Monday, March 30, 2009
The committee's purpose is to minimize injury, illness and property loss or operation interruption caused by accidents.
Those interested in serving on this committee should submit a letter of interest and resume to the Town Clerk's office in Butler Hall on Genesee Street by April 30, 2009.
To be appointed, you must be knowledgeable in health, safety and Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements.
Friday, March 27, 2009
New Hartford appeared ready to continue down this path, budgeting $100,000 for Basile in 2009. But the town pulled back last month, perhaps not coincidentally after the Concerned Citizens of New Hartford group began asking questions.we have to disagree as far as calling for a comptroller position in New Hartford. The editorial starts by saying:
We would not normally recommend that a municipality add any new positions during these difficult financial times. Taxpayers cannot afford it.We disagree, the Town of New Hartford can no longer afford to do business as usual with the Earle Reed administration.
But in the town of New Hartford, taxpayers can no longer afford not to create a new position.
While hiring a comptroller may be necessary in the end, some housekeeping is in order before the town spends one more dollar of taxpayer monies on financial recordkeeping. The fact that Ms. Fairbrother is paid over $58,000 a year, plus benefits, is reason to question just what is it she does to earn that money. Her salary is far above what the average bookkeeper makes, yet Attorney Sciotti's Opinion Letter regarding the $71,544 in overtime states that she is merely a bookkeeper.
Ms. Fairbrother also has an assistant, Ms. O'Sullivan, who by her own admittance is an English major, not a bookkeeper. Ms. O'Sullivan makes $22,272 plus benefits according to the 2009 Adopted Budget. Then there is Frank Basile with a $100,000 budget line in 2009 yet his actual billing amounted to over $120,000 in 2008 as financial consultant. Additionally, part of the town's budget each year includes money for bond counsel and financial advisors to handle any bonding that needs to be done; the 2009 budget allows $12,500 to be spent in that respect. That equates to well over $200,000 a year to handle financial matters in our town.
Instead of running out to hire a comptroller (by the way, the Reed administration already tried that and somehow the town ended up with Frank Basile as Financial Consultant), it might be time to look at the current job descriptions and division of job responsibilities and make some changes. Perhaps we no longer need a bookkeeper and it would be more prudent to replace that job with a comptroller. Perhaps we need to fill the account clerk position for $22,272 with someone who knows something about bookkeeping instead of someone who is an English major. There is no excuse for the Town of New Hartford to be paying over $200,000 a year to manage their finances. It is time to start being more prudent with taxpayer dollars.
We also note that the current administration never wastes a moment to push the blame on the previous administration. The editorial states:
The position was eliminated in January 2002 by then-Town Supervisor Ralph Humphreys and approved by the Town Board as a way to save money...Supervisor Reed is in the last year of a four-year term as Town Supervisor...time to stop playing the "blame game" Mr. Reed. The previous Town Supervisor cut the position to save money AND because, as a businessman, Mr. Humphreys was confident that he could handle the job himself. Carol Fairbrother even told Concerned Citizens that Mr. Humphreys would sit down with her and they would do the bookkeeping together. Mr. Humphreys was a "hands on" Town Supervisor. We are now paying an inordinate amount of money because the current Town Supervisor is not experienced in financial matters, nor does he care to take part. Ms. Fairbrother told Concerned Citizens that Earle Reed never attended one budget meeting...it was all left up to Frank Basile at $150 an hour, Frank Basile's assistant at $80 an hour and Ms. Fairbrother at $32 an hour. It's not rocket science; does it really take over $250 an hour to prepare the town budget?
Since the job was scrapped, taxpayers have had to pay an inordinate amount of money for accounting and financial services — work that could largely be handled by a professional financial officer.
The editorial goes on to say:
Reed has left the impression that he’s disengaged from important town matters. And that might be part of the problem. He spends some of the winter at his home in Florida and is often difficult to reach. That’s troubling because a town supervisor needs to be easily accessible and fully engaged with the town. That is especially so in New Hartford, which has positioned itself as the region’s commercial hub and retail center.That is not only part of the problem...it's the whole enchilada!
Next blog we will be showing you some of the ridiculousness of the items on Mr. Basile billings to the town.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Petitions must have at least 25 signatures and must be filed with the school board clerk at the District Office no later than April 20, 2009.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
From Basile’s perspective, the town’s “progressive” nature and the frequency with which myriad projects often are being worked on at once made his service necessary.But wait, we thought the town was looking for a comptroller back in 2007, so why did they hire Frank Basile's firm instead? Here is a copy of the ad that was run in the August 10, 11, & 12 Observer Dispatch, and a copy of the ad that was placed on the Town website. Here's a snippet:
However, a comptroller could have handled many of the responsibilities taken up by his firm, he said.
