freedom of Information request dated March 4, 2007. Why hasn't that information been made available already and why is a FOIL request needed in the first place? Why wasn't the information presented at one of the "informational meetings"? Why was there so much wavering between the use of the building--first court, then police and town offices, then public safety building. Then at the last minute, the court upgrade plan was discussed at the March 14th town board meeting. Let residents know what is planned. The information in our Freedom of Information request to date has not been received. Difficult for us to discuss Plan B when we haven't been fully apprised of Plan A.
Why is the town board allowing eleven (11) year old equipment to be auctioned off (below book value, by the way) when they are bonding the same equipment for fifteen (15) years? Stop selling off equipment and then saying you "need" the same equipment you just sold. Take a look at the town equipment list--most of the Highway Equipment is less than 10 years old. Why did it take over a month after a Freedom of Information request was submitted to get a list of current vehicles/equipment owned by the town when by board resolution the list is supposed to be maintained by the town clerk for insurance purposes?
If you plan on saving $30,000 a year on lighting improvements, why bond over 14 years to pay for the $92,000 cost. Why not just get a Bond Anticipation Note (BAN) and pay it off over 5 years with the projected savings? It just doesn't make sense.
We asked several times for the reasoning behind bonding for $45,000 over 21 years for improvements to the Highway Garage. Why would you do it? Initially, they were saying they are hoping for grants and member items, yet when asked, the town board never let residents know what the total cost will be if the grants and member items are not available. Why would you ask residents to fund $45,000 and not let them know the rest of the cost associated with a project that only the town board has knowledge of. It just doesn't make sense. What aren't they saying? Let residents in on the TOTAL plan. Again, difficult to discuss Plan B when Plan A seems to be a secret.
CNY Political Insider says that "Anyone who has gone to Cavallo's on a rainy day and seen the stream of water pouring down Genesee Street knows New Hartford has some real problems that need to be dealt with".
Well, the first thing that comes to mind is Genesee Street is a State Highway so if the problem is with the storm drainage in the road, perhaps the State should be held somewhat responsible. However, we also used the searchable town board minutes program on our website and found the following notations in the town board minutes:
August 21, 2002
Constituent Complaint - Genesee Street, State highway
The Highway Superintendent received a letter from Jerry Orsaeo, 141 Genesee Street regarding a “dip” in Genesee Street, a State highway, near Slusser Ave that allows for the accumulation of water during rainy weather. Because Mr. Orsaeo has not received a satisfactory response from the New York State Department of Transportation, Town Board consensus was that the Highway Superintendent be authorized to write a letter to the NYS Department of Transportation regarding this situation.
September 4, 2002
Constituent Complaint - Genesee Street, State highway
Relative to Jerry Orsaeo’s complaint about ponding of water on Genesee Street, Frank Gerace, Regional Director of the New York State Department of Transportation, responded to the Highway Superintendent’s letter that the State “…. will investigate your concerns and take the appropriate steps to alleviate any deficiencies in the near future.”
January 21, 2004
Storm Water Problem – 151-153 Genesee Street
The Highway Superintendent will mail information to Councilman Butler regarding the storm water problem behind 151-153 Genesee Street. This problem has existed dating back to 1986, is complex, and involves old drainage tile and a catch basin in sort of a swamp. The Town has done some work in the past on this area. The Highway Superintendent is not asking the Town for contribution of moneys but is asking for acquiescence to get on the land to determine what might be causing the problems. A suggestion was made that perhaps the County Soil and Water Conservation should also be consulted. The Highway Superintendent is not sure where the water is coming from – the hill or the springs in the ground. It is the consensus of the Town Board members that the Highway Superintendent needs to determine if this problem meets the storm water criteria. The Highway Superintendent stated that he believes there are approximately four (4) properties involved in this problem.
DECEMBER 1, 2004Concerned Citizens for Honest & Open Government acknowledges that there is a stormwater issue--one of our members has a stormwater problem as evidenced by the picture that CNY Political Insider has posted on their blog (the picture is also on our blog). However, town government so far has not addressed many of the issues that existed when they last bonded $2.4 million for stormwater management. Residents deserve to see their tax dollars being spent wisely. Unless the Highway Superintendent is held accountable and presents a definite plan to residents, it is far too easy to "squander" the money. The town board's answer was we will report to the public as we go along--not acceptable!
Stormwater Drainage – Genesee Street
The Oneida County Soil and Water Agency had recommended piping down to an existing catch basin but the Highway Superintendent believes the residents wanted a closed pipe. The surface water appears to be clean – perhaps from a spring – no foul odor. In response to Councilman Butler’s inquiry, the Highway Superintendent will contact the OCSW for a completion timeframe and report to Councilman Butler.
Plan B - How did you decide that you need $2 million? Highway Superintendent Roger Cleveland already said that some problems cannot be fixed and some will not be fixed this time. Let residents know who will be getting their problem addressed and who will not. Give residents with stormwater problems a clear indication as to whether or not their problem will be addressed with this round of bonding to the tune of $2 million. The Highway Superintendent kept saying at the informational meetings that he has a plan--where is it?
We have offered on a previous blog to post pictures and a story for any town resident that has stormwater issues. We welcome the documentation and hope that Highway Superintendent Roger Cleveland will address each of these residents. They deserve an answer. Please send us your photos and information regarding any stormwater problem you have in the Town of New Hartford.
A final note on Plan B - Keep residents informed about what is going on in town government. The agenda that appeared on the town website for the October 4, 2006 meeting was not the same one that was handed out to people in attendance at the meeting. The bond resolution vote was missing from the one made available to the public on the town website. Anyone who did not attend the meeting had no clue that the town even planned to bond. Since preparing bond resolutions takes some time, we can only assume that it was a deliberate attempt to keep residents from attending the meeting to comment on the planned resolution vote by the town board.
And just as important, involve residents, contrary to what Supervisor Earle Reed may think, many of us have been involved in town government for some time and have backgrounds that could prove very useful to the town board.
Friday, March 30, 2007
The problem from the get-go was the town board had no Plan A, much less Plan B. It was very apparent to anyone who attended the "informational" meetings that this town board had not done their due diligence. We tried many times to get the facts regarding the bond propositions and the town board couldn't answer even some of the most basic questions. The bottom line is they never dreamed that they would need to give residents any explanations--the town board never intended for the vote to take place.
Concerned Citizens for Honest & Open Government presented many documents on this blog that had to be obtained through the Freedom of Information Law. These documents raised questions as to the legality of many of the propositions. They also showed that either the town board did not take the time to research Town Law or they chose to overlook Town Law hoping that no one in the community would notice. The documents are still available for anyone who missed them--just use the links on the right and browse through some of our posts over the last couple of weeks.
We are still doing some investigating, but it is clear that this town board seems to forget that we are a community made up of residents of two Villages as well as residents from the town proper. Many of the issues regarding these bond propositions could end up costing the residents of the town proper more than was initially stated on the bond hand-outs because town law specifically outlines what charges a town can levy on Villages outside a town. These issues need to be resolved before any bonding is proposed.
We also have a suspicion that the $.18 per thousand is actually an average cost over the 24 year period of indebtedness because the bonds all have varying maturities; that is why the maturities of each of the bonds is so important and yet this town board would not or could not tell residents the maturities of each of the bonds. Twice they said the information would be on the town website--it never was. Anyone who works with numbers knows that averages are very misleading!
Not all town decisions can be determined solely by the "wishes" of the town board, nor should they be! They also must be decided based on Town Law and the wishes of the residents. The town attorney needs to do his homework and see to it that the law is followed--that is why the town is paying him $150 an hour. According to the State Comptroller's Opinion, the Stormwater contract between the town attorney's law firm and the town is illegal and should never have been signed. The illegal actions of the Highway Superintendent regarding the disposal and purchase of equipment without board consent or budgeted money needs to be investigated. Mr. Reed's misinformation given to Standard & Poor's in an effort to raise the town's bond rating is inexcusable. Town residents need to ask why the town board sat back and allowed these shenanigans to happen in the first place. Who was minding "the store"?
