Supervisor candidates at odds over spending in HF
HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. -- The election may be only a few days away, but candidates running for seats on the Town Board still have more to say.
Incumbent Town Supervisor Keith Cipperly and current Councilperson Mark Surdam, who is challenging Cipperly on who will fill the role over the next two years, continue to disagree fiercely over previously reported budgets and town fund balances.
In campaign literature Cipperly has praised his own fiscal capabilities, stating he took office in 2010 to a fund balance of $151,000 and has since raised it to $1.2 million.
Surdam, who has been a member of the board for over nine years, disagreed with those numbers, saying that in fact, Cipperly took office to a balance of $708,000 and has since decreased necessary spending.
In a phone interview, Cipperly outlined the former fund balance being disputed as money that was almost entirely encumbered.
"The previous board members got together before they left office and basically had a going away party," said Cipperly. "If they couldn't spend it, they encumbered it."
He outlined the encumbrances as: $200,000 for a salt shed, $262,000 for a heavy duty dump truck, and approximately $100,000 toward a previous black-topping bill.
"They overspent ... funds," said Cipperly. "But I couldn't touch that money for one year after they did that."
The salt shed was never built. After a year the designated money for that purchase was rolled over into the highway fund, according to Cipperly.
"I love this town," said Cipperly. "All I want to do is keep taxes down, take care of the seniors and make sure the kids are safe and happy."
Surdam remembers things differently.
Citing a December 2009 board meeting, the last one presided over by the former town supervisor, Marilyn Douglas, Surdam outlined actions taken in which the board voted to transfer $200,000 from the fund balance to the highway fund, and then went on to encumber $200,000 from the highway fund for the purchase of the new truck, plus $250,000 from the fund balance to construct the new salt shed and $100,000 for the cost of repaving Beechwood Road.
"I was against all of this until it was explained to me that the new board would still have to approve any and all spending, just like it has always done," said Surdam.
"I was also told at the time that the encumbrances did not lock the new board into doing anything, or spending any of the money, and that if the board did nothing, the encumbrances would simply go away after a year."
According to Surdam, the only money that was actually spent was for the purchase of the new truck at the end of 2010, which cost just under the $200,000 appropriated.
"None of the money ever left the bank with the exception of the money for the truck," said Surdam.
In an emailed response to the recent letter written by Cipperly, published in The Eagle Newspaper dated Oct. 31, Surdam called the claims, "election propaganda," and accused Cipperly of knowing the encumberances would go away and that they did.
"He started his tenure as supervisor with over $708,000. The fund balance at the end of 2010 as reported to New York State was over $659,000, even after purchasing the truck," said Surdam.
In Cipperly's letter to the editor, he accused Surdam of taking the low road.
"The $708,000 [Surdam] claims is fund balance comes from figures on the annual report that includes ‘fund balances' and another accounting code category named ‘encumberances,'" said Cipperly. "Bottom line Mr. Surdam: Encumbered money is accounted for and cannot be included as part of any fund balance."
Resident and regular-presence at town board meetings, Dennis Casey called the issue a "pattern of deception and non-openness displayed by the supervisor," on his Facebook page Thursday morning, which was then emailed to the Banner.
Noting that the preliminary budget for 2014 does not yet include money appropriated for the repair of the swimming pool, and shows a highway fund "as less than the current year," Casey said the money to cover proposed budget items will ultimately come from the existing $1.2 million fund balance.
"If you estimate $500,000 for the pool, $4,000 for the mower and $200,000 for [a second needed replacement] truck, a total of $704,000 is required for 2014 from the fund balance," said Casey, estimating a more accurate current fund balance as approximately $496,000.
While Cipperly agrees that the cost of the pool will be upwards of $450,000, he said he was told by GPR Services, the Hoosick Falls company which is researching the extent of the repairs needed on the town pool, that it is in much better condition than originally thought.
"Through proper spending and management we've done a lot of positive things," said Cipperly, noting a higher value on the tax roll after the addition of new businesses Family Dollar and Dollar General, which are each valued at over $1 million.
"We got Subway moved into Sunoco, and we changed some of the rules and regulations within the town to make things easier for them," said Cipperly.
Other newcomers he counts as benefiting the town are Picasso's Ice Cream Parlor, and Brown's Brewery, which employs an estimated five to ten people.
"Now there is literature going around stating we cannot afford to buy a lawn mower," Cipperly's letter continued. "That is totally untrue, unless the lawn mower Mr. Surdam wants to buy costs over $1.2 million."
In a phone interview, Surdam said the village is still currently mowing town land, and that typically equipment and trucks don't get replaced until they're past being needed.
Surdam also disputes previous estimates by Cipperly that charging for photocopies of public meeting minutes and agendas is a viable source of town revenue.
"There's no significant income generated from those documents," said Surdam. "That's public information. The people should have access to it, they should know what's going on."
Surdam said he felt that halting the filming of town meetings should have been a board decision. "It was a board decision to invite Charlie [Filkins] to film the meetings," said Surdam. "He should have never even left."
David Sutton, who is also running for a seat on the board alongside Surdam, said he thinks the town needs more equity, without regard to personal ties.
"We are a thoroughfare for many places in the Northeast, and we have a largely untapped historical tourism industry," said Sutton. "The thing that is lacking is joining people together."
An employee for the town highway department, who is not running for office and asked to not be named for fear of losing his job, said in an emailed statement to the Banner that false public accusations against the highway crew have led them to be uncertain about the right course of action.
"We used to work with our heads held high and trusted the board and town officials," read the letter. "[They] have accused us of refusing to work, which was a statement made and recorded in the minutes by the current highway superintendent Schmigel."
The letter further claimed that changes were made to employee health insurance deductibles, resulting in additional payroll deductions without notification, at an estimated cost of $500 per year, per employee.
Cipperly said he wants to bring the community together, and is proud of a proposed 2014 property tax reduction of 1.51 percent.
Surdam said estimates show the proposed decrease in taxes will result in an approximate average savings of $6 per family annually.
"With this job you're always on edge," said Cipperly, of the heated exchanges. "Call me up, tell me you want to spearhead something to help our community. I'm all for it."
Elections will be held Tues., Nov. 5, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the town offices, located at 80 Church St.
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