“If there were a town comptroller, our hours would have been a lot less,” he said. “The amount of time we would have spent would have been a lot less.”
Hmm! Doesn't salary imply town employee vs. a contractor? And doesn't it say resumes no later than October 1, 2007? Then how did the deal with Frank Basile come about and his initial contract become effective as of September 10, 2007?
COMPTROLLER POSITION OPEN
Comptroller/Finance Manager: Experienced Municipal Finance Manager with skills in monthly financial preparation and analysis, cash flow maintenance, governmental audits,implementation and oversight of the budget process, management of purchasing and payroll.
Experience with Grant and Economic Development Agencies is desired. Successful candidate must have excellent interpersonal and communication skills and be selfstarter, prepared for immediate responsibility. Salary will be commensurate with experience and qualifications. EOE...Resume must be sent no later than October 1, 2007...
A letter from Earle Reed dated August 20, 2007 was FAXed to Frank Basile on August 21, 2007. The FAX starts with:
The Town has recognized a need for a Chief Financial Officer and is taking steps to fill that need.Wait a minute Supervisor Reed, according to town law YOU ARE the Chief Financial Officer! If you were FAXing Mr. Basile in regard to the advertised position, shouldn't you have said you were looking for a Comptroller?
Just look at who got copies of the letter FAXed to Frank Basile:
cc: Town BoardThey must have all been members of the Town of New Hartford Comptroller Search Committee... or was it the Town of New Hartford CFO Search Committee or the Town of New Hartford Financial Advisor Search Committee?
Codes Enforcement Officer
Director/Parks & Recreation
Chief of Police
Human Resource Officer
Anyway, Frank Basile replied to the FAX on August 21, 2007, the same day he received it:
...Are you looking for a firm to provide a number of hours @ a specified rate per hour/per year to assist you and the Town with your accounting needs as outlined in items 1 thru 3 of your letter or are you looking for an individual to maintain that position on an annual basis?Next communication between Mr. Basile and Earle Reed on September 10, 2007 outlines Mr. Basile's hourly rate, so it is probably safe to guess that Earle Reed said in answer to Mr. Basile's question that billing at an hourly rate is fine. Mr. Basile ended his email with "Please let me know if this proposal is within your budget and time constraints." Must be it was because a contract dated September 10, 2007 through December 31, 2008 was signed by both Frank Basile and Earle Reed.
Funny thing is that the town board didn't approved Mr. Basile's contract until the September 26, 2007 town board meeting. But look at Board Resolution No. 227 OF 2007 approved at the September 26 2007 town board meeting regarding Mr. Basile's contract. It says:
WHEREAS, the Town of New Hartford has completed the following procedures with regard to retaining the services of a financial advisor [emphasis by blogger] :Wait a minute Supervisor Reed, you took all those steps to hire a Comptroller who would be a salaried employee not a financial advisor who would be paid hourly! Remember, Supervisor Reed, the job posted was for a salaried Comptroller...
• advertised for the position in the Observer Dispatch on August10, 11 and 12, 2007
• posted the position on the Town’s Website
• advertised the position on Career Builders from August 9, 2007 through September 8, 2007
• mailed approximately fifteen (15) direct-mail requests to local accountants
• conducted three (3) interviews with prospective hirees;...
So was Mr. Basile working for the town before the town board approved his contract?
Yes. According to Mr. Basile's invoice dated September 30, 2007, Mr. Basile started billing the town on September 20, 2007...almost a week before the town even approved his contract. Looks like another retroactive resolution was approved by the town board.
Also according to Mr. Basile's first invoice, he gave the town a 15% "APPRECIATION" DISCOUNT of $855.00. Wonder what that was all about? Mr. Basile already stated in his September 10, 2007 email to Earle that he was giving the town a "special hourly rate" so what did the town do to earn an "appreciation discount"?
Next, we will take a closer look at Mr. Basile's invoices to the town. Stay tuned!
Sunday, March 22, 2009
According to the first article, Councilwoman Krupa was quoted as saying,
“Is it Earle’s job, technically? Yes, it is,” she said. “But if he doesn’t have the necessary background to fulfill the function, then you have to go outside.”Excuse me, Councilwoman Krupa, but it's not only "technically" his job; IT IS his job by town law and if he doesn't have the necessary background to fulfill the function, then we need someone in office who does. Tell us Ms. Krupa, would your employer hire outside help if you didn't have the skills to do your job?
Isn't it interesting that Frank Basile was hired to oversee the accounting functions of the town and yet he allowed the town to overspend the budget line that he was being paid from; in fact, he allowed it to be overspent by more than 3 times the budgeted amount in 2008? It's like the fox guarding the hen house.
