Originally posted September 25, 2020
“Bob, you think you want to do this job and that you’re going to do it for $20,000? Well, you go ahead and do it. Because I have no doubt that what you think this job is and what you would do for this Town is so minimal compared to what’s been done for this Town. That’s fine. I don’t really care. Just don’t make my taxes go up.”
Enfield Supervisor Beth McGee; Town Board Budget Meeting
“[Bob], you pander to politics , and you pander to votes, and try to appease the Good Old Boy System. and it’s really highly inappropriate. You’re not doing what’s good and right for the Town….”
Enfield Councilperson Stephanie Redmond; Town Board Budget Meeting
“I don’t want somebody driving off a Town road this winter because it hasn’t been serviced frequently enough, skids on ice, hits a tree, kills oneself or seriously injures oneself, and I feel it on my conscience because my Town Board voted to cut a highway maintenance position….”
“This discussion isn’t really advancing anywhere….”
“I’m going to be voting against this budget if there’s going to be no significant change from what the Preliminary Budget states. And that’s just going to be the way it’s going to have to be.”
Enfield Councilperson Robert Lynch; Same Budget Meeting
From our News Pages:
Foul mood (Foul-mouthed?) Enfield Board reviews proposed 2021 Town Budget
Analysis by Robert Lynch, September 25, 2020
Wednesday, September 23rd was not a good night for Buddy Rollins, Enfield’s Highway Superintendent. Nor was it for Ellen Woods, the Town Clerk. Nor for this writer, Councilperson Robert Lynch. Arguably, nobody in Enfield government enjoyed themselves during the latter moments of Wednesday’s Special Town Board meeting, where members bickered and the Board’s majority stood its ground, unwilling to amend a nearly $2 Million 2021 preliminary Town budget, advanced by Supervisor Beth McGee and hurtling toward adoption at record speed.
Faster than Mitch McConnell can confirm a Supreme Court nominee, the Enfield Board will likely within a week adopt its controversial, cost-cutting spending plan, McGee suggesting a final vote could quickly follow a hurried-up Public Hearing September 30th. That would place passage a mere three weeks after the Supervisor first unveiled her draft, which includes its targeted cut in Highway Department personnel by more than one-fifth.
“You don’t have a Planning Department. You want legal fees to be limited,” McGee lectured Councilperson Lynch, attempting to place him on the defensive while also justifying her own budgeted 20 per cent pay hike. “And you expect your Town Supervisor to maintain and manage all of that for you and to keep your asses out of libelous (sic) situations? So that’s what you put on the Town Supervisor.”
Lynch had requested Wednesday’s meeting two weeks earlier as he’d observed McGee’s tentative budget was racing toward preliminary status without the traditional multi-meeting Town Board scrutiny. He saw Wednesday’s session as his only opportunity to ask questions.
Question he did. But no one else shared his curiosity. When Lynch invited colleagues to weigh in, the zoom room fell silent, all members tacitly content. Instead, McGee and other Board members consumed 90-plus minutes deriding Lynch’s logic, challenging his priorities, and impugning his alleged electoral aspirations. The budget review devolved into an inquisition, one permeated with political pique, and rife with allegations of misogyny and ageism, most of them slung against the Board’s only male member.
“You have said this before that the Supervisor should step down and let someone who’s willing to do it for $20,000 (McGee’s current salary) do it,” the Supervisor said to Lynch. “What that said to me was that a 70 year old white man who didn’t have obligations of children or other needs like insurance, like a single person or a single woman might need, or a person who needed child care; these people who may need those additional supports who could represent the Town in the position… that only people like you should be afforded the ability to do these jobs here. And to me, that’s so typical and so disappointing.”
Similarly weighing in was Councilperson Stephanie Redmond, Supervisor McGee’s presumptive successor should McGee, as promised, resign before year’s end.
“I do think you’re coming from a place of privilege, Robert, and it’s important for you to acknowledge that privilege,” Redmond asserted.
But while Lynch took the brunt of Wednesday’s incoming fire, he did not take it alone. Highway Superintendent Rollins and Town Clerk Woods sat in their own hot seats as well.
“You’re going to be hurting the residents. You’re not going to be hurting me,” insisted Rollins, reacting to McGee’s plan to cut his full-time workforce from five men to four. “You’re hurting the residents of this town because the services will drop.”
