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Submitted by DavidE on Tue, 09/11/2012 - 12:21pm
Limiting the number of times someone can be elected to the same position can promote needed change by bringing fresh ideas and new eyes to government, but it can also deprive the public of competent, energetic public servants. Earlier this year the Putnam County legislators decided in favor of change and fresh ideas and adopted term limits for themselves. Should the members of the Kent Town Board do the same?
Submitted by JDKJJK on Mon, 09/26/2011 - 4:14pm
School Presentation on Unfunded and Underfunded Mandated 9/27/2011
James J. Kirk
Tomorrow's School Board presentation will include a segment on unfunded and underfunded mandates. The recent Tax Cap levy law included language that intended to address this problem, but to the best of my knowledge the current law only calls for further study on the issue of unfunded mandates and does not include legislative language that offers immediate relief.
The New York State School Board Association (NYSSBA) has issued their own recommendations for mandate relief and some of the recommendations are likely to meet with intense resistance. The New York State Board of Regents has also prepared a list of mandates, which is more current than the list provided by the NYSSBA.
One of the key areas of under-funded mandates is Special Education programs and one recommendation to shift the burden of defending the need for an IEP from the school to the parent. I am not an expert on this particular mandate, and therefore not qualified to offer an opinion on how this shift would reduce overall costs, but according to NYS records the individual special education costs for the Carmel Central School District (CCSD) total 27K per student as opposed to an average of 12K for the remaining student body. This equates to a total of over 19 million dollars in expenditures for the CCSD. The relevant information can be found here.
This sum is partially offset by what is known as “Foundation Aid, which for the CCSD totaled close to 16 million for the 2010-2011 school year. . Special Education aid is included in the total sum CCSD receives for Foundation Aid and the percentage dedicated to Special Education is included in the link found here. It should be noted that the Special Education funding can be found under the items listed as Public Excess Cost Set Aside which totals close to 3 million dollars and when other aid is factored in the total excess cost aid is four million, four hundred seven thousand, and six hundred and seventy dollars ($4,407,670.00). As noted above the 2011-2012 CCSD budget for Special Education is over 19 million dollars. Therefore, if the above calculations and information are correct the CCSD taxpayers are picking up the additional 15 million dollars for this mandated program.
The NYSSBA also identifies the current Taylor Law as an unfunded mandate, which costs individual school districts millions of dollars. Under the current law, once a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) expires the terms and conditions of the expired CBA remain in place with the exception of increases to those covered individuals who are the top Step. This particular provision of the Taylor Law not included in the original language of the Law, but was adopted by a legislative act after a Judge in a Court Case determined that once the existing CBA expired, the entire CBA was deemed null and void including the existing practice of continuing to grant Step and Lane increases for all employees covered under the previous agreement.
While I am advocate for this legislative, the fact is if you compare teacher salaries for the current fiscal year against the 2010-2011 school year, the total increase in salaries is projected to be in the neighborhood of 1.3 million dollars; his really is not a true savings but a deferred cost. Under a subsequently negotiated CBA the teachers would, most likely, be entitled to raises they did not receive during the period when a CBA was not in effect.
However, my main reason for endorsing the Taylor Law change is that I believe the current system places the Administration at a disadvantage during the negotiating process. The current system also lacks any provisions for finality in the Collective Bargaining process.
Transportation is another area where the NYSSBA found room for improvement. Under the current system the school is responsible for ensuring that their bus runs offer seating for all enrolled students. I don’t pretend to know the actual percentage of school busses that are at less than capacity and by how much but this is an area worth exploring. In fact, if I am not mistaken, this is also an area that has been widely discussed under the Shared Services initiative. One possible solution is to eliminate HS students who drive to school and also a possible charge on parents who drive their children to and from school with a waiver for children involved in extracurricular activity.
A review of our current transportation expenses demonstrate that the CCSD spends over 5 million dollars per year on transportation, however as the Foundation Aid report cited above shows CCSD is reimbursed for over 2 million dollars of these costs. But the bottom line is that the 2 million dollars is still taxpayer money.
One additional note and that is the figures cited on the School Budget do not add up to the figures posted on the NYSED website and maybe the Administration can clarify the discrepancies (e.g. Special Ed on the District Website totals 13 million dollars, yet NYSED listed the total at 19 million dollars).
Finally, the above list is far from comprehensive and does not include items such as Wicks Law or mandated Pension Contributions. The latter being a significant cost burden on the individual Districts.
PS: The embedded links do not appear to work properly. You may have to disable your popup blocker.