Mr. Reed, residents have a right to be involved in town government and thankfully some residents are pursuing that right. This town board has many legal issues that need to be resolved before they even think about putting the bond vote back on the agenda. We will be continuing to press the town board on these legal "troubles" as well as the assessment debacle. When a government cannot stand up to the scrutiny of its people, there is need for concern. We are concerned!
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Last October, the town board tried to take that right away. If we did not take the initiative to collect signatures to force a vote, these bonds would have already been sold and each and every resident would have been saddled with debt for up to 24 years whether you agreed or not.
The bond resolutions this town board has unanimously approved have varying maturities of any where from 14 to 24 years. We asked at several meetings what the maturities were on each of the bonds, not that we needed the information because we already obtained it from another source, but because we felt residents deserve to know how long this debt will be on our backs. Twenty-one (21) years for $45,000 to renovate the highway garage, fourteen (14) years for $92,000 for lighting that will pay for itself in a little over 3 years if you figure that the purported cost savings is $30,000 per year. Fifteen years for trucks that the town is currently declaring as salvage after 11 years and selling below book value. Fourteen (14) years for $150,000 for sidewalks that will probably need repair long before the bond is paid in full. No wonder they didn't want residents to know the maturities.
Once these bonds are sold, we will, in some cases, be leaving debt for our children to pay. Extended debt for the purchase of a building--makes sense, but the town has failed to let residents in on the plans, and the purchase of an additional building is NOT consolidation. To create a 14-year debt for lighting that will pay for itself in a 3 year period, 1 mile of sidewalks, and $45,000 of renovations seems rather ridiculous. And what happens next year and the year after? Do we keep bonding until the cost of living in the Town of New Hartford is not worth the benefits?
We have written several blogs that should scream "CAUTION" at every resident in this town. These "problems" have nothing to do with the previous administration as Supervisor Reed keeps alluding to. These are problems created solely by the present administration.
The Standard & Poor's letter that contradicts what the town board has been telling residents. The town never put the entire letter on the town website; they left out the part where Mr. Reed stated that the town is only bonding for $3 million and that he plans on adding $2 million to the Reserve Fund. Where do you think the $2 million for the Reserve Fund will be coming from?
The year-end transfers that total over $550,000 and some money had to be transferred from employee benefit accounts to offset deficits in other accounts and close out the books by December 31.
The 1995 Gradall that was sold at auction last October/November for below book value and now the town "needs" a new Gradall (Bond Resolution #6). The lease purchase agreement that was entered into by the Highway Superintendent without board authorization and without money in the Highway Department 2007 Budget to cover the expense.
The unavailable plans, cost estimates, and other information we requested in a Freedom of Information request in regards to 1 Oxford Crossing.
The illegal agreement between the town attorney's law firm and the town for stormwater management legal services.
The unavailability of the December 31, 2006 financial information until March 30, 2007, one day after the bond vote.
The information is all here on his blog along with copies of documents that you can view. We hope that you will avail yourself of the information we have posted over the past few weeks. After that, the decision is up to each and every resident in the Town of New Hartford.
Be sure to vote on tomorrow, March 29, 2007 from noon to 8 p.m. To find out where to vote, either use our Where Do I Vote? program or call the town clerk's office.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Where Do I Vote? program. Simply enter your street to find the polling place for your area.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
By Town Law, Villages outside of towns who have their own police department cannot be charged for the maintenance and operations of a town police department. Therefore, the tax rate for New York Mills/Town of New Hartford residents is considerably less than other town residents because the police department makes up the largest portion of the town tax rate.
Bond Proposition # 5 will not directly benefit NYM residents because they do have their own police department, but they will be paying for it anyway because under Town Law, Villages outside towns can be charged for capital improvements such as the purchase of a building to house the police. Actually, it could be argued that none of the bond propositions directly benefit the NYM residents in the Town of New Hartford anymore than they benefit Town of Whitestown residents. However, if the bond propositions are passed, it will add an additional $.18 per thousand to the tax rate of all Town of New Hartford residents, including NYM residents.
In 2006, the NYM/Town of New Hartford tax rate was $.07 per thousand; however, in 2007, the tax rate more than tripled to $.24 per thousand. We started to look at the 2006 budget and compare it to the 2007 budget to try to find out why the sharp increase.
In 2006, the total expenditures for NYM was $4,569,634.00 and in 2007 they were $4,982,772.00. So we can say that budgeted expenses for NYM/Town of New Hartford residents were up $413,138 in 2007.
Looking at revenues in 2007, they were actually $525,529 more than 2006 revenues, so that should have meant no increase because the added revenues should have offset the increased budgeted expenses, right?
However, along with numerous revenue sources being used to offset budgeted expenses, Unrestricted Reserve Funds were also used in both 2006 and 2007. Here is where the difference between the two budgets comes into play. In 2007, for whatever reason, $326,267 less Unrestricted Reserve Fund money was used to offset the expenses in the NYM portion of the budget. The balance, or the difference between expenses and revenues minus any Unrestricted Reserve Funds that may be applied, is the amount to be collected by property taxes. Therefore, the amount to be collected in property taxes went from $84,958 in 2006 to $298,834 in 2007 or an increase of $213,876. However, the 2007 assessed value of NYM/Town of New Hartford properties only increased by $110,067 over the 2006 assessed value. So basically the same assessed values were left to cover more than three (3) times the amount of remaining expenses and the result is that the property tax rate increased more than 3 times over the 2006 tax rate. Unfortunately, because there is very little assessed value change due to little or no growth in NYM eventually NYM residents will see further increases to the tax rate if the budgeted expenses continue to grow.
Our sources tell us that the amount of unrestricted funds in the Reserve account are dwindling which could be the explanation for why fewer reserve funds were used to offset expenses in 2007--there were fewer funds available. We have submitted a Freedom of Information request for the composition of the Reserve Fund so that we can see how much is unrestricted versus restricted.
Unrestricted Reserve Funds are increased when there is leftover money after all expenses are paid at the end of the year. However, in order to have leftover money at year-end, the town has to learn to live within its budget each year.
The bottom line is that unless the town board finds a way to increase the Unrestricted Reserve Fund balance to offset budgeted expenses, or the town board is more prudent and works to keep spending within the adopted budgeted amounts, the tax rate for not only NYM residents, but all residents will continue to climb.
One further comment tonight. In the Sunday, March 25, 2007 Observer Dispatch Supervisor Earle Reed was quoted as saying "We are addressing problems that are around this town for a long time. He added of the proposed borrowing, "we are going to treat it as our money." That's just the problem Supervisor Reed, you have been treating the money like it is yours! We want you to treat the money as if it is our money--the taxpayers of New Hartford, that is. This is not your business to do with as you like. You need to involve residents and make them feel welcome to participate in the government of this town. Meeting behind closed doors in committee is not the way democracy works!
According to the November 15, 2006 town board minutes:
Woodberry RoadAs I recall, the town had to clean out the gully and rid it of old tires, bicycles, and trash obviously put there by humans! Water can't run when the drainage system is blocked by trash and litter!
Councilman Reynolds sent a letter to Mr. Desanctis about extensive work performed by the highway department over two (2) days in adverse weather. This was a huge undertaking and it is the hope that the problems with Woodberry Road have been corrected.
I wonder how the Observer Dispatch got Mr. DeSanctis' name for a testimonial on stormwater problems? Perhaps they should make a habit of using our "searchable" town board minutes to separate fact from fiction in the Town of New Hartford.
Saturday, March 24, 2007
Click on words in blue print to view past blogs on each of the subjects below:
Do you live in the part of the Village of New York Mills that is in the Town of New Hartford? The 2007 adopted town budget tripled your tax rate per thousand from $.07 in 2006 to $.24 for 2007. We will be blogging more on this subject tomorrow evening.
