The Gap Elimination Adjustment

 

       

 
March 21, 2014
Dear Parents and Friends:
  
YOUR VOICE IS IMPORTANT! Thanks to all who have already written to our legislators to ask them TO ELIMINATE THE GEA! For those who have not yet done so, there is still time. Did you know that over the past 5 years CCSD has lost over $12M in NYS aid due to the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA)? For 2014-15, the District is slated to lose another $2.2M. What is GEA and what can you do about it? Learn more and write to your legislators and ask them to support the elimination of GEA. For more information and sample letters visit the Advocacy section of our website at http://www.carmelschools.org/site_res_view_folder.aspx?id=059c3fca-b041-4be3-b7ad-bb9eebc59b2d
 
 
 
 
 

It appears the CCSD is on a tear trying to get people to write to legislators to build momentum for doing away with something called the "Gap Elimination Adjustment" or GEA. The GEA is a bit of budget magic thought up a few years ago as a way of vanishing the problem of promising more in State aid to school districts than the State can deliver. It works like this.

Each year, the State decides on the sum it anticipates it will send as state aid to each school district, based partly on economics and partly on what the State politicians think people want to hear. Each year for the last few years the promises have outstripped the State's ability to deliver, partly due to the rotten economy and partly due to political pressure to promise a lot. This creates a "gap" between what was promised and what is possible. Enter the GEA.

The GEA "eliminates" the gap by creating a negative amount of state aid for each district. Add up all the positive state aid and negative state aid, and, Presto!, a bottom line that adds up to what the state can actually afford.

Since each school district ends up holding a little chunk of the overall gap and all the little chunks still all add up to the original big gap, I'm pretty sure nothing's being eliminated at all. Instead, what's happening is that the school districts (who understand perfectly well how this works) get to pretend to be surprised they didn't get what they "planned" to get from the State, and so need to raise local property taxes more than they wanted to. This worked well for everybody until the "tax cap" made it harder for districts to increase local taxes. But I digress.

This year, His Excellency's budget anticipates that there will be a surplus of revenue, so the New York Stat School Boards Association wants the Legislature to eliminate the GEA. NYSSBA contends that this, somehow, will get school districts more state aid. It won't because eliminating the GEA doesn't create more money.

Even so, getting rid of a budget gimmick is probably a good idea. Instead of creating a gap by promising what's politically expedient and then delivering what's economically feasible, the State should promise only what it can afford. With no gap there's no need for a GEA.

GEA or no GEA, we'll still be left with important problems. The State still won't be able to afford as much as the school districts would like. Local property taxes will still remain unsustainably high. And while everyone will still agree funding for schools in NYS is a mess, we'll still have no general agreement on how to fix it.

But killing the GEA might help push us a step closer to having an honest discussion of our problems with funding public education and a step away from fuzzing things up with budget magic.

CCSD Chooses to Redistribute Tax Burden

As anticipated, the CCSD heard from those who stood to benefit from special treatment. And, as expected, the CCSD Board of Education did the easy thing and gave them their special break. This time the special people were veterans.

From now on – year after year – veterans will pay less in support of their schools than other people. And the other people will pay more year after year to give the veterans their special treatment. According to the CCSD's assistant superintendent for business, next year the fee will be about $29 on average for homes not occupied by veterans. It'll be more later as taxes go up.

Now, everyone agrees veterans pay too much in taxes. So do the rest of us. But is using the school district funding mechanism to make a direct redistribution of wealth really a good idea? How does this action advance the mission of the school district? Why did the Board of Education decide to get involved in setting social assistance policy? Why is the policy of giving veterans who have expensive houses a bigger break than veterans with more modest houses even reasonable?

This is a really bad precedent, in my view. The community does not need the Board of Education to go into the business of setting social assistance policy through selective taxing. If veterans need help – and some might well – it should come through the mechanisms the state and federal governments already have in place, not through jiggering how public education is funded. And the amount of assistance should be tied to need, not to how much property taxes a person pays.

Boo for the State Legislature for allowing this exemption. Boo for the Board of Education for utilizing it. Boo for the veterans for asking for it.