Equally as disturbing is the fact that it took Concerned Citizens' questions and criticism before they decided to no longer use Mr. Basile's services. Otherwise, the 2009 contract between Frank Basile's CPA firm and the Town of New Hartford was already drawn up and illegally signed by Earle Reed without town board approval (that is against town law, but the Observer Dispatch merely called it "a gaffe"...how many gaffes does it take before the OD will say the word illegal in regards to Earle Reed). Mr. Basile was all set to enjoy another year of "holding Supervisor Reed's hand" to the tune of $150 per hour; no worry about the financial part of it. After all, the town was good at moving money around at the end of the year to make up for overdrawn budget lines.
Remember the brochures that Earle sent to our homes when he was running for office? Here are a couple of quotes:
In this letter I will outline what I believe are the most important issues facing New Hartford residents and what I plan on doing on your behalf as Town Supervisor. Secondly, I will review my experience in business and in the community and how I will use both to benefit the Town of New Hartford.
Taxpayers are Customers - I will treat the taxpayers of New Hartford like customers. A good business succeeds when customers are satisfied with the product and service they purchase and receive. Taxpayers in New Hartford are the customers of Town Government and I will treat you as such.Supervisor Reed, your customers deserve and demand better customer service. You were elected to do a job that you told us time and time again you were qualified to do given your past business experience. Perhaps you should have taken a better look at the job description before you decided to run for office.
Oh, and as far as the statement in the Observer Dispatch that Ms. Fairbrother was awarded $71,544 in overtime pay...read the facts. That was no award. Ms. Fairbrother was either given the overtime pay because she uncovered something and the money was to keep her quiet or she pulled a fast one on a Town Supervisor that is not equipped to handle the responsibilities of the job! Ms. Fairbrother was not entitled to overtime or compensatory time...on top of a nice Christmas bonus, your tax dollars just helped Ms. Fairbrother get a bigger pension check when she retires in the next couple of years.
Over the next few days, we will have several comments on this story and on the second story, Town considered rehiring Basile’s firm, including some FOILed documents that might help shine some light on the situation.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Finally, on March 16, 2009, we presented a letter with attachments to the Town Board, Town Attorney Gerald Green and Frank Basile, CPA (the former Town Financial Consultant. Copies of the letter and attachments were sent to the Observer Dispatch, State Comptroller's office, Barone & Howard (town auditors), and Attorney Sciotti from the Hancock & Estabrook law firm whose opinion was the basis for giving Ms. Fairbrother the overtime payment.
We asked the Town Board to give us an explanation of how this matter will be settled. Whether we hear from them or not is yet to be determined.
The letter was sent both as an email and hand-delivered to the Town Clerk's office for distribution through inter-office mail. On March 18, we received an email from the Town Clerk that our letter was distributed to each town board member and the Town Attorney in case they didn't get our email:
Receipt is acknowledged of the "hard copy" of your email below at 3:38 PM on March 16, 2009. Per your request, paper copies have been distributed to the Town Board and Town Attorney.
Gail Wolanin Young
So, here is a copy of just the letter (no attachments) with the Town Clerk's timestamp.
We are also making available a copy of the letter with all the attachments so that you can click on each of the links to view the attachments as you read the letter.
Question - If for two (2) years, 2006 - 2008, the town attorney was being paid by the town to research whether or not Ms. Fairbrother was entitled to overtime and compensatory time, why did the Town Supervisor allow her to continue working all these overtime hours? Why was she still allowed to come to work on her own time schedule and no one said anything to her?
Question - If sometime in 2007 Ms. Fairbrother was told that she no longer was Payroll Officer and the job was given to Personnel, why did Ms. Fairbrother still need to work all those extra hours?
Question - What information did the Town Board and Town Attorney provide to Attorney Sciotti from the Hancock & Estabrook law firm in Syracuse?
Question - Supposedly the Town Attorney researched the matter for two (2) years and billed the town for almost $3,400 in legal fees to do so, did he ever bother to look in town board minutes or ask previous administrations why Ms. Fairbrother was not being paid overtime?
Question - Ms. Fairbrother certainly must have been aware of why she was not being paid overtime, the previous Town Supervisor said she was told by him on several occasions. Ms. Fairbrother obviously knew the deal when she accepted the extra money to do the Payroll, it was stated right in the 1999 minutes. Ms. Fairbrother also knew she never had to take a Civil Service exam to get the job like other town employees have to do...she was appointed. She even told members of Concerned Citizens in casual talk in her office how she got her job. If she felt so strongly about her entitlement to overtime, why didn't she hire an attorney a long time ago to represent her in this matter? Ms. Fairbrother never did hire an attorney; she merely spoke to Town Attorney Green and Attorney Sciotti, the attorney hired by the town to write the Opinion Letter.How many other town employees are being given "free rein on the taxpayers' dime" like Ms. Fairbrother seems to have enjoyed over the years?