Rollins has forecast that if the budget cuts take hold, snowplows will arrive later in McGee’s own part of the town, that his department will farm out more maintenance work to mechanics, and that annual clean-up days will end. McGee called them threats.
“There’s no threats here other than yours,” Rollins retorted, staring at McGee’s zoom tile. “It’s based [on] facts, with your smirky face.”
“The General Fund is going up $21,000 in payroll for administrative purposes,” Rollins complained. “Tell me what the people are going to see out of that? At least they see the roads gettin’ fixed.”
Backed up with financial spreadsheets shared with Board members just hours earlier, Lynch pressed his appeal to restore Rollins’ fifth staffer. He predicted the restoration, plus a two per cent raise for highway workers, would only boost the tax rate by 25 cents-per-thousand. Lynch also proposed the Town double the Town Clerk’s proposed pay raise. It would boost Woods’ annual salary to $28,000.
“It works toward setting things straight,” Lynch told the Board, calling the current $20 Thousand salary an “embarrassment.” He also said it would provide Town administrative jobs “a little gender equity,” noting that Rollins, a man, earns “several multiples of that,” namely $61,500.
But as with the Highway staff’s restoration, the Clerk’s raise faced a tough sell. First, because the Board accelerated the budget process two weeks earlier, further Clerk’s raises would likely be illegal, except through Local Law. Moreover, even if Clerk’s pay remains out of line, correction should only happen piecemeal.
“I have a problem of increasing it too quickly too fast,” said Councilperson Mimi Mehaffey. I feel like this is a belt-tightening year, so to go up $4,000 is a huge percentage increase.”
But upon learning that because the Board “raced with breakneck speed” two weeks earlier, his hands are tied now, Lynch first apologized to Woods, and then angrily lashed out at his colleagues:
“I will let everyone know, everyone in the public know, that I voted against moving this tentative budget that was announced at 3:00 on a Wednesday afternoon to preliminary budget stage only several hours later. I opposed that; I was the only one who did; and I’m glad I did!”
Ellen Woods was eventually given her turn, upon which she insisted her compensation not only diminishes her paycheck but also imposes the “psychological impact” of earning effectively less than minimum wage.
“In Enfield, we should pay people commensurate with their occupations,” said Woods.
Admonished by Redmond that Woods’ phrase has become misogynistic code, the Clerk fought back.
“And the reason that you (Redmond) and Supervisor McGee conceive of your worth as greater than the worth of your Town Clerk is because of misogyny. You’re both working in traditionally gender-neutral or male occupations, which is leadership; and I am working in a traditional female occupation, while you guys try to press me down and pink-collar me so fricking harsh.”
Woods had more to say, but you’ll never hear it. McGee muted her zoom microphone for the rest of the meeting. One could only observe the Clerk gesticulating and shouting at her computer screen.
So it went. As the session ended, Lynch pressed McGee on whether she expects, barring what he termed a “groundswell of opposition,” that the Board would make the preliminary budget final immediately after the September 30th hearing.
“I can’t predict that, but if you think a groundswell is 15 people, like you did before—at the last public hearing on whether to make elected offices appointive—I’m not sure that’s going to be a ‘groundswell’ for me,” McGee answered.
Whatever the public says on the 30th, whatever votes the Board may take that night, one truth stands out: You’ll never accuse this crew, Enfield’s leadership, of lacking opinions—or spine. I know. I’m one of them.
My Budget Message
When Supervisor Beth McGee released her Tentative 2021 Enfield Town Budget, September 9th, she, in accordance with tradition and her lawful right, accompanied it with a budget message, explaining the reasoning behind her decisions. You can read it elsewhere, including on the Town Website.
On September 23rd, in preparation for what I’d hoped would be a constructive review session, I, too, released a budget message, one directed not only to the Town Board, but also to you, our residents, taxpayers, and friends.. Here’s what I wrote:
At our August 12th meeting, I startled some of you with these words:
“We’re going to have a tough year coming up… a real tough year; and the taxpayers had better get used to it, because it wasn’t our fault. We didn’t bring this pandemic to Tompkins County or New York State. And we’re just going to have to suffer.”
A “tough year,” can be resolved in one of two ways: Either with draconian cuts that compromise services to our residents; or with responsible increases in local spending and taxes, coupled with meaningful, common-sense belt-tightening. Some of us may choose the former course. I choose the latter.