A Modest Proposal from CCSD

The CCSD published an addition of its Schoolhouse News today that may be of interest. It says:


February 4, 2014

Recent changes to the Alternative Veterans Exemption now authorize school boards to offer a special veteran's tax exemption. The CCSD Board of Education is considering providing a partial tax exemption to property owners who are veterans. The District is asking resident community members if they support giving veterans a tax break by completing a brief straw poll by Friday, February 21, 2014.  

For more information and to take the poll, click here or visit our home page at http://www.carmelschools.org


 

I don't know what you think, but here's my take.

This proposed exemption would undoubtedly be beneficial to those who received it. Every exemption benefits its recipients. But adopting it can't be good in the long run for the community CCSD serves. Inventing new exceptions, exemptions, abatements, and other special deals for this or that favored group, person, or corporation necessarily increases the burden on those who are not given special treatment.

We obviously have a broken and unfair system of paying for public education on our hands, and trying to placate some at the expense of others isn't a reasonable long-term fix. It doesn't address the underlying problems, it sets up resentments between similarly situated people who are treated differently, and it causes unintended demographic shifts as individuals make decisions about where to live.

Whether you agree with me on this or not, I urge you to spend the few minutes it takes to complete the CCSD's straw poll. You really ought to tell 'em what you think.

Open Letter to the New Town Board

Kent fiscal watch recently sent this letter to the new Kent Town Board:

January 16, 2014

Subject: Open letter to the Kent Town Board

 

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Kent Town Board:

Kent Fiscal Watch would like to give our thanks to each of you for taking on the duties and responsibilities of administering the government of our town. To those most recently elected, we say welcome.

Kent Fiscal Watch applauds the decisions made at the organizational meeting to hold the salaries of the Supervisor and Town Board Members at 2013 levels and to allow residents to speak on subjects not restricted to the formal agenda. Fiscal restraint and open communication are positions Kent Fiscal Watch has long advocated.

Kent’s residents depend on their local government for many services and look to you for their effective, efficient, and transparent management. We recognize that your jobs are not easy, that the five of you will not always agree on the best course of action, and that, despite your best efforts, not everything will be perfect. We trust, though, that by keeping the lines of communication between the local government and those it serves open, you will be able to maintain and build the public’s trust in our local government.

In observing the initial Town Board meeting of 2014, we were heartened to see the collegial interaction among all of you. We urge you to continue to confer with one another at workshops and meetings, especially on subjects on which you disagree.

Again, thank you for agreeing to serve our town. The members of Kent Fiscal Watch look forward to a stellar 2014 under your leadership. If there is anything any of us can do to help you, please feel free to call on us.

 

David Ehnebuske

President, Kent Fiscal Watch, Inc.

We sincerely hope, dear reader, that you agree with us and will help to encourage the new administration to do its job honestly, openly, and prudently. As the old saw goes, people get the government they deserve. You, as with all of us, have a role to fulfil in deserving good government. We hope to see you at upcoming Town Board meetings.

Town of Kent 2014 budget

I have submitted the following letter to the local press (maybe they won't print it):

 

"On November 7, the Kent town board approved its 2014 budget.

As in the previous 3 years, expenditures exceed revenues, the deficit this year being $444,000, covered by drawing on reserves.

The important issue for taxpayers is that, while total expenditures for the General and Highway Funds in this budget are up only 0.9% over the 2013 budget, the property taxes to be levied are up by 1.66%.  The politicians then had the effrontery to lie to us and claim “lowered taxes to less than 1% per year”.

Of great concern to me are 2 cancers in the budget that appear year after year.

The first is the enormous unfunded liability being carried forward (and increasing) for post-retirement health care benefits for retired employees.  The unfunded obligation for this cost has reached $28.8 million, as disclosed in Note 3 to the town’s audited financial statements for 2012.  The budget includes $425,000 for benefits to employees no longer working for the town - this is the cost for 2014, without anything being put towards the $28.8 million coming due in the future. 

 
The second is the enormous cost of the municipal garage.  The 2014 budget for this department is $985,706.  This “captive” department services only town vehicles (Highway, Police, Administration, Lake Carmel Sanitation, Parks & Rec., etc.).  Yet, it is budgeted to bill these user departments only $300,000.  What do the unbilled costs of $685,706 represent?  Underbilling the user departments?  That means we don’t see the true costs of those departments and that members of Special Districts are getting a subsidy from the rest of us.  Is it idle mechanics and unused parts and supplies?  Are the mechanics working on someone else’s vehicles (and supplying parts) at no charge?  The town board won’t tell us.

