| 22 Feb 2012 | 03:24

    Tis the Season for No Tax Increase As the councilman who supported the 2011 “0% - No Tax Increase Budget” for the Town of the Monroe, we wanted to recognize the extraordinary efforts that have been forged between the public and their elected officials in overseeing the “people’s business” through rough economic times. The New Town Board, as many call us, adopted one fundamental principle - to enjoin every taxpayer in Monroe as a stakeholder in policy creation and demand their elected officials control taxes and avoid the fiscal crisis plaguing much of America. The Great Recession has forced Monroe to make government smaller and more efficient. We have addressed wrong-headed public policy, which, for more than 30 years was resistant to change. We have reaffirmed that government is controlled, directed and best executed with a fully informed and engaged citizenry. Community involvement keeps government legitimate. The budget reflects government at its best or worst. Traditionally, the budgetary process had been off-limits to public input. This year we re-wrote the terms of engagement. Now the public’s presence is expected and their opinions respected. The ”0%” budget represents more than a “no tax increase;” it this the first time the public had seats at the budget table. You reviewed the budget process, commented on inconsistencies in earlier drafts and suggested how your money should be best spent. Democrats, Republicans, Protect Monroe and all others share the same cry: “We cannot tolerate any more taxes.” They demanded, and together we have shown that we can get out of this mess which other villages and towns throughout New York are incapable of overcoming. The Founding Father’s would congratulate the public in their reshaping Monroe into a more direct form of democracy. The Town Board acknowledges its obligation to hold the line on taxes. Every department in the town sacrificed by cutting their budgets. Part of effective budgeting is embodied in how the Town chooses to hire and contract with. Meritocracy has replaced small-town political lineage, which for many generations was the default hiring mechanism … not cost effective. The only caveat is that we prefer to hire Monroe residents whenever possible. We approached this process from the principal that local government must first exhaust all responsible options for reducing spending and creating efficiencies. The result is a balanced budget proposal that makes government live within its means and does not raise taxes. Here are a few examples of how we did it: Hired a new Town Assessor at less than half the previous salary and no benefits. Savings approximately $65,000. Put on tax role $5.5 million in new assessed value from Kiryas Joel and over $1.6 million in new assessment from the remaining properties within the town. Changed Assessor Office from pencil to paper input to state-of-the-art assessing software system Saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in consultant fees. The Times Herald-Record described in detail how much they made compared with others equally qualified. Hired a new engineer through competitive bidding. Outstanding service at rates dramatically less than in years past. Hired renowned legal counsel for less money and no benefits. Cut the newly elected Highway Superintendent salary by roughly 20 percent. Cut two new court clerk hires by roughly 20 percent (approximately $35,000 with benefits). Cut code enforcement salary by approximately 75 percent from 2010. Saved approximately 40 percent on water superintendent’s salary. Will save in 2011 approximately $50,000 in salt budget by switching to an more environmentally safe and cost efficient standard which Orange County presently uses. Successfully sought to reduce Moodna Sewer District increases. Mandated 15 percent health-care contributions for all town office employees. Using the Rainy Day Fund (aka Fund Balance) responsibly and less than in previous years. Fiscal health is important but so is the quality of life We are working toward creating a Trail of Heroes in the Town Park. This is an Eagle Scout project. You should look and see what the Scout has done; taxpayer cost $0. We are working with the YMCA to facilitate their opening adjacent to the Heritage Trail. For the Blizzard of 2010 we averted a dangerous crisis. We were the first to declare a state of emergency in Orange County. We plowed and opened the driveways and entrances for any seniors/disabled that were on our lists or who called for help. We opened public comment at all town board meetings. We encouraged the public to engage in healthy debate with their officials. We have made access to public documents as easy as just asking for them at Town Board meetings. If we have them we believe the public should have them too. Today, it is apparent that government is transparent in Monroe. We will continue to keep it open for all. “0%- No Tax Increase Budget,” real involvement in the budget process, the public’s right to be heard. That’s what you have demanded. That is what the New Town Board is committed to fulfilling. We thank you for the opportunity to serve and for the chance for the residents in Monroe share their concerns, talents and energy in keeping Monroe a place where we hope most can afford to live. Best wishes for a joyous holiday season. Rick Colon Harley E. Doles Gerry McQuade Councilmen, Town of Monroe IN RESPONSE: The minority view The 2011 Monroe Town Budget was approved by a three to two vote, with Democrats Rick Colon, Harley Doles and Gerry McQuade supporting the spending plan while Town Supervisor Sandy Leonard and Councilman James Rogers, both Republicans, did not. Here are their comments on the budget: Supervisor Sandy Leonard Leonard said the board worked very hard on the budget this year, acknowledging that “we had some major differences of opinion.” Saying “I don’t think anybody can tell me when this recession will end,” the supervisor said she wanted to protect the fund balance and that she thought “we used too much fund balance to bring it to zero.” Leonard also said she didn’t think it was fair to balance the budget on the backs of the non-union employees. “I do, however, recognize the highway employees are represented by the union IBEW.” Councilman James Rogers “There is a lot of little pork they didn’t eliminate,” Roger said. He cited as an example the position of dog control officer (salary $14,000). Rogers called the position “unnecessary because the job is being done internally by the highway guys who are being paid $29 an hour. Why should would be paying a guy $14,000 a year? We are trying to get rid of the five dogs anyway. So what are we going to do with him once that happens?” On the change to have many town employees contribute to their health insurance, Rogers said: “When we passed the budget, everybody across the board - which means all employees except union guys, - now have to pay 15 percent toward they benefits. Why are they getting exempt from having to pay the 15 percent” There are two classes of people working for the town. There is a disparity between the regular employees and the union employees - it’s like a class warfare.” Rogers also noted the perception of a conflict: “One of the biggest problems involves councilman Gerard McQuade. He’s a member of the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) and he is negotiating on behalf of the town . For the 23 years I have been on the board, I have always stayed away from any negotiations between the town and the union because I was with the IBEW.”