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Why do I have to go to the school and pick-up the Petitions? I work from 8:00 a.m. til 5:30 daily.Why can't the school put these type of things on the internet where I can then download and print?Is this not the age of technology or is this just another way of keeping town residents from doing their civic duty? I am thinking of running for the school board but these roadblocks...In past years, those wishing to run for the school board have had to go to the District Offices between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., and sign your name and address on a "list" in order to get the necessary information and petition to run for school board. We were told that was so that they could keep track of who had petitions and who didn't turn them in on time. Huh? Who cares who doesn't turn them in? After the deadline date has come and gone it's too late to file your petition anyway.
Well...Concerned Citizens agreed with "Wondering" so we decided to ask the question. Today, we met with New Hartford Central School Superintendent Robert Nole to find out why the school seemed to be making it difficult for working people to participate...after all, most people are at work during those hours and some people even work out of the area.
The answer we were given is merely...because that's the way it has always been done.
So here it is...Concerned Citizens is making the nominating petition and an informational letter from the Board Clerk available online for anyone who is interested in running for the two (2) open positions on the New Hartford Central School Board. Be sure to follow the instructions in the letter and get your petition to the Board Clerk, Aurelia Greico, no later than 5:00 p.m. on Monday, April 20, 2009. Ms. Greico's office is at the Oxford Road School District Office.
So now Concerned Citizens just made it easier to get involved...let's see some new faces on this board.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Here is just a sample of what is available regarding the Freedom of Information Law.
The law allows anyone to request documents by email to the government agency's Records Access Manager. You also have the right to request that records be sent to you electronically if the government agency has the ability to do so. Records sent electronically are FREE!
Petitions must be filed with board clerk Aurelia Greico at the district office no later than April 20.
Board members serve 5-year terms; the seats up for election on May 19th are currently held by Robert Calli and David Pardi. Robert Calli has been on the board for 2 terms starting in 1999. David Pardi has held the seat for 1 term starting in 2004.
The current board listing is available on our website.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Sunshine Week is a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Utica Cable TV Public Access Channel 99 at the following times:The Common Cents TV Show is now broadcast in Rome and Little Falls on Channel 99 as well.
- Tuesday, March 17th at 10:30 p.m.
- Wed., March 18th at 5:00 p.m.
- Thurs., March 19th at 1:00 p.m.
- Fri., March 20th at 1:00 p.m.
In Rome the TV show will be broadcast on Channel 99 on:Cathy & Joe will be discussing the assessment/grievance process.
- Wed., March 18th at 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
In Little Falls the TV show will be broadcast on Channel 99 on:
Mon. March 16th at 8:00 p.m.
Wed. March 18th at 8:00 p.m.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
In fact, even the Town of New Hartford was aware of Judge Ringrose's decision. We found the July 5, 1961 Town Board minutes that said:
Town Attorney Robert E. Morris announced that a decision has been rendered by Justice Ringrose that the Scullys had been ordered to cease dumping operations.So the question is why did the D.E.C. and the Town allow the Scullys to keep dumping as late as 1973 according to the Lockheed Martin website.
Here is a slideshow of some of the 190 pictures that D.E.C. provided us:
We spoke to one of the homeowners adjacent to the dumpsite; this family has been housed at the Radisson for the past 9 months courtesy of Lockheed Martin...and they remain there as of this blog. They provided us with an Observer Dispatch article from an April 11, 1994 - We've been very lucky at this site. This article was written 33 years after the court ordered the closing of the dump...and the clean-up continues to go on today. The 1994 OD article says:
"According to all the studies that have been done -- there is no (PCB) migration to any private resident wells, the results have come out clean" said Peter Ouderkirk, the DEC project manager overseeing the cleanup. "We are very comfortable with the cleanup. We have done extensive groundwater monitoring."So if they did such extensive monitoring in 1994, how come they are back at the site again, digging and hauling away soil?
The 1994 OD article goes on to say:
The city-owned Southern Reservoir is situated about 1/4 mile from the site. Utica Water Board Principal Engineer Donald Weimer said contamination of the water supply is "impossible".So if that is the case, then how come on November 5, 1988, just about the time the D.E.C. and State first stepped in to test the site, the New Hartford Town Board bonded for $170,000 for the construction of a water supply system in and for Cascade Drive; the bond paid for by all residents of the Town of New Hartford?