Why A Constitutional Convention Is Meaningless In Regards To Addressing The Long Term Budget Problems Facing NY StateSubmitted by JDKJJK on Thu, 06/30/2011 - 12:56am
Why A Constitutional Convention Is Meaningless In Regards To Addressing The Long Term Budget Problems Facing NY State
James J. Kirk
While I applaud Assemblyman’s Katz desire to expedite the Constitutional Convention process in NY State, the sad fact is that changing the current State constitution will have very little affect on the immediate long term pension obligations of NY State.
If you believe the above statement is not factual, just look at the FAQ’s released by Katz in conjunction with his request for a constitutional convention. If you see any reference to pension reform for current State and local municipal employees let me know, because I don’t see them.
The true facts are the Supreme Court and various Circuit Courts have ruled that even if a State does not provide constitutional protection for pension benefits, contract law may take precedence and prior agreed upon contractual obligations cannot be abrogated unless the State can assert a compelling public interest such as maintaining the continued viability of a pension plan.
In States without contitutional protection for their pension benefit plans the burden of demonstrating that an actual contract exists falls on the moving party, which in most cases would be the Union.
A number of States have decided to challenge this interpretation of the contracts clause of the
It is no secret that the current Supreme Court is not labor friendly and the cases to watch now are those cases brought by municipal unions in Wisconsin and New Jersey. However, as noted above pension reform does not appear on Assemblyman Katz' proposal for a Constitutional Convention.
The bottom line is, unless New York State can get out from under their pension obligations for current employees a Constitutional Convention will not do much to change the State's fiscal picture and is not worth the cost. However, if a Supreme Court decision puts pension reform on the table for current employees then a Constitutional Convention may be worthwhile.
Submitted by DavidE on Sun, 05/29/2011 - 1:05pm
The Town of Kent Town Board is proposing to amend the zoning law for the Town by adopting something euphemistically called an Office Park Overlay District, or OPOD. You can see the text of the proposed law on the Town’s website, here. The proposal would permit and encourage R-80 residential land with access to state or county roads to be developed for commercial uses such as warehouses, distribution centers and manufacturing so long as the parcel involved meets certain conditions spelled out in the proposal and so long as the Town Board approves.
After studying it extensively, I’ve become convinced the proposal is an extremely bad idea that has the potential to seriously damage our town and our way of life. Yes, we need responsible commercial development, but this is not the way to go about encouraging it.
The Town Board will reconvene the public hearing on this matter on June 21 at 7PM at the town hall. After you understand what’s being proposed, I hope you’ll come to this hearing and speak out against this ill-considered proposal.
Why the OPOD is a Truly Bad Idea
The OPOD propsal should not become law for three main reasons.
First: The process used to develop the OPOD proposal is not a good one
The Town has a Comprehensive Plan. It was adopted after considerable work, expense and public discussion. Now the public has every right to expect the Town to use the Plan to guide its land use decisions. That said, no plan is perfect. If the Town Board concludes that there are aspects of it that aren't working as well as they need to -- for example, if the Plan doesn't sufficiently encourage redevelopment of the Route 52 corridor -- then the Town Board should amend the Plan using a process similar to the one used to create it in the first place. Once agreement is reached on updates to the Plan, then it would be time to draft legislation to implement the agreed-to changes.
What's happened here is nothing like that. Out of nothing we suddenly see fully formed draft legislation that doesn't just fail to implement an amended Plan, it hardly acknowledges the Plan's existence. In bringing forward the OPOD proposal in this way, the Town Board has broken the promise of stability and predictability the Plan ostensibly represents. Regardless of the merits of the proposal, the process used to create the OPOD proposal is both wrong and wrongheaded.
Second: The OPOD proposal itself is a bad idea
Completely independent of the process used to develop it, there's the OPOD proposal itself. I think it's a terrible idea for two reasons.
Number one, the proposal doesn't follow the Comprehensive Plan. The Plan says, "The R-80 and R-40 residential zoning in Kent should not change." (Land Use and Zoning Policy 1). The Consulting Town Planner points out that adopting the OPOD doesn't change the zoning of any property. That’s true enough in the sense that no land is moved from one zone to another. Instead, the proposal changes the definition of the R-80 zone itself. In the existing definition, office parks, light industrial, and the other uses outlined in the OPOD draft are not permitted. With the proposed change, those uses are permitted so long as the property involved meets the OPOD criteria and the Town Board agrees. In my book, keeping the name of a zone and changing its definition is a zoning change, and adopting this one would be contrary to the Comprehensive Plan.
