Newfound fiscal frugality saves Copake a bundle

COPAKE—You’ve come a long way Copake.

It wasn’t that many years ago that this town was having trouble keeping its head above water financially. There wasn’t enough money to pay routine bills, let alone emergency expenditures and taxes were climbing.

But since Supervisor Jeff Nayer took office in 2012 and made good on his campaign promise “to actively manage the town budget” and personally scrutinize all town expenditures—things have turned around for this eastern Columbia County town of 3,615.

At the February 11 Town Board meeting, Mr. Nayer pronounced the town financially “healthy now” and asked for board approval to allow Town Attorney Ken Dow to look into how to establish one or more reserve funds.

Money in a reserve fund is earmarked for specific expenditures and, in particular, Mr. Nayer wants to start a reserve fund for the town’s equipment needs, covering everything from snowplows to computers. “You just can’t get the same number of years out of a pickup truck” anymore, he said.

Capital improvement funds pay for things like buildings, parking lots, driveways and sidewalks.

The money is there for a reason” and when the town needs it “we don’t have to go to the taxpayers,” said Mr. Nayer, making it clear that “it is taxpayer money and we are being good stewards of it.”

Councilman Stanley “Stosh” Gansowski agreed it will help the town “avoid hills and valleys.”

While “a lot of other towns are bonding,” Mr. Nayer noted that Copake saved $18,000 in interest over five years by paying $220,000 cash for a new town truck last year. The money came out of the town’s fund balance, which right now contains about $1.2 million.

In a follow-up phone call this week, the supervisor estimated the town will need to spend between $500,000 to $700,000 to replace aging highway equipment in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Calling a reserve fund a form of money protection, Mr. Nayer said, “If we plan now the taxpayer won’t get hit with the burden of taking out a loan or bonding.”

It was noted at the meeting that Copake’s sales tax revenues were up for the fourth quarter of 2015 over 2014 by 5.5% or $8,000 and for the year by $1,047.95. Mr. Nayer said the increase was surprising since gas prices are down.

Also, between January 1 and February 5, 2015, the town spent $70,500 on snow removal; that compares to just $13,386 this year for the same period. Even with the addition of the $11,516 spent from February 6 through 11 this year, that’s still $45,000 less than last year.

All the money that the town doesn’t spend stays in the fund balance and from there it can be allocated to lower taxes or be funneled into a reserve fund as the board sees fit.

Attorney Dow noted that there are rules governing how money can be expended from reserve funds, depending on the typesome require permissive referendums, others a resolution.

The board agreed that Mr. Dow should investigate and report back next month about the options.

In other matters, the board:

*Heard that Mr. Nayer recently counted 13 street lights out in town and Mr. Gansowski counted 12. The non-working lights were reported to New York Gas and Electric Company and all have been replaced. Mr. Nayer noted that NYSEG charges the town the same rate whether or not all the lights are working

*Heard that Town Clean-up Day has been set for May 21 at the Town Highway Garage. A scrap metal dumpster will be available and the town will impose a limit of four tires (not larger than 19”) per resident

*Heard that all town boards and committees are invited to a workshop meeting at which planning consultant Nan Stolzenburg will explain the revisions made to the town’s zoning ordinance. Since the changes are “complicated and difficult to digest,” according to Councilwoman Jeanne Mettler, Ms. Stolzenburg will give a PowerPoint presentation and a handout so people can comprehend the changes before voicing their opinions about them. The public can attend also, but there will be no public comment at that time. The two-hour workshop is slated for March 21, 7 to 9 p.m. at Town Hall.

The Town Board’s next regular meeting is March 10 at 7 p.m.

To contact Diane Valden email

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