The 1994 OD article also says:
DEC has classified the site...as a class 2 hazardous waste site. "If left unremediated it poses a significant threat to the environment or public health", the DEC report states.Another home at 210 Valley View Road was purchased by Lockheed Martin last summer. Why?
Can we really believe any of our town "leaders" when they tell us this dump is now clean. Look at the byline in the 1994 OD article...State and City officials are downplaying the problems at a site contaminated by toxic pollutants.
How come Town Officials never made it public that representatives from Lockheed Martin, the D.E.C. and the Health Department would be at the February 25, 2009 Town Board Meeting to discuss the Scully Toxic Dump site? Isn't this a public concern? Coincidentally, the discussion was scheduled right about the time that Concerned Citizens and WTVH Channel 5 started asking questions for a news story. They all said that people in the area were kept informed of the situation; yet a person who lived directly downhill of the site never received one piece of mail from anyone regarding the site.
And just as important, how come, according to a February 25, 2009 Observer Dispatch article quoted Stephen Litwhiler, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation as saying:
“We would have no restrictions for use,” Litwhiler said. “There is no contamination left.”We 'Googled' several other toxic waste dump sites and they all have restrictions placed on them as far as future development...yet this site has none. Why?
We have FOILed the Town of New Hartford for the file they have on the Scully site. Town residents deserve answers, particularly those in the area of the Scully dump. How many people bought homes in that area and had no idea that there was a toxic dump in their backyard? And all along the town, the D.E.C., the Dept. of Health and Lockheed Martin were well aware of the situation! This is unconscionable.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Public Hearing on Local Law Introductory "E" of 2008 (Water - Debt Service) for Higby Road Water District.
If you live in the Higby Road Water District, this law may change the amount of the debt service payment on your Town & County Tax bill.
Agenda is now available online!
Monday, March 9, 2009
A look at Ms. Fairbrother's timesheets shows that she rarely started her work day at 8:00 a.m. like all other town employees are required to do. Ms. Fairbrother worked her hours as if she was a salaried employee; she pretty much determined her own hours sometimes arriving at work as late at 10 a.m. then working until 5 p.m. or 6 p.m.
We saw only a couple of instances where Ms. Fairbrother took a vacation for a full week. She would use her sick time, personal time and vacation time an hour at a time so she could leave work early. Sometimes she would claim one (1) hour of sick time one day and then another one (1) hour of sick time at the end of the next day (sometimes as little as .25 hours of sick time) whatever it took to make her total hours equal seven (7). Then that same week she would come in on the weekend, work sometimes both Saturday and Sunday. Viola! 10-12 hours overtime.
It appears that Ms. Fairbrother wants it both ways. The ability to come and go as she pleases and to get overtime pay as well. Unfortunately, the 1999 approved board resolution specifically states that Ms. Fairbrother is a Civil Service exempt employee. Her job description that we obtained through the FOIL process even says she is an Exempt employee.
Additionally, some of Ms. Fairbrother's timesheets were done in pencil and some had white-out over the hours worked. Some were signed by a person who is not her supervisor and some were not signed at all.
Ralph Humphreys, the previous Town Supervisor, said he didn't worry about the hours she worked because she was a salaried employee and the job required that she work until the job was done. But why did Earle Reed allow her to keep working on her own "time schedule" if he thought she was not a salaried employee?
Town Attorney Jerry Green has been working on the overtime for Ms. Fairbrother since December 2006. Earle Reed has been in the Supervisor's chair since January 1, 2006...shouldn't Supervisor Reed have told Ms. Fairbrother to not work any extra hours without his approval long before December 2008 if he thought she was due so much overtime?
What are some of the additional costs to the taxpayers to resolve an issue that is quite clearly defined in the 1999 Town Board Resolution? Attorney Gerald Green was paid almost $3,400 between December 2006 and December 2008 to research Ms. Fairbrother's overtime. Attorney Sciotti of the Hancock & Estabrooke law firm billed the town $2,000 for the opinion he gave the town...unfortunately, Attorney Sciotti didn't do his homework or he would have found the board resolution that we found. This sweet deal will also increase the pension benefits of Ms. Fairbrother, plus the additional portion of social security that the town will have to pay.
Actually, we have a letter and the invoices from Attorney Sciotti. Attorney Sciotti stated in his letter that his bill was for more than $2,000 but "he wrote the bill down" so it would total $2,000 because the agreement was that if the bill was any more than $2,000, it would have to go before the town board for approval. The town board would have had to do so in the open; can't spend money out of the view of the public unless it is budgeted.
