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Rotterdam budget process raising eyebrows

Town officials make last-minute changes without vote before hearing

— Municipal budgets are often hotly debated, but in the Town of Rotterdam talk of dollars and cents recently took a back seat to a discussion on checks and balances after the Town Board never voted to approve a preliminary budget.

Budgets go through revisions, but the timing and manner of changes to Rotterdam’s proposed spending plan have left some questioning whether the process has been transparent. The tentative budget was first presented to the board on Sept. 26, and then Town Clerk Diane Marco filed the preliminary budget on Friday, Oct. 5, without it ever seeing a vote from the board. At its Oct. 10 meeting, the Town Board called for a mandatory public hearing on the budget for Wednesday, Oct. 24, but a revised version of the budget was filed hours before that hearing was held.

The revised budget was not posted to the town’s website until late Friday, Oct. 26, after The Spotlight inquired about the revisions. Town Clerk Diane Marco said on Friday the revised budget should have been posted earlier, but there was a problem with the company who manages the website. The board never took a vote to accept either budget plan.

The changes to the budget had to do with payment in lieu of taxes revenue from General Electric. Town officials thought the revenue from a new agreement would be realized next year, but no money would come until 2014, leaving an $865,000 gap in the budget.

To help cover the loss, the town shifted accounts set aside for a GE settlement totaling around $520,000. It then raised revenues in the sales tax, mortgage tax, safety inspections and fines and fees budget lines, reduced medical expenses and cut highway spending to close the remaining gap.

Councilman Robert Godlewski called the public hearing “illegal” during the Oct. 24 meeting. He also suggested the board leave the public hearing open, so residents could comment on the changes submitted.

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