Property Taxes, Deficits, High Heels and Pantyhose

Riley_Best of All Possible Worlds_toon

Dr. Pangloss and his philosophy are the principal focus of Voltaire’s 1759 satirical novella, ‘Candide‘. Dr. Pangloss, who is Candide’s tutor and mentor, teaches that in this best of all possible worlds, everything happens out of absolute necessity, and everything that happens, happens for the best.

‘Candide’ parodies the belief that the world is perfect and that all evil in it is simply a means to greater good. Pangloss appears utterly blind to his own misfortunes as well as the horrors endured by his friends.  In addition to being unrealistic, Pangloss is completely absorbed in theorizing and preaching that everything will work out for the best.

Supervisor Gromack in his comments on WRCR on Monday, July 07, 2014 should be nominated for the 2014 ‘Panglossian Gold Medal’ for his review of a report by the Town’s Comptroller, Edward Duer, which the Clarkstown Town Board requested be given to the public at its Workshop on June 24, 2014.

In that report Duer stated:

1) Because of past deficit spending Clarkstown’s Reserve Fund is continuing to decline and has now been depleted to the extent that the Town will lose its fabled Triple A Bond rating. Projections for the end-of-year 2014 show that the reserve fund will be approximately $13 million having declined from just under $25 million in 2009. Supervisor Gromack, Deputy Supervisor Lasker, and Coucilwoman Hausner had hoped to sell the profitable Town asset – the Middlewood Senior Housing Complex – this year for about $10 million to get the reserve fund up to the minimum needed to keep the AAA rating. This proposal was halted on the objections of Councilmen Hoehmann and Borelli and by the outrage of taxpayers over selling an asset that is expected to provide a future excellent income stream to the Town. Duer declared “the fund balance won’t last forever!”

2) If the Town stays with a 2% tax cap limit for the next four years to December 2018 it is projected that the budget will be in deficit by over $6 Million each year for the next four years.

But such ‘gloom and doom’ can not be tolerated in Supervisor Gromack’s Panglossian Clarkstown.  Appearing on WRCR for his Monday morning weekly Town update Gromack was asked by the show’s host if he had a plan given there had been a lot of talk about the $6 million potential shortfall in Clarkstown.

Here is the modern-day Pangloss’s reply ……

Gromack Well, look, again, that was just the Comptroller doing some very rough forecasting.  I have to say that every year, you know, we have a potential number in that range so that in itself is not unusual and then as we go through the budget process in August, September and October we are very successful in whittling it down.

A lot of those numbers are based on very rough estimates from NY State dealing with the retirement system, the health system and the pension and those numbers (sic).  We don’t really get true numbers from the State Comptroller until some time at the end of August or early September.  If those numbers happen to change in the positive column then certainly that number (the $6 million deficit) drops dramatically. 

Then there are a number of other things that we will take into account as we move forward. I certainly anticipate as we go through the budget process that the forecasted number ($6 million deficit) will be reduced dramatically.  It just kinda highlights what all municipalities face, you know, mid-year are some very ominous signs about the economy, state and healthcare pensions and then we are somewhat dependent on other factors – the revenue forecasts, the mortgage tax, the sales tax in the county and we still need to get better numbers from them.

So certainly as I said that is a number that typically in any year we kinda face a $4-6 million dollar number and then we are very successful in past years of reducing it somewhat and I anticipate that will be the case this year.

QuestionWhat are some of the actions that you can take to help reduce that number?

Gromack:   Well you know certainly we look at opportunities to reduce our personnel costs.  For the last 6 years we have been able to reduce personnel by 14% – that’s an important number and every time there is a retirement we have what is called a Vacancy Release Committee that a department has to go there and make a case that there is a position that is in dire need for the Town.  Those positions could be like police, crossing guard, bus driver. 

We have been successful over the last 7 years in reducing about 75 employees – that is a 14% reduction so that will help.  Going forward there are some other opportunities in 2015 where we will have some retirements that we will not have to replace and that will certainly help.  In addition we are going to continue to look at savings from consolidation – certainly the Receiver of Taxes and Town Clerk – the first year of consolidation was helpful but there will be more savings in 2015 in consolidation there as well as in Highway.  So those will also start to help again to continue to reduce the budget.

If the economy gets a little better by some means – it may not be any worse but it is a very slow creep going forward.  If we get better numbers in the mortgage tax revenues and the sales tax revenues that will certainly help the budget forecast.  I think it is interesting to note that the first quarter of 2014 the County Sales tax went up over 9% while in the neighboring counties it went up about 1.5% in Putnam, Westchester and Orange County.   That I believe is a direct result of the Shoppes At Nanuet so if those numbers continue to increase because of the Shoppes At Nanuet and some other factors then certainly that will also have a very positive effect on putting together a 2015 budget.

So those are just some of the things and as I said the big opportunity will be with the stock market.  Tom DiNapoli, the State Comptroller, will be giving us numbers in the next 60 – 90 days that are pegged to the stock market as far as retirement and how they have done and certainly the stock market has done well and so we are looking to have some better numbers coming out of Albany in the next 60 – 90 days.