These bond propositions will not benefit town residents in the Village of New York Mills one iota and yet it will once again almost double your town tax rate, an additional $.18 per thousand is the estimate by the town board. We have researched whether or not Villages outside of Towns can legally be charged for town improvements. So far our research has shown that the town cannot legally charge a village "without the consent of the Village". When the town board was questioned at the March 14, 2007 town board meeting as to whether or not it is legal to charge the Villages for improvements, the town board's reply was "we don't know". Yet they are proceeding to do just that even though they admit they don't know the law in that situation.
We also questioned whether they could just put sidewalks anywhere they want and whether they would let the residents have a say and hold a public hearing prior to sidewalks being constructed. The general opinion of the town board was they weren't sure, however, Councilman Waszkiewicz said he would welcome resident input. That's nice Councilman Waszkiewicz! However, our research has shown that town law says the town board must prepare maps, plans and reports and present them at a public hearing prior to any sidewalks being built in a town. I think perhaps our town attorney needs to step up his "on the job training" that he admitted to at the February 7, 2007 Town Board meeting. Just because this town board doesn't want resident input doesn't mean that Town Law doesn't require it.
Highway Superintendent Roger Cleveland, has already disposed of a 1995 Gradall and illegally entered into a lease purchase agreement for a new "used" Gradall without board approval, or even bothering to go to bid. In fact, he didn't even bother to get a board resolution to declare the 1995 Gradall as surplus, he just advertised the Invitation to Bid.
Town Supervisor Earle Reed found it necessary to either fabricate information to upgrade the town's bond rating with Standard & Poor's or else he is not being honest with town residents. Supervisor Reed told Standard & Poor's that the town is bonding for $3 for a court facility and storm water management and by year end he will be putting $2 million in reserves. I think you will find that means that about $2 million of the bond money will not be spent right away.
End of year transfers total $550,000 compared with other years where the total has been roughly $170,000. Some of those end-of-year transfers were taken out of employee benefit accounts. Concern has been raised as to whether 2006 expenditures were outpacing the budget.
By the way, we submitted a Freedom of Information request for month end financial reports that are supposed to be available in the Town Clerk's office according to town law. Well, we have been informed that they only ones they can't provide right now--in the middle of March 2007--is the one ending December 31, 2006. How coincidental is that? I wonder how they did the 2006 year-end transfers if the year-end financials are not available?
After a year of 25 minute town board meetings twice a month, Supervisor Reed decided to pare the meetings to 25 minutes once a month. It is once again apparent that town residents are not welcome to take part in town government. Supervisor Reed says that the board members work so well in committee they don't need to have more than 1 town board meeting a month.
After 3 years of the town website being done for free by town residents, in May 2006 Councilman Robert Payne took over the town website--then backed out of it when the going got tough and now it is being done by the Dispatch Supervisor. If you previously used the resources on the "old" town website, you have probably clearly noticed the difference. As part of the "take over" Councilman Payne attempted to put the assessments online. However, Councilman Payne found out the "hard way" that he is not computer savvy enough to do it himself. Not to worry because the town board has decided that taxpayers will now be paying SDG in Utica about $4,000 to do what was previously done by town residents for free.
The Resident Sidewalk Committee is made up of town department heads and a couple of town department committee members. Councilman Payne, when asked where are the residents on the Resident Sidewalk Committee at one of the informational meetings, smugly said, "Aren't they all residents?"
Looks like some of the people benefiting from the $2 million stormwater management bond will be the town attorney and his law firm, albeit illegally. And speaking of the town attorney aka head of the Town Republican committee, you don't want to miss his version of how residents are selected as Republican candidates in the Town of New Hartford.
On March 7, 2007, we submitted a Freedom of Information request for the purchase of 1 Oxford Crossing. That is the building that was to be a court facility, then a police station and additional town office and now a public safety building according to the handout they mailed this week We asked for:
1. any plans, drawings, etc. showing the details of how the building at 1 Oxford Crossing will be configured if the Town of New Hartford purchases the building..To date, we have not been given any information regarding our request. Is the information not available or does the town board not want residents to see what they have concocted "behind closed doors"?
2. the name of the person(s) (contractor or architect, etc.) who gave the $500,000 renovation estimate to the town and the date of the estimate.
3. Copy of the written estimate, if available, giving a breakdown of the costs associated with each part of the $500,000 renovation estimate. Otherwise, some kind of breakdown for the $500,000 renovation costs.
4. The latest purchase offer signed by both the town and Mr. Schuurman. I already have the December purchase offer. According to Attorney Green because of the delay of the bond vote, a new purchase offer would need to be signed. That is the copy I want--it should be dated after January 17, 2007.
5. The status of any leases currently in effect for offices at 1 Oxford Crossing including the date the leases expire and whether or not all current renters are willing to vacate the property upon purchase by the town.
These are just some of the items you will be able to read about by browsing through our blog entries. We have provided Freedom of Information articles and reports to back up the information in our blog entries. Residents have a reason to be concerned. This bonding will not solve any of the town's problems and given the lack of information, we are concerned that residents have not been given the whole truth.
Please vote on Thursday, March 29, 2007. If you need to find out where to vote, please use our Where Do I Vote? program. By entering your street, you will be able to find out the polling place for your ward and district. We also have much more information regarding each of the bond propositions on our website.
Friday, March 23, 2007
Did you get your "new" brochure in the mail yesterday or today. I got mine and thought I would share in case you didn't get the last 3 or 4 copies the town board has presented. They have not added one new piece of information since they presented the bond resolutions on November 1, 2006. In fact, they are no longer telling you what each of the bonds amounts are. We mentioned to them at each of the informational meetings that the bond amounts are missing. I guess at this point, we can safely assume they don't care.
They are still doing their negative accounting--not that we should be surprised--they seemed to do a lot of that at year end. See our blog Missing from the March 1, 2007 OD article (cont'd).
Oh, and they changed the layout of the last page so that there is a space for the address. Yes, indeed, our tax dollars at work!
Let me give you a couple of new revelations:
1. The building the town wants to purchase at 1 Oxford Crossing is currently assessed for $563,000. When asked at the November 1, 2006 budget hearing, the assessor said commercial assessments haven't been redone since 2001 because we are no longer in the State Reassessment Program and therefore they are not up to market value.
Au contrare! The assessment is $563,000 because in 2001 when they were reassessing commercial properties, the assessment was lowered by $117,000 instead of raised. Why would that be you might ask? Well, I know for a fact that there wasn't a fire at 1 Oxford Crossing because I would have seen it.
Let's see why would you lower a commercial property---hmm! One reason comes to mind is that maybe not all the space was rented out---commercial property is figured on an income basis. However, since we were in the State Reassessment program until 2004 and all properties were supposed to have been looked at each year, you would have thought the assessor would have checked the next year to see if anything changed. So either the assessor didn't do his job or the rents weren't the reason. Also in early 2003, Mr. Schuurman was willing to pay $900,000 to purchase the building. Doesn't sound like not all the suites were rented out to me.
So what else could have caused a decrease in assessed value in a year when commercial properties were being reassessed. Could be the fact that the town owns the lower parking lot and the access road and in the 1990s the town board gave a lifetime lease to the people who owned the building back in 2001. Gee, I am surprised if that is the reason, because once again one of our members, Concerned Citizens for Honest & Open Government, was able to ascertain that when Mr. Schuurman bought the building, the appraisal firm did not take that as a negative. In fact, since the town granted the original owners a lifetime use of the property, the appraiser we talked to said it is as good as the land being part of 1 Oxford Crossing. So if that is the reason that Maxwell decreased the value of 1 Oxford Crossing, it is a pretty poor reason.
However, I suspect if we told you who owned that building in 2001, you might be able to figure out why the building "really" had a decrease in assessed value. It is probably for the same reason that 2 & 4 Oxford Crossing did not receive an increase in assessment in 2001. Unless, of course, all three of the buildings were not fully rented out---NOT!
