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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, September 24, 2009
By Anne Hayden
GUILDERLAND Before the tentative town budget for next year has been filed, the process for building and reviewing it is being questioned.
A town board meeting was originally on the schedule for Tuesday, Oct. 6, but at the meeting on the Sept. 17, Peter Golden, making his first run for supervisor on the Republican ticket, challenging incumbent Democrat Kenneth Runion, pointed out to the board that both state law and Guilderland code dictate that the preliminary budget be presented to the board by Oct. 5.
Warren Redlich, a Republican councilman, half of a two-member minority on the board, suggested a special meeting to review the preliminary budget on Oct. 1, but Runion asked to move the town board meeting to Oct. 5 and combine it with the budget discussion. That decision was unanimously approved.
Runion told The Enterprise yesterday that a budget was drafted, and would be submitted to the town clerk on Sept. 28.
“You would think we would have more than one meeting; I don’t think one meeting will be enough,” Redlich told The Enterprise. “Moving the meeting was a reasonable compromise, though.”
Both Golden and Redlich expressed concern that some of the deadlines set forth in the Guilderland code had not been met.
“Deadlines are there for a reason,” said Golden. “Not only do I think the law should be followed, but I think this should be an open, public process.”
Redlich sent Runion a memorandum telling him that, according to Guilderland code, the town comptroller should have provided the town board with an estimate of revenues and indebtedness by Aug. 1; Redlich asserted that this had not been done.
The code also indicates that department heads should submit budget requests to the supervisor’s office by Aug. 22. Redlich said Runion had received the requests and told the town board that he would provide them with the numbers, and must present them to the board at least seven days before the meeting.
“I don’t think the appropriate process was followed last year, but I was new and I didn’t know it. I want to make sure it is followed this year,” said Redlich.
Runion told The Enterprise that the town comptroller, Jean Sterling, had furnished an estimate of revenues and indebtedness to the supervisor’s office, and the town board members were provided with monthly reports. The monthly reports include expenditures and projected revenues, Runion said, and therefore Sterling had no reason to prepare another document.
According to Redlich, board members did receive monthly reports, but not consistently. He said that a report was due in August, but had not been provided to board members at either of the two September meetings.
Runion also said that all department heads had submitted budget requests well before Aug. 22. The department heads had been asked to submit their requests by Aug. 1, said Runion, and he met with the different department heads on Aug. 14 and Aug. 17 to go over the numbers.
“We met all the deadlines well ahead of time,” said Runion. “The laws that Redlich and Golden cited are really just guidelines that were written by Yerbury,” he said, referring to former republican supervisor Jerry Yerbury, “and they conflict with state laws. They are not strict a day here or there really wouldn’t make a difference,” he said. The most important dates, according to Runion, are Sept. 30, which is when the preliminary budget must be filed, and Nov. 5, and the budget must be finalized.
Golden and Redlich strongly feel that the budget information should be made available to the public.
“I think the community should be able to attend workshops to understand what’s going on with the budget. When you don’t make it clear what money is for, it’s not a good sign of fiscal discipline,” said Golden.
In his memo to Runion, Redlich suggested that all documents be added to the town website.
“We always put the tentative budget online after it is filed with the town clerk. The other documents, like the department requests, aren’t in a format that can be put online,” said Runion.
“I suspect that the town has software that can convert Microsoft Word or Excel documents to PDF documents. We should give the public as much information as we possibly can,” Redlich responded through The Enterprise.
“An open budget process makes taxing a community a lot easier to deal with,” said Golden.