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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, October 13, 2011
Unopposed, Supervisor Runion proposes $31M budget with no tax hike
By Anne Hayden
GUILDERLAND As Supervisor Kenneth Runion prepares to run, unopposed, for his seventh two-year term, the town budget for 2012 takes priority.
The supervisor’s plan keeps the tax rate steady, making up for the sharp increase in retirement contributions by cutting jobs and freezing all town workers’ salaries.
A preliminary budget of $30,774,810 was submitted by the required deadline on Sept. 30, after two budget workshops with town board members and department heads had been held. Another budget workshop was conducted last week, with another scheduled for tonight.
That total amount is down $303,018 from the 2011 budget; the tax rate would remain the same, at 26 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
“The budget has been a lot of work, especially trying to balance it,” Runion, a Democrat, told The Enterprise this week.
This biggest factor for most municipalities, but not Guilderland, according to the supervisor, has been the 2-percent tax cap pushed by the governor and passed by the state legislature. As Runion explained it, the Guilderland can not raise the previous year’s tax levy by more than 2-percent.
“In Guilderland, that doesn’t amount to much, because our tax levy is only about $775,000; the 2-percent increase is pretty meaningless in Guilderland,” said Runion. On top of the 2-percent allowable increase, a municipality can increase the levy proportionally to growth and new properties on the assessment roll.
“Even with the new assessed valuation coming in, our levy only increased by about $8,000, which is far less than 2-percent,” said Runion. If a municipality is below the 2-percent tax cap, the remainder can be carried over to the following year.
The issue that most affected Guilderland’s budget for 2012 was the increased contributions required for retirement funds. In 2010, contributions were about $1.1 million; in 2011, they were roughly $1.6 million; in 2012, they will be approximately $2.1 million.
“That’s about a $1 million increase in two years and that’s really where our increased expenditures are; I had to make a lot of cuts to in order to make that happen,” said Runion.
Many of the reductions in expenditure are being carried over from previous years, including closely monitoring supply purchases in all departments, not giving pay increases to any town employees, and keeping overtime hours to a minimum.
New measures proposed for 2012 include taking one school resource officer out of the school and putting that person on the road, and not backfilling the position, said Runion.
“Right now, there are two proposed layoffs a deputy town clerk and a clerical position in building and planning,” said Runion. “The layoffs would be purely budget related.”
The building department has slowed in activity due to the economy, said Runion, so duties can be reassigned. Some positions in the parks and recreation department will be made seasonal, including two golf course employees and two parks employees. Some improvements slated for the parks have been put on hold, he said.
“We’re in a very tough period of time, where we have to maintain and provide the same level of service we’ve provided in the past, and also look at cutting the budget,” concluded Runion. “It’s a delicate balance.”
Open positions for 2012 include two town board seats being vacated by Republicans Mark Grimm and Warren Redlich; town justice; highway superintendent; town clerk; and receiver of taxes.
The Republicans plan to challenge the Democratic incumbent for town justice, and run candidates for town board and highway superintendent, but will leave the town clerk position uncontested, along with the supervisor’s position.
“My goal is to win elections and build a viable party in town, and I think all of our candidates have great qualities to help us do that,” said Matthew Nelligan, chairman of the Guilderland Republican Committee, earlier.
“It is no secret that we are outnumbered in terms of enrollment, outgunned in terms of money, and the Democrats run Town Hall,” Nelligan said.
Enrollment in Guilderland is divided roughly into thirds Democrats, Republicans, and those who are not enrolled or enrolled in a small party.
The GOP, after decades of dominance, lost ground to the Democrats in the 1990s; the town board currently has three Democrats and two Republicans, while other elected posts for clerk, receiver of taxes, and judge are held by Democrats.
The Republican Party is backing Michele Coons and Peter Hubbard for town board, Howard Koff for town judge, and Steve Oliver for highway superintendent.
The Democratic Party will is supporting Brian Forte and Allen Maikels for town board, incumbent John Bailey for town judge, Charles Cahill for highway superintendent, and Rosemary Centi for town clerk.
