NISKAYUNA -- The town will use its preliminary budget -- approved by the Town Board in late October -- as its working budget for 2020.
A resolution to adopt a final budget, which included several modifications from the preliminary document, never came to a vote at Tuesday night's board meeting.
The board must now by law use the $15.9 million preliminary budget, which does not include a tax increase, that was adopted at its Oct. 22 meeting.
The preliminary budget includes a $995,000 appropriation from town surplus funds to balance the budget.
On Tuesday, the board took individual votes on separate town operating budgets: general, highway, Sewer District 1 and Water District 1. A motion to vote on the operating budget for Sewer District 6 was not seconded.
All measures failed to pass.
Board members were considering budget modifications on the night of the budget vote and were running out of time. Under state law, budgets for 2020 must be in place by Nov. 20.
In casting a "no" vote for the general fund, board member Lisa Weber said she had unanswered questions about budget items.
"We're doing so much considering of things the evening of the budget vote, which we never in my memory have done before," she said. "I'm having trouble with this whole process."
Modifications made in the preliminary document after it was approved by the board in October are no longer valid. "What changes were made between the preliminary budget and now are not passed," said Town Attorney Paul Briggs.
Town Comptroller Paul Sebesta said an additional $37,700 for employee health insurance, in addition to the $2,612,600 already budgeted for insurance for 2020, will have to come out of surplus funds.
Surplus money, also known as fund balance, currently stands at $12 million.
"We do have a healthy fund balance and it is the taxpayers' money," Sebesta said during an interview last week. "We have limited ability to invest based on New York state rules, so we can't even make the taxpayers' money work for them. So in many ways, it makes sense to give it back to them when we accumulate more than we need. There's nothing wrong with that."
Board Member John Della Ratta voted against the individual budgets proposed during the meeting. He said after the meeting he had problems with the proceedings.
"The original budget that we got that kicked everything off came very late in the game," he said. "We did have budget workshops, however the corrections that were borne out in the budget workshops were made very late in the game, many weren't made until this evening.
"I just don't have enough information to make an educated vote," he said. "I would rather not make a vote that I'm not informed on."
Della Ratta believes revenues in the budget were not accurately projected. "In my opinion, we're going to have a big deficit, a large deficit," he said.
Della Ratta also said the board can conduct budget modifications as the year proceeds, considering resolutions to adjust the budget.
Sebesta said more funds could be taken from the fund balance.
"There will still be discussions about rate increases for sewer and water so we can meet those revenue estimates," Sebesta also said.
Supervisor Yasmine Syed had hoped the Sewer District 6 budget would have passed; $530,000 budgeted as revenue from soda water recycling had been modified and reduced to $361,000. "That motion didn't even get a second," she said.
Della Ratta did not like last-minute discussions about the soda waste money.
"To talk about this stuff now while we're voting, I think, is irresponsible," he said during the meeting.
With the preliminary budget now in place, the revenue line item remains at $530,000.
"I was hoping we could have decreased the septage amount because now what we've created is a situation where we have budgeted half a million dollars as revenue which means how many trucks -- 12?" Syed asked. "By failing to pass this change, they have created an untenable situation now at Sewer District 6. In my opinion, this is the most egregious case of political grandstanding I have ever seen."
Della Ratta and Weber voted against the individual budgets in Sewer District 1, Water District 1, general and highway. Syed and board member Bill McPartlon voted in favor. Board member Denise Murphy McGraw was absent.
Budgets for town parks, lighting and drainage passed. But they do not depend on town-wide taxes.
"Those special districts are what we call special assessment districts, they're unique to the area they're in," Syed said. "It's a district set up by the residents in that unique area. They pay into it for the maintenance of the parks, the lights or the drainage."
Board members serve as commissioners for the districts.
Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]