The second reason the OPOD proposal is a bad idea is that it undermines the very reasons for having zoning laws. Our zoning laws assure residents and businesses that land use patterns in the Town are well thought-out, stable and predictable over long periods of time. This gives residents and businesses the confidence they need to make large, long-term investments in our community. People and businesses don't invest where land use can suddenly and unpredictably change. Yet, that's exactly what the OPOD proposes for large sections of the Town. With the OPOD in place, no one with R-80 property near a county or state highway could reasonably predict what might happen to vacant land next door. Today its R-80 zoning permits only residential use, but tomorrow a warehouse, parking garage or factory could be okay. From a zoning point of view all it takes is a developer who puts together 25 acres, gains access to the road, and receives the nod from a majority of the Town Board. This is not how zoning laws are supposed to work.
One last thing on this topic. Proponents of the proposal have put forward the idea that because OPOD projects would need to go through all of the environmental vetting processes, be designed and constructed to conform to building codes and so on, the proposal is somehow less bad. That’s hogwash. The subject of the proposal is zoning, not construction standards, architectural guidelines or environmental impact processes. At the end of the obfuscation, we’re still talking about changing the definition of the R-80 zone. That’s a bad idea, plain and simple.
Third: The OPOD proposal doesn't accomplish the goal the Consulting Town Planner said it was designed to accomplish
At the May Planning Board workshop the Consulting Town Planner said that the OPOD proposal was motivated by the desire to encourage redevelopment of some of the commercial areas along Route 52. Many people, including me, agree with that goal. But the OPOD proposal is completely off target if that's its intent. The OPOD proposal applies to land zoned R-80, but none of the parcels along Route 52 that might benefit from redevelopment is zoned R-80. The OPOD simply wouldn't apply.
On the other hand as the Consulting Town Planner said at the Public Hearing, the OPOD proposal does apply to the undeveloped land to the north of the Town Center. But that's not redevelopment.
In summary, it’s my view that the OPOD proposal would not serve the interests of the Town, its residents, or businesses and should not be adopted. It’s also my view that, the Town Board would be well advised to address any land use issues it identifies using an open process that begins with changes to the Comprehensive Plan and ends with adopting legislation. Doing it that way is much more likely to generate public support for needed change and, at the same time, produce a better result.
Help stop this poorly thought-through proposal before it has a chance to wreck our neighborhoods. Attend the public hearing on June 21 at 7pm in the Town Hall. Speak out against the Office Park Overlay District proposal.
Submitted by JDKJJK on Wed, 02/09/2011 - 6:47pm
Last night I attended the first in a series of Budget presentations for the 2011-2012 Carmel School year and while it was pointed out that the budget presentation was preliminary and highly unlikely to be the budget presented to the voters in May, I thought I would pass along some of the preliminary information from last night’s meeting.
However, I must confess that since I was aware that this was only a preliminary presentation I did not take notes, I know, shame on me, but I thought the information that I recalled may be noteworthy to some of our readers.
First and foremost, in their initial budget proposal NY State has decreased the State’s contribution towards next year’s Carmel school budget by over 2 million dollars. This elimination is based on a component of the budget process known as Gap Elimination. I did not ask, but assume the Gap to which they refer is the 10 Billion dollar State wide budgetary shortfall.
The District also faces increases in their contributions towards employee benefits, such as the Employee Retirement System (ERS), the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) and Health benefits. For ERS and TRS the increase is in the neighborhood of 30%. This does not amount to much for the ERS contribution but is a significant increase towards the TRS contribution. The health benefits increase should have been expected as over the past two years the Carmel Central School District has enjoyed significant savings in this area and these savings were one of the main reasons the budget increases over the past two years have been under 2 percent. In addition, this increase may be modified if the District and the Carmel Teachers Association reach an agreement on the new contract and the Teachers contributions are raised from the current 10% to a higher amount.
I admit I was somewhat confused as to why after a stellar year in the Stock Market our TRS contributions would still be around 30% but it was explained to me by the CCSD Business Manager, Eric Stark, that the TRS contributions are based on a five year average. The downside to this is the negative returns of 2008-2009 will remain with the local taxpayer for at least two more years. This, of course can be mitigated if the Market continues its recent climb.
One item of interest to some of our readers is theTax Certiorari Reserve Account. The Administration stated that the CCSD was holding over 3 million dollars in this account with a majority of the funds dedicated towards a settlement with Kent Manor (over 2 million dollars).
