Residents want an independent budget study
YATES COUNTY—The Yates County finance committee discussed what would be necessary to create a citizens advisory committee to analyze the county budget during their special meeting Wednesday, Jan. 30. During last month’s meeting, the legislature had indicated an interest in forming a committee, with only Donna Alexander in opposition of the idea.
Prior to the adoption of the budget in December, there was also discussion of getting an outside group to look at the budget to find areas where the county is overspending during an exchange between resident Steve Marchionda and Chairman Taylor Fitch.
Marcionda said he has since gotten together a group of six other Yates County residents who have operated their own businesses for this task, but said the legislature is making the concept overly complicated when it comes to what they want from the proposed committee.
“I don’t want a suggestion I made to get so complicated it will be ineffective,” Marchionda said.
He said he is also hesitant about whether he wants to go through with it due to the legislature’s questioning of his motives, saying perhaps it would be better if somebody who was not accused of having a separate agenda could conduct the analysis. Marchionda said having a citizens advisory committee run by the county runs the risk of them only looking at what the county wants.
“If you want real data, you can’t manipulate it,” Marchionda said. “You can’t control the process. You have got to have some guidelines if you want to do it good.”
Marchionda said while he has no interest in being on a long-term committee, he said he hopes reviewing the budget on an expense basis instead of a net basis can change the way future county legislators conduct the budget process.
“I don’t think anybody wants to hear mandate,” Marchionda said. “Nobody fully believes the mandate thing.”
Resident Jerry Montgomery said he believed Fitch had commissioned Marchionda to be head of an independent citizens committee during a Dec. 6 budget workshop, but became concerned with the legislature’s enthusiasm about it since comments were made about avoiding picking citizens with “an axe to grind.”
“I’m not on the committee, I don’t have an axe and I’m not planning on grinding it,” Montgomery said. “We all think you are doing a good job for us, but we are all in this together, and you are all taxpayers as well.”
Penn Yan planning board member Stan Olevnik spoke, saying as a realtor he has lost a few sales of lake homes specifically because of taxes.
“There is waste here,” Olevnik said. “There is no way to sugarcoat that.”
He said the county cannot continue to maintain double-digit tax increases and the legislature needs to be careful they do not become so antagonistic while forming this committee that nobody wants to do anything to help.
Committee Chairman Tim Dennis said the consensus of the legislature was to go ahead with a citizens advisory group, despite concerns and opposition.
“I don’t think there are any of us who want to be antagonistic on this, we need some help,” Dennis said. “The concept of this community action group is ... new eyes, new ears and a different set of perspectives to look at what we are already doing.”
Dennis said Oswego County had a similar advisory group, but County Administrator Sarah Purdy said the group only existed for a year and their advice was subsequently ignored by their legislature.
“If you want to start something like this, right out of the starting gate ... the mission needs to be very clear and the scope of work, the set of deliverables need to be very clear,” Purdy said. “Any group can take a mission and run with it, but you have to make clear your expectations.”
Marchionda said he knows whatever comes out of this committee is still subject to legislative approval, and he knows it is just an informal study that can be ignored if the legislature wants. He said he is still going to conduct his study no matter what the legislature decides because he wants to see what the data says. Marchionda said his numbers do not add up to the county’s numbers, and his issue is that nobody has been able to show him data refuting his claims.
“I’ve watched a lot of people who can’t stay on the lake anymore, and by God I’m not going down without a fight,” Marcionda said. “So far nobody has been able to show me where my data is wrong. If it is, fine. If not, then we’ve got a problem.”
Dennis replied saying he approves of Marchionda and “his people” conducting their study as long as it is not done antagonistically or with an agenda. Marchionda said his only agenda is to lower the tax bill, and there is an overall sense by the legislature that he is on a mission. Dennis said if it is the mission of Marchionda’s group to conduct an objective analysis of the county budget then it is fine.
Legislator Rick Willson said the people of Yates County have a right to come together and investigate things and should be able to do whatever study they want. He said he thinks the legislature should let residents like those in Marchionda’s group “run with the ball” and that they will know when they have come far enough.
“I think they [Marchionda’s group] are heading in the right direction, and we are wandering off like a bunch of cats,” Willson said.
Willson also said Marchionda and his group have a right to conduct their study and he does not believe they have an alternative agenda.
Marchionda later removed himself from the discussion, saying he feels a lot of the discussion is focused around himself and the legislature needs to be able to openly discuss the issue without second guessing anyone’s motives.
Dennis later said he does not want the legislature to “sit here spinning our wheels” figuring out how to form a committee if there is already a group out there doing what the legislature wants to do. He said it would be better to see the results of Marchionda’s group before getting into forming their own committee. Legislator Robert Multer said he thinks as long as this group is available and willing, the legislature should take advantage of it. The committee agreed to utilize Marchionