Vestal residents concerned over financial planning

By Erika Mahoney

June 26, 2013 Updated Jun 27, 2013 at 12:59 AM EDT

Vestal, NY (WBNG Binghamton) The town of Vestal Board is working to re-allocate money after banking on an idea that fell through.

Council members budgeted to generate $200,000 by harvesting timber in Jones Park.

The goal was to put the money made back into the park.

"It was never intended to fill our budget," said Vestal Supervisor John Schaffer. "But it was intended to, instead of us putting money in the park, the park would pay for the park."

Shaffer said he saw the plan as a chance to beautify Jones Park and that there were concerns over the Emerald ash borer destroying the trees anyway.

But due to some state regulations governing the county-owned park, the deal fell through, along with the revenue.

"It was a mistake by the new supervisor, myself, at the time," Schaffer said.

On April 24, the board authorized the town to transfer some funds to fill the gap.

Schaffer said most of the funds are coming from cash carried over from last year.

They still have a $60,000 budget hole.

But Schaffer said the money that is being made up isn't going to the park, as was the original intention: "No, no it's not. It's going back into the budget to keep our budget, stay on track, where it is."

In mid-June, a state audit of the town reported leaders lacked long term financial planning. The report also said the town more than doubled its debt over the past 10 years.

At Wednesday's meeting, residents voiced their concerns over the town's financial management.

"There has been a lot of changing and re-allocating money in the budgets and this is not anything new," said Vestal resident and former Councilman Paul LoGalbo."It is constantly happening. Every meeting, you'll probably see that budgets have been re-allocated. It's unsettling because sometimes you feel like you're going by the seat of your pants."

But some board members say the report is misleading, and that the state should take part of the blame because of unfunded mandates and 2 percent cap.

"We're trying to buy when we need to buy," said Councilman Francis Majewski. "Like we mentioned earlier, people still need their roads done, they still need their roads plowed, they still want their infrastructure maintained. They still want their public safety."

Schaffer said he is open to taking recommendations from the state and is asking for direction.

The budget also came into play at Wednesday's meeting in reference to the expansion of the Rail Trail.

Schaffer said the town will have to hire a contractor instead of using it's own staff for the work because they don't have the manpower.

Schaffer says it won't cost taxpayers any additional money.

About two months ago, the town borrowed $250,000 to cover some of the construction costs.

This money will cover the work.

Federal funds are paying for 80 percent of the project and taxpayers are covering the remaining 20 percent.

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