The Enterprise interviewed the candidates about their views on three issues:
The budget: With increased contributions to retirement funds and a new 2-percent tax cap in place, the town is forced to examine all departments in order to determine where cuts can be made.
Growth: Residential development proposals have been submitted to the town’s zoning and planning boards, but many do not meet the boards’ requirements or are too expensive to build. Development can increase revenues and tax base, but require additional expenditures. The recent economic recession has stagnated the growth of local businesses.
Streamlining town government: In order to reduce costs and make processes more efficient, the town is taking into consideration changing permit processes and eliminating members of the zoning and planning boards.
Allen Maikels, a self-employed certified public accountant, is also being backed by the Independence Party. Maikels has lived in Guilderland for 24 years, and was raised in Albany. He graduated from Siena College in 1976, and earned his certified public accountant license in 1980.
Maikels has been involved in various aspects of government in the past. He was elected to the Albany County Legislature in 1999, in District 30, representing Westmere; he has been a member of the Guilderland Democratic Committee for many years, serving as treasurer since 2007; he is a committeeman in Election District 10; and he currently serves on the zoning board of appeals.
He has also been active in the community in many other capacities, including being a member of the board of Living Resources for 20 years; a member and treasurer of the Albany Airport Authority; and secretary and treasurer of the Albany County Business Development Corporation.
“My background is as a CPA, and day in and day out I work with businesses and organizations to make sure they’re running as efficiently as possible and spending money as wisely as possible,” said Maikels. He believes he could do the same for the town.
“We have to keep looking at how the town can get paid for what they do, aside from raising taxes,” Maikels said. He cited the town’s recent billing change for emergency medical services, which could generate an extra $230,000 annually, as a good example.
“The most important thing any government can do is take care of the very old and the very young,” said Maikels, stressing that money should not be taken away from senior services, youth programs, or the parks and recreation department.
“You hate to do lay-offs, because you’re talking about people’s lives, so if you can hold the line on costs and avoid mass lay-offs, that’s the best option,” he said.
In terms of development, Maikels said he thinks the town should be actively working to fill vacant storefronts on Western Avenue.
“You hate to see empty buildings on the main drag,” he said. The town has adopted a master plan, and Maikels said the town board should continue to implement it.
“The town has gone in the direction of Smart Growth, and, to the extent that it can be done, it should look into other, similar developments where appropriate,” said Maikels.
In order to attract businesses to the town, Maikels said the town should streamline the zoning process and eliminate the need for people to appear repeatedly in front of the board.
“I’m a firm believer in simplifying people’s involvement with the government,” he said. As a member of the zoning board of appeals, Maikels said the zoning review committee’s efforts to redefine the town zoning code have been beneficial.
“I’ve always had an ability to work with people, and I think it’s important for this board to have five people who can work together in calm, rational ways,” concluded Maikels. “I have demonstrated that ability in my community endeavors.”
Michele Coons, the merchant services manager for the Retail Council of New York State, is also being backed by the Conservative Party, and is a registered Conservative.
She has lived in Guilderland for almost 40 years; she graduated from Guilderland schools, and from Schenectady County Community College. She previously worked as a store manager for CVS Pharmacy.
Coons has prior experience in working for the town. She was the town comptroller in 1998 and 1999 during the Jerry Yerbury administration. She also served for many years on Guilderland’s Pop Warner Board.
Coons said she believes it is important to talk to all town employees, not just department heads, to figure out where costs can be cut.
“I’m a firm believer that the people who are actually doing the work are the people who will know where they can cut corners,” said Coons. The employees know what needs to be done, and how it can be done more efficiently.
“You really need to ask everybody for their input. Talk to the people,” Coons said.
On the topic of no raises for town employees, she said the town should take a hard look at whether the pay scales are where they should be.
“Are there people that are underpaid? Maybe we should give them the raise they deserve; everything should be done on an individual, per person basis,” Coons said.
The key word for Coons, in terms of development, is “responsible.”
“Western Avenue is a great place to develop, and sales tax revenue is really a great help for Guilderland,” she said. Development is necessary, and Coons said the town needs to do more to attract businesses.