2. These are not the only commercial properties in the Town of New Hartford that either didn't have an assessment increase in 2001 or were actually lowered instead of raised. I guess 2001 just wasn't a good year for increased value of commercial property in the Town of New Hartford. Amazing!
3. Assessments and Maxwell's change sheets are a matter of public information and are subject to a Freedom of Information request.
By the way, according to Attorney Gerald Green, the town attorney and head of the Town Republican Committee, the town plans on paying $998,000 for 1 Oxford Crossing if Bond Proposition #5 is passed by the voters on March 29, 2007. How sweet it is!
Incidentally, both 2 & 4 Oxford Crossing are currently assessed for $394,200 in case anyone is wondering. And I have heard that plans may already be in the works to purchase at least one of them for town offices if the vote is passed for the purchase of 1 Oxford Crossing. Wonder what price the town would be willing to pay for one or both of them?
Like I have said before, rumors they are flying! Watch this blog for the "truth"--as we receive documents from the Freedom of Information requests we submit, we will post them so that all taxpayers can be informed! And if we can't get copies of any documents that we request, we will also let you know that.
Democracy--government by the people for the people!
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Don't tell the town, but some of the vehicles they have on the vehicle list were supposedly sold by bid already and they aren't just the ones marked with an asterisk (*). According to the note at the bottom of page 2 of the vehicle list, the vehicles marked with an asterisk (*) mean that the plates have been turned in to Dept. Motor Vehicles and they are in the process of being removed from the Town's Insurance. Well, there are some that the town already sold that are still on the list with no asterisk so I guess the town doesn't worry about things like insuring some vehicles we don't own. Wonder if they worry about insuring all vehicles we do own? Actually, that was the intent of the "vehicle list" that by board resolution is supposed to be in the Town Clerk's office and up-to-date. It is supposed to make sure that when a town vehicle gets into an accident, it is insured since that seemed to be a problem in the past. Oops!
Take a close look at this vehicle list. Ever notice how according to the Highway Superintendent we are always replacing vintage equipment. In fact, the Gradall that is part of Bond Resolution #6 replaced a 1995 Badger that has already been sold. If 1995 is vintage, I must be an antique! By the way, according to Bond Proposition #6 for Heavy Equipment , the "period of probable usefulness" of the equipment is 15 years so how come we are replacing an 11 year old badger with a used 2006 Gradall?
A local contractor paid $9,200 for the 1995 badger, a 1980 Mack truck, a van, and two (2) police vehicles. Funny thing about that transaction. Two bids were received for the 1980 Mack truck. At the recommendation of the Highway Superintendent, the bids were rejected because they were below book value for the truck. After the bid closed, along comes a local contractor to offer $9,200 for all the vehicles and the offer is accepted. Funny thing is that the October 4, 2006 town board meeting, the Highway Superintendent stated that the lowest bid he would accept was $9,200 for all the vehicles and he just happened to have a check in hand for that amount from an undisclosed bidder who turned out to be the local contractor. I bet that local contractor knew something the others didn't--aye? I believe you might see some of our "vintage" equipment plowing Sangertown Mall on a snowy day!
Being that Concerned Citizens for Honest & Open Government is such a diverse group, we just happened to have someone with access to book values for heavy equipment. You won't believe this, but according to our source, the book value for a 1995 badger is anywhere from a low of $9,000 to a high of $26,000 depending on the model and condition! So we turn down two bids for the 1980 Mack truck because the Highway Superintendent deems the bids to be below book value and yet after the bid closes and a third party enters the scene, we sell everything--truck, badger, van, and two police cars--for about the same as the low book value of just the Badger. Sounds like that transaction had the best interest of the taxpayers in mind!
Here's the part that really gets to us. The Badger (being replaced by the Gradall that we are purchasing for $225,800 in Bond Proposition #6) had to have first been advertised for bidding sometime in September because the bid was opened on October 4th, the same day as the bond resolutions were approved by the town board. Yet, when questioned at the March 14th town board meeting, Highway Superintendent Roger Cleveland said he signed the lease purchase agreement for the new "used" Gradall on September 21, 2006 because his department "needs" one. Never mind the fact that there was no money in the budget to pay for the lease, the Gradall lease purchase was subject to permissive referendum and is part of the March 29th vote, there was no Invitation to Bid advertised until February 2007, and the town board did not pass a resolution to allow the Highway Superintendent to enter into the lease purchase agreement, but the equipment that the new Gradall was replacing was sold before the new one was even approved by the voters! So whether we like it or not, the town will purchase the new Gradall because they "need" it. Oh, by the way, the preceding actions by the Highway Superintendent are illegal!
Further investigation has turned up some other rather "strange" items in the town board minutes. It appears that on September 20, 2006, the town board actually declared a 1980 Mack truck and a 1995 Bobcat (front-end loader) as surplus, NOT a 1980 Mack truck and a Badger (excavator). Yet according to the minutes, we sold a 1980 Mack truck and a 1995 Badger so what happened to the 1995 Bobcat--it is not on the equipment list we just received. Where did it go? Did we throw that in for the $9,200 that Mr. Roberts paid us. I have heard a rumor that the bobcat can also be seen at the Sangertown Mall during snowstorms--don't know if it is true. (By the way, Mr. Roberts has a contract to plow Sangertown Mall.) And where will I find the resolution declaring the 1995 Badger as surplus equipment? How did it get sold if the Town Board did not declare it as surplus? And why are we getting rid of 1995 equipment when according to the Bond Proposition #6, that equipment has a 15 year probable usefulness? I am assuming that with a 15 year probable usefulness, we have only depreciated the equipment for 11 of the 15 years!
Before another piece of equipment is purchased, there needs to be a full investigation of the Town of New Hartford Highway Department to determine what equipment the town currently owns and what has happened to the equipment that the town previously owned and somehow has been sold or is "missing".
We have outlined all the pertinent town board minutes, with links directly to the entire minutes in regard to the "sale" of these pieces of equipment that the Town Board and Highway Superintendent are now asking us to vote in favor of replacing in Bond Proposition #6. Please take the time to read them--taxpayers are being ripped off!
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
New York State Consolidated Laws - Town
ARTICLE 8 - FINANCES
S 113. Transfers from general purpose funds to other funds. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the town board may, by resolution, authorize the transfer of surplus moneys, contingent appropriations, and unexpended balances
(1) from the fund maintained for general town purposes and comprised of moneys which, if raised by taxes, would be raised by taxes levied on property in the entire area of the town, to any of the funds or accounts authorized by section one hundred forty-one of the highway law and comprised of moneys which, if raised by taxes, would be raised by taxes levied on property in the entire area of the town; and,
(2) from the fund maintained for general town purposes and comprised of moneys which, if raised by taxes, would be raised by taxes levied solely on property in the area of the town outside of villages, to any of the funds or accounts authorized by section one hundred forty-one of the highway law which are comprised of moneys which, if raised by taxes, would be raised by taxes levied solely on property in such area.
The 2005 budget transfers under the previous administration were pretty much mundane--there were about 2 1/2 pages of transfers that totaled about $170,000. The 2006 budget transfers, on the other hand, are 6 pages that total approximately $550,000. The alarming part is that some of these transfers took money out of employee benefit accounts, such as Hospital, Medical Insurance. Another thing that we found strange is that none of the account names appeared in the budget transfers listed in the December 28, 2006 town board minutes—the only thing listed for the transfers were account numbers, amount of increase, and amount of decrease. Previously, budget transfers listed exactly what account by name was being increased and decreased. This year, we have to look through the budget to try to find out the names of accounts that had been increased and decreased or transfers between accounts. A few of the accounts we couldn't find and you will see a ? in the account name space. By the way, for clarification, the accounts increased are the ones that had a negative balance and the ones in the decrease column are the ones where the money was transferred from. We suppose that we shouldn’t find it odd that the specific account names were not readily available in the town board minutes because this administration seems to prefer keeping residents “in the dark”.