Let’s hope that the new town board taking office on January 1 will attend to these cancers.

 

Kent Fiscal Watch (www. kentfiscalwatch.org – I’m a member) has been drawing attention to these (and other) fiscal matters for years.

 

I earnestly hope that all taxpayers will get informed and vocal about these matters.  We have the highest town taxes in all of Putnam County.  Our local apathy is tragic."

REPORT OF PROCEEDINGS AT “THE PEOPLE’S FORUM” October 30, 2013

PROCEEDINGS AT “THE PEOPLE’S FORUM”

HELD AT THE PRESERVE PUTNAM SPAIN CORNERSTONE PARK MEETING ROOM

7 P.M. OCTOBER 30, 2013

(hosted by Kent Fiscal Watch)

Forty four voters attended the Forum and took the opportunity to tell the candidates running for election in Kent and the County how they would like to see their government conducted, propose ideas, express concerns and ask questions.

Candidates appearing were (for Town Supervisor) Maureen Fleming; (for Town Board) Janis Bolbrock, Paul Denbaum and Bill Huestis; (for Highway Commissioner) Rich. Othmer; (for Town Justice) Kevin Douchkoff; and (for County Legislature District 5) Carl Albano and Scott Friedman.

Sending responses of being unable to attend were (for Town Justice) Peter Collins (travelling out of town); (for Tax Receiver) Jean Johnson (dental surgery); and (for Town Clerk) Lana Capelli.

Notable absentees were incumbent Town Supervisor Kathy Doherty and Town Board member Lou Tartaro, who did not respond to invitations and subsequently scheduled a Budget Workshop after receiving invitations to this function.

Voters who spoke to the candidates were courteous, respectful, to-the-point and brief.  Matters raised by voters were:

  • open, transparent and inclusive government;
  • adequate notice of agendas, opportunity for residents to be heard and their concerns  answered, open and inclusive public meetings;
  • Town Board members to be committed to independence of ideas and action, not conformists to the “Establishment”;
  • genuine effort required by leaders to implement consolidation of government services, sharing of resources and elimination of duplication, inefficiency and cronyism of appointments;
  • genuine effort to structure services to meet needs, at lowest cost, use of zero-base planning;
  • greater involvement of residents with education, training, skills and experience as advisors, task forces and researchers;
  • ensure there is no corruption;
  • genuine effort to co-ordinate urban planning with  neighbor towns, counties, Chambers of Commerce, so as to have coordinated commercial/industrial/office development;
  • intelligent efforts to attract acceptable business development, encourage business to locate, not build infrastructure and hope that business development will follow;
  • protect residents from loss of power in storms by putting utilities in-ground, seeking available Homeland Security funds for this purpose;
  • ensure County and town are not duplicating expenditures on so-called mandates (e.g. Early Intervention);
  • reduction of overtime by hiring part-timers, especially retired police officers (who are experienced, trained and limited in post-retirement re-employment earnings and whose benefit costs are low);
  • town highway road making is unsatisfactory, not well planned or executed;
  • town highway department yard on Smokey Hollow Road will be compromised by location of a zoning-violating cell tower;
Candidates at the People's Forum Candidates and voters talk about the issues at the People's Forum

Each candidate responded in turn, mostly clearly, concisely and respectfully, as follows:

MAUREEN FLEMING

Her motive to run for election was prompted by her dissatisfaction with public meetings at which residents with concerns were not answered, listened to or given a hearing.  Her platform includes reform of town meetings to permit greater interaction with residents and businesses, adequate notice of meetings and agendas, public broadcast of proceedings, openness and transparency.  She has been a life-long volunteer and will encourage volunteerism, as an assist to (not replacement of) elected officials.  She noted the significant loss of businesses (Dill’s, Bob’s Auto, Lake Carmel Hardware, LaRussells) and agrees that development needs to be coordinated, not to build infrastructure and hope.  She would re-instate Kent Police monthly report to Town Board. She has been an investigator of corruption in NYC and is committed to doing what’s right.

