Ease the Confusion

Posted on 27 February 2009

It is important for the Southampton Town Board to realize that, when trying to understand their capital accounts and the discrepancy therein, it is just like having a checkbook. With all those numbers and all those accounts, there is need for oversight. And with the weekly work sessions designed to dig through the fiscal problems of the past, and no solution to date, we begin to think something’s gotta give.

Work session after work session seems to go by, without a conclusion coming to pass. We acknowledge the fact the board is working hard to flush out information from various departments and sorting through the capital budget figure by figure. But we feel that some help may be required.

Firstly we need administrators that understand and fully grasp the processes and procedures relating to the fiscal discrepancy, to which their efforts are devoted

A reorganization of the way the town’s finances are handled appears apparent. With town budgets increasing dramatically — both east and west of Sag Harbor — it is clear that a certain level of expertise be applied to them. At the same time, we recognize the need for town board members — the ones who manage the check book — to become more familiar with how and where their money is being spent, and has a responsibility for overseeing the spending.

The missing $19 million was discovered in late January, and the full town board seems to be disgruntled by the fact that no solutions have come from the weekly work sessions designed to fix the problem.

Now the community, too, is disgruntled. If councilwoman Anna Throne-Holst proposes a change in the organization of the finance department to try to lessen the confusion, then we agree that this is not too hasty a decision.

We also support councilwoman Sally Pope’s resolution to request an audit from the state comptroller this week.

As taxpayers we want to feel confident our tax dollars are handled wisely.

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One Response to “Ease the Confusion”

  1. Bryan Boyhan says:

    The following was sent as a letter to the editor as a reply to the above editorial. – ed.

    Dear Bryan,
    In response to your editorial last week, I would like to explain our two track attack on reconciling the Capital Budget. Because the Board said, and rightly so, that it would not approve any Capital funding for 2009 until it knew the status of each capital project, we initiated these weekly briefings as track one. The status of each capital project is the only objective of the weekly briefings. Some are bored or frustrated with this lengthy process, yet I know of no other valid way of achieving consensus on future funding for important and time sensitive projects such as road paving and drainage improvements.
    Track number two involves “reconciling” the revenue and expenses of the entire capital budget going back several years. While the “checkbook” analogy works for the operating budget, it is not that cut and dry for the capital budget. Is better bookkeeping needed in the future? You bet and that is our goal for the future. In fact, several changes have already taken place.
    I’m trying to avoid the appearance of making excuses because, clearly, changes are necessary to assure the public that the capital budget is a reliable document. In the meantime, I know of no “bombshells” that are being hidden except that we all wish we could get to the answer faster. I hope, however, that we will not give an answer until we know the answer is correct. To make any declarations until we have fully vetted all 180 capital accounts could be a disaster. It is the comprehensive review and analysis that is time consuming.
    Unfortunately, while this controversy is about the Capital Budget, residents can get the impression that all of the town’s finances are in disarray. That is simply not true. The 2009 operating budget is balanced and as long as anticipated revenues like permit fees and mortgage tax proceeds come in as expected, we will end the year balanced. By the way, the town’s 2009 operating budget is the most readable and understandable operating budget I have ever seen. Any town resident can look at it on-line and judge for themselves. From our side of the table, it can be frustrating that there is so much emphasis on what is wrong without a note or two about what is right.
    The naysayer will mock that statement. Naysayers do not concern me, for I have written this to those readers who are willing to listen to both sides of the story. Let the results of the soon to be released audit of the town’s Community Preservation Fund (CPF) by the New York State Comptroller’s Office be a test case. The town has been a good steward with this multi-million dollar program and we know the state audit will show that to be true. So, while we have work to do on managing the capital budget all of the town’s finances are not in disarray.
    Thank you.
    Bill Jones, Deputy Supervisor


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