There are only a couple of ways that we can think of where there would be substantial monies left over in employee benefit accounts at year-end. The first would be if the 2006 budget was “padded”. However, keep in mind that the 2006 budget would have been prepared by the previous administration. We also attended the 2006 budget workshops and we know that great care was taken to trim as much “fat” as possible off the 2006 budget to keep the tax rate about $2.00 per thousand. We asked a previous board member if he thought he would have over-estimated the amount of monies needed in the Employee Health/Medical Insurance account. He said he doubted it very much. So how could these transfers have taken place if there were not left-over monies in these accounts?
The second way is if the monies due to be paid for the employee benefits could be paid after January 1, 2007 when the 2007 budget took over and the town was soon to have the 2007 town tax money in their hands. If that is the case and this money was used to balance out other accounts in 2006, in reality that still means that when January 1, 2007 rolled around, Mr. Reed still needed to replenish the Employee benefit accounts with money to pay the employee benefit bills because the 2007 tax monies are already allocated for other items in the 2007 budget. It is sort of a “rob Peter to pay Paul” scenario. You hope at the end of the budget year, you once again have enough accounts with money in them that you can transfer to offset the negatives.
So why would the town say in their letter to Standard & Poor's that they are going to deposit $2 million in surplus into the Reserve Fund. There is only one reason--to “keep up appearances” until they can hopefully get to the point where they do not need to transfer large sums of money between accounts to offset year end balances and can instead add those unrestricted monies to the reserve? Remember, Mr. Reed told Standard & Poor's the $2 million is "surplus"; we are the ones making the assumption that it is $2 million of bond money.
It is important to keep in mind that Reserve Funds are made up of restricted and unrestricted funds. Bond money and the arbitrage money on the bonds are restricted money until the bond principle and interest has been paid in full. The town can only use unrestricted reserve funds to offset negative balances at year-end or to keep the tax rate down at budget time.
Our sources told us that currently most of the money in the Reserve Fund is restricted, meaning that the funds are “earmarked” for certain projects and not available for use for other than the intended purpose.
When a town board continues to take unrestricted money out of its Reserve Fund without replacing it year after year, the “usable” fund balance dwindles and that can become a problem because it leaves no money for emergencies. In order to replace unrestricted funds in the Reserve Fund Balance, the town board will have to carefully budget money and pay close attention to expenditures so as to not spend the entire year's budget by mid-July thus creating shortfalls at year-end.
Judging by the 2007 year-end transfers and the signed contracts thus far (Highway Department contracts expired on Dec. 21, 2006 and a new one still has to be agreed upon and signed according to the Town Clerk’s office) that will not be the case with this administration’s budget any time soon unless they raise property taxes.
In our opinion, unless spending habits change, their only recourse to meet expenses and still have unrestricted money to replenish the Reserve Fund at year-end IS to raise property taxes and that would be in addition to the cost of the bonds if the vote is favorable to the town. Remember the quote from yesterday’s blog taken directly out of the NYS Handbook:
“When local government takes expenditures that have been traditionally financed from current appropriations and begin to issue debt to finance such expenditures, it may be an indication that current revenues are not keeping pace with expenditures.”As we have already stated, bond money is restricted money, it has to sit in the Reserve Fund until it is used for the purpose of the bond or until the bond from whence it came is paid off. It is actually illegal to use the bond proceeds for other than the stated purpose of the bonds. Counting on arbitrage from the bond money will not change the true financial picture of New Hartford one iota.
The good thing is that anyone asking for information regarding the amount of money the Town of New Hartford has in reserves, like Standard & Poor’s, would only see a total dollar amount in Reserves unless they specifically asked for a break-down of Restricted vs. Unrestricted Reserve Funds. By the way, we have specifically asked for the break-down of Restricted vs. Unrestricted monies in the Reserve Fund by filing a Freedom of Information request. We will report as soon as we find out.
If you notice in the Standard & Poor’s letter it never mentioned whether the town had restricted or unrestricted reserve funds—they merely mentioned that the Town of New Hartford was “adding an additional surplus (which is a new definition of bond money) of approximately $2 million by year-end, bringing the total fund balance to roughly $5 million, which would be a 79% increase from the prior year’s ending fund balance”. Makes no sense, but they don’t seem to care whether the reserves can be used or not, they just care that the money is there. Residents on the other hand who will eventually see increased tax rates due to overspending are probably not so forgiving.
We feel that residents have a right to know the plans for their tax dollars. Supervisor Reed said in his interview with the Observer Dispatch regarding the town bonding plan on October 24 2006 that the town board will be able to make money by investing the bond money, but realistically how much money can they make on $2 million for a couple of years, best case? It just doesn’t make sense and any money they make in arbitrage on these bonds has to be rolled into the restricted bond money so they can only use it to pay off the bond principal anyway. In actuality, over the long run it will probably cost us more to bond for piddling amounts like $45,000, $92,000 and $150,000 over a number of years then they will be able to recoup with arbitrage. Then there's the cost of the pay and benefits for the comptroller/CFO. And how will they explain to residents why there is nothing to show for the bond money?
To play devil's advocate, there may be a perfectly good reason for the amount of year-end transfers and the accounts that are used to offset them, but given the fact that we know for a fact that Supervisor Reed misrepresented the town to Standard & Poor's, and obviously is not being upfront with residents (the taxpayers) it is difficult to believe that a perfectly good reason does exist and it gives the appearance that something is afoul.
So in our opinion the question is, do you want to bond for money that will be put into the Reserve Fund in order to give the appearance that all is well in the Town of New Hartford until such a time as the town “leaders” can find a way to build up the reserve funds with unrestricted money? All those in favor, say “AYE”!
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Town residents have the right to know what they are paying for!
Monday, March 19, 2007
So what are reserve funds anyway? Reserve funds provide a means for raising money today, investing it and spending the money and earnings in the future. Many towns, as part of their normal budgeting process, may earmark a certain number of dollars to put in their reserve fund perhaps because they foresee they will need some capital expenditures in the future be it a new town building or equipment. Rather than bonding, which costs money, they put “X” amount of money in Reserve to pay for their future needs. If a town sets up a "specific" reserve fund say for capital expenditures it is required that it is done by permissive referendum--in other words, the residents have a chance to put it up for a vote just like we are doing for the bond resolutions that were passed in October 2006.
Another way to add to the Reserve Fund would be to move “surplus monies” at year end into the reserve. Surplus is money that is budgeted and not used by year end. You will notice that sometimes surplus money is used at budget time to keep the tax rate down.
Then there is the moving of bond monies into a reserve fund like the Town of New Hartford plans to do. Perfectly legal; however, we feel that perhaps the Town should be telling residents "the plan" and just what bond monies they can expect to see sitting in a fund hopefully collecting more interest than we are paying and what bond monies would be expended now. Are we buying all the trucks in Proposition 6 or are some of them to be purchased in the future? We know that we are buying the Gradall, we have been paying $5,000 a month to lease it. Is the $150,000 for sidewalks going into a reserve fund and that is why they have yet to even bother to get written approval from the State & County to build sidewalks on the State and County roads Phase I of the sidewalk plan—Tibbitts Road, Oxford Road, Kellogg Road & Oneida Street? Are they truly going to pay off the Bond Anticipation Notes (BAN)in Proposition 1 & 2 like they say or are we going to continue paying interest only on the BANs for the next couple of years and put the bond money in Reserve? How much of the $2 million in stormwater will we see spent this year? When we asked Roger Cleveland how soon the stormwater money would be all spent, he just said they would spend it as fast as they can. How about the $92,000 for lighting at the Recreation Center and the Highway Garage. Will we see those lights installed soon?
