Rotterdam budget process raising eyebrows

Town officials make last-minute changes without vote before hearing

— The state’s sunshine laws require when substantive changes are made to a law or resolution after a public hearing is called, a new hearing must take place.

Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, said he has concerns with the town’s budget process.

“I think that there is an issue here,” Freeman said. “It appears that the process was not conducted in a manner consistent with law.”

Freeman questioned how the preliminary budget was approved without a board meeting, and said the changes to the budget made before the hearings were not done properly.

“Changes could not validly have been made absent a meeting,” Freeman said.

Town Supervisor Harry Buffardi on Tuesday, Oct. 30, said the town attorney is reviewing if the budget process “should have been done another way.” At the board’s next meeting, Buffardi said the board might vote on a resolution to approve any errors in the process.

Town Law requires the Town Board to review the budget and make any revisions it deems necessary. After such a review, the board then approves the preliminary budget.

Freeman wondered whether a second public hearing must now be held since changes were made to the budget after it was originally scheduled.

“I don’t see anything in the town law that would call for a second public hearing,” he said, “but then again the town law doesn’t envision an alteration of the preliminary budget between the time that it is developed and the time of the public hearing.”

Town Attorney Kate McGuirl on Tuesday, Oct. 30, said she didn’t agree with Freeman’s interpretation of the law. McGuirl didn’t have any concerns about the budget process.

“The town appropriately held a hearing in respect to the preliminary budget,” McGuirl said.

She went on to say the public hearing was not on the revised budget, but rather on the preliminary budget previously presented. She agreed there couldn’t be a revised preliminary budget without Town Board approval, but said such a document “is kind of a legal fiction” in the first place.

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