As to the preliminary budget, the initial budget asks for a year over year increase of 4.7% from last year’s budget. This includes taking into account the elimination of approximately 18 Full-Time Equivalent Employees (FTE’s) with 13 of the reductions coming from the existing workforce, as well as the reduction of 5th and 6th Grade ELA and Math Plus classes. There were also some Administrative reductions but I do not recall the total number. If the District were to adopt this budget, which they state they will not, they claim the overall tax levy would increase by 7 to 9 percent. It was also mentioned that the proposed 2% Tax Cap is not expected to affect this year’s budget.
On another note, Board President Richard Kreps reiterated his support of continuing the status quo, as far as school funding and his opposition to District consolidation. He premised his belief on the fact that the school budget was the only area where the taxpayers have a direct say in the budgetary process and he believes that local control best serves the community.
I must admit I am somewhat ambivalent in this area as the Duncombe study utilized by NY State in its Guide for District Consolidation was conducted during the late 80’s through 1997. This study demonstrated that consolidating Districts of over 1500 students does not achieve the desired economies of scale. My major concern with the Duncombe study is that was released in 2001 and the data utilized was from the period of 1989 through 1997. Since this time there have been major study proposed legislation that BOCES should be empowered to instruct the Districts they represent to perform a consolidation study, but, to my knowledge, much like anything in Albany, this proposal is still sitting in committee.
Unfortunately the link to the referenced study is no longer available but Professor Duncombe and his staff continue to explore the topic of consolidation and if you are interested in additional studies click here.
Finally, one of the parents and a member of the Kent Campus Consolidation Committee did voice her disdain for the way the Administrative raises were handled last year, which was waiting until after the budgetary process was completed to announce the raises. This parent emphasized the fact that if the Administrators were really interested in holding the line on expenses they are expected to set an example.
James J. Kirk
Submitted by joyce.mitchell1 on Thu, 01/20/2011 - 3:27pm
To the editor:
Simply put, taxes (property and school tax) based on the value of real
estate are fundamentally unfair because they do not reflect an
individual's ability to pay, except at the time of purchase.
Income tax is based on the fact that a person has income of a certain
level. Sales tax is based on the fact that a person has money to
purchase goods and services. I recognize the need for tax revenue. Tax
my income and purchases at a level required to support the needs of
the government. But why does the government have the power to tax the
house I purchased in 1982 for $35,000 at an assessed value of more
than $300,000 today? Using the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
inflation calculator available on the Internet, my $35,000 home would
now cost approximately $79,400 in 2010 dollars.
How does the government's assessed value of my home reflect my ability
to pay? It doesn't. Our real-estate-value-based taxes do not have an
income component in their calculation. The assessed value reflects the
ability to pay of the person who buys my house for $300,000 if I'm
forced to sell due to the tax burden. Maybe that's the real goal after
Submitted by cnarbey on Fri, 11/12/2010 - 11:55am
I have written the following letter to "The Putnam County Times", to amplify their report on the November 3 Public Hearing on the 2011 budget:
"Your reporter was too brief about the November 3 public hearing.
I did credit the current Board, in the last 3 budgets, with significantly slowing the rate of spending increases incurred by previous administrations. They have also improved the budget process significantly.
However, I did go on to urge them to do more. I feel that public bodies (including schools) should conduct their budgets like families do. When revenue falls (e.g. mortgage tax), spending should be cut, not just held to small increases.
The 2011 budget shows that Kent’s operating spending (excluding the Special Districts, capital expenditures and debt service) has increased since 2006 by 22%. Over this period, spending by Police, Highway and garage has increased by 18%, 26% and 29% respectively (see the table on www.kentfiscalwatch.org). Few residents have seen that kind of increase in their incomes, many even having theirs reduced.
I told the Board that I felt no more "served and protected" by police in Kent than my friends and acquaintances in Putnam Valley and Patterson. I offered Miller Hill Road and White Pond Road out of Kent and into East Fishkill as examples of poorer quality roads in Kent than our neighbors. I urged the Board to start reducing the high cost of the above departments, by reducing manpower and contracting out work, as needed. I feel that there are other departments that could stand a complete re-evaluation. Consolidation is talked about but not acted upon.
The current Board is a qualitative improvement over previous ones. Yet, they are justified in regarding the apathetic response by taxpayers as affirmation that what they have done so far is good enough. There were less than 12 people (6 Kent Fiscal Watch members) in attendance.
Clifford G. Narbey