Reserve funds are generally “earmarked” and cannot be used for other than the intended purpose. So suppose the town decided to put the $45,000 for the garage renovations into a reserve fund maybe waiting for those grants and member items that they have been talking about to materialize. It could sit there and earn interest, the interest would become part of the reserve fund, but it could never be used for anything other than highway renovations, at least not legally. The only time the money could be used for other than the intended purpose is when the bond principal and interest is completely paid off. There are also restrictions on the amount of time that the town can hold the bond money in reserve. The school district, I am sure, does this all the time. That is why you just saw in the paper that they finally spent the 2001 bond money for laptops in December 2006. They were earning interest on their bond money.
According to an October 24, 2006 editorial in the Observer Dispatch, the town wants to add to its fund balance in order to upgrade their bond rating. So I guess that has been the plan all along; however, perhaps Supervisor Reed should have told Standard & Poor's that they were actually bonding for $4.6 million with up to $2 million going to reserves—that would be $2 million of restricted funds—not money that can be spent anyway the town wants or needs to. According to our sources, the town actually has very little reserve money that can be spent. The majority of the reserve fund is earmarked for specific purposes. The reason Supervisor Reed probably didn’t tell Standard & Poor's about the additional $1.6 million is because if he told them he was bonding for $45,000, $92,000 and $150,000, it might have sent up red flags to the people at Standard & Poor's.
So what is arbitrage? Arbitrage is the difference between the interest paid on bonds and the interest earned by investing the proceeds of the bonds in higher-yielding securities. We specifically asked John Shehadi, CEO of Fiscal Advisors, the financial planners that the town is using for this bonding, if these would be “arbitrage bonds”. He confirmed that they are indeed. Bonds where you plan on investing the money to earn interest have to be declared “arbitrage bonds” before they are sold.
What part of the $4.6 million of bond money is actually going to be spent right away and what part is going to be put into Reserves—what bonded items will be put on hold while the town tries to make arbitrage money? Residents have a right to know. Does the town even know is another good question--plans certainly seem to be lacking from all accounts that we have witnessed.
The October 24, 2006 editorial in the Observer Dispatch says that “they want to add to the fund balance and that is why they chose to bond for smaller-ticket items it normally might pay out of its regular budget.” At the March 14, 2007 Town Board Meeting, Village of New Hartford Mayor said that the town was bonding for small items in order to get a better rate on the bonds. We contend that they decided to bond for everything they could to reach that magic $5 million mark—the point at which they would still be considered a "small issuer" and not be subject to as many Federal regulations as they would if they were bonding for over $5 million. In order to bond for an item, it has to have a useful life and be subject to depreciation. Are they bonding for "unneeded" items just to have as much money as possible to play the arbitrage game with? We also contend that they bonded for everything they could in order to keep the tax rate increase at $.04 over the 2006 rate. Supervisor Reed didn’t want an “uproar” just before the school bond issue was up for a vote. Had he put some of these items in his 2007 budget, the tax rate would have been much higher.
Ironically, the tax rate for New York Mills residents who live in the Town of New Hartford has more than tripled this year, going from $.07 in 2006 to $.24 in 2007. We still haven't figured out how they did that! If you live in New York Mills/Town of New Hartford, this bonding will add another $.18 per thousand of assessed value to your tax bill-almost doubling your 2007 tax rate--that is if their current figures are correct. How many of the benefits of this bonding do you think you will see in New York Mills?
By the way, in the October 24, 2006 editorial, the town board said the bonding would only add $.05 per thousand in 2010, now it is up to $.18 per thousand with no date of when we will first see the increase. Another instance where they keep changing the facts. It is difficult to know what to believe at this point!
The Federal Government has very strict rules set up for municipalities putting bond money into reserves with the expectation of getting more interest on the money than they would pay out on the bonds.
B. Limiting Arbitrage Profits (excerpt from article Municipal Bond Tax Issues Explained
Tax-exempt bonds bear interest at a lower rate than comparable taxable securities. This enables a local government unit (in normal market conditions) to issue tax-exempt bonds, take the bond proceeds, and invest them in higher yielding taxable securities. Of course, local governments do not pay income taxes, so the spread between the interest payments on the bonds and the interest earnings on the investments is profit to the local government. This profit is called "arbitrage."
As you can imagine, the Feds are not thrilled with local governments taking advantage of the tax exemption to earn arbitrage. The Feds want to see the bond proceeds spent as soon as possible on the project being financed.
The Feds use two primary mechanisms to limit arbitrage: "temporary periods" and "rebate." A local government is permitted to earn arbitrage only during a "temporary period"; once the temporary period ends, bond proceeds may not be invested at a rate in excess of the bond yield. The most common temporary period rule states that a local government must spend at least 85% of its bond proceeds within three years (subject to certain exceptions, of course).
Basically, arbitrage can only be for up to 3 years (although there are exceptions, such as a workers’ strike that delays capital projects) and you have to spend up to 85% of the bonds within the 3 years. So based on the Standard & Poor’s letter, the town is planning on putting almost half of the money into reserves. We are sure that is why Mr. Timpano is working with the town and that is why Supervisor Reed thinks he “needs” a comptroller. Arbitrage is a tricky game and without someone who knows what they are doing, the town can get burned. There are very strict IRS regulations that must be followed. While this type of financing may work very well for the County, and school district who have more money to “play” with than the town, but we do not believe that it is a wise decision for our town. We don’t have the kind of budget where we can make up shortfalls without increasing the tax rate. They make an investment mistake and we will pay for it. We all know how the County handles their money. We don’t have a town sales tax that we can impose on shoppers or a tobacco settlement to offset mistakes—therefore, mistakes will be covered by property taxes.
The main problem of this administration is that they work on a “need to know” basis and they don’t think that taxpayers have a need to know anything. They should outline just what they plan to do with the money—that should be part of the plan. Obviously, they don’t have a plan and that is why they cannot answer the questions that have been asked at the “informational” meetings. Are they planning on bonding every year--they can't answer that question. To date, we have seen nothing to convince us that this administration has the skills needed to play this "arbitrage" game; they are still trying to get a handle on Town Law!
I will leave you with a quote from the NYS Local Government Handbook:
“When local government takes expenditures that have been traditionally financed from current appropriations and begin to issue debt to finance such expenditures, it may be an indication that current revenues are not keeping pace with expenditures.”To view more on this subject, I have a pdf file with some pages from the NYS Local Government Handbook published by the State of New York. I have boxed some of the key points in red.
Next, we will tell you what has given us a reason to be concerned about the town budget.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Anyone remember when Town Supervisor Earle Reed was patting himself on the back for increasing the town’s bond rating? He mentioned it at a town board meeting--even posted “the letter” from Standard & Poor's on the Town website and I believe there was mention of it in the Observer Dispatch.
Excerpt From the December 28, 2006 Town Board Meeting:
Town’s Bond Rating
Supervisor Reed acknowledged receipt of a letter from Standard and Poors reaffirming the Town’s Bond Rating at “A”, an increase to stable from negative.
You had to be at that town board meeting to really see how proud Town Supervisor Earle C. Reed was of the town's accomplishment! Here is the letter from the town’s website, or at least the part they wanted residents to read:
Standard & Poor's
But, being that some members of Concerned Citizens for Honest & Open Government are bankers and financial people, we realized that there had to be more to the letter than the two (2) pages posted on the town website. So we did the only thing we could---we submitted a Freedom of Information request to get a complete copy of the Standard & Poor's letter.
Well, we finally received our copy from the Town Clerk--it cost us $1.00 because copies are $.25 per page. Hmm! If you do the math—that means that there is actually four (4) pages to the letter—not two (2) like the town wanted everyone to believe!
So what part of the Standard & Poor's letter did the Town Board leave out? Well, they left out the explanation of why Standard & Poor's gave them an increase from negative to stable. Here is the complete Standard & Poor's letter—pages 1 & 2 are exactly what the town board made public, but let’s concentrate on pages 3 & 4.
