Schenectady County

Transcripts of meetings are too costly, Rotterdam Town Board says

Rotterdam will pay $1,500 for having a legal transcriptionist record the first three Town Board meet

Rotterdam will pay $1,500 for having a legal transcriptionist record the first three Town Board meetings this year, even though the expenditure was never budgeted.

Board members approved a payout that would end the practice of transcribing the meetings this week after realizing how much the service would cost. Town Clerk Diane Marco had initially asked board members to approve a $7,500 expenditure for the service after already hiring Nancy Strang-Vanderbogart for three meetings.

But board members balked at the expense, which isn’t in the 2012 budget. They also realized that they never approved an allocation for the initial three meetings, in accordance with town procedures.

“It wasn’t appropriately budgeted for,” said town Supervisor Harry Buffardi. “There was a cost there that’s prohibitive during these times.”

Hiring the stenographer initially didn’t seem like an expensive proposition. Marco said last month that she had money in her own budget to pay for the $8.25-per-page cost.

“It’s a good thing,” she said at the time.

But some Town Board meetings can become quite verbose, meaning there are a lot of pages of typed minutes. The board’s organizational meeting lasted less than two hours, but generated a 101-page transcript that cost the town $833.25.

Buffardi said having a stenographer also seemed like an unnecessary expense, since the board already contracts a videographer to record all of its meetings. And that costs only $65 per meeting.

“Obviously, it’s much cheaper to go with the recording,” he said.

Board member Robert Godlewski was incensed by the expenditure, both because of its cost and because it was never properly approved before the stenographer was hired. He said the town could face issues if the state Comptroller’s Office audits its finances.

“This is a service, and in order to enter into a contract, the Town Board has to approve that,” he said “No department head can go out and contract for a service without board approval.”

Buffardi acknowledged the move to hire the stenographer needed board approval, yet he stopped short of accusing Marco of any malfeasance.

“I don’t think there was any malice or bad intent,” he said.

The town’s website still doesn’t have minutes posted, even though it has a link for them where the meeting agendas are found online. Buffardi said the town is now exploring the possibility of posting video of the meetings on the website.

“We can do it,” he said.

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