“I hear from a lot of people that they would like to open a business in Guilderland but there are too many obstacles,” said Coons. She believes the process should be simplified.
“There should be guidelines. People need to know exactly what they need to do to open a business here, and not feel like we’re pushing them away,” she said.
Smart Growth, or mixed-use developments, should only be considered in areas where they would be a good fit, said Coons.
“You have to talk to people who live in the areas; you can’t just vote on something because it sounds like a good idea,” she said. “I would never put a mall in the middle of Altamont, for example.”
To streamline government, Coons said to consider how many people are needed to do a job. On seven-member boards, for example, five people might be sufficient.
“You need an odd number to keep the balance, but, if you can make do with less, you should,” said Coons.
Coons said she enjoyed giving back to the town’s youth during her years on Guilderland’s Pop Warner Board, and wants to give back even more, to the entire town.
“I have a management background, and I have the love of Guilderland,” Coons concluded. “If I’m elected, we’re going to come up with solutions together. No personal agendas allowed on the board; we’re a team.”
Brian Forte, a Guilderland Police officer, is also endorsed by the Conservative and Independence parties, and the Civil Service Employees Association.
He has been part of the police department for 28 years, stationed most recently at the high school, as a school resource officer, and he has been a volunteer firefighter for 30 years.
Forte said he could see the benefit of joint purchasing and cooperative purchasing agreements, and would like the town to look into the legalities of the county and town working together.
“If we could buy products we all use and save some money, we can pass that on to the taxpayers,” said Forte.
In order to keep the tax rate low and maintain the level of services provided to the people, Forte said he thinks most town employees understand and are willing to accept the no pay raises.
“The unfortunate thing about the economy right now is that people are struggling to keep their jobs,” he said. “I do think we should look at how to provide people with cost-of-living raises, because the prices of things like gas and milk do go up.”
Forte said he thinks the town should look toward more commercial development along Route 20, and keep the businesses out of residential areas.
“I think we could become attractive to businesses, which would benefit the taxpayers. We could commercialize the area more, from Town Hall to the city line,” he said. However, Forte thinks the emphasis should remain on positive, controlled growth.
“We have a unique town, and I’d like to see it continue in that same framework,” he said.
Forte does not think the town is overburdened with employees, or that anyone needs to lose their job.
“I think we have a great mix that keeps the town running as it does; sometimes we have to reorganize and put manpower where it’s best suited, and I think the supervisor is trying to do that,” said Forte.
“I have a good working knowledge of what the town’s about and the people that work here,” Forte concluded. “”I have deep roots in the town, I love it, and I want to be able to voice people’s concerns along with my feelings on how things should be done here.”
Peter Hubbard was raised in Guilderland, attended Guilderland schools, and graduated from Hudson Valley Community College and the University at Albany. He has been working in the financial industry for more than a decade, and also owns Sam Wilson’s Ice Cream, in Troy.
“I think we have some wasteful spending that needs to be eliminated,” said Hubbard. He said the town should go through and examine each and every department to look at where money is going.
“Having been a resident of the town for so many years, and being in the finance industry, I think I could be useful in terms of the budget,” said Hubbard.
He said the small amount of residential growth over the past few years has been good for the town’s tax base, but it’s the businesses that need to be nurtured.
“Talking with small-business owners as I have been out campaigning, a lot of them say they are struggling; there are so many hurdles they have to jump over in order to achieve success,” Hubbard said. He said the town should make it easier for a business to be enhanced or established, especially along Route 20.
“I want to make sure that we maintain the residential environment in the town, I’m more an advocate of small rather than large businesses, and maintaining the residential and business separation,” Hubbard said.
He said he wanted the town to do a “real investigation” of the departments and boards, particularly the Guilderland Industrial Development Agency, which was audited for the year 2009, and shown to have lost eight jobs instead of creating them, despite the $21 million it had been granted for three separate projects.
“We need to look at where the money went and how we could change things up so it doesn’t happen again,” said Hubbard.
“I’ve always had an interest in politics,” concluded Hubbard. “I simply want to be involved, and I believe in a two-party system at all times.”