Posted on 26 May 2010.
For all the best reasons in the world ~ or the worst, depending on which side of the table you’re sitting on ~ our reporter has fallen behind on writing up reports of meetings she has attended. She has now been instructed to catch up through a series of meeting briefs over the next several days, which she will attempt to do. As always, please be sure to read the official minutes of meetings which are posted in the Minutes/Agendas section of the town’s municipal website when they become available.
At its May 11 meeting, the main business of the Board of Finance (BOF) members was handled at the end, when, under item ‘VIII. Other Items to Come Before the Board,’ they set the mill rate for the upcoming fiscal year, beginning July 1, 2010. Before that, some of the other items discussed were:
Agenda Item #I. Superintendent’s Report Dr. Philip O’Reilly, Superintendent of New Hartford Schools, reported to the BOF on the items contained in our May 8 report …BOE Looks To Next Year….
Those items included reinstating positions that had been cut due to savings the schools had been able to realize partly through two retirements of veteran teachers and by signing a new 5-year contract with Dattco, the bus company. Philip also reported on the boiler replacement at Antolini which was also expected to cost less than had been previously projected. BOF questions were centered on whether the schools had enough money to cover the personal day/sick day buyouts which Philip said they did, and on details of the boiler installation.
Agenda Items #V: Opportunity for Public to Speak; and VI.WPCA Update
Noting that no representative from the WPCA was at the meeting to give an update, Denton Butler, BOC (Building Oversight Committee) member expressed his strong concern about the way the WPCA was operating which, he said, “was not proceeding in a manner and at a speed to benefit the town of New Hartford.” Â Saying that the wastewater treatment plant would reach substantial completion by the end of June, Denton laid out a number of his concerns to the BOF members, including:
- there was still no quotation for an operator for the plant;
- reporting to the DEP was still deficient and without that reporting the DEP will not release any money;
- funding opportunities for sewer extensions would expire in July and the WPCA has not pursued that funding;
- and that user fees can’t exceed 2% of residents’ median income, limiting the amount that can be raised from users which may then come back on non-users.
Ben Witte, BOF chairman informed the other members of the Board of Finance that Bill Michaud of the WPCA had emailed him to let him know that he wouldn’t be able to make the meeting. Â Ben then said: “There seems to be conflict between the WPCA and the BOC. Any time they have brought up issues here the conflict seems to subside and then rise again.” Jim Fitzgerald commented: “It’s a business, and they need to run it as such. We have asked for a 5-year projection and we still don’t have that.” Jim ended by saying he “would have the Board (WPCA) step up or resign and elect someone else who’ll do it.” Dan Jerram, First Selectman added his viewpoint: “I can’t contest what Denton has said. It’s not like any other enterprise ~ it’s a “fee for service” enterprise. The ability to meet deadlines is becoming a greater and greater concern. The request for proposal for operator ~ they kicked it to a consultant and paid $8,000 to do it. They could have done that last year.”
After more discussion Ben suggested putting together a subcommittee to address the matter, but Dan Jerram said he wasn’t sure if he could do that. He said the selectmen could put it on their agenda. Jim proceeded to give more input but Ben responded: “Let the selectmen have a try at it.” And he told Jim to go to the Board of Selectmen if he had any more input. “Ben’s last words on the matter: “I’m just frustrated we keep talking about it!”
As his final Public Comment, Denton said: “I urge you not to increase taxes but draw down reserves to cover any increase in taxes.” Our reporter seconded that request.
Agenda Item #VII, Reports
Treasurer’s Report: Gordon Ross, town Treasurer reported that the town had received the ECS (Education Cost Sharing) money from the state, and that the town’s tax collection rate was 98%, which he said was good.
First Selectman’s Report: Dan Jerram reported that there had been a low turnout for the budget referendum but that it had passed the first time. On the line item transfers, he said Chip (Roraback, the town’s attorney) was considering his position about the line item transfers. Asked about the washout, Dan said that the Inland Wetlands (Commission) has revised it (the plan) a bit and that a second soil scientist was looking at it (the washout area).
Laura Sundquist brought up the fact that the town has two polling stations and that, in talking to Daria and Lila (the town’s Registrars of Voters) they don’t want two. Reggie Smith Jr. said he likes his polling station exactly where it is (Reggie votes in the South End Firehouse); Jim Fitzgerald said there should be only one and that it should be in Bakerville, which has the greater population. Gordon Ross said that in Canton they had passed their budget at a town meeting. Both Dan Jerram and Ben Witte were of the opinion that they had a bigger turnout (with a referendum) compared to a town meeting. Reggie, thinking back to his time as First Selectman in the early 90s with a very active Taxpayers’ Association said: ” I have seen 20 people (at a town meeting) or 500 ready to lynch you!”
Agenda Item #VIII. Other Items to Come Before the Board
The Board of Finance members then discussed setting the mill rate which Ben said they had to do at that meeting in order to get the tax notice out to the taxpayers. Without a copy of the mil rate calculation sheet ~ there were just enough copies for the Board of Finance members ~ and without other visual aids, our reporter had a difficult time following the technical part of the mil rate discussion. The final outcome of the discussion is as follows, as emailed to our reporter by Ben Witte on May 12 in his correction to the figures she had incorrectly reported in our May 12 Grapevine:
â€œThe tax increase is 0.42% (not 0.1%). The mill rate is 0.10 mils increase. This is identical to what was presented at the budget hearing (0.33% tax incr, 0.08 mils & 96% collections), with a slight change to the grand list based on BAA (Board of Assessment Appeals) appeals settlements subsequent to the hearing.â€
Following is some of the discussion surrounding the setting of the mill rate.
