What seemed a simple question about budgeting — where does the money for each year’s “fund balance” come from — touched off a dust-up at the Town Board meeting Friday night.
The principal protagonists were Supervisor Jim Dougherty, who is seeking re-election to a third two-year term, and Councilman Ed Brown, who is in the middle of a four-year term.
Their squabble was about who had been the biggest users of the unspent money carried over every year into the following year’s budget fund balance to cushion their budgets and limit tax hikes — Mr. Dougherty or Town Boards working with previous supervisors.
The balance currently stands at between $1.5 and $2 million, board members said, well above the state-recommended minimum of 10-perecent of the annual budget, which totals over $10 million.
The board’s only elected Conservative, Mr. Brown started the sparks flying when he offered figures to back up the argument that the Democratic supervisor had been tapping the fund balance harder during his two terms than previous administrations .
He also chastised him for claiming credit in his re-election campaign for the budget work of the whole Town Board.
“It’s all about Jim,” Mr. Brown complained, adding that the supervisor’s style was to throw “as many people under the bus as you can.”
The supervisor countered that previous Town Boards had tapped the fund balance when the economy was good and when non-tax revenues were flowing. The money was a “Rainy Day fund” to be used in tough times, not in good times to hide spending increases, he argued.
Mr. Brown was wrong, said Mr. Dougherty, to assert that those previous boards had faced unusual expenses: a new highway barn and the park at Bridge Street, among other things. Those projects, Mr. Dougherty noted, had been funded by bonds and “I’ve been paying for them” in subsequent budgets to the tune of $145,000 a year in principal and interest.
“You’re paying for it all on your own,” remarked Mr. Brown. “Nice of you, Jim!”
According to Mr. Brown, the Town Boards over the six years from 2003 through 2008 had used a total of about $945,00 from the fund balance to cushion their budgets.
Over the three years since Mr. Dougherty took office in 2009, he said, $1.45 million has been tapped.
Mr. Dougherty defended the use of the fund in recent years as appropriate for bad times when revenues plunge.
The fight prompted Town Board candidate Paul Shepherd, who had asked the question from the audience, to take pains to say he hadn’t meant to start a political dust up for the Channel 22 camera and the Reporter.
“This wasn’t me setting you up,” he told Mr. Dougherty.
More details about that hot exchange, and other business at the Friday meeting — including the question why the Red Cross Ambulance squad was being taken over by the town instead of the Fire District — will appear in the October 27 edition of the Reporter.