A Question of Parity
We have taken a lot of flack in the last week for having run
a story in which we reported a 27 percent rise in the amount
to be raised via taxes for the town’s 2006 budget. We
ran a correction on our website, helped fuel similarly correcting
stories to other news media in the region, and spoken to a
lot of town officials about what occurred.
According to town supervisor Bert Leifeld, the problem arose
because we did not include $400,000 in Unexpended Balance
funds in our equations. Leifeld also faulted us for having
contacted him with questions about the budget only on the
day we were going to press.
Since then, we have heard complaints about us having badgered
the town board for the tentative 2006 budget in the first
place, when it was not yet complete. Similarly, many have
charged us with having “politicized” the budget,
turning it into a campaign tool for the town board’s
Unfortunately, town budgets – all governmental budgets,
in fact – are set up in just such a fashion. Because
in the end, it is the spending of money, and accompanying
taxation matters, that are at the heart of government and
the political processes that determine the fashion within
which the shape of our government is decided.
After making our apologies to everyone last week, we went
back and looked over the budget document we were only given
by Leifeld on Saturday, October 22, three days before we went
to press. There was absolutely no mention of a $400,000 Unexpended
Balance anywhere in the document, which is required by law
to be made available to the public at the beginning of October
as a means of allowing for public discussion of budget matters
within the election cycle, every other year.
Once the supervisor explained the situation – involving
he and his town board having found ways of putting money aside
each year to cover the mandated spending hikes that occur
to all municipalities in New York and other states these days
(involving such things as benefits, fuel rates, union raises,
and so forth) – a different picture of town expenses
came into view. And our original calculations all turned out
But it is our belief that it is the town’s failure to
make their budget document available to the public in a timely
fashion that caused this problem in the first place.
We started asking for copies of the town budget when it was
supposed to be available, by law. And were constantly rebuffed.
We were given a few figures here and there by the town supervisor,
but not a hard document, as all other towns provide. And when
we did get a document, it was incomplete, missing enough funds,
on the balancing side, to make for a 20 percent plus discrepancy
between what was real and what was on paper.
On top of that, we were told that changes were made to the
document in between the time we got it and the time when our
story on it was published.
We have heard that that’s simply the way things operate
in a small town. That the problem is not Olive’s, but
more generic. The state and federal budgets are late, so why
not our town’s?
Two wrongs do not make a right. And laws and political processes
have been put into place for specific reasons.
The reason we require budget proposals to be made at least
a month prior to an election is so that all parties have a
chance to mull what’s being proposed and enter their
opinions about the decisions made into the political process.
The reason budgets are not passed until after an election,
in most cases (excepting school boards), is so that the final
decision made can (hopefully) reflect the outcome of said
It’s part of a political process that ensures parity
between voters, and their opinions, as based on years of experience.
And the reasons these things are regulated from outside is
so that we remain a united nation with equal laws no matter
where you move.
In America, like it or not, everybody’s vote, and legal
opinion, is supposed to be equal to everyone else’s.
Renters are equal to property owners. Women to men. Minorities
to majorities. Newcomers to old-timers. It matters not how
long you’ve lived in a place, your vote is still of
equal importance. Which is a system born out of our national
pride of movement, and also supportive of that ability we
all have, as Americans, to up and move, town to town, county
to county, state to state, without fear of sanctioned discrimination.
And a means of fighting all discrimination that is unsanctioned.
We trust, in the final rounds, that the current budget process
will work itself out fairly. It always has. But we also hope
that, in the future, we can avoid the misunderstandings that
occurred this year, and which have been used as yet another
divisive tool by some within the recent election, by ensuring
that we get our budget proposals out to the public in a more
timely, and legal, fashion.
It’s not a question of picking on anyone, or partisanship.
It’s a matter of principal, democracy, and legal fairness.
It’s a right.