I do not relish raising taxes. But when examining too many of the budget lines in Supervisor McGee’s Tentative 2021 Budget—now made this Town’s Preliminary Budget through hasty action September 9th—I recognize that too many expenditure lines stand beyond our control. As just one example, Unemployment Insurance costs have risen by more than $10,000, up some 18-fold. Employee health insurance premiums will rise, materials’ costs go up, and state aid has become effectively non-existent—Thank-you, Governor Cuomo; you’ve been so much help!
But let’s pick up the financial pieces responsibly and move forward as best we can. I do not profess to know all of the answers, and we cannot revise any of the Preliminary Budget’s line items tonight, not until after next week’s Public hearing. Nonetheless, I’ve taken time to examine several of this budget’s more radical departures from the current year’s spending plan, and have prepared the accompanying five budget options for this Board—and the public—to consider.
Please note: Since the Town Budget and the Fire Protection District Budgets base their tax rates and levies upon different assessed value totals, and since General/Highway and Fire taxes are billed as separate items, I’ve chosen to confine my analysis here to the joint Town/Highway levy alone. Little controversy appears likely regarding Supervisor McGee’s Fire District appropriation line, based on current discussions. I expect little disagreement by our Board as to the 2021 Fire Budget.
As the tables show, I suggest for our consideration three principal items of increased spending over and above the current Preliminary Budget. These items are:
- Restoration of the “Fifth Worker” in the Enfield Highway Department, a position the Preliminary Budget proposes to eliminate;
- Granting all five Highway Department employees an across-the-board two per cent (2%) pay raise;
- Adding an additional $4,000 in annual compensation to the Town Clerk, thereby raising her effective 2021 pay from its current $20,000 to $28,000; the expenditure shared between her budget lines as Town Clerk ($26,000) and Tax Collector ($2,000).
At the same time, I’ve identified items in the Preliminary Budget that I believe deserve consideration for reduction. I do not raise these items as recommended cuts, but rather as suggested economies which we should study prior to the 2021 Budget’s final adoption.
Worst case: The expenditure increases I suggest (Option IV) would add $85,235 to the 2021 Preliminary Budget’s Tax Levy, or stated differently, a 5.24 Per Cent increase over the 2020 Levy. The Town Tax Rate would increase 28 cents per Thousand, a $28 increase from the 2020 Town Tax on a $100,000 parcel.
If all the suggested economies (Option V) were implemented, the Tax Rate would rise by 22 cents, or $22 on a similarly-valued $100,000 parcel.
Are the suggested benefits worth the added expense? That’s a matter for our Board, collectively, to decide, with the public’s help at next Wednesday’s Public Hearing.
My accompanying “Sister Towns” Study, examining the Highway Department staffing of similarly-situated Tompkins County rural towns—Newfield, Danby and Caroline—suggests cutting Highway Department workstaff to four, as the Preliminary Budget proposes, is cutting staff too deeply. Caroline has five Highway Department employees, plus the Superintendent; and the Caroline Superintendent believes his department stands “a man short.” Newfield has eight highway employees in total; Danby seven. “I wouldn’t be cuttin’,” Danby’s Superintendent, Carl Seamon, told me.
Furthermore, as this Board’s Highway Liaison, I conferred last week with our Highway Superintendent, Buddy Rollins. In our conversation, Rollins warned that should our budget reduce his workforce by at least 20 per cent, snowplowing would likely be delayed in some areas of the Town; more overtime would be incurred; more equipment maintenance would be farmed-out to expensive repair shops; and annual clean-up days would be eliminated.
By my calculation of wages and benefits, making interpolations when necessary, I project restoration of full staffing (Option I) would add $74,525 to the Preliminary Budget.
Option II adds to the Option I analysis a two per cent (2%) across-the Board pay increase for all Highway Department employees apart from the Superintendent. I, for one, believe it’s unfair to grant substantial pay increases now (or in the recent past) to administrative staff paid under the General Fund, yet to keep hard-working, dedicated Highway Dept. staff laboring with no raise. I find Supervisor McGee’s justification of this pay freeze, as stated in her 2021 budget narrative, unconvincing.
My suggested revisions (Option III) propose a further $4,000 compensation increase for the Town Clerk. This would place the Clerk’s combined Town Clerk/Tax Collector compensation at $28,000, a sizeable $8,000 raise over the current year. This suggested increase warrants an explanation.
