Seneca Falls Town Board seeks ‘philosophical’ changes at budget workshops

“If you can’t afford the best, you go with less.”

Those were the words spoken by Seneca Falls Town Supervisor Greg Lazzaro at Wednesday’s third, and final budget workshop day, which hosted water and sewer, as well as public safety workshops.

Nothing will be official until the board adopts the budget, which is subject to a public hearing on November 1st but the tone was definitely set for the next several days and weeks, as they work to make necessary cuts.

“What do we really need?” Lazzaro asked the rest of the council during a discussion about a raise that was promised to Seneca Falls Police Chief Stuart Peenstra. “We have an obligation to be fiscally responsible,” Lazzaro added after the board members discussed how they felt about going back on a raise, which was promised by a previous administration. “We aren’t obligated to honor what a previous board promises,” Lazzaro explained.

Town Councilman Dave DeLelys noted that when the three successive raises in question were promised, the board had conducted some cursory research throughout the region – comparing the pay rates of police chiefs in similarly sized municipalities in the Finger Lakes. The two closest comparable districts, which include Palmyra and Newark – both had salaries of $90,000 or more in those places.

“We have a moral obligation to honor what was promised to [Chief Peenstra],” explained Councilwoman Mary Sarratori. Vic Porretta and Annette Lutz, also members of Town Council, reaffirmed that sentiment. “I know how families plan on raises. When that money is supposed to be there, it’s supposed to be there,” Sarratori added.

The board would end up drafting a resolution on the spot, taking a vote on two salary modifications, which were not in line with the one percent increase in salaries across the board, which they had resolved to do at last Wednesday’s session.

The resolution affirmed Peenstra’s $6,400 raise for 2017, which would be his third- and final promised raise. The resolution was put forward by Lutz, being seconded by DeLelys. The board voted 4-1 in favor of the resolution with Lazzaro being the only nay.

“We have to develop a philosophy as a board on how to approach cuts,” Lazzaro noted. He said that through three sessions it wasn’t apparent that the board had any philosophy on how they would approach spending cuts.

Admittedly, the board recognized that Peenstra had made more than $80,000 worth of cuts to his original budget ask, which took more than a week to do. “We’re in good shape. I’ve really been trying to crack down on overtime,” Peenstra noted.

The overtime discussion hinged largely around events in Seneca Falls – as well as Seneca Falls Court, which requires having an active police officer on-site. Peenstra hoped that the new municipal building would help with this problem. He pointed to the improved layout of the new facility, which would allow for better utilized coverage around the court schedule.

Another point of contention for the board during the public safety portion of the budget workshop involved replacing two aging patrol vehicles. The two vehicles Peenstra hoped to replace in 2017 have 135,000 and 117,000 miles on them respectively.

He had hoped to get enough funding budgeted to see that both could be replaced in 2017. “It’s great to have the best of everything, but if we can’t afford it – we can’t afford it,” Lazzaro added. Ultimately, the board decided as a group that budgeting for one vehicle next year, and evaluating it again afterward would be the best compromise.

The board briefly went into executive session to discuss the sale of real property on Fall Street, which lasted roughly 15 minutes. The next time the board meets, it will be for the public hearing, which is slated for November 1st before the regularly scheduled board meeting.

The first two budget workshop sessions held last week saw no public attendance. On Wednesday, a few members of the public attended portions of the sessions. A cumulative total of 6 people attended the three workshop sessions on October 18th, 19th, and 26th.

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