Late FEMA funds squeeze town

CHATHAM–Less than a month into the new year, the town is preparing for a potential loss of $147,000 in revenues included in the 2012 town budget. That’s about 4.5% of the town’s $3.3 million dollar budget.

“I wouldn’t call it a shortfall exactly,” said Town Supervisor Jesse DeGroodt. “But we are concerned about certain revenue streams, and right now we have to act as though we aren’t going to get them.”

Mr. DeGroodt said the town is waiting for about $115,000 in reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) related to Hurricane Irene and two other major storms. These funds would have normally been in the town’s coffers by now, said Mr. DeGroodt.

“FEMA is pretty slow right now, but they are working on 50 active disasters,” he said.

Mr. DeGroodt also said there could be a shortfall of about $30,000 in county sales tax revenue compared to the projected amount.

The town board is holding a budget workshop on March 1 to address the possible issues. If the FEMA money does not come in, the town’s Highway Department will face large cuts, said Mr. DeGroodt.

The budget news was made public by newly-elected council member Bob Balcom several days after Mr. DeGroodt called a closed-door, executive session of the board in the midst of its January 19 meeting. Mr. DeGroodt cited the need to meet in private as a “personnel” issue and highway Superintendent Joe Rickert was included in the meeting.

“About 10 minutes into the executive session I told them right up front that I thought this was wrong–holding this discussion out of the public eye,” said Mr. Balcom. “I asked the board to immediately return to a public forum, but they did not.”

Mr. Balcom said he contacted the state Committee on Open Government, which verified that the reason given for the executive session was not appropriate. He said the reason to take a personnel matter into a private forum is to protect the privacy of any individuals who might be named. Mr. Balcom said this was not the case in last week’s executive session.

“As the reason given for the executive session was not appropriate, I am not bound by any confidentiality requirements,” said Mr. Balcom.

In response, Mr. DeGroodt told The Columbia Paper that he still supported the reason for the private session of the board, but that he “quoted the wrong reason.”

“I should have said the need for the private meeting was due to ‘collective bargaining’ issues,’” he said. “I don’t construe the subject matter as being outside the bounds of an executive session.”

Mr. Balcom, the lone Democrat on the Town Board, says there is much room for improvement in the town’s budget process.

“Last fall, during the political campaign, I made the point that I did not believe the town’s budget was sustainable,” he said in a statement. “There were simply not enough cuts to spending. With low revenue, the recipe for problems was written into that budget.”

Comments are closed.