Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Vote No

On Tuesday, August 16, 2011 from 2-9 pm the town will hold a referendum on a bond issue for a garage project.

Stuyvesant Town Hall
5 Sunset Drive, Stuyvesant, NY 12173
Tuesday, August 16, 2011 from 2-9pm

I hope everyone takes the time to get over there and vote. If we get out and get over there, we can take a stand against out of control spending and irresponsible government.

This is an important vote. It's a vote that town board didn't want to have until I let them know they had to. Here is the audio from October 2010.

They tried to sneak this through with no vote.

They sent out a letter paid for by THE TAXPAYER trying to convince you to vote for this project. I paid for a mailing OUT OF MY OWN POCKET. Not a fair fight.

This blog post is long but you really should read the whole thing. Stick with me.

I know the argument from the other side: SAFETY. They know this project costs way too much so they can't argue on the merits of the case. They know they didn't plan in advance or consider cheaper options. They know the whole thing is going to be ugly.


Unproven assertion: It is not safe to store the salt in another town. How do we know, given that the town doesn't provide real documents showing real numbers, that there is any safety implications to this thing at all? 

SAFETY? Prove it! Put out the numbers. Put out the research. Why would safety be affected at all? We still have to bring the salt from a big pile to a small pile. When they say "safety" without proving it, it's just a scare tactic. 

Here are some of the arguments against this project.

1. Tax increase

There is no doubt that issuing an $800,000 bond will cause everyone's taxes to rise. Here is the supervisor, Valerie Bertram, answering a question by Sean Cummings about the board's planning on this issue and why the project needs to be done 100% with borrowing:

No, not "point taken." This means back to the drawing board. You just conceded you had the money in the regular budget but squandered it on whatever the board spends money on.

We don't know anything about this project: controls, audits, even what they want to do.

There is no oversight of money. No one is watching to make sure the money is well spent. Who is the watchdog? You are. Vote no.

How much of a tax increase will this turns out to be? We don't know yet. Click this link: How bad is the roof anyway? The roof isn't bad? Did you hear that?

Can you believe anything they say after that? They know the roof isn't bad. But if the sky's the limit, why not get as much as possible?

This government has to start to living within its means. The town government has few responsibilities, mostly maintaining 25 miles of road. And the town has a large budget, well over a million dollars. Everything that is not maintaining the town roads is done so badly, we would be better off if the town didn't do it at all.

And maintaining the road is done at a premium cost for a mediocre to middling result. The roads are more or less okay. At these prices, they should be paved with gold.

That 2009 GAR re-assessment was a 9% tax increase (some people paid less than before the assessment, more people paid more, so the town increased its income overall). Since then they have voted two additional tax increases, to make it 3 tax increases in 2 or 3 years.

They can't figure out how to live within a million plus budget for a town of 2000 people with 25 miles of road without borrowing money to fix the roof on the garage and buy a salt shed that is too big, too expensive?

This bond issue is a blank check to do whatever they want. And with this board, that might include almost any crazy thing.

2. Slush fund?

Next, why does the salt shed cost so much? Other places in the county have build similar structures for less than $100,000. Ned, an architect here in town, thinks the town could build a suitable structure for $80,000. Bernie Kolawski, the highway superintendent of Stuyvesant, doesn't want a $100,000 salt shed, no prefabs.

Why no prefab? The engineer said it would be ugly. But the story keeps changing. They can't keep their story straight.

Bernie said a prehab wouldn't last as long as a custom built shed. Here is the audio of the discussion from a workshop in Fall 2010

Ugly or won't last? Also, by doing pre-fab they will only be able to borrow for 15 years, instead of a longer term that would be cheaper.

This is the key point of the whole project. 

What? They changed the reason why they don't want a pre-fab? Now it won't look nice?

You can't change the reason. You have to have one good reason to make a good decision, not any old reason to make a the same bad decision.


Unproven (and suspicious) assertion number two: A prefab salt shed won't last as long as a custom built shed.

