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Niskayuna pushes back resolution on fund balance policy

Niskayuna pushes back resolution on fund balance policy

Delay necessary to comply with annual state deadline for a financial report
Niskayuna pushes back resolution on fund balance policy
Photographer: Stock images

Niskayuna town officials will need more time to develop a fund balance policy.

A tentative resolution to adopt the policy, slated for the Town Board's meeting on April 30, was taken off the schedule at the board's agenda meeting last week.

The process began in March, when board members listened to Supervisor Yasmine Syed's presentation on fund balance policy during the monthly agenda meeting.

"It's a guideline for us as a town as to how we should be handling our fund balance for the general fund and the highway fund," Syed said at the meeting. "We have built up a sizable amount of fund balance, it's a healthy fund balance, so it's a good thing."

Syed said the fund balance, or surplus, is more than $3 million in the general fund. The highway fund surplus is more than $1.5 million.

Town Comptroller Paul Sebesta said he needs more time to put together the policy. He said his office currently is working on the annual update document -- also known as the annual financial report, required of all municipalities -- that must be filed with the state Office of the Comptroller by April 30.

"That's the primary focus and has to be, with weeks left to get that done," he said.

Councilwoman Lisa Weber wants more discussion after Sebesta has prepared fund balance policy documents.

"I just want to make sure it goes through a Finance Committee meeting before it comes to the full board," she said.

"I think it deserves the attention of a special meeting, myself," Sebesta said.

"Or just a longer meeting," added Councilwoman Denise Murphy McGraw.

Sebesta expects to have the policy prepared for discussion by May. There is currently no rush.

"It needs to be done before we get into the budget process," he said, mentioning the annual October discussions on the supervisor's proposed budget. "That's the drop-dead date."

The board also discussed salary for the new confidential secretary Syed hopes to appoint. There was discussion,  and disagreement, over description of the position.

Syed said she received interest from 28 people, interviewed between seven and nine and narrowed the field to three, giving preference to Niskayuna residents. The favorite for the position, she said, has executive administrator experience.

Andrew Bigness, who left the job in December, would have earned $63,217 had he remained on staff in 2019. A resolution given to board members requested a $60,110 salary for the position.

Board members are seeking a lower salary. While the supervisor appoints the person to the position, the board sets the salary.

McGraw contended the confidential secretary's position does not serve the entire town. Councilman John Della Ratta also questioned whether the secretary's position serves all of Niskayuna.

"Of course it does," Syed said. "That position serves everybody, every department head, every Town Board member. That's how it's always been, that's how it's always going to be."

Della Ratta said the title -- "confidential secretary to the supervisor" -- does not suggest the position serves the entire town.

"I think one of the issues we had with this salary, and why we insisted on a job description for the new confidential secretary, is the last one did not, in my opinion, serve the town," Della Ratta said. "It certainly did not serve me as a Town Board member because I could not get much of any replies or responses.

"If we're going to set a salary schedule before we get a job description, I'm OK with that," Della Ratta added. "But I think we have to have that dichotomy kind of clear. Is this person going to be responsive to the Town Board and the supervisor? Or is it just going to be a confidential secretary to the supervisor? Because the salary should reflect that."

Syed asked about a former employee, whom she said worked as an administrator and later director of administration for former town Supervisor Joseph Landry. Syed later said that person was paid $54,630 and $62,950 for the respective positions.

"If this is exorbitant," she said during the meeting, "I'd like to know what you thought about what this person was making."

McGraw said the secretarial and director of administration positions carry different responsibilities.

"That previous position oversaw many aspects of the day-to-day operation of Town Hall, whether it was scheduling, whether it was interacting with residents on behalf of the Town Board and the department heads," she said. "It was organizing department heads meetings. It's a very different position."

McGraw believes $60,000 is too much. She said the amount represents nearly a 1 percent tax increase for the town.

"We're just going to establish a reasonable salary," she said.

McGraw also said: "I would just -- without a name attached to it, without any filling of the position -- I would like to establish a salary for this position that I believe is reasonable, the Town Board also agrees is reasonable and is in line with all the other municipalities in the region that has this position ... many of whom are much bigger than ours."

McGraw said a survey of local communities revealed salaries for confidential secretary ranging from $38,000 to $51,000. She said Glenville has no confidential secretary.

During the Finance Committee meeting that preceded the agenda meeting, board members received an update on the large Avon Crest sign that was nearly wrecked when a motorist smashed into it this past February.

Highway Superintendent Ray Smith said he has received one repair quote, for $20,000. He said masons say it is still too cold to start work on the repairs, which will involve rebuilding the shale landmark.

Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]


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