Village board also gets water update; votes on controversial transcripts

There are still three-quarters of the fiscal year to go, but a look at budget trends indicates Cold Spring could end fiscal 2010-11 with $39,207 more in the general fund than foreseen when the year began three months ago. That bonus consists of $14,900 more in revenue and $24,307 less in spending.

The tentative good news came at the Village Board’s regular monthly meeting on Sept. 14, when the board received a quarterly financial report. For fiscal 2010-11, which ends next May 31, the general fund budget totals $2,075,852 in both revenue and expenses. By Aug. 31, the village had already taken in $1,480,016 in revenue, or about 71 percent. From the general fund, it had also spent $395,785, or 19 percent. (In addition to the general fund, the village oversees separate water and sewer department budgets, with significant amounts of each coming from customer charges.) As of the end of August, the general fund contained $1,286,518.

The “possible year-end fund balance of $39,207″ is based on the limited data resulting from only three months of financial activity, and much can change over the next nine months, ” Mayor Seth Gallagher cautioned in a memo accompanying the quarterly report. “But it does give us some indication of where we are heading.” The mayor acts as the village’s chief budget officer. Village Accountant Ellen Mageean also emphasized the preliminary nature of the figures. “These are estimates,” she said.

For several years, serious problems beset village finances, including deficits of tens of thousands of dollars. A New York State Comptrollers Report for the period from June 1, 2005, through Sept. 30, 2008, noted that the general fund ran deficits of approximately $37,276 in fiscal 2005-06, $127,286 in 2006-07, and $95,895 in 2007-08. “The village’s deteriorating financial condition was mainly caused by over-expended budget appropriations, inaccurate accounting records, and unrealistic budget estimates,” the comptroller’s report stated. “Village management also did not ensure that expenditures were within adopted budgets.”

Even before the end of the period covered by the comptroller’s report, the village government began making changes. The then-treasurer departed and the village began employing a certified public accountant part-time while naming Mary Saari official treasurer as well as clerk. The composition of the Village Board has also changed and in April 2009 Gallagher replaced the long-serving Anthony Phillips as mayor. The village ended the fiscal 2008-09 fiscal year in May 2009 with a deficit of $473.

Reviews indicate that during fiscal 2009-10 the general fund “showed a marked improvement in the fiscal health from past years,” Gallagher’s memo stated. Now, he added, the quarterly survey indicates “where our expenditures and revenues are expected to be over budget, as well as under budget,” giving the Village Board the time and knowledge to make corrections and “ensure a balanced ledger sheet that avoids deficit spending. Knowledge of lower expenditures during the current year will allow next year’s budget to be better estimated” and thus “reduce the total budget” and decrease the amount to be raised in taxes, he wrote. “Knowledge of consistently increased revenues will similarly allow the village to reduce the amount raised by property taxes and produce a more accurate, improved budget.”

Water Department Update

Also at the Sept. 14 meeting, the Water Department told the board that the system continues to draw water from the New York City Aqueduct, which gets water from the Catskills, a step necessitated by low reservoir levels in a summer of little rain. Water usage for August 2010 topped 2009 usage by nearly 6 percent, Water Department Superintendent Greg Phillips said in his report. He added that the department is dealing with recently discovered leaks.

Belated Transcripts of Contentious Meetings

In other action, the Village Board voted to adopt as addendums to the official minutes transcripts of a portion of the May 25 and June 15 meetings, which involved heated arguments over policy regarding the defunct Butterfield Hospital.

At the May 25 meeting, the mayor exchanged angry comments with both Trustee Airinhos Serradas and resident Catharine Square, a member of the village’s Special Board for a Comprehensive Plan, over unapproved overtures the two made to Rep. John Hall seeking federal money for an inter-municipal project at the Butterfield site. Serradas and Gallagher also clashed three weeks later over a list of offices to locate at the Butterfield site, should it become government property.

About two months after the meetings, Trustee Charles Hustis sought to include with the official minutes partial transcripts derived from Serradas’ recordings. Square prepared the June 15 transcript.  She, Serradas, and Hustis refuse to say whether she also made the transcript of the May 25 meeting — the one at which she argued with Gallagher about the approaches to Congressman Hall.

None of the Village Board members answered written questions submitted by three days before the board vote on the transcripts. The questions asked whether the board could ensure that the recordings from which the transcripts were made had not been tampered with or inadvertently altered and why the recordings had not been given to Village Clerk Saari immediately after the May 25 and June 15 meetings so that official transcripts could be made by the village staff — instead of an outside party.  Serradas, Hustis, and Falloon voted to include the transcripts with the minutes; Gallagher and Trustee Bruce Campbell voted against doing so.

“They will be a wonderful reference in the future,” Serradas said of the transcripts. “It’s a historic document.”

“When you selectively break out parts of a meeting for transcription, it’s for some purpose,” Gallagher maintained. “It doesn’t actually clarify things at all. In fact, I think it results in the opposite.”

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Armstrong was the founding news editor of The Current (then known as in 2010 and later a senior correspondent and contributing editor for the paper. She worked earlier in Washington as a White House correspondent and national affairs reporter and assistant news editor for daily international news services. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Areas of expertise: Politics and government