How does he know that? The shed will be ugly and useless either way: why not make the cheaper one? This custom salt shed would still be ugly.

Maybe Bernie's pals can't build a prefab? Maybe that's the whole point of this stupid project, to pass some public money to a connected construction company?

The whole thing is a ruse? A con?

Could be. Don't put it past these guys. The town government of Stuyvesant is corrupt and has done and is probably still doing shady stuff with money. Your money. When you send in your property tax check, that portion that goes to the town is mostly squandered, pilfered or wasted. It is entirely in character for this government to plot to sneak money out of the general fund and into the pockets for people they like.

How do I know the government is corrupt? I found that $10,000 went from the general fund to the pocket of the town attorney with no paperwork. When I brought this matter to the attention of the town Supervisor, Valerie Bertram, she ignored my letter. So I wrote again. Finally, I met with her. She told me nothing was wrong, not even something less than criminal that might be corrected with better billing practices. Even so, they did change the billing practices on the sly and never admitted that something fishy had been going on.

Instead of publicly or honestly finding out what happened to the money, Valerie Bertram schemed to put ME in jail for bring the problem to her attention.

Tal kept the money, by the way. He can do that.

Yes, I can prove it all.

The town assessor Howard Gleason listed a Hudson river estate as a state park so the owners would not have to pay real estate taxes. This bit of cheating costs the taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars every year. Again, the supervisor told me that there was nothing wrong here.

The town illegally spent money on lawyers to protect themselves from their illegal activities with your money in a secret and illegal meeting.

Here is the complete list of wrong doing by the town.

Back to the garage project / slush fund.

3. Useless

We have no idea what will really happen if they get their hands on this money. They might do anything at all with it and you cannot trust them not to squander it all.

But let's pretend they will actually build a salt shed and fix up their garage, get a new roof, although the current roof is not leaking, make the office nicer, buy some air conditioners, insulate and do other repairs on the garage on County Route 26A and make a big salt shed at the highway department property on Sharptown road that will be ugly as hell.

Why do we need two highway department facilities? We don't.  We don't really even need  highway department facility, as the whole department should be outsourced and consolidated with other towns. Between the state, county and town vehicles coming in and out of town to do the same work, with each little town maintaining a fleet of vehicles, this has to be the dumbest possible solution to road maintenance.

But let's say we do need one highway department site, if you don't buy my outsourcing or consolidation argument. We still don't need two.

Here is the other guy's argument why we need two salt storage sites: we have to keep salt at both the garage on 26A and the Sharptown road facility because trucks won't be able to get into Sharptown road in the winter to get the salt.

Plan: big pile on Sharptown, small pile on 26A.

The big pile of salt on Sharptown road will be kept under a shed for $500,000, giver or take a $100,000. The small pile, one snow storm worth of salt, will be under a cheaper shed on 26A or maybe just out in the open. I don't know what they will do with the small pile since the town is keeping the plans secret.

If it were easier to get trucks into the Sharptown road spot, we could get rid of the salt on 26A and have only the big pile, no small pile.

If getting trucks into the Sharptown road site in the winter is not in fact difficult, we don't need the small pile. Guess what: we don't need the small pile.

Valerie Bertram, supervisor, lives near the Sharptown road site and she doesn't want extra truck traffic by her house. This story about the trucks and Sharptown road is not true. Val told them she doesn't want all those trucks driving by her house, so, they came up with the two pile plan and invented a story about trucks not being able to drive on snow...

... how are they going to plow the roads if they can't get up a moderate hill? Do we need a snowplow to plow the snow so the snowplow can get to the salt?

Unproven (and suspicious) assertion: Trucks cannot get into Sharptown road in the winter.

Shouldn't we do some kind of test to see if the trucks can make it in there? No need. Just say its true and hope no one calls you on it.

How do we know this assertion is true?

Next, if we are going to bring the salt to 26A for each storm from somewhere else anyway, why not just get salt from the county or another town that already has a salt shed? There are plenty of other sources of salt in the county.