JANIS BOLBROCK

Her extensive experience and training in business has given her a strong base for fiscal management.  She would implement video recording of meetings, accessible on a web site that she would establish for voters to replay and to pose questions, which she would answer.  Her training and experience in Work Process Design would enable her to recommend efficiencies.  She obtained promotion and pierced the “glass ceiling” by being independent and assertive.  She is a volunteer and would make opportunity for educated, experienced residents who wished to contribute, especially business people.  She would publicize vacancies for volunteers for town commissions and boards.  She sees the need to work with County, NYC (owner of over 40% of Kent land) and schools to keep business in Kent, encourage tourism, offer travel opportunity here for outside businesses and individuals.  She would organize arborists and volunteers to protect power lines by pro-active tree work before storms (and sell the wood).

PAUL DENBAUM

He feels strongly that all residents who come to meetings or contact the Town should be heard and responded to.  He was prompted to run for election by observation of the current administration.  He is a strong believer in open and transparent government, adequate notice of meetings, agendas and broadcast.  As a specialized attorney in municipal and real estate, he has seen other communities implement efficiencies, consolidation, shared services.  He would encourage educated, skilled and experienced volunteers to bring their skills to assist the town.  He wants to hear from taxpayers, but wants to be the one to do the job.  He would work to obtain support of the taxpayers as an active decision maker, a worker, looking for ways to reduce taxes.  He intends to be fiscally inquisitive, find ways to save expenses, increase revenue.  He believes that the town needs new people running it, new ideas.  He is fiercely independent, demonstrating that by not complying with the local Republican establishment, campaigning independently and winning the primary.  He intends to be a spark plug if elected, raising issues, non-conforming, independent decision maker.  Believes in term limits.  Would offer pilot programs, tax concessions to encourage business to locate in Kent.  Does not agree with construction of sidewalks, sewers and then waiting for business to come - this needs a more aggressive approach.  Utilities should be underground in all new development and whenever existing roads are improved.  He opposes cronyism in town appointments, would not comply with local Establishment.

BILL HUESTIS

A long-term resident, deeply involved in the communities of Kent and the County.  Long record of volunteerism.  His platform is to throw out existing procedures for meetings, make all meetings open, encourage resident input.  Wants to involve all stakeholders; gives example of the consultation process in the Master Plan revision (not executed properly, as those consulted were left out of the final determinations).  Supports thorough review of all budget expenditures and ways to consolidate, share services.  Wants to reinvent government, reinvent the Town of “Can’t”.  Would get the educated, skilled residents involved – he is big on community development.  Municipal accounting is very important.  Commercial development is needed, needs a salesman.  Ludingtonville Road/Route 52 area should get attention for this.  Too many lost businesses.  Dills property now going off the tax roll - that pushed him to run for election.   Town board, planning, zoning, assessment review are all areas where input from stakeholders is valuable, as there are hard decisions made by these bodies.  Urges all to be volunteers, look at Communities That Care.  He supports term limits.  Wants to re-invent Kent, he found many discouraged residents as he went door to door campaigning.  Wants job descriptions for all paid and volunteer positions.

SCOTT FRIEDMAN

Long-term resident of the Hamlet of Carmel, very active in Carmel civic affairs and the county – an active attendant at meetings, providing input and questioning decisions.  Strong believer in open government, which he has fought for all of his life.  Will ensure that County establishes a broadcast system for all meeting which residents can stream on-line to their computers.  Would offer that resource to the towns as well.  Has seen the political reluctance to consolidate, share and make efficient.  There are grant monies available for feasibility studies, demonstration projects and for implementation.  He is sensitive to the job security of existing staff, who are mostly doing a good job, but more efficiency is needed.  He supports the idea of resident advocacy groups, ways to involve residents with skill and expertise.  Development and drawing new business to the County are challenges, but he has been advocating for 20 years for a reasonable, comprehensive plan, that establishes pockets of cross-fertile commercial development, compatible small business.  He advocates a sharing of the sales tax with the towns in a way that discourages them competing for the same development and wanting the tax generated by such business to come to the town that gets the business.  Kent is a case in point, as it is so dominated by NYC watershed property, limiting its development.  Wants to expand the bike trail – connect all of Lake Carmel to it.  Wants to see a hotel development, a conference center – promised in the past, but not delivered.  He is disgusted at corruption and has fought it by calling for resignations, consulting FBI, writing letters.  He would open government, bidding, appointments.  He would stop concessions to favored parties.  He has a 6-point tax plan, would put bank account transaction data on-line for resident review.  All contracts would be available on-line and all bonds issued.  Would offer incentives to employees for identifying opportunities for savings, increased efficiency.   Would use zero based budget techniques.  State mandates are a significant element of County expenditures.  He supports the idea of hiring part-timers as regular employees retire, relocate or leave.