So the question still remains under what authority did the town board give Ms. Fairbrother the $71,547 in overtime?
According to Roberts Rule that the town conducts their business by, a legislative body (town board) has to approve another resolution by at least a majority vote in order to repeal, amend, annul or rescind a previously approved resolution.
We FOILed any resolution that might have been approved by a majority vote of the Town Board to make changes or override Resolution 200 of 1999. The Town Clerk looked, but she couldn't find one. In fact, we just received a certification from the Town Clerk that none exists. Therefore, the 1999 Town Board Resolution still is in effect...Ms. Fairbrother is not entitled to overtime or comp time.
Furthermore, sometime in 2007, the job of Payroll was taken from Ms. Fairbrother and given to Personnel. It was never mentioned in a town board meeting...they merely took from one department and gave to another. According to Town Law, the duties of the Town Supervisor are
Town Law Article 3A; Title 3 § 52. Supervisor.The Town Clerk was unable to provide us with a town board resolution approving the transfer of the Payroll function from the bookkeeper to the Personnel Department. So the town clerk again provided us with a certification to attest to the fact that no resolution exists.
6. Provide for and direct the internal organization and reorganization within individual town departments or agencies where consistent with applicable law, provided, however, that in any event, permissible transfers of functions between departments or agencies shall be subject to approval of the town board.
So not only did the town board pay Ms. Fairbrother monies she was not entitled to, but they failed to obtain the consensus of the town board in open meeting to transfer functions between two departments. And how come, after they took away some of Ms. Fairbrother's job duties, she still found it necessary to finagle so many overtime hours and no one said a word?
The question we will be asking the town board is under what authorization did you override an approved town board resolution in one instance and fail to adopt a town board resolution in the second instance. How much research did Attorney Green do for $ 3,400 and just what information was provided to Attorney Sciotti from Hancock and Estabrooke.
Attorney DeFina appeared before the Board stating that he represents his client, O.W. Hubbell, who wants to subdivide his property. Before it can be subdivided, it needs the Area Variances because it lacks the required frontages...Three (3) people appeared before the Zoning Board to voice their opinion. There was concern for stormwater becoming more of a problem and the impact on wildlife in that area. The minutes state:
...This is a proposed two lot subdivision where each lot in this zone is required to have 120’ of frontage on a Town Approved Road. He would like to retain Lot #2 with road frontage of 60’ and sell Lot #1 with road frontage of 80’ to the adjoining neighbor...
...Mr. Joesph Steet appeared before the Board as he is purchasing the property (Lot #1 – his intention is to purchase this lot for his own privacy – he is not intending to do build multiple houses. Codes Enforcement Officer Back said, if this application is approved, only one (1) house on each lot could be built – anything different would have to go before the Planning Board for a Major Subdivision. However, the way the entire lot is now, he could only put in one (1) home on the entire 43 acres...
Codes Enforcement Officer Back said the Town is looking into the drainage situation in this area right now.According to an August 23, 2008 article in the Observer Dispatch, the 22 acre parcel eventually could include additional sports fields, tennis courts, walking trails, a playground, parking spaces and an extension of Weston Road.
Interesting that the land given to the school was classified as residual in the town's assessment database when according to the definition on the ORPS website residual land is for commercial property that is not considered suitable for development purposes. Below is a slide presentation showing the land on March 8, 2009.
Besides possible stormwater problems (the land is extremely wet and has many streams running through it), the next question is why is this property tagged as land type residual in the assessment database? Is this just another "mistake" in the assessment database; was it to make the land appear worth less in order to keep the assessment low for the Hubbells ($19,000 assessment and the property sold for $250,000); or did the school foundation really buy a worthless piece of property. Wonder if anyone bothered to find out the permitted uses and requirements for a parcel that is zoned low-density residential.
The Zoning Variance was approved.
In a related story... At the end of the August 23, 2008 OD article noted above, the subtitle was Field of Dreams:
In June, officials in the town discussed building a ballfield on a previously landlocked parcel of land in New York Mills at a cost of about $1 million. Gilligan said the Higby Park project could work in coordination with that plan and other existing parks to make fields available across the town. “The kids would have much better facilities to play on in one location,” Doug Owen, New Hartford Little League president said. Gilligan stressed that plans are just preliminary and that the ideas for the park are just what some officials imagined as the ideal options. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen, he said. “You know, I guess that’s what dreams are made of,” he said.Deja Vu...
Concerned Citizens found an interesting article in the October 2, 1987 Observer Dispatch, Town will receive $224,592 grant to build park off Campion Road (pdf format..best viewed in 100% magnification).