I'll begin by telling you exactly what is so important about a Standard & Poor's rating. Here is a statement right from Standard & Poor's website:
Every day investors and financial professionals the world over look to one firm for financial market intelligence that is authoritative, objective and credible. Standard & Poor’s credit ratings, indices, investment research and data provide financial decision-makers with the information and opinions they need to feel confident about their decisions.So if a town were going to bond, they would ask Standard & Poor's to rate them so they could get the best rate of interest on their bonds and a good rating makes it easier to "sell" the bonds. O.K., good job Supervisor Reed--you raised our rating, but unfortunately, it would appear that you either aren't telling residents the truth or you are stretching the truth to Standard & Poor's. Which is it, Supervisor Reed?
So what information will we find on the missing pages 3 & 4? There are probably several half-truths, but let's concentrate on the "biggies", shall we?
On page 1 of the additional pages (or page 3 of our pdf file), it says:
"Furthermore, new management estimates an additional surplus of approximately $2 million by year-end, bringing the total fund balance to roughly $5 million, which would be a 79% increase from the prior year's ending fund balance."
What? Where do you plan on getting an extra $2 million to put in the Reserve Fund, Supervisor Reed?
Here's another good one on the bottom of page 2 of the additional pages (or page 4 of our pdf file):
"Management is anticipating a possible debt issuance in early to mid 2007 for a storm water improvement project and for a court and police building project, totaling approximately $3 million."
Really? I could have sworn that the TOTAL bonding amounted to $4.6+ million and I thought the storm water project was for $2 million and the police building was for $1.5 million--that makes $3.5 million, not $3 million. And why does Standard & Poor's think we have a court building project? You told us that was a mistake on the first Bond Proposition #5 we saw. In fact, you even finally changed the Bond Proposition, remember, Mr. Reed? Now I don't know what to believe! Was the fact that the first time we saw Bond Proposition #5 and it said it is for a court facility really a mistake, or does it all fit in with Hon. James Tormey's visit to the March 14, 2007 Town Board meeting? I saw an article regarding his visit in the March 15th Observer Dispatch. The article said, "District Administrative Judge James C. Tormey and Supervising Judge James P. Murphy, who made the presentation, said they're interested in making New Hartford Town Court a model court and are trying to get additional funding from the state to carry out the redesign process". I was there, and I heard the presentation. Town Justice William Virkler was also there, but the Observer Dispatch didn't mention him.
Also, Supervisor Reed, did you forget to mention to Standard & Poor's the other $1.6 million of bonding you are asking voters to approve on March 29, 2007? I thought the total bonding amounted to $4.6+ million, not $3 million as you told Standard & Poor's. Am I wrong about that?
So you may ask where does Standard & Poor's get their information? Maybe they are the ones that made a mistake. Au contrare!
Excerpts from page 1 of the Standard & Poor's letter:
"The rating is based on informatin supplied to us by you or by your agents but does not represent an audit. We undertake no duty of due diligence or independent verification of any information. "
"Standard & Poor's relies on the issuer/obligor and its counsel, accountants, and other experts for the accuracy and completeness of the information submitted in connection with the rating. To maintain the rating, Standard & Poor's must receive all relevant financial information as soon as such information is available."
Now I get it! Standard & Poor's is merely giving you a rating based on what you told them or somebody reporting to them on your behalf told them, "aye?" Supervisor Reed. Holy Cow!
This discussion is to be continued. It gets complicated so we will give it to you in "doses". We will let you know our take on why Supervisor Reed thinks he "needs" a comptroller or CFO or whatever he is calling the job these days.
Saturday, March 17, 2007
Through the years, I had made contact with town highway personnel. My complaint(s) fell on deaf ears. What initially became a nuisance became more of a dangerous situation because not only of the depth of the water running its northerly course but the fact that the current was so strong that small children playing in the backyards could easily have been washed away by the current and drowned.
Roger Cleveland has known about this problem and knew too, that a diversion culvert repeatedly needed cleaning to handle this runoff water. However, Mr. Cleveland did not feel it was worth his time and effort to remove the large amounts of debris which was blocking the water receptacle and consequently causing huge amounts of water runoff to run down my neighbors Sylvan Glen Road backyards and cross onto/over Pleasant Street to continue a journey into the backyards of the homes of people living on the Utica Parkway. I did learn when reading Town minutes that the town did pay the City of Utica between $7-10,000 or more to assist with the drainage/runoff problems caused by the Town Highway Engineer’s negligence.
In July 2006, the area experienced rainstorms which repeated the events of prior years only lasting longer, deeper runoffs and much more damage than had ever been incurred before. In fact, I filed a Notice of Claim against the town seeking unspecified damages. The Town turned my claim over to their “insurance” carrier, however, I recently found out that their insurance carrier is not licensed to practice in New York State. I have since filed a complaint with the New York State Insurance Department who is investigating this matter and may take legal action against parties that appear culpable in this matter.
Ironically, the Town’s $2 million Storm Water Bonding Proposal fails to make any mention whatsoever about my water runoff problem and doubt if the Town is genuinely concerned with any of the town resident’s water problems. This Bond proposal simply does not pass the “smell” test.
Gerry Green the town attorney recently came to the Board and solicited approval to one of my neighbors situated on Beckwith Circle for water damaged property because of the Town’s on-going negligence. My neighbor failed to file a Notice of Claim within the mandated ninety (90) days period, however, Mr. Green “persuaded” the Board Members to approve an illegal payment for the damages sustained. Mr. Green knew this to be an illegal payment of Town monies but “argued” with Town Officials to make the payment for damages sustained.
The moral of the above story is not what you know, but WHO YOU KNOW!
Signed: Edmund J. Wiatr, Jr.
Thank you, Ed! Here are two pictures sent to me by Ed Wiatr.
Stormwater problems in the Town of New Hartford are everyone’s problem. However, it is not the responsibility of every taxpayer to continually fund “fixes” that don’t work or never happen. There is no doubt that those homeowners that have serious stormwater problems need to have their problems addressed.
According to Highway Superintendent Roger Cleveland, some homeowner’s stormwater problems can’t be fixed. Mr. Cleveland, why not let those residents know that you can’t fix their problems and tell them why. At the informational meetings you kept saying you have a plan, let’s see this “plan”. What problems will you be able to fix and how much will the “fixes” cost? WHEN will these problems be fixed? Give us a timeline for addressing each of the problems. Account for the $2 million in bonding, Mr. Cleveland because taxpayers have a right to know how you plan to spend their money.
At the August 16, 2006 Town Board meeting Supervisor Reed indicated that he didn’t know how the town will proceed.
(Excerpt from the August 16, 2006 Town Board Minutes in regards to concerns raised by residents who experienced stormwater problems during the July storms.)
Supervisor Reed stated that these are complex questions and the Town does not have a quick answer. The Town is looking at a GEIS. Councilman Waszkiewicz explained to those present what a GEIS entails.Complex questions and the Town does not have a quick answer?—Well, apparently they found one, because 3 weeks later they had a signed agreement with Paravoti, Karl, Green & DeBella (Town Attorney Gerald Green's law firm) and plans are underway to bond for $2 million. They even wasted no time in passing a Stormwater Policy.
If you are a resident of the Town of New Hartford and you have a stormwater problem and want to let everyone know about it, please email us at New Hartford, N.Y. Online and we will post the information on our blog. Include the area and as much information as possible, along with attaching pictures. Also give some history, including the number of times you have asked the Highway Dept. to help you, etc. We all have to work together in order to get the results we all would like to see!
Please read our previous post for more on the Stormwater bonding. Also, be sure to read our other "eye-opening" blogs from the past couple of weeks. We have more--we have done our homework--stay tuned!
