Ann Gallelli on Transparency Under Croton United

To the Editor,

On Sunday, Croton United Party’s Mayor Schmidt called me at home to tell me that, after the May issue, he no longer wants me to write the Village’s monthly Newsletter you receive. He wants a staff person to write it and is “rethinking” its frequency. While many people could certainly write it, given the 30 to 40 hours each one takes, his decision is a very costly one to taxpayers; basically a week’s worth of some staff person’s time. This is apparently a unilateral decision as the future of the Newsletter was not discussed by the Board at any meeting, budget or otherwise.
Two weeks ago, Roseann Schuyler, Chair of the Croton United Party, FOIL’ed all copies of the personal message I write to give my insights, based on years of active involvement in village affairs, on the matters to be discussed at Board meetings. It is called Decoding Village Agendas and many of you may receive them as I send it to everyone who asks. Ms. Schuyler wants the list of recipients as well.

This past week, Ginny Calcutti, 2014 Croton United Party candidate for Trustee, has FOIL’ed my Village paychecks from June 2014 to date. These only include the amount I receive as a Trustee ($250/month) and the amount I receive for writing the Newsletter ($400 each), all of which is public information and has remained the same for many years. One has to wonder what she is seeking.

Is this the “civility” the Croton United Party campaigned on? It is hard to construe this as anything other than a concerted and politically motivated campaign of harassment.

Ann Gallelli

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Brian Pugh on Open Government

To The Editor:

At last week’s Village Board meeting, Mayor Greg Schmidt endorsed the idea of publishing all Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests to the Village on-line. I strongly endorse this move towards “active disclosure,” the practice of making information readily available, to the extent legally and technically feasible, a policy for which I have previously advocated in these pages.

New York State’s Freedom of Information Law (Public Officers Law §87) allows members of the public to access records of governmental agencies, including municipal government. FOIL provides a process for the review and copying of an agency’s records.

“Active disclosure” is not a new concept. The federal government has embraced it, in theory at least, for some time.

Today, some federal agencies have adopted the practice of posting documents online at the same time they are sent to the requesting citizen—commonly known as “Release to One, Release to All.”

I hope that the Village will soon adopt a policy of “Release to One, Release to All.” In addition, I support the Village posting all FOIL requests and their final disposition (approved, denied, appealed, etc.), so that members of the public can see what’s being requested, who is requesting and which requests are being granted.

On March 11, Roseanne Schuyler, Chairwoman of the Croton United Party, wrote a letter to The Gazette (in response to an earlier of a letter of my own endorsing active disclosure) to “support the enactment of a local law that would require every future administration—regardless of political majority—to make proactive disclosure of public documents the standard practice of this village.”

I remain very much in favor of such proactive disclosure, yet I have yet to see a draft local law on this issue. Hopefully, CUP Chairwoman Schuyler can prevail upon her governing Croton United Party majority on the Village Board to make this a priority now that the Village budget has been adopted.

Sincerely,

Brian Pugh

Ann Gallelli on the 2016-17 Budget

To the Editor,
The Village’s budget for 2016/2017 is behind us now with the good news that residents will see a very small tax increase and will receive their Tax Freeze rebate in the fall. I am very appreciative of the hard work put into developing this budget by Manager King and Treasurer Bullock and how difficult it was to stay under the Tax Cap. This year’s levy was increased by $69,603.34, a combination of the allowable increase for this year of 0.012%, about $40,000, and a carryover of $19,145. The latter number is the amount the previous administration did not utilize in their 2015/2016 tax levy and thus was available to enhance this year’s allowable levy amount. When added to this year’s maximum levy amount, the carry over allowed the Village to remain below the allowable limit in the 2016/2017 budget.

While some very important initiatives have been discarded from being undertaken this year such as moving forward with the important Croton Point Avenue improvement project (more than half of it funded by the federal government), it is good news that two of the projects initiated by the previous administration remain in this year’s capital budget and will be implemented this year. The program to replace street lights with LED lights and the improvement project for Elliott Way between Senasqua Park and the Yacht Club will both move forward.

Overall, the Village is in sound financial shape as evidenced by Moody’s keeping our Aa2 credit rating based on our financial standing at the end of 2015 and the auditor’s acknowledgement that a healthy Fund Balance is an indicator of sound financial condition. Currently the Village’s unrestricted Fund Balance is approximately $4.5 million which is money previously paid in taxes but not spent.

Ann Gallelli, Trustee

Brian Pugh on the Village Budget

To the Editor:

I am proud to have voted for the 2016-17 budget, the second tax cap compliant budget that I have supported since being elected to the Village Board in 2014.

The Village Manager and the rest of the staff deserve credit for crafting such a budget. As Mayor Schmidt once said, “We as trustees, in this Village, do not really run the budget. The management staff runs the budget.”

Nonetheless, we, as elected officials, are responsible for providing the overall strategy for achieving our community’s goals. In some ways, our strategy is best reflected in our capital budget.

That’s why I sincerely hope the majority on the Board will reconsider key community projects that have been excluded or delayed. The planned reductions to the scope of the Croton Point Avenue project and its delay until 2018 are one such example. This is a project that won a federal highway grant some years ago, was endorsed by the Bicycle/Pedestrian Committee and whose plans were finally approved by the NYS DOT at the end of last year.

My Croton United Party colleagues have rationalized delay on the basis of fiscal austerity. However, I fear that this may be a case of false economy–a classic example of being pennywise and pound foolish. According to the Wall Street Journal, the consensus forecast among economists is for steadily rising interest rates, energy prices and inflation.

Higher costs for financing and construction could easily wipe out whatever benefits my colleagues in the ruling Croton United majority imagine they are winning for the taxpayer. Indeed, their course could mean that residents will end up paying more for these project–even as the public is denied the benefit of these improvements for years.

I hope that the Board will take these factors into consideration before making a final decision.

Also, it’s unfortunate that the majority on the Board chose not to increase the pay of the lowest paid Village workers, who make $8.25, to $9/hr–the state minimum wage (the Village is exempt from the state minimum wage, according to our labor counsel). This, despite the fact that the total cost of such an increase would be around $5,000–a fraction of an $18M budget and a sum that was dwarfed by increases in executive pay and other discretionary decisions made by the Board majority.

Maddeningly, an increase in the starting wage to $9 hour (and my suggested budget offsets) was rudely rejected by one of my colleagues in the Croton United Party majority. Injury was added to insult when the CUP majority made unnecessary discretionary payments that could have easily paid for increasing the wages of the Village workers making less than the minimum wage.

Despite these setbacks, I think there are opportunities for cooperation and that all of the issues I’ve raised here can be addressed.

Sincerely,

Brian Pugh, Trustee