BY JEFF GILLIES
Last November, an overwhelming majority of voters in the Town of Clarkstown expressed their desire for fiscal reform in the town. As a result, Supervisor George Hoehmann, Councilman Frank Borelli and Councilman John Noto were elected with the expectation that they would usher in a new era of fiscal responsibility and ethical government.
As their administration approaches its sixth month in office, encouraging results are starting to show. Staff reductions and other cost saving measures have been enacted in multiple offices, including those of the town attorney and the supervisor, resulting in a savings estimated at roughly $1.3 million dollars per year to the taxpayers. Studies aimed at finding cost savings in other departments are underway, most notably in the town’s police department, where a review by an outside consulting firm is currently being conducted.
The town has also contracted out to review its DEC, Parks and Recreation and Justice Court in search of savings and efficiency improvements. With those actions in motion, the Town Board has now set its sights on fulfilling campaign promises to reduce the town’s overall debt, currently valued at roughly $114 million dollars.
As councilmen, Hoehmann and Borelli had advocated for, and finally swayed the prior administration to formulate a 5-year Capital Plan. Prior to 2015, this had never been done. Year after year, reserves were depleted, bonded debt rose and taxes increased, in some years being kept artificially low by raiding reserve funds to cover operating costs. As the house of cards began to fall, Clarkstown’s bond rating was downgraded. The goal of the 5 year plan was to help forecast and budget for expenses to keep them in line with revenue. On Tuesday, May 17, the second such plan was presented in a Town Board workshop to the residents of Clarkstown.
Over each of the next five years, the town plans to reduce its debt with an overall reduction of $6.7 million dollars over that time period. Each and every year, the town will retire more in existing debt than it takes on. Supervisor Hoehmann expressed what he felt was a realistic goal to overachieve in this plan and get the overall debt under $100 million by the year 2020.
The debt reduction will be accomplished via several different avenues including lowering current costs of services, refinancing at better interest rates, and looking at the potential benefits of the consolidation of purchasing power with other towns. In one instance, the Town has reworked a contract with an engineering vendor that went from a $75,00 dollar annual contract to a month-to-month agreement at $3,500 per month.. The contract will be put out to bid shortly, while in past years it has been pushed through without going through an open bid process.
In many cases, the town has spent in great excess of guidelines suggested by the New York State Dormitory fee schedule for architectural and engineering fees. As Councilmen, Hoehmann and Borelli railed against those excesses; they are now in the position to change them.
In a statement to local online political magazine Rockland Voice, Councilman Borelli remarked on that change, noting how these fiscal reforms were rarely implemented in the prior administration. Borelli stated: “In the past, George (Hoehmann) and I would try to get things like this through, but our concerns fell on deaf ears. Now, with John Noto and Adrirenne Carey on the Town Board, we have the votes to actually put these plans into action. This is all about making sure we keep the promises we made to the voters on the campaign trail last year. We will be accountable to the taxpayers.”
The town will also be purchasing its lighting district, and as a result of ownership will see a significant reduction in the tax rate it pays as a municipality as opposed to the rate it currently pays to the O&R utility company. Plans are underway for street lights to be retrofitted to LED bulbs, resulting in an estimated 20 percent savings on operating costs. The town will also be pursuing a consolidated purchase of the retrofitting equipment needed to convert to LED with the Town of Orangetown in order to reduce the initial cost of the equipment.
In other efforts to reduce costs and patronage jobs, two existing town committees will be disbanded and combined into a single committee. The Architectural and Landscape Commission and the Historical Review Board will be consolidated into a new Architectural Historic Review Board and the net result will be seven fewer members being paid salaries. Previously, the Town has worked out arrangements to eliminate several instances where a committee member was drawing a salary as both President and member on a committee. The Town Board has indicated that these committees will face further scrutiny as the terms of individual members expire.
At Tuesday’s Town Board meeting, the supervisor explained that he was calling for three meetings in June. Two of these on the 7th and 21st will focus on efforts to enact a ‘No Knock’ law, and a special town board workshop on June 28 will be dedicated to a first ever presentation of the annual town audit results by the auditors for the public and the presentation of the multi year fiscal plan. As a councilman, Hoehmann pushed for this plan to give a forecast for the coming four years, and now that he is supervisor it will be implemented.
In a statement to Rockland Voice Supervisor Hoehmann offered: “It’s pretty simple really; everything is being looked at. We need to spend less, bond less and we absolutely must not only open the doors to town hall, but our books to the public to insure transparency. This is what I promised and I intend to deliver with the strong support of my colleagues. This is how it should be–it’s the people’s hard earned tax dollars, we must be wise and frugal in how we spend it. The people deserve nothing less.”
Perhaps the most significant of the initiatives Hoehmann mentioned is the plan to present the results of the Town’s fiscal audit to the public for the first time ever. This is an extremely welcome development, as it will provide visibility to exactly what outside auditors see without political spin or filtering.
It has been a quiet but productive six months for the new administration. Almost forgotten is the circus atmosphere of last November, when the voters of Clarkstown clearly showed they were fed up with the out-of-control spending, fiscal mismanagement and questionable integrity of their town government. A reform movement swept in promising to change all that; but campaign promises are often empty ones. In this case, based on what we have seen so far, those promises are being kept.
There is still much work to be done, and citizens must remain vigilant when it comes to local politics, but the reform-minded majority of Hoehmann, Councilmen Borelli and Noto seem to be actually looking out for the taxpayers. It’s a welcome development brought about by citizens putting aside political party affiliation and voting for candidates with the courage to enact real change.
As a result, we now have a government in Clarkstown working FOR the people.
Jeff Gillies currently resides in Bardonia and has roots that go back four generations in Rockland County. He is a graduate of Villanova University and Albertus Magnus High School. He has lived most of his life in Rockland County and grew up in Congers.
Originally published by the Rockland Voice