THURMAN In an upcoming special election, town voters will be asked to decide whether to move money from a reserve fund to the Highway Department’s budget to make up for a six-figure shortfall.
The shortfall was caused when bills from the last two months of 2014 were paid using money set aside for 2015.
On Monday, Town Clerk Cynthia Hyde certified the 39-signature petition to trigger a referendum on the money transfer and accepted it for filing. The town clerk is responsible for determining whether a petition, on its face, meets the minimum legal requirements.
Hyde said she took several weeks to certify the petition after consulting the town attorney and said it’s not her job to validate it.
“It’s not my job to decide if it’s valid or not. It’s only my job to accept it,” Hyde said. “The petition meets all the basic requirements, and therefore, there’s nothing I can do but accept it.”
A special election will have to be scheduled for 60 to 75 days from the date the petition was filed, which was March 30.
“This was the first time I’ve ever had to deal with a permissive referendum,” Hyde said.
In 2011, the town established a reserve fund for road repair after the damaging storms of that year.
That fund has grown to roughly $174,000, plus accrued interest.
Two resolutions in January were unanimously approved by the Town Board — to reduce the reserve fund from $174,024 to $10,000, and to use the $164,024 to pay highway bills from 2014 and create a machine reserve fund with the rest.
Supervisor Evelyn Wood said the roughly $101,000 in unpaid bills were paid in January with money from the highway fund, leaving the highway fund short that much for this year.
Then in March, Wood said the board learned the action to transfer money from the capital fund was subject to permissive referendum. So the board had to adopt a resolution at the March 11 meeting that gave residents 30 days to submit a petition to send the action to a vote.
Town Board member Michael Eddy voted no on that resolution and worked on circulating a petition to push the matter to a referendum.
The wording in the March 11 resolution states that the Town Board wishes to keep $10,000 in the reserve and also states “any monies currently held in the fund in excess of ($164,024.50) shall be returned to the general fund from which they originated.”
Eddy said he objected to the idea the money would be transferred from a reserve account to the general fund. He voted against that resolution.
“You shouldn’t be taking out savings. You should be looking at your budget for 2015,” Eddy said, adding that the Highway Department has run into shortfalls over the past four years.
“Unfortunately, the law says it has to go back to the fund from which it originated, but the board did in its earlier resolution indicate we wanted to transfer that money to the Highway Department,” Wood said last week.
Wood said she expects the issue to be discussed at the May 12 meeting.
“There’s some town law, municipal home rule law, a combination of many. What I’ll probably end up doing is conferring with the town attorney on what he sees the next step being. This is my first run-through. We’re just trying to make sure we do it right. I’ll be talking with the town attorney to make sure of that. He should be able to point us in the right direction and keep us on track,” Wood said.
This was originally posted by Post Star correspondent Amanda May Metzger on April 22, 2015