‘Argle-Bargle’ In The Borough
To the Editor:
Taxpayers ought to have a say about how and why their money is spent.
The Borough’s proposed budget was reviewed at its recent meeting, and after dissatisfaction was voiced about a lack of clarity, transparency, and accountability, promptly defeated.
Much was made about the amount of the Borough’s longstanding and growing cash surplus. As of April 19, 2019, the amount of the surplus was $614,586.39, plus $76,450.07 sitting in a certificate of deposit — figures reported by the Borough treasurer and accepted by the Burgesses as accurate.
One might quibble with specific budget line-items, but a few lurking matters deserve further thought. The budget proposal anticipated another $20,000 in building fees in the next fiscal year — an estimate that ignores the fact that building permits for 29 Rochambeau homes can, and should, be anticipated shortly, bringing the surplus to well over $800,000. Knowing that might change the calculus for taxpayers in deciding what to fund and how. But we don’t know it from our government.
Borough taxpayers learned, at that meeting, that the cash surplus in its General Fund has no specific purpose aside from being a negotiating point in opposing any possible “affordable housing” applications and, perhaps, sidewalks. Affordable housing applications, however, may not come, if at all, for many years. If not, those monies may sit idle without end, subject, apparently, only to the burgesses decision to spend them.
While some of the individual budget items could be more in line with real-world expectations, more concerning still, especially in the long-run, are facts and events that were not disclosed in the proposal — although they should have been. The burgesses say they intend to construct sidewalks along Sugar Street, which we’re told will cost taxpayers approximately $100,000 and will be paid for out of the General Fund surplus. The $100,000 estimate, however, is $50,000 short of an estimate given to the burgesses in March (See Borough minutes, March 12, 2019). More disturbing still is the position finally taken by the burgesses that, although they ask for authorization to spend $20,000 on sidewalk repairs and $5,000 on preliminary survey work for Sugar Street sidewalks, they intend to spend $100,000 or $150,000 for the sidewalks themselves without the need for taxpayer authorization. Borough taxpayers, however, ought to have the opportunity to balance the need for Sugar Street sidewalks against other priorities.
This disturbing disclosure also signifies something larger afoot — the use of the reminder of the surplus, which we are told can be spent in the Burgesses’ total discretion — that it’s none of the taxpayers’ business. But not all is lost. According to the Borough, our remedy is to vote those responsible out of office at the next election. In short, the burgesses see the surplus as a “slush fund” that they may spend as they please, without taxpayer interference.
To quote the late Justice Antonin Scalia, “Argle-bargle.”
8 Budd Drive, Newtown May 15, 2019
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