January 5, 2005

Town board organizes for 2005, many side issues

Last night's town board organizational meeting was a lot like last year's, passing a huge number of routine resolutions, but there were some interesting bits, notably around investments, appointments, the abstract of bills, tax collection, and fire coverage in the Etna area. The audience for the meeting was pretty small - seven Lansing High School students there for an assignment and me.

During the approval of the town's investment policies, Councilman Marty Christofferson asked who decides how the town's investment decisions are made. The Town Supervisor has fiscal authority, but there isn't anything like the TC3 finance committee that Christofferson brought up as an example. There was some discussion of whether appointing depository institutions (the 1st National Bank of Dryden and Tompkins County Trust Company) limited investment opportunities. Supervisor Trumbull noted that Chase had been contacting him about the town's business, though Councilman Mike Hattery pointed out that "there are good reasons to use local banks, since the money turns over in the community." The board didn't take any action, but planned to look more closely at these issues over the course of the year.

The abstract included a bill that had been passed on at the previous meeting without discussion. Apparently Town Justice Valentinelli purchased 500 business cards for $170, and that had raised questions. The cost of cards is attributable to making a plate, which can be reused for future cards, and the justices did have money in the budget to cover it, but there was another problem: the name of the salesman on the invoice was fellow Town Justice Christopher Clauson.

Councilman Hattery was concerned about the precedent this might set, saying that "I think that we and people who are elected and appointed officials, who work for the town, should avoid any appearance of impropriety." No one knew if Clauson was actually getting a commission on the sale. Councilman Chris Michaels said that Clauson's name on the invoice had been a 'flag' to him. Hattery was also concerned that spending this much on business cards suggested that "for operating costs we're budgeting too much for the justice's function." The board approved the rest of the abstract minus this invoice, and left it to Supervisor Trumbull to sort out the issue of the name on the invoice.

Reviewing the abstract
The Town Board reviews the abstract.

After the abstract, Town Clerk Bambi Hollenbeck raised the issue that Tompkins County is contemplating taking over property tax collection from the towns. Plans sounded vague - it isn't clear when the towns would get their money from the county, who would get penalties, and more - but the Town Clerks, who just had a meeting, "are up in arms about it." Hollenbeck explained:

"I'm against it. One of the main reasons is that it's an example of the county taking local government farther away from the people. I get a good sense when the public comes in here, and sometimes I only see them when they come in to pay their taxes. It's a good opportunity for information... I think about all the problems we solve right here at the desk when people have problems with their escrow, or if they have two different banks paying the bill... [the county's] going to be dealing with 26,000 tax bills with a staff of what? I can see them collecting the money. I can't see them serving the public.... I think you'd better serve your residents."

The board made some modifications to the budget, mostly to do with bills that had been paid in the wrong period. Dawn Bogdan, the Town Bookkeeper, also expressed hope that the new budget program would be working in time to create reports for the February board meeting.

In the course of its appointments, the board added Joseph Lalley to the Planning Board. There was also some discussion about training, as the Planning Board has had three new appointments this year. The board was hopeful that Planning Board Chair Barbara Caldwell, Zoning Officer Henry Slater, and Town Attorney Mahlon Perkins could provide the board with a training session specific to Dryden laws.

The meeting closed with discussion of emergency services issues. Councilman Steve Stelick reported on a meeting of the fire chiefs that had created a joint call system for the Etna Fire Department's coverage area. Other departments will be toned out at the same time as the Etna department on calls. While Stelick described it as a temporary fix, he felt it was a big step toward a long-term solution. He cited incoming Varna Volunteer Fire Company Chief Natan Huffman as a big help in this project, and Neptune Hose Company's Ron Flynn received a lot of praise near the end of the meeting in a discussion of disaster preparedness.

Posted by simon at January 5, 2005 9:58 PM in , ,
Note on photos