Will the real Supervisor Gromack please stand up? In a March 2014 presentation to Standard & Poor’s the Supervisor said that the Town’s Reserve Fund would be propped up for a couple of more years by the sale of the Middlewood Senior Housing Complex for approximately $10 million and that by drawing some cash out of this bucket and raising property taxes by 5.7% the Town would scrape by for another year.

Comptroller Duer is obligated under law and by his code of ethics to not misrepresent the fiscal position of the town to the rating agencies and his forecasts can not in even the most Panglossian world be referred to as “very rough” estimates.  Indeed Mr. Duer revealed in his presentation to the Town Board and to the public attendees that he was assuming the Town would raise taxes up to the tax cap of 2%.  With that assumption the Town would still face a minimum deficit of over $6 million (the equivalent of another 6% property tax increase on top of the 2% assumed as the tax cap for a total of 8% going out each year for the next four years).

Supervisor Pangloss already knows that the most optimistic projection the Town has from the State includes a 5% increase in pension costs and a 10% increase in healthcare contributions so the supervisor would need not only a good ‘stock market’ but a miracle to get the 8% needed tax increase down to the 2% of the tax cap.

As to the putative reductions in staff and the consolidations of Town Clerk, Justin Sweet’s, functions, the fact is that the cuts in the past came mostly through attrition and a buy-out authorized by the New York State. The problem is getting worse over time as the lion’s share of the Town’s costs are in staffing.  Therefore to cut a $6 – 8 million dollar deficit one either has to increase revenue which means raising property taxes and/or cut expenses associated with personnel.

Supervisor Pangloss touts increased sales tax in Rockland County and seems to hint that all of this is coming from the Shoppes at Nanuet and flows into the Town of Clarkstown’s coffers.  The fact is that the improvement in sales taxes going into the county’s coffers is coming also from the other Towns.   For example, in Orangeburg there is a new Supermarket that left Clarkstown in addition to a new industrial park and a new hotel that is going ‘gangbusters’.  In Stony Point there is a new supermarket and several new stores which are also contributing to the county’s sales tax improvement.

Touting the sales tax improvement that is helping the county as something that will rescue Supervisor Pangloss from his fiscal misery is nothing more than a bait and switch by the supervisor to argue for more sales tax revenue to be paid to Clarkstown from the County. Even though that argument with the County may be justified, nothing will be forthcoming in the next few years from the County given its own dire financial situation where a couple of months ago it came within several thousands of dollars of having to declare bankruptcy.  This ‘best of the world’ scenario will not obviate the need for substantial cuts to the 2015 Clarkstown budget.

Supervisor Gromack and his ‘candid’ followers on the Town Board have been deficit spending since 2011 and using the now depleted Town savings fund to hide their financial perfidy.  Supervisor Pangloss/Gromack will do so again if the public buys the proposal that everything is wonderful in this best of all possible worlds and everything will work out for the best.  That is if the ‘best of all possible worlds’ involves taking the remaining money out of the Town’s reserve fund and raising property taxes by 2 – 8% for the next four years.

Finally, does anyone not think it rather odd that Supervisor Pangloss spoke in his comments about a committee that “reviews all vacancies”. Yet at the Town Board meeting on June 02, 2014 a position for County Legislator Sparaco to be elevated by Highways Superintendent Ballard to be his “confidential secretary” for the ‘gross’ sum of $103,600 was, by the supervisor’s own admission, never sent before the Vacancy Committee that he touted on WRCR?

Did Supervisor Pangloss avoid sending this position for review by the ‘Vacancy Committee’ in the fear that in this best of all possible worlds the committee might find it somewhat ironic that a person who had surreptitiously recorded a Town Councilman and the Town’s Fleet Manager in 3 hours of tapes, and who has by his own admission up to 8 hours of such surreptitious recordings yet to be released, was being appointed as a ‘confidential’ secretary?

Perhaps New City resident, Marge Hook, provided the answer when she said that everyone in the Town would not be where they were if it were not for Frank Sparaco adding somewhat obtusely that ‘Confidential Secretary’ Sparaco had never committed “larceny or sodomy”.

If Supervisor Gromack intends to commit neither larceny nor sodomy on the Town’s taxpayers in 2015 by raising their taxes above the 2% tax cap, might we suggest that he gets his scalpel out and starts trimming the Town’s budget and its bulging personnel costs.

He should start with the position of ‘Surreptitious Confidential Secretary’ before the appointee, Frank The New Nancy, takes to wearing lipstick, pantyhose, and high heels.

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About Michael N. Hull

Michael N. Hull has lived in Rockland County for 35 years where he writes articles on philosophy and political affairs. Hull has written over 300 articles for New City Patch and Rockland Voice. He is presently a senior editor of the Facebook page Clarkstown: What They Don't Want You To Know and a senior editor of Rockland Voice.

About the Author
Michael N. Hull has lived in Rockland County for 35 years where he writes articles on philosophy and political affairs. Hull has written over 300 articles for New City Patch and Rockland Voice. He is presently a senior editor of the Facebook page Clarkstown: What They Don't Want You To Know and a senior editor of Rockland Voice.

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