Ben asked the question: “What do we want to set for the mill rate and for the collection rate?” And then he went around the table getting each BOF member’s response:
- Roy Litchfield: Roy said: “”I’d like to go to zero and would like to see us discuss zero increase in the mill rate. we can do that by adjusting mill rate, and have the opportunity to finance any shortfall shoul it materialize. I really think we started at zero, came close, can keep it at zero.”
- Reggie Smith, Jr.: Reggie asked if anyone had a list of the collection rate over the last 5 years and Ben answered: “The collection rate has been over 98%. We can do anything we like with it.” Ben then cautioned that there was a tight collection rate coming up, that they hadn’t adjusted for appeals. Â Reggie asked about moving money from the surplus fund. Â ”We can’t move money from surplus after the budget is passed, correct?” Ben agreed, saying the only thing they can change is the collection rate. Â Reggie said that they had told voters they would take an additional $30,000 (out of the surplus?) to get to zero. Â Ben calculated what the collection rate would have to be to get to zero, and he came up with 96.4. Â He said: “If we go at 96, we can put that as a hedge for next year.” Â Reggie’s final word: “I’mÂ very concerned about the revenue from the state. I support support 96.4%.”
- Laura Sundquist:Â ”I admire going for 0%. We’ve passed it and I would rather keep it for insurance for next year.”
- Alesia Kennerson: Alesia agreed with Laura, supporting a 96% collection rate. Â ”I accept the figures as on the sheet (mill rate calculation sheet), and keep it as insurance for next year.”
- Jim Fitzgerald said: “(The difference is) so small, and based on what we said, stick with it.”
- Gordon Ross said: “Nobody would really notice it.”
- Ben said: “We will want to budget 97% for next year. Â I recommend (we) take 96 and go with that.”
- Dan Jerram said: “It wouldn’t bother me either way.”
- Jim Fitzgerald asked what the collection rate had been over the last two years and Gordon answered: “98.6% Annie (Witte, the town Bookkeeper) told me today.”
Ben then proposed a motion based on a collection rate of 96%. Â However, before it could be voted on, Denton Butler asked to speak and in a very forceful tone of voice, he asked whether they had considered how it would be interpreted by their constituents, when they came in with an increase? Â ”The last time the collection rate has been at 96% was in ’91-’92.” Â He pointed out. Â Â “The bigger issue is if you have the fortitute to stand your ground.” Denton went on. “I defended you through this process. You lost, and now you’re dinking around over the collection rate.”
Denton’s remarks led to another round of discussion over the collection rate. Â Jim asked Ben directly what the collection rate is and Ben answering: “98% plus if it makes a difference to you!” Â The Board touched on the fact that they had initially said 0% and then had presented 0.8%, which the voters had approved. Ben said that they had been very open at public meetings, and that the additional funds (collected) always go towards funding the next year’s budget. Â Never one to like to pay taxes before they’re due, our reporter commented that as a taxpayer, she’d rather the town collected only the taxes needed to fund the budget, rather than to keep collecting more and then putting it towards next year’s budget.
With everyone having had an opportunity to have their say, Denton said: “It’s a philosophy. Â I’ve had my say ~ move to a vote.” Â Reggie also asked they move to a vote, which the Board did. Â Roy who is an alternate on the Board, did not vote. All the other Board members, with the exception of Reggie Smith Jr., voted in favor of the motion, which set the mill rate atÂ 0.08 mils based on 96% collections.
Board of Finance Meeting, Tuesday, May 11, 2010
I.Seating of Alternates
II.Adoption/Revision of Agenda
III.Superintendent / BOE Report â€“ Dr. Oâ€™Reilly
IV.Approval of Minutes a.3/9/10 â€“ Regular Meeting b.3/13/10 â€“ Special Meeting c.3/23/10 â€“ Special Meeting d.4/6/10 â€“ Special Meeting e.4/13/10 â€“ Regular Meeting
V.Opportunity for Public to Speak
VII.Reports: a.Bookkeeperâ€™s Report â€“ Annie Witte b.Treasurerâ€™s Report â€“ Gordon Ross c.First Selectmanâ€™s Report â€“ Dan Jerram
VIII.Other Items to Come Before the Board
A view of Town Hall from under the fragrant tree in front of the Misiorski building across Route 44. Photo: Maria Moore
A Note from the NewHartfordPlus crew: A comment was made at the end of this meeting to the effect that NewHartfordPlus would misreport the meeting anyway. Â For the record, our reporter does her best to report on the wide array of topics discussed in the many meetings she attends ~ and not always with the benefit of documents handed out to board members. Â If you are aware of an error in our reports, please let us know and we will publish the correction, clarification, Â etc. as soon as we become aware of it. Â Our corrections are noted at the top of the report in question. Â The only corrections we are not able to make are those that would knowingly favor one political viewpoint over another, or one group of residents over another. Â As Bob, our techie, is fond of reminding us: “We want to stay playful at this!”