2009-07-01 / Front Page

Department heads, board don't echo Mohan's urgency

by JESSICA L. FINCH Associate Editor

Three years ago, Supervisor Satish Mohan claimed that the town had a $4 million deficit and proposed an extensive plan to deal with it — an overreaction according to some town officials.

(See editorial on page four)

This year, he is calling for immediate adjustments — including a reduction of elected officials' salaries — to handle a possible $1.9 million revenue shortfall.

Mohan called a special meeting on Monday to discuss his suggestions, wanting to use the Town Board and department head comments in creating a resolution for Monday's regular meeting.

"These are not exhaustive," he said about his plan.

His suggestions included eliminating vacant positions, asking departments for savings from their budgets, reducing the contingency fund, cutting the salaries of elected and exempt officials by 3 percent and using reserves for the remaining balance.

On Friday, Mohan started the conversation by asking all town employees to give back 3 percent of their salaries, which is not allowed.

Even if employees wanted to give back a percentage of their pay, it is illegal, said Nick Paolini, president of the Civil Service Employees Association Local 815, Amherst Unit.

According to civil service law any salary changes must be negotiated, he said.

"The supervisor confuses contract issues with civil service law; it's New York State law," Paolini said.

Members of the Town Board and department heads did not appear to agree with Mohan's desire to pass a resolution Monday and make any immediate changes.

Deputy Supervisor Mark Manna questioned what the sudden and drastic changes would do to services.

"What services would we cut? What can we do without? How would it affect everyday life?" he said at the meeting, adding that Mohan's plan only addresses half the question.

On Tuesday Manna noted that there is no deficit but a projected shortfall in certain budget lines.

"We can make that up by transfers. We have a healthy fund balance to use in extreme cases," he said. "But to cut programs and slash salaries is a knee-jerk reaction. This is easily fixable without cutting and slashing budgets and programs."

The issue was raised at the June 22 work session when Comptroller Darlene Carroll informed the board that building permit, sales tax and mortgage tax revenues would likely come up short at the end of 2009 — by nearly $2 million.

On Monday, she said her suggestion is to wait. She said the town should continue to monitor the budget for the second half of the year before determining its next step.

Mohan publicly called on various department heads, asking them for an on-the-spot answer on what they can do to help. Four had responded to Mohan's letter on Friday; others said there had not been enough time to provide an answer.

The board could decide to fill the gap with reserves but will have to decide how that will affect the 2010 budget and beyond.

Council Member Guy Marlette, who was out of town Monday, commented on Mohan's reaction to the possible shortfall.

"As an elected official it is our duty to the residents of the town to ensure that we remain fiscally strong while continuing to provide the services that our residents expect and deserve," he said. "We also have a responsibility to ensure that we continue to maintain our infrastructure and services that contribute to the quality of life within the town."

He said the appropriate course of action is to work with Carroll and review several areas of the 2009 budget.

"It is also important to understand that the comptroller is indicating a revenue shortfall in certain revenue lines. This only translates into a budget deficit if the Town Board takes no action for the balance of the year. This will not be the case," he said.

Department heads, residents and board members said Monday's meeting was similar to those held in 2006 when Mohan overreacted to the possible $4 million deficit, and wrote to the New York State Comptroller's Office requesting that they appoint a control board.

An audit done the following year showed the town was in good financial standing, and the issue was handled.

Manna said the town isn't in any more financial trouble than it was in 2006.

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