Copake freezes but can’t yet cut

COPAKE–After an hour and 40 minutes of sometimes loud, sometimes accusatory and often unproductive talk at a special meeting July 7, the Town Board seemed no closer to figuring out what to do about the town’s $175,000 budget shortfall.

That’s the amount the town may have to borrow to pay its bills this year, but it’s a higher figure than the $160,000 the board was told it needed to borrow at its June 23 meeting. And at Tuesday night’s meeting, the board said that the amount needed might be as much as $200,000, a figure that includes “a cushion.”

About two minutes into the meeting, Town Accountant Brian Fitzgerald stormed out after being asked to produce a record of year-to-date expenses.

As he headed for the door, Mr. Fitzgerald said he was going to his office to enter some new budget-related figures just handed to him and that from now on any board questions about the budget should be made to him in writing so there could be a record of questions and responses.

There was a brief, heated exchange between the accountant and Councilwoman Linda Gabaccia over some information she claimed not to have received until several months after Mr. Fitzgerald said he gave it to her. And things seemed to go downhill from there.

Councilman Bob Sacks read a list of possible budget cuts that he and Ms. Gabaccia came up with that would total about $100,000.

But the cuts he mentioned included about $50,000 in the Police Department budget, a proposal that ignited much discussion and disagreement among audience members and board members and ended with no action on any part of the list ever being taken.

Though the board had required that all town department heads attend the meeting prepared to discuss cuts that could be made to their budgets, the only one who offered a list of concrete cuts he was ready to make was Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Jeff Nayer.

Justice Brian Herman told the board to look for cuts somewhere other than the court–on the biggest budget lines first.

As the meeting dragged on, resident Ian Jarvis stood up and told the board that the budget cutting “homework” had not been done and they were “wasting time.” He said “the number-one priority” has to be a goal of not borrowing money and then working from there.

In the end, the board voted to establish a spending moratorium on everything except those expenses that the town has signed contracts to pay, such as payroll. It will also exempt emergency expenses, like those relating to public safety.

That idea was presented as a motion by Councilwoman Gabaccia and came from a plan of action issued by the State Comptroller’s Office about how a municipality can deal with a budget crisis.

Supervisor Reggie Crowley called for all department heads to submit in writing a list of cuts totaling at least 20% from each of their respective budget lines by July 22. Once those submissions are received another budget-related meeting will be scheduled.

The meeting ended with the board voting to go into a closed-door session to discuss “a personnel matter and possible disciplinary action.” No action was taken following the session.

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@ColumbiaPaper.  

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