COPAKE–Officials in The Land of Rural Charm, as the town describes itself, like municipalities across the country, are trying to save a few bucks by sharing services whenever possible. But saving money, or even making sure the town gets paid what it’s owed, requires time. And yes, it can even cost money.
During an update from Town Accountant Michael Torchia on town financial matters at the February 10 Town Board meeting, the issue of who has and has not paid the town for fuel and how and when bills are generated was brought up by Councilwoman Linda Gabaccia.
It seems numerous agencies besides the town’s Highway Department use the town’s fuel supply at the town highway garage to gas up their vehicles. The Craryville and Copake fire departments, the Copake Police Department, the Community Rescue Squad and the Columbia County Resident Deputy for Copake, Ancram and Gallatin all get the fuel for their trucks, cars and ambulances at the town garage.
The system under which those agencies pump fuel and then reimburse the town has been in place for many years and is both a convenience and a cost savings to all the departments.
But it may not yield savings for the town, which buys and pays for the fuel and has to collect reimbursement from the agencies.
Town Highway Superintendent Bill Gregory recently shared with Town Board members his frustration when he attempted to figure out who has paid for the fuel pumped dating back to 2009.
Mr. Gregory sent out an email containing amounts the town had billed each agency and the amounts he knows were received, but on some of the accounts he had no record of payment and said he tried to find out whether payment was made without success.
Mr. Gregory was not doing the actual billing, but sent out records about fuel usage to Deputy Town Clerk Larry Proper, the former highway superintendent, who is also the town’s bookkeeper and was handling the billing.
Mr. Gregory needs to reconcile reimbursement payments, because the cost of the fuel comes out of the Highway Department’s side of the annual town budget.
“If he doesn’t track it, it skews his budget and looks like the Highway Department is using all the fuel,” Councilwoman Gabaccia said Wednesday.
It isn’t clear if Town Accountant Torchia was included in the fuel billing loop, because Mr. Torchia told Mr. Gregory in a subsequent email and at the meeting that if Mr. Gregory would provide him with the billing, when done, he would record the amounts as receivable on the highway books in the future.
Mr. Torchia also suggested that the billing be done monthly.
At the meeting, Ms. Gabaccia mentioned that the bills were sent out every six months. That infrequent billing caused the amounts owed to the towns by the agencies to be substantial.
Town Supervisor Reggie Crowley noted that the rescue squad still owes the town $12,000. Deputy Supervisor Joe LaPorta, who also serves on the squad’s Board of Directors, said that the squad has the money and was already supposed to have cut the town a check.
In another email provided to The Columbia Paper on the subject, Mr. Proper wrote on January 23 that he “held back” the $850 the town owes the rescue squad for rent on the space in the squad’s building occupied by Copake Police because his records showed that the squad had only paid $4,383.52 of the $12,769.17 owed to the town for fuel used in 2009 and 2010.
Bills for fuel are not sent to the Copake Police Department, but are rather handled as a transfer within the town budget.
Resident Lindsay LeBrecht asked why Copake has to provide the resident deputy with fuel, when a county highway facility is located in West Copake and the deputy could refuel there, making the charge an interdepartmental transfer of funds at the county level.
Supervisor Crowley noted at the meeting that the agreement in place with regard to the resident deputy, calls for each town within that deputy’s coverage area to share the cost of his fuel. Mr. Crowley said people are going to pay either way, through their town or county taxes.
In one of the emails about fuel bills, Councilman Daniel Tompkins, a sheriff’s deputy, wrote that the resident deputy’s fuel should be paid for out of county taxes. “Why must our taxpayers pay double for a county service which they are already taxed for? We already pay for a road patrol service from the county, the resident deputy should be included in their budget for fuel.”
As of this month, Mr. Gregory took responsibility for handling the billing so he can keep better track of it, said Ms. Gabaccia.
Yet another part of the fuel usage puzzle involves a system called Gas Boy, which keeps track of who’s pumping fuel and how much each user is pumping. The town’s Gas Boy system is 18 years old.
Mr. Gregory said at the meeting the system is “obsolete” and the cost to replace it is between $14,000 and $15,000.