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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 1, 2009

Budget battles
Runion says Redlich broke law

By Anne Hayden

GUILDERLAND — A Republican councilman says the Democratic supervisor is breaking the law, shutting him and the public out of the budget-building process.

Supervisor Kenneth Runion filed the preliminary $30 million town budget for 2010 yesterday, the state’s deadline, but Councilman Warren Redlich is concerned that the supervisor did not meet the deadlines set forth by a portion of the Guilderland Town Code adopted in 1997.

Democrats form the majority of the five-member board.

At issue are budget requests made by department heads, which the law says the supervisor will supply to board members. He has not, says Redlich. Runion said board members can come to him and ask to see the requests.

Also at issue are estimates of revenues and indebtedness for the budget year, which, according to the town’s law, the comptroller is to supply, in written form, to board members by Aug. 1.

“We don’t know how much we owe,” said Redlich. “Supervisor Runion expects us to vote on a $30 million budget without adequate information.”

State law requires that the town board be presented with a tentative budget by Oct. 5, at which the board adopts a preliminary plan.

“This isn’t really a preliminary budget,” Redlich said, of the documents Runion supplied him with one week before the budget meeting.

“He can complain all he wants, but what he’s got is what he’s going to get,” responded Runion through The Enterprise. The supervisor added that the town board members would be receiving a boiled-down summary of a detailed 78-page document on Sept. 30, after he filed the tentative budget.

“That’s not timely,” said Redlich, since Sept. 30 is just five days away from the budget meeting. “It’s a scary thing when a leader of the government starts deciding which laws apply to him and which don’t. If he wants to change the town code, he should bring it before the town board.”

The town board meeting at which the budget was discussed last year went into the wee hours of the morning, because the members had many questions that needed to be answered. Redlich said he predicts the same will be true of this year.

Ongoing problems

In an Enterprise budget story published last week (go to www.altamontenterprise.com, under Guilderland archives, for the week of Sept. 24), Redlich expressed his disappointment that Runion had not provided board members with a copy of estimates of revenues and indebtedness from Sterling, or written budget requests from all department heads. The town code sets August deadlines for both items.

Runion told The Enterprise last week that Sterling had submitted estimates of revenues and indebtedness to his office, but that, since the board members received monthly reports containing those figures, Sterling had no need to draft another document. He also said that budget requests from the department heads had been supplied to his office at the beginning of August, and called the town code deadlines “guidelines” rather than strict rules.

Chapter 13 of the town code was adopted 12 years ago, when Democrat William Aylward was supervisor. Aylward — the town’s first Democratic supervisor heading a Republican dominated board — told The Enterprise yesterday that the code was drafted to make the budget process more open.

Aylward is now serving on the Altamont Village Board and as an Albany County Legislator.

“We wanted to try and make sure that the public would be able to follow the process and understand what went into creating the budget,” Aylward said. He said that, in his opinion, the adopted code worked well, and served its purpose as a framework for drafting the budget and hitting all of the state deadlines ahead of time.

“It was my process to involve the town board in the department head meetings,” said Aylward, adding that the board should have a month to go over the documents.

Town code 13-1 dictates that the supervisor provide board members with a copy of each department-head request within seven days of the scheduled budget meeting. The budget meeting will take place on Oct. 5. Redlich said he had not received a copy of the requests by Sept. 29, six days before the meeting.

Redlich had gotten a 78-page document with summaries of the department requests, and Runion’s subsequent recommendations, along with a six-page document outlining estimated revenues for 2010, he said. Those documents were placed in his box at Town Hall on Sept. 28, said Redlich.

Runion said the columns on the 78-page document labeled “2010 Requested” are the department-head requests Redlich was looking for, but Redlich said he was expecting copies of the forms that department heads were required to fill out, detailing the funds requested, what they would be used for, and what account they would be coming out of.

Town code 13-2 reads, “The public shall be provided access to all budget requests, which shall include a written narrative explanation of said request. The supervisor shall provide each board member with a copy of each request within seven days of the scheduled board meeting.”

“The document doesn’t comply with each line being explained. Fundamentally, the supervisor is required by law to provide town board members with a preliminary budget and the supporting documents so they can have a meaningful discussion,” Redlich said. “Where is this money coming from?” he asked.

Runion said he had the more detailed copies of requests, but would not be furnishing the town board members with them.

“They are my responsibility as chief fiscal officer,” he said, noting that board members could come to him and request to see them if they wanted to.

He also said that the request forms the department heads had filled out were not as detailed as Redlich thought they would be.

“We have never required the department heads to be that detailed. Itemization is done over the course of the year,” said the supervisor.

As for the comptroller’s report of estimated revenues and indebtedness, Runion told The Enterprise that pages one and two of the six-page document Redlich received were a summary of the comptroller’s report. Redlich said the summary did document revenues, but contained no information about indebtedness.

Town code 13-3 says “The comptroller shall provide the supervisor and the board members with a written estimate of revenues and indebtedness for the budget year. Said estimate shall be provided no later than August 1 of each year.”

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