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Editorial: Don’t forget: Taxpayers come first

Editorial: Don’t forget: Taxpayers come first

When asking taxpayers for money, cut the frills first
Editorial: Don’t forget: Taxpayers come first
The Halfmoon-Waterford Volunteer Fire Department property located at 315 Middletown Road in Halfmoon is shown recently.
Photographer: Erica Miller/Gazette Photographer

Why is it that when it comes to spending taxpayer money, officials always ask for something big and expensive, only to retreat to a smaller, less expensive plan when the public refuses to pay for it?

If these officials were truly looking out for the best interests of taxpayers, they’d go with the smaller, less expensive plan to begin with.

A good example of that is the proposal to build a new fire station in the Waterford-Halfmoon Fire District.

Those who planned the new station came up with a $13.4 million, 25,000-square-foot building project to put before voters that included a separate community room and large kitchen. 

It would have raised taxes about $126 a year on the average homeowner in Halfmoon and $73 a year in Waterford.

But when it came time to ask taxpayers to support the plan, 366 out of 678 voters said no in heavy turnout.

So fire officials put their heads together to come up with a new project.

The one going before voters on May 7 is nearly 6,700 square feet smaller than the original. The community room is gone and the kitchen is smaller. And they’ll only be seeking a $10 million bond instead of $12.3 million.

The new station will still have public space for community events. And they’ll save money on-site work by reconfiguring the station on the existing parcel.

The tax burden also will be a lot lower, with Halfmoon homeowners expected to pay $99 a year extra in taxes and Waterford residents paying $57 more.

That’s a big drop-off. But is it enough?

The question for Waterford-Halfmoon fire officials — and frankly any government- or quasi-governmental entity seeking money from taxpayers — is why not present the smallest, cheapest plan you can live with at the outset?

Why always go with the high-end proposal that hits taxpayers the hardest? 

That’s the kind of wrong-headed thinking that got this state into its massive tax mess in the first place — no consideration for those paying the bills.

They go for the big score with the massive wish-list. Then if voters reject Plan A, they miraculously come up with a perfectly acceptable Plan B.

Clearly, the smaller, less-expensive fire station won’t hinder fire protection in the two communities, otherwise they wouldn’t be presenting this new proposal. And clearly, if they’d thought it out further, they could have saved money by combining the functions of the community room and training area at the beginning. And they obviously could function with a smaller kitchen area, since they’re planning to function with one now.

You don’t just see this kind of “spend first, cut later if we have to” thinking with fire stations. You see it with libraries and school buildings and sewer systems and other capital projects. 

There’s a lesson for all here: Do what’s necessary, and only what’s necessary.

Put the taxpayers first, ahead of your own wants. If you want frills and extras, use your own money to pay for them.

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