Kazanjian said the new park — proposed as a part of the town's master park plan — would be located on a 40-acre tract between the town garage off Campion Road and the New York Mills School off Burrstone Road. It would provide recreational facilities needed by the community, but which are not currently available. The park would contain softball, baseball, and-soccer fields, bike paths, nature trails, a pavilion, a picnic area and restroom facilities. Kazanjian said since the grant proposal was submitted, the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has informed the town tests at the inactive New Hartford Village dump located adjacent to the property — now the site of the current Department of Transportation facility on Chenango Road — show elevated levels of heavy metal contamination that could be considered hazardous. D.E.C. also said it found similar contamination on a parcel of vacant land to the old landfill that may belong to General Electric.
...Kazanjian said the state is conducting more extensive testing at the site.Field of Dreams indeed...the same dreams they were having 22 years ago! Representatives of Lockheed Martin attended the February 25, 2009 town board meeting to discuss the Scully site on Valley View Road. They also mentioned the site between Campion Road and ConMed and said it is still being cleaned up.
Looks like the dreams will have to be put on hold for a while longer.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Concerned Citizens did some investigating. We used the town's assessment program to gather some information on this piece of property.
According to the tax map, (this is a pdf file...set the magnification to 75% for best viewing) the property is adjacent to the Higby Road School and Perry Jr. High. The property is covered by trees and is on hilly terrain. We wonder if anyone has given any thought to what happens at the bottom of the hill in the area of Danbury Circle and Chestnut Place if a lot of the trees are removed to make way for parking lots, buildings and tennis courts. Will this park with impervious surfaces create yet another stormwater issue in the Town of New Hartford?
According to the Property Information on the town website, the parcel is listed as Property Class 311 - Residential vacant land; 21.75 acres of residual land assessed for $19,000.
According to the Office of Real Property Services website, residual land means:
04 -Residual - This describes all excess land on a site which is not coded as Primary, Secondary, Undeveloped, Waterfront, or Leased Land. It should be used primarily to describe any excess land on a commercial site which is not considered suitable for development purposes....any excess land on a commercial site which is not considered suitable for development purposes? So how costly will it be to develop athletic fields, tennis courts, picnic areas, a playground and a walking trail on a hill. It looks like for now, even the school doesn't know and like usual they are putting the horse before the cart...wants before the needs. Makes you wonder if the school just bought a piece of land that no one else wanted to buy and the Hubbells didn't need or want...did they pay more than it is worth? More importantly, how much will it cost the taxpayers to turn residual land into a park?
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Now according to an article in today's Observer Dispatch the 2009/2010 proposed budget (spending) increase is 7.3%. Imagine what the actual tax increase will be this time!
Today's Observer Dispatch article said:
Among the areas where spending went up: Salaries rose $635,526 to about $21 million. The district’s capital project also accounted for a $2 million increase in spending, although some of those funds will be reimbursed by the state.We thought we would give you some "food for thought". Here is a copy of Superintendent Robert Nole's current contract.
And to think that the school board was willing to vote in favor of the PILOT program for the New Hartford Business Park thus allowing for no school tax revenues from The Hartford being used to offset the school budget for the next 15 years.
We are still trying to get a copy of the school budget, but they seem to be hesitant to let that information out to the public. Superintendent Robert Nole hasn't even bothered to answer our FOIL request. We wonder why...
Monday, March 2, 2009
Concerned Citizens read with interest the article written by Dan Miner of the Observer Dispatch, New Hartford mostly cuts ties with consultant. If this article was about Utica...it would have been written very differently; however, it is about New Hartford and the Observer Dispatch once again felt compelled to "gloss over" the events. We would like to tell the real story about Frank Basile, CPA.
Concerned Citizens waited until December 31, 2008, the date that the previous contract with Mr. Basile was to end. We were curious as to whether another contract would be signed and if so, the wording of the contract. The town board pulled a fast one the last time a contract was signed by Mr. Basile in September 2007 and we were committed to seeing that it didn't happen again.
On January 13, 2009, we FOILed a copy of Mr. Basile's 2009 contract. Shortly thereafter, we visited the town clerk's office and were told that no contract is available so we asked the Town Clerk to have the Town Supervisor certify that no contract exists. A few days later instead of a certification we were handed a contract signed by Supervisor Reed on January 23, 2009...almost two weeks before the next town board meeting where the town board could approve the contract. Since Supervisor Reed does not have the authority to sign a contract without town board approval, we told the Town Clerk the contract was invalid and was not a legally signed contract and once again reminded her that we asked for certification from Supervisor Reed as to the accuracy of his statement that no 2009 contract exists.