CARL ALBANO

He was unable to attend the full meeting, due to his commitment for the legislature’s consideration of the 2014 County budget.  He is a questioner of the “that’s the way it is” response in the County. There are laws governing a lot of the County’s activities, which have to be complied with, but there must be constant seeking of ways to save the taxpayer money.  He supports the idea of hiring part-timers as regular employees retire, relocate or leave.

RICH. OTHMER

He was unable to attend the full meeting, due to his commitment for the legislature’s consideration of the 2014 County budget.  He spoke to County issues, even though he is running for election as Kent Highway Superintendent.  He questioned the correctness of the suggestion that both County and Carmel Schools had expenditures of millions of dollars for Early Intervention.  He stressed the heavy burden of State mandates, which make the legislature’s job of approving budgets very difficult, no much savings available.  For town highway, he stressed his organizational abilities, skill at motivating employees, his own work history and ethic.  He has many ideas for review, revamping of the department.  He has ideas for sharing the heavy trucks and equipment with the County, other towns and establishing coherent snow plowing arrangements among these bodies.  He was a little taken aback at the suggestion that he work to eliminate the department by consolidating it with the County, other towns, but promised to consider the idea.  He was aware of the difference in quality of road making in Kent compared to other towns and the County.  He will address the concerns of residents of East Boyds Road, who have seen the road only partially repaved and the new work quickly break up.  He will investigate the physical constraints on the department that the Smokey Hollow Road cell tower may cause.

KEVIN DOUCHKOFF

Restricted by State Justice court ethics rules, he was not able to offer opinions on present government or suggestions for the future.  He gave a comprehensive review of the Kent municipal court, outlining the case work undertaken by the 2 justices.  Revenues from fines have risen significantly, by 52% to $680,000.  Kent was #124 in the State, but now ranks 77th (out of 1,300).  He spoke of improvements in court processing of cases, of the Special Prosecutor for traffic violations and the implementation of credit card processing for collection of fines.  He is committed to fair sentencing and is a strong believer in community service for offenders who have made minor mistakes in life – he sentenced an aggregate of over 2,000 hours last year.  It is not the quiet rural court one would imagine, he had 80 cases last week.

 

Candidate Biographies

In preparing for the People's Forum, KFW asked all of the candidates we invited to send us short biographies that we could use to introduce them. Here is what we used at the forum. As you can see, some candidates chose to respond and to tell voters about themselves while others chose to stay mum. It seems to us that peope who are runing for office ought to explain to voters where they are coming from and why people should vote for them. But maybe we're missing something.

In any case, here are the bios.

Carl L. Albano

Carl was elected as District 5 Legislator in 2011. This district covers The Hamlet of Carmel, parts of Lake Carmel / Kent and Mahopac. He is currently running for a second term this November on the Republican, Conservative and Independent lines.

He was born in Mt Vernon, NY and moved to Putnam County over 45 years ago. Carl attended Mahopac High School and also studied business at Dutchess College. Over the last 35 years much of his time has been spent being involved in the community issues and events. Being a member of the Mahopac Carmel Chamber of Commerce, the Carmel Hamlet Civic Association, the Lake Gleneida Committee and the Knights of Columbus have motivated him to be active with many local activities and town and county functions.

Carl’s wife Anita and he raised their 5 children in this community. They own and operate a small, successful business in Mahopac and have lived in Carmel for over 40 years. Being a self-employed small business owner in Putnam, makes him keenly aware of the issues that face a hard working community. Taxes and the ability to travel through our County with ease are among his serious concerns. Carl views working well with others as important and intends to maintain a positive relationship with his legislative colleagues and the administration. As a Legislator for District 5, Carl is devoted to getting the job done. He promises his decisions and actions will continue to be based upon common sense and teamwork.

