RAMER: Respecting Town Budget History

Letter to the editor from Jeff Ramer

I have been on the Board of Estimate and Taxation (“BET”) for the past twelve years, and I have a pretty good sense of its recent history.

I have been listening to the silliness coming from Mr. Camillo this Election year. I have not previously commented, but frankly it begs for some reply.

Let’s look at the record:

For the past two years of Democratic control of the BET, you have seen historic low tax increases. In the first year, the tax mill rate increased by a flat zero. That had not happened in many decades. Republicans on the BET were so negatively provoked by that Democratic success that at least one Republican voted to have there be no Budget approved by the BET in that year, rather than approve and publish that Democratic achievement. The second year under Democratic leadership saw a mill rate increase that was nearly as low, and the combined average mill rate increase for the two years (1.375%) was less than half the average increase (2.94%) for the prior ten years under Republican leadership.

At the BET vote on the second year’s mill rate increase, the Republican BET members were demanding a higher tax rate, and only Democratic control of the BET on that party-line vote kept your taxes low. I guess these days it is the “Tax and Spend Republicans”.

These remarkable financial achievements have been reached in the same years in which the Democratic majority squashed $1.7 million of devastating cuts to Schools funding proposed by the Republicans, and in the same years in which we are finally devoting some real money to solving the persistent issues of insufficient playing fields and their pollution problems. For the first time, cyber security in Town is being brought up to the 21 st century. We have cleaned up the mismanagement mess that saw repetitive thefts in Parking Services, the fixing of parking tickets, and political favoritism in the issuance of coveted railroad station parking permits. It is called Better Government.

The voters threw out a Republican Tax Collector who we showed you was taking six weeks to deposit checks, who was failing to correct his records for changes made by tax appeals, who was failing to adjust his records for bounced checks and credit card rejections, and who was failing to make proper refunds or correct errors in his records. You replaced him with a Democrat who cleaned up all that mess, did so with less staff, and collected an extra $4.2 million in delinquent taxes, which allowed the taxpayers a further tax reduction.

Mr. Camillo has been taught to say now that the astonishing low tax increases were just the result of savings on medical insurance premiums enjoyed by the Town by transferring coverage to a State-run insurance “Partnership Plan”. In every year, we have items that rise and items that fall. Yes, that was a nice savings, but frankly offsetting increases in payments to our Pension Fund, for example, were nearly as great. Zero mill rate increases are achieved by hard work and financial savvy, not by serendipity, Mr. Camillo. And it was done without cutting programs and services that make this such a wonderful Town to live in.

By the way, the Teachers Union would burst out laughing at the claim of Mr. Camillo that the introduction of this State insurance Partnership Plan was a “Republican achievement”. Participation in the program was brought to us by the Union and by the Board of Ed, as a result their efforts, showing their ingenuity and fiscal prudence. Republicans had nothing to do with it.

Equally silly is Mr. Camillo’s “P3’s”. Mr. Camillo’s point, I suppose, is that the Town should now conduct its Capital Infrastructure Projects by “public private partnerships”, whereby charitable contributions from our residents should be made to substitute for the burden upon our tax payers. Yes, we have wonderful citizens in Town. No one from either Party sneers at their generosity. Both Parties welcome it equally. But maintenance of Infrastructure is a cornerstone of sound government, and that is not going to be accomplished by hoping to sell naming rights on a sewer pipe or asphalt paving. As much as we would welcome contribution, for example, to the renovation of the Hammill ice rink from a passionate hockey fan, that generosity should not distort the renovation plan to promote hockey to the disparagement of figure skating or recreation. Trust me, you don’t want sound capital maintenance of Town facilities limited to the pipe dream of finding someone else to pay for it all the time.

No, Mr. Camillo. You don’t understand Town finance. Your adversary, Jill Oberlander, does. She was at the helm for the creation of most of what has been accomplished over the past two years of the Democratic controlled BET, which she chaired.

Jeff Ramer

The deadline to submit a letter to the editor regarding candidates in the Nov 5 municipal election is Tuesday Oct 29 at 5pm.