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Weekend in review

Nov 23, 2015 5:00 am
Some of the stories that made the news Fri., Nov. 20 through Sun., Nov. 22

Debby Mayer reported in the Columbia Paper an audit of the Chatham Central School District by the office of the state Comptroller found that during the last five years, the district’s real property tax levy was approximately $400,000 more than necessary. District officials dispute the finding, saying the funds have been handled properly based on the opinion of the district’s outside auditor. The examination covered the 2013-14 school year and a portion of the 2014-15 school year. The excess funds were collected because district officials overestimated liabilities by more than $1.5 million and over-funded the district's reserve by more than $1.4 million. The state law permits a board of education to retain up to 4 percent of the following year’s appropriations as an unrestricted fund balance. The money is supposed to serve as a financial cushion in the event of unexpected expenses, but in this instance, Chatham's fund balance totaled $4.1 million, or 14 percent of its 2014-15 spending plan. The comptroller's office has recommended the district develop a plan for the use of the excess funds in a way that benefits taxpayers. The money could be used to reduce taxes, pay off debt or finance one-time expenditures. The district has 90 days to prepare and submit its response plan.

In a related story, Gail Heinsohn reported in the Chatham Courier town of Chatham taxpayers will pay the highest tax rate in Columbia County during the coming year. Chatham's tax rate will be $3.38, more than the neighboring towns of Austerlitz, Canaan and New Lebanon. Town, school district and county taxes together comprise a property owner's entire annual tax bill. The town of Chatham's proposed tax levy increase for the coming year is expected to exceed the state-mandated cap.

Michael Ryan reported in The Windham Journal the Lexington Town Board adopted its first-ever seven-figure budget when it recently approved a $1.03 million spending plan for 2016. Town supervisor Dixie Baldrey said, “It’s not pleasant but it is what it is. There’s nothing extra in here. We didn’t slush fund anything away.” Ryan said the budget is likely to increase again in 2017 because of increased Worker's Compensation payments resulting from a highway department accident. In the coming year there will be no pay raises for the supervisor, the bookkeeper or the four town council members. The budge does include raises for the assessor, the judiciary, the code enforcement officer, town clerk, town attorney and highway superintendent, however.
John Mason reported in the Register-Star the Pine Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation Center is no longer draining money from Columbia County, county Controller Ron Caponera told the Board of Supervisors last week. The county is in the process of selling the facility to Premier Healthcare Management. The transaction is expected to be finalized in four to six months. The Pine Haven census is currently up 98 percent, increasing revenue, Caponera said. “Our revenues are way up. The bleeding has stopped: We have increased revenues, increased patient days, increased billing. We’re matching expenses to revenue,” he said. Premier now intends to create a 100-bed assisted living facility at the site, as well. The company will demolish the old Pine Haven building to make room for the new one, Caponera said. Premier is now handling all billing, and they will take over payroll in January.

Jim Planck reported in The Daily Mail the Catskill Town Board adopted its 2016 budget, totaling $5.9 million, Fri., Nov. 20. The spending plan calls for a tax levy increase of five percent, far above the state-mandated cap of 0.73 percent. Town Supervisor Joseph Leggio said the increase was necessary to make up for revenue shortfalls in the budget. A lack of growth and major assessment losses town-wide have increased the stress on the remaining tax base, Leggio said. Town Budget Officer Michael Richardson said nearly $400,000 has been cut from the budget, but an added five percent in tax revenue is needed to fill the remaining gap. The board will hold a special meeting at 8 a.m., Mon., Nov. 23, to discuss several personnel changes in executive session, and, in open session, to act on a policy on medical insurance for active employees and retirees. The actions to be taken will bring those particular expenditures into line with the adopted budget, Richardson said.

W.T. Eckert reported in the Watertown Daily Times  Dutchess County Legislator Michael Kelsey of Salt Point is heading to trial in St. Lawrence County. Kelsey stands accused of sexually abusing two teenage boys while on a Boy Scout outing to the Cranberry Lake area last summer. He is facing two felony, and three misdemeanor counts. In a court appearance last week, Kelsey told the St. Lawrence County judge he fired his attorney. The judge denied him a public defender or court-appointed attorney because Kelsey did not financially qualify. Kelsey is an attorney who specializes in estate planning.

Rick Karlin reported at Capitol Confidential chairs of the Democratic committees located in the 19th Congressional District have launched an effort to draft Ulster County Executive Mike Hein to run for the seat currently held by Kinderhook Republican Chris Gibson. Doreen Davis and Peter Bujanow, chairs of the Greene and Columbia committees, respectively, joined the chairs of the other nine counties located within the district and signed a letter to Hein, dated Nov. 19. Ulster County chairman Frank Cardinale said, “This is letting him know he has a lot of support if he decides to do it.” So far, fellow Kinderhook Republican, former Assembly Minority Leader and one-time gubernatorial candidate John Faso, and Dutchess County businessman Andrew Heaney are competing for the GOP nod. Assembly member Pete Lopez is still said to be considering a run.

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