Janis Bolbrock

Janis has enjoyed a very rewarding career and has retired as a Global Business Manager for Union Carbide Chemical Company. Through her business experience, as well as her time teaching Science in Carmel and Brewster school districts, she has acquired invaluable skills in communicating, negotiating, and team building all of which will be useful as a member of the Kent Town Board.

Volunteering has always been an important part of Janis’s life as she was raised to give back to her community. Her community work includes:

  • Kent Conservation Committee 2007 – present
  • Green Chimneys School 2008 – present
  • Kent Planning Board Member 2008 – present
  • Kent Recreation Master Plan 2011 – adopted by Town Board
  • Putnam Land Trust 2011 – present

Janis previously lived in Patterson, NY where her community track record mirrors the above.

Paul Denbaum

Paul Denbaum is a proud parent and a devoted husband who has spent his entire life in the Hudson Valley.  Born in White Plains and raised in Wappingers Falls, Paul attended SUNY Oswego where he received his Bachelors in Political Science.  Oswego is also where he met his wife Kyrsten Perry.  After Oswego, Paul earned his Juris Doctorate from Albany Law School and has been practicing municipal and contract law at the law firm of Lewis & Greer in Poughkeepsie ever since passing the bar.  In 2011 Paul and Kyrsten were married and in July of 2012 they welcomed their first daughter Rylie Marie into the world.

Paul has always been involved and taken an interest in politics and he knows that without the infusion of new ideas and fresh voices into the political system positive change cannot be achieved.  On September 10th Paul shocked the establishment by winning the Republican Primary for Town Board, beating both party endorsed candidates.  Subsequently he received the Town of Kent Conservative Party Nomination out of the Conservative Caucus.  Paul’s campaign has been focused on four themes from the beginning.  Lower Taxes, Responsible Spending, Open Government and Term Limits.

Maureen Fleming

Maureen has been  in private law practice here since 1997. Her practice includes family court, criminal and traffic court defense work as well as civil matters, such as real estate closings, wills and estates, contracts, landlord/tenant matters and employment issues. She serves as counsel to the New Tabernacle Baptist Church in the Bronx. Maureen developed an educational program for the international organization of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement regarding Sexual Abuse. She taught the program throughout the United States and in Europe. For the same organization she developed and taught an educational program on Sexual Harassment and Gender Relations.

Prior to going into private practice Maureen served in legal and other capacities in a variety of positions with the City of New York. She served on the Town’s Stormwater Management Committee for nine years and since 2005 has served on the Board of Hill and Dale Property Owners, Inc. where she is chair of the Lake Committee.

Scott Friedman

Scott is both a Pharmacist and Attorney.  He earned his BS in Pharmacy from St. John's University in Queens, NY and his Juris Doctorate from Pace University in White Plains, NY.
Scott has been a resident of the Hamlet of Carmel for 19 years, and is where he presently lives with wife and two daughters.

In addition to maintaining his legal practice, Scott is the founder and President of Mitigate Inc., a company that works with pharmaceutical manufacturers, other multi-national corporations and large healthcare institutions to implement quality assurance and loss prevention measures to reduce costs and improve patient safety.  As part of this process, Scott routinely audits hundreds of millions of dollars of expenditures and, among other things, has developed computer systems that are utilized to identify inefficiencies and reduce waste. As a Putnam County Legislator, Scott will utilize these skills to identify and eliminate waste in our County budget, and to reduce our taxes.

Scott is an outspoken advocate for Residents' Rights at both Town Board meetings, Zoning Board of Appeals Meetings, at Planning Board Meetings and in court.

Bill Huestis

Bill Huestis has served the community for over 30 years and in many capacities. There is hardly a Kent or Putnam family whose life he hasn’t touched. He initiated the Putnam County Housing Authority, made the idea of a Putnam County Veteran’s Home, which he managed for 10 years, a reality; he initiated the Friends of the Senior Citizens and served as Director of the Office for the Aging for more than 30 years. Bill also served for more than 20 years as Director of the Kent Recreation Department which he and Bernadette started in their living room. He is the recipient of a host of awards and honors from the community in which he became a seasoned administrator.