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Orangetown Auditors Warn Against Fund Balance Use

The Orangetown Council will hold another special public budget meeting 7 p.m. Thursday night at the town hall.

Orangetown Auditors Warn Against Fund Balance Use

Orangetown's search for answers in the planning of the 2013 budget continues with a special town board meeting 7 p.m. tonight at the town hall.

The town board asked the heads of each department to turn one proposed budget with no increase from 2012 and another with a five percent decrease. 

"We told them that they had to come in at zero and absorb labor costs and give us options for five percent reductions and that would inform the board's decisions," Orangetown Supervisor Andy Stewart said. "Just because they can come up with five percent (to cut), doesn't mean it's the right thing to do."

The public presentations by the department heads have focused on the versions of the budgets with no increase, not the ones with additional cuts.

"Some people chose not to acknowledge that we told them to come in at five percent (under 2012)," Councilman Tom Diviny said. "There is going to be cost-cutting. No doubt about that."

One option to limit cuts is the use of fund balance, which was part of what the town board did with the 2012 budget. That was a major part of the discussion when representatives of O'Connor Davies, LLP spoke with the board Tuesday. 

"It reiterated what we already knew. You have to be careful spending down the fund balance," Stewart said. 

Board members asked how low it would be safe to go, but there was not a clear answer. The primary advice given was to look beyond just the 2013 budget. Spending fund balance means the town is losing money unless there is some plan to replace it.

"If you use $500,000 from the general fund to balance the 2013 budget and you are pretty conservative on appropriations, it's likely you are not going to replace that fund balance at the end of 2013," said Nicholas DeSantis of O'Connor Davies. "Now you need another $500,000, all things being equal, to keep the 2014 budget the same as 2013.

"The deferral of expenses is an acceptable financing method if it is part of a plan. It would be wise, if you are going to do that, to not only look at the 2012, budget year and do a projection for 2013, but to also do a thumbnail sketch for 2014 and 2015. You have to go a bit beyond to see what the impact of those decisions is going to be."

The discussion also made it clear that not all of the town's fund balance is available to be spent. Some is tied up in assets or in funds with restrictions. 

"No one expected this recession to last this long," said Nicholas DeSantis of O'Connor Davies. "Many places vacuum cleaned their reserves. In good times, you were prudent enough to put reserves aside. In order to continue the level of municipal services at the desired level, now you have to increase taxes to help you get through this period of time. The conundrum is the citizens are in the same circumstances you find yourselves in as a town board. There is no easy solution." 

DeSantis acknowledged that the answers his firm provided did nothing to alleviate difficult challenge the town faces in putting together the 2013 budget. They just reinforced the reasons for concern.

"Now we will leave before you tar and feather us," DeSantis joked.

The town board heard from the Justice Court, Department of Environmental Management and the Office of Building, Zoning, Planning, Administration and Enforcement (OBZPAE) Tuesday.

Justice Court

One primary focus of the conversation was the court's progress in dealing with the backlog of cases, which brings in revenue for the town through fines. 

"We significantly reduced them," Orangetown Town Justice Richard Finning said. "We were two and a half years out. Now we are 18 months out."

Finning said he saw no reason why the progress and the increased revenue would not continue. This was part of the agreement with the town board to give the Justice Court help it requested.

"I commend Judge Finning for living up to the agreement," Councilman Denis Troy said. 

Building Department (OBZPAE)

Building Department Director John Giardiello said his department's revenue is up from last year. He found a number of areas to save to absorb increasing labor costs while turning in a budget proposal with no increase.

He also suggested leasing the land at RPC to contractors for the upcoming Tappan Zee Bridge Project.

"I know the contractors will need places to mobilize and store equipment," Giardiello said. "That is going to be a large project, so they are going to need multiple places. That may be somewhere to get some revenue, at least until you do something more permanent with it."

Giardiello was asked about possibly raising fees, but he felt it was not an appropriate time.

Department of Environmental Management (DEME)

Some savings in the DEME came from plans that have already been initiated, such as using internal labor for the Piermont pump station upgrades. Troy said that was an important improvement over past administrations that did not take proper advantage of the expertise of DEME employees.

"The men appreciate the confidence we show in them when we do this," Moran said.

Moran provided a budget with no increases and promised one with a five percent cut from 2012 by the end of the week. 

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