If we have to bring the salt from Sharptown to 26A anyway, why not just bring the salt from Ghent or Kinderhook or Greenport to 26A and get rid of the whole Sharptown Road piece of this project? No big pile, only one small pile. That would save almost the entire budget for this moronic project.

If we spend 400-500,000 dollars to build a salt shed on Sharptown road just to save a few minutes of driving to another salt shed further away, the salt shed will pay for itself in only 500 years. Why, by then, the shed won't exist.

Instead of throwing $400-500,000 away to build an ugly, useless salt shed, why not outsource the big pile and keep the little pile at 26A? This assumes that trucks can't get into Sharptown Road in the winter, which is probably a lie. If trucks can get into Sharptown road, and I bet they can, get rid of the little pile on 26A and only keep salt on Sharptown Road.

Either way, you only need one pile at most. No pile would be even cheaper.

4. Sloppy.

Much of what the town proposes to borrow to fix is stuff they should have been fixing and maintaining all along. In fact, the whole project should have been paid for with money set aside over the years from the general fund.

Go back and watch that video at the beginning of this post. You heard the supervisor admit they screwed up.

The town budget appears to be 1.2 million, although the budget for this town is much harder to understand than for most towns. Really, all the town has to do is maintaing 25 miles of road: fix pot holes, plow, trim grass at the edge, etc.

In fact, about half of the 1.2 million does not go into the highway department. $600,000 for highway, another $600,000 for everything else.

What is the other 600,000 for, the money not for highway?

First, lawyers, which do more harm than good.

Second, the justice department, which we would be better off outsourcing to real judges that aren't in the club.

Third, the assessor's office, which should be a county function and is a total waste of money, as this study proved.

Fourth, salaries for board members and town clerk and zoning officer, all of whom are well paid if you break it down by the hour and none of whom are worth the money.

Fifth, actually good stuff, like parks, which is about 1% of the total.

You could cut the budget by 50% and outsource and consolidate services. This budget is largely waste, fraud, abuse and fat. But they still need more.

5. Risky.

What if we borrow for this useless project now but we need money for something important later? We'll be screwed. We might be stuck with a high interest rate, get a bad credit rating, and be left helpless when something important comes along. This stupid project may mean no beach, no bike path, no bridge, no ... who knows what.

Look at all the things the town should be preparing for: 1) the beach by the waterfall in Stuyvesant Falls is leased and when the lease is up the beach can disappear if the town cannot buy the property; 2) Hudson river access in Stuyvesant landing can disappear anytime CSX decides to close it off and the town should be prepared to offer its credit to make sure it can help stop this eventuality; 3) the bridge in Stuyvesant Falls over the falls needs paint badly and the county hasn't done it... the list is longer that this.

And think of all the GOOD things the town could do with $800,000: 1) set up a satellite college in the town hall offering residents college credit courses; 2) help contribute to a network of bike trails to make this a viable agro-tourism destination; 3) secure Hudson river and Kinderhook creek access; 4) set up an office to encourage and promote small business to help residents build wealth and create jobs; 5) no real estate taxes for farmers.

No. The town wants to do something dumb, build themselves a boondoogle.

6. Palaces.

Thinking about all the things that would help the community, why is that we are voting on a structure that no one other than employees and officers of the town will ever use? They have to build a palace for themselves?

The town clerk gets $70 an hour.
The town attorney gets $125 an hour on the books.
The zoning guy gets more than $20,000 for a part time job.

Here is more money for connected guys:

I count 16 positions in the government, not including the highway department: clerk, board (5), justice (4), assessor (2), enforcement (3), legal (1 to 10: who really knows?). The highway, with 5 more, I think, for a total of 21 positions for a town of 2000 people.

And they need another palace too? Town hall is nice. Who spends time there? Is there anything for us there? Movie night? Classes? Tutoring? Chess club? Free internet access? Free beer?

Not a damn thing for us. A hell of a lot for them. But they want more.

Come out and vote no. Don't let them get away with this.

No one is watching the store. You have to. Get out and vote.


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