Thursday, April 16, 2015

Post Star Permissive Referendum Article

Transfer of funds may be up to voters in Thurman
THURMAN u Voters in Thurman may be tasked with deciding how to make up an approximately $101,000 shortfall in the town Highway Department’s budget.
If the petition circulated by Town Board member Michael Eddy carrying 39 signatures is deemed valid, it will trigger a townwide referendum on the Town Board’s decision to transfer about $164,000 from a “capital improvement capital fund.”
The transfer would leave just $10,000 in the capital fund but provide enough money to replenish the Highway Department’s budget and establish a reserve for machinery costs. The capital fund was created for road repairs after the damaging storms of 2011.
Highway Superintendent Patrick Wood said if residents vote on the transfer and deny it, layoffs to the seven-person crew and cuts to services will likely ensue.
“Everybody’s got to work together on this. I just feel we need to work together and spend a lot more time on fixing the problems rather than fixing the blame,” Wood said following at least an hour of heated debate at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting.
The debate took place among the town’s leaders, who are frequently at odds.
“There are men sitting out there who want to know if they’re going to have a job and if they’re going to be able to pay their bills,” said Town Board member Gail Seaman.
Seaman asked Eddy what his plan was for funding the Highway Department if the money transfer is prevented by the public’s vote, which can’t happen until at least June.
“My plan is to have a permissive referendum,” Eddy said, adding after the meeting that he felt “scare tactics” were being used by the supervisor.
The public comment — about 30 people attended — was equally lively, with one woman suggesting Eddy should step down from the board.
Because of the uncertainty of funding created by the possible referendum, Patrick Wood said he cannot submit a paving schedule to the county.
Supervisor Evelyn Wood expressed a concern about cash flow.
“My concern is if he expends that money for paving, this fund might run out of money before the (CHIPS) reimbursement comes in. If the fund is out of money, he can’t pay the staff,” she said.
For the last two months of 2014, the Highway Department went over budget by roughly $101,000. In January, the Town Board was faced with making up the shortfall to pay the bills.
Wood said the department has gone over budget in year’s past, but has been able to work through the shortfalls by finding places to cut back.
The shortfall last year was caused by a number of things mainly related to the harsh winter, such as rising salt costs and overtime.
Wood said she cannot find any way other than the transfer to make up the money, and the town only has about $80,000 to $90,000 in its general fund now.
Two resolutions in January were unanimously approved by the Town Board — to reduce the road repair reserve funded after storms in 2011 from $174,024 to $10,000; and to use the $164,024 to pay the highway bills from 2014 and create a machine reserve fund with the rest.
Evelyn Wood said the roughly $101,000 was paid in January with money from the highway fund, which left it short that much for this year.
“The funds that we appropriated and raised for 2015, we actually used to pay the 2014 bills, which is what is going to cause the shortage. We anticipated the transfer coming through. Now that that is not the case, it will have an effect on operations,” Wood said.
After the January meeting, Wood said, she spoke to the town attorney and found out if the board was going to move money from the capital improvement fund, it had to adopt a resolution saying the transfer was subject to permissive referendum, meaning a petition could send it to a townwide vote.
At a March 10 meeting, the resolution stating the transfer was subject to permissive referendum passed 4-1, with Eddy in opposition.
Eddy then circulated a petition to send the transfer of money to a vote.
He took issue with the wording of the resolution because it stated the money would be moved back to the general fund.
“I don’t see us taking savings money and putting it back in the general fund,” Eddy said. “It should have been paid out of 2014.”
Wood said it has to move to the general fund first, because that’s where it originated.
Eddy collected 39 signatures, which was enough. In Thurman, at least 25 signatures are required to trigger a referendum. The law calls for 5 percent of the number of people who voted in the last gubernatorial election, or at least 25.
The petition was submitted at the end of March, but Town Clerk Cynthia Hyde said Tuesday she was in the process of determining its validity.
“I guess I don’t really know what we’re talking about this for. When I’m ready, I’ll tell you and you can take it from there,” Hyde said Tuesday after Evelyn Wood asked her about the petition’s validity.
It is the town clerk’s sole responsibility to assess whether such a petition meets legal requirements.
“You’re trying to invalidate this petition,” Hyde said.
Wood said the board needs a decision from Hyde because an election has to be scheduled 60 to 75 days from the date of the petition’s receipt if it is valid.

 This article was originally posted in the Post Star at

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