Friday, March 16, 2007
Let me first show you what was given to us when we asked for information as to where the stormwater fixes would occur. Stormwater Areas--As you can see, this is merely a list of streets where stormwater issues have probably been identified in the past. Doesn't say what they are going to do, when, or how much it will cost or even if they are going to do anything on these streets. At every informational meeting we have asked for more specific information as to what the plans are, a rough idea of costs associated with the "fixes", in other words "How do you plan on spending $2 million?" Each meeting, Roger Cleveland says he has the information and will make it available, but we haven't seen anything yet.
We happened to tape the February 28, 2007 informational meeting so that we could relay the information to you in case you were unable to attend.
Let me give you a transcript of the stormwater questions asked at the February 28, 2007 informational meeting. I will start by identifying who is talking:
Member - a member of the Concerned Citizens for Open & Honest Government
Highway Superintendent – Roger Cleveland
Councilman Payne – Ward 1
Councilman Reynolds – Ward 3 (Village of New Hartford)
Transcript regarding $2 million Stormwater Bond:
Member - Do you think all stormwater problems would get fixed.
Highway Superintendent - “No, no, I do not.”
Member - “When do you see coming back for more money?”
Highway Superintendent - “I think we target some of the drainage basins that have been identified. I don’t think we are ever going to solve every private homeowners’ problems. Not in a million years because if we design this for a 100 year storm or two hundred year storm or 500 year storm, with the way things have been going we will probably get a 550 year storm.”
Member - So not everybody is going to be satisfied?
Highway Superintendent - “I don’t think so.”
Member - "Do you plan on bonding for more money in the future?"
Highway Superintendent - "If we need to I think we would come back to the public. I’m the Highway Superintendent, not the Town Board, but I think what we need to do is take a look at these large drainage basins that we have right now and try to incorporate individual homeowners’ fixes along the way, because sometimes those can be done relatively inexpensively, but are we going to satisfy every person in this town? Probably not."
Councilman Reynolds - “But I think this will go a long way to address the issues that have been identified through studies that we spent a lot of money on to procure these studies and have never been able to pull the trigger on them because we didn’t have the funding to do what they are suggesting is going to solve the issues."
Member - "Will we see some kind of a progress report with how much money has been spent so far, what it has been spent on, where it has been spent?"
Highway Superintendent - "I think that is an excellent idea."
Councilman Payne - “Cathy, Roger and I were speaking about that today and as we progress on these projects, our thought is to publicize them so that all town residents know that we have focused in a particular area, we think we have solved it, now we are moving..just so everyone knows what we are doing."
Member - "Are these monies going to be used to buy easements?"
Highway Superintendent - "Yes."
Member - "Are these easements going to be some kind of negotiations..or is it going to be here’s what we are offering, or are some people going to get more for their easements than other people?"
Highway Superintendent - "That is something we will have to work out with the town board and town attorney, but the easements are going to be negotiated."
Member - "Time frame to spend $2 million?"
Highway Superintendent - "I don’t know.—we will do it as quickly as we possibly can."
Now, let's look at some town board minutes. You can view the minutes of all town board minutes from 2002 to date by visiting our website.
On September 20, 2007 at a regularly scheduled Town Board meeting, the following resolution was passed:
REGULAR TOWN BOARD MEETING
September 20, 2006
Legal Services Agreement – Stormwater Drainage Project - #HC8310.4
Upon the recommendation of the Highway Superintendent, Councilman Payne presented the following Resolution for adoption; seconded by Councilman Reynolds:
(RESOLUTION NO. 272 OF 2006)
RESOLVED that the New Hartford Town Board does hereby authorize and direct the Town Supervisor to enter into and to execute an Agreement For Legal Services for Stormwater Drainage Project - #HC8310.4 between the Town of New Hartford and the law firm of Paravati, Karl, Green & DeBella, 12 Steuben Park, Utica, New York at an hourly rate of One Hundred Fifty Dollars ($150)…
The Resolution was declared unanimously carried and duly ADOPTED.
We found that to be an interesting agreement between the town and Paravati, Karl, Green & DeBella for work at an hourly rate of $150 on the Stormwater Drainage Project that hasn’t even been approved by the voters yet. So we submitted a Freedom of Information request for the four (4) page agreement.
Let’s take a look. The agreement is with the law firm of Paravati, Karl, Green & DeBella. Let’s introduce one of the players in that law firm. The "Green" in Paravati, Karl, Green & DeBella is none other than the New Hartford Town Attorney who is also the Chairman of the New Hartford Republican Committee. Whoa!
We were sure this must be a conflict of interest and so we did some searching on the internet and sure enough. Legal Opinion 2000 - 22 from the Office of the State Comptroller. It looks like if the agreement was in place prior to Mr. Green’s appointment as town attorney, it would be acceptable to continue the agreement until the end of the term as long as he disclosed “his interest in the contract publicly and in writing to the town board, and the disclosure must be included in the official record of the town board's proceedings (General Municipal Law §803)". However, Attorney Green was appointed as town attorney in January 2006 and this agreement was entered into on September 6, 2006 and unanimously approved by the Town Board on September 20, 2006. Therefore, the contract was drawn up and signed almost 9 months after Attorney Green became the Town Attorney.
So, for further explanation, let's look at the same Opinion from the Office of the State Comptroller, but this time look at footnote 2 as quoted below:
“2. Although the powers and duties of town attorneys are not generally prescribed by statute, we have previously noted that town attorneys commonly possess one or more of the powers and duties that may give rise to a prohibited interest in a contract (see, e.g., 1989 Opns St Comp No. 89-65, p 143; 1981 Opns St Comp No. 81-102, p 101). We have also noted that because it is the existence of these powers and duties which gives rise to a prohibited contractual interest, recusal will not cure a prohibited interest in a contract (see, e.g., Opn No. 89-65, supra, 1988 Opns St. Comp No. 88-14, p 25).”
Everyone, please note that "recusal will not cure a prohibited interest in a contract". Perhaps, Mr. Green should have done some research before he entered in this contract with the town. Looks like the Office of the State Comptroller is saying that this is a no-no!
There are other General Municipal Town Laws mentioned in the Opinion. You can read them all, if you choose, by putting the particular law in a search engine. All town laws are easily accessible on the internet.
Let’s take this one step further by reading some of the actual agreement. Attorney Green's law firm will be paid $150 an hour for all the services outlined in numbers 1-11 of this agreement. Check it out! Looks like some people would profit from this Stormwater Bond, but it might not necessarily be people with stormwater problems.
Let me quote from the agreement on page 4 – second sentence in item number 10. “The Attorneys acknowledge that the formation of the subject Stormwater Project has already been achieved and bonding previously arranged."
Hmm! This agreement was drafted on September 6, 2006, unanimously signed by the Town Board on September 20, 2006 and the bond resolutions weren’t even voted on by the Town Board until the October 4, 2006 Town Board Meeting. Guess we sort of took them by surprise when we collected the needed signatures to force a vote. Just one more example of how they planned to just quietly push ahead with creating town debt without asking for any input from residents. The contract is even signed by Gerald J. Green on behalf of Paravati, Karl, Green & DeBella. Incredible!
Just as a side note, in the early 1990s, the Town of New Hartford bonded $2.4 million for stormwater--the town just finished spending that money in 2005, I believe. I started searching through Town Board Minutes and outlining some of the areas that we have previously addressed with that bond money as well as some member items and grants, but the list became to long and difficult to manage so I ask you, if you are interested in the money already spent, please put some of these street names in our searchable town board minutes or just enter the word "stormwater" to get some idea of what has been done and yet we still have problems. Either this money is not being spent wisely or we need to look for outside help to correct the situation. This $2 million will make a total of $4.4 million dollars and we still have no guarantees that anything will be fixed. Some of the last stormwater bond monies even went to overtime for Highway workers to clean ditches. It is in the town board minutes! This time it looks like others will also share some of the cache. If you have stormwater problems, don't you want to make sure that your problem is "fixable" and will be "fixed" before you vote to spend $2 million?
There is still more to be told--we have done our homework...keep watching and reading!