I believe Town Clerk Ellen Woods has made a convincing argument that the Enfield Clerk’s position stands underfunded. I believe the $20,000 salary was earlier assigned in expectation that the Clerk would serve half-time, no more than 20 hours per week. This assumption may no longer be valid. Clerk Woods believes her office deserves full-time (40 hours/week) compensation. For now, I’ll split the difference at three-quarter time, with the Deputy Clerk providing the balance of full-time service. Clerk’s compensation at $28,000, moreover, puts her compensation more in line with that of the Code Enforcement Officer ($29,950), another administrative position. (By contrast, the Highway Superintendent’s compensation is $61,500.)
In a more favorable economic climate, I’d favor setting the Clerk’s salary (Clerk plus Tax Collector) at $30,000. But we as a Town face fiscal uncertainties for 2021. I can support no more than a $28,000 salary at this point, with an additional $10,000 assigned to the Deputy Clerk. I urge we reexamine the Clerk’s salary and job duties for the 2022 Budget.
In exchange for this pay raise, however, I believe our Town Board should urge the Town Clerk to expand her office’s in-person presence so as to better-serve our residents. The present schedule provides only 17 hours of in-person availability. I would also hope increased compensation will lead to more timely completion of meeting minutes, a legal requirement.
Potential General Fund Economies:
If we ask others to sacrifice, we should turn the mirror onto ourselves as well. Some of the suggestions I make here may prove controversial, yet I will make them nonetheless.
I suggest we consider trimming the Supervisor’s proposed $4,000 (20%) pay increase, cutting that increase in half to $2,000 (10%). Unlike the Town Clerk, the Supervisor is a political position, which makes a difference. And the Town Clerk has convinced me that, based on her research, many if not most Town Clerks are compensated more than are their respective towns’ Supervisors. With the position of Town Supervisor in transition, a 10 per cent pay raise for Supervisor, raising annual pay to $22,000, proves more than adequate.
Earlier this year, our Town Board controversially raised the Deputy Supervisor’s pay by more than 1000 per cent, increasing it from $800 to $10,000. I suggest that for 2021 we consider cutting the Deputy Supervisor’s compensation to $5,000.
Supervisor McGee has made it clear she intends to resign before year’s end. Several succession scenarios exist, one of which would have the Deputy Supervisor succeed her. If that were to occur, the current Deputy Supervisor could draw only one salary, not two. It’s also possible a newly-appointed Supervisor (who’d serve throughout 2021), appointed either from inside or outside the Town Board, might not employ a deputy. Much uncertainty remains. If cut we must, the Deputy Supervisor’s line may be the place to start.
The Preliminary Budget proposes first-time funding to the Enfield Valley Grange of $5,000. We as a Town should do what we can to assist the Grange through its financial challenges. However, we must also recognize that 2020 was an atypical year, with the Grange prevented by law from holding many of its traditional fundraising events. We can hope for brighter days in 2021 (eventually). I suggest we consider a $3,000 grant to the Enfield Valley Grange, an amount identical to that we provide Enfield Seniors. Perhaps the Grange can raise the balance through a community fundraising appeal.
Our Preliminary Budget zeroes-out State Aid Revenue Sharing—Aid and Incentives for Municipalities, “AIM” funding—budgeted for 2020 at $16,031. Our Supervisor has justified her decision, concluding that this money “has become a less dependable resource.” I agree.
Governor Cuomo has already placed AIM funding on the chopping block once, the money later rescued, but then funneled through a complicated reassignment of county sales tax. But Tompkins County Administrator Jason Molino, in a reply to my inquiry yesterday, warned,
“I think there is a high probability that Governor may propose the discontinuation of AIM funding from the County’s share of sales tax…. Considering we have no idea what the Governor is going to do, I think Supervisor McGee’s proposal to remove it from the budget is a smart move.”
When Albany walks away from its municipalities, what we find is that governments like ours must tread water while also increasing taxes. Such is the dilemma we face tonight, this month, and this year.
As I predicted last month, “We’re going to have a tough year coming up… a real tough year.”
May we work together toward a meaningful solution this community can accept.
Robert A. Lynch
That’s my message. Please join us for our zoom virtual Preliminary Budget Hearing, 6 PM, Wednesday, September 30th. You’ll find the Town Website link here: http://townofenfield.org/preliminary-budget-public-hearing-9-30-20-6-pm/