Ancram’s brain trust puts tax dollars to work

ANCRAM—When it comes to town money matters, Ancram has its own bunch of volunteer fiscal experts, known collectively as the Financial Advisory Council (FAC).

These nine citizens all have one thing in common—they like numbers.

Some come from financial or business backgrounds, but all are interested in the financial aspects of town government. They meet once a month to review and discuss town finances, conduct an annual audit of financial books and records and come up with recommendations about when and if the town should spend money or save it depending on the financial climate and the weightiness of town coffers.

At last month’s Town Board meeting, Supervisor Art Bassin told the board that the FAC had recommended the town pay off, in advance, the remaining balance of about $240,000 owed on the $400,000 loan the town took out in 2015 to buy two new plow trucks. The interest rate on the loan was a low 1.99%.

Councilman Hugh Clark said he sat in on a couple of FAC meetings and noted that after some “healthy debate” the group arrived at a consensus that paying the loan off was a good idea and the money that would have been paid on the loan could be put to better use making more money.

By paying off the loan, the town would save $9,000 in interest over the next three years. The annual interest and principal the town would pay over the coming three years, $84,000 annually, could then be added to the contingent account to replenish cash reserves and preserve the town’s ability to borrow in the future should the need arise, Supervisor Bassin said in his August financial report.

In a follow-up phone call, the supervisor said, the town collects about $775,000 annually in taxes, which covers all the town’s bills for the coming calendar year. At the same time the town’s policy is to maintain a cash reserve fund equal to about one year’s worth of taxes, about $800,000. So at the beginning of the year the town has about $1.5 million in the bank and if all goes according to plan, by the end of the year after the bills are paid, the town’s balance is still around $800,000.

Still, the town’s money in the bank was only earning .25% in interest, said the supervisor, which prompted him to look for some way to invest the money for a higher yield. While he found some CDs with 1% and 1.5% interest rates, they were not offered to municipalities, though he was able to negotiate a .5% interest rate on the town’s account going forward.

He noted at the meeting that he was not comfortable paying the bank 1.99% in interest to borrow the town’s own money, while the town was only earning a fraction of that interest back on the money in its bank account.

Councilwoman Madeleine Israel asked whether it wasn’t better to continue to pay the known interest rate of 1.99% on the current loan than to pay it off and have to borrow money later at an unknown and possibly higher interest rate.

According to Mr. Bassin’s calculations, by banking the money that would have been spent on truck loan payments, the town will have enough money in its reserve account to make a substantial purchase without having to borrow at all.

The board faces the possibility of having to purchase a new or used grader for use by the Highway Department in the next six months. A grader will cost an estimated $250,000 new or $60,000 to $120,000 used. The purchase of a third new plow truck is slated for 2020 at a cost of $200,000.

The board voted to prepay the truck loan.

Anyone interested in joining the FAC should contact Mr. Bassin by email at or by phone at 518 469-7768.

In other business at its August meeting:

Resident Mike Citrin, who coincidentally happens to be on the FAC, volunteered to set the town meeting room clock ahead by an hour which should have been done some months ago.

The battery-operated clock was then repositioned on the wall and the meeting started. But when the hands reached 7:15 p.m., the clock emitted several booming tones which interrupted the meeting discussion and caused the supervisor to recite a bit of poetry, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls…”

All seemed to get back to normal, but then the clock called attention to itself in the same manner at 7:30 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. as the meeting was ongoing. Luckily, the meeting was adjourned at 7:56 p.m. so those present escaped the impending racket that was due to occur at 8 p.m.

In a follow-up conversation Town Clerk Monica Cleveland theorized that the clock is “possessed,” noting it is subject to inexplicable erratic time-keeping behavior whenever the batteries are changed. Perhaps some of those legendary Town Hall mice have found a new place to nest?

A special Town Board workshop meeting on the 2018 budget is scheduled for Saturday, September 16, 11 a.m. at Town Hall, 1416 County Route 7.

The regularly scheduled Town Board meeting in September has been changed from the third Thursday to Tuesday, September 19, starting with a public hearing on the budget at 6:45 p.m.

Copies of the 2018 Tentative Budget are available on the Town website at www.townofancram.org and in the Town Clerk’s Office at Town Hall.

To contact Diane Valden email

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