Then a few days later when we visited the town clerk to pick up the February 11, 2009 Town Board Agenda, we noticed that on that agenda was an item under New Business - 2009 Professional Services Contract with Basile CPA (exempt from bidding). We immediately wrote a letter to all Town Board Members asking for an explanation. We even sent courtesy copies to the State Comptroller's office and Dan Miner at the Observer Dispatch. We won't go into all the details to include the town law that prohibits a contract over $20,000 from being given to an individual without following the procurement policy of the town; instead we will share the letter we wrote. It is fairly self-explanatory.
In short, our letter informed the town board and town attorney that there is no such thing as exempt from bidding. All work over $20,000 has to either go to a bid, or a Request for Proposal or price quotes must be obtained prior to any contracts being signed. The town's own Procurement Policy clearly states the same thing. Our letter includes attachments to support our case.
Subsequently, at the February 11, 2009 town board meeting the item under New Business was taken off the agenda and we were told that the town board will be investigating things further before signing the contract.
Of course, the story in the Observer Dispatch gave a completely different version of the events leading to Mr. Basile's services no longer being needed. Let's turn our attention to the baloney in the news article.
The article quoted Mr. Basile as saying:
...it is common that a deal for professional services exceeds the client’s original budget estimates. "Our contract did not stipulate an annual cost for professional services, but only an hourly rate based upon the level of the professional providing the service,” he said.Here's the problem with that statement. In town government one cannot expend more than the adopted budget amount without first getting approval from the town board and without transferring funds from another account to cover the deficit. There is no such thing as oops...we spent more than we intended.
The article says:
Supervisor Earle Reed told the O-D that he expected to pay the company an annual salary of $40,000 when it was hired in September 2007. Since then, the town has paid $147,957, according to town records.Supervisor Reed did indeed budget $40,000 for the 2008 Adopted Budget, but at the end of 2008, it was necessary to transfer $74,422 from other accounts to balance the overdrawn account that Mr. Basile was being paid from. The question is if Supervisor Reed only intended to continue to expend $40,000, why did he then budget $100,000 for the Financial Accountant budget line in the 2009 Adopted Budget that was approved in November 2008?
The article also says:
Since it was hired, the firm has helped implement federal accounting standards, prepared the 2008 and 2009 budgets, coordinated bonding and other financing measures, evaluated internal controls, updated town financial accounting software and performed other duties, Basile saidThe Town also paid Mr. Basile to assist with negotiations and financial matters relating to the development of the New Hartford Business Park including discussions with MV Edge and OCIDA, and negotiations for PILOT agreements for Business Park occupants. We think it is important that taxpayers see just what Mr. Basile and his CPA firm has been paid to do...here are copies of his invoices for 2008. Please keep in mind that Supervisor Reed is, by town law, the Chief Financial Officer of the town.
We are providing a copy of the 2009 contract that was prematurely signed by Supervisor Reed and that would have been approved at the February 11, 2009 town board meeting if Concerned Citizens did not intervene. It is important that everyone sees just how entrenched Mr. Basile was in town politics. He was more than a financial consultant...he was being paid $150 an hour to do work that is the responsibility of the Town Supervisor. Mr. Reed has no business being Town Supervisor if he is not capable of doing the work associated with a Town Supervisor without hiring a $150 an hour consultant.
It is quite obvious that the town board and Mr. Basile fully intended to enter into a 2009 contract as evidenced by the February 11, 2009 town board agenda and the fact that in order to make it appear that the handling of Mr. Basile's contract was on the "up and up" in answer to our FOIL request, Supervisor Reed was willing to illegally sign a new contract for Frank Basile without board approval.
By the way, here is a copy of the transfers that had to be done at the end of 2008 to balance overdrawn accounts...almost $500,000 not including the transfer to pay Carol Fairbrother the overtime that she was not entitled to. Looks like someone doesn't watch their spending vs the budget on a month to month basis. Perhaps if Supervisor Reed had insisted on doing things correctly, i.e., transferring funds with town board approval prior to overspending an account, they would have known sooner than year-end that they had a problem with overdrafts.
How much did we pay Mr. Basile as a financial consultant? They actually had to co-mingle funds in order to bring all accounts to a $0 balance at year end. We suspect that the State Comptroller will have something to say about that when they come in to do an audit. Co-mingling funds is a no-no!
All this money and we still had to pay Ms. Fairbrother over $71,000 of overtime on top of her $58,000 salary. It sure is expensive to "balance the books" in the Town of New Hartford!
Deadline to apply is Wednesday, March 4, 2009. Either mail or drop off your applications, resumes and letters of interest at the Town Clerk's Office in Butler Hall on Genesee Street.
The Stormwater Committee advises the town on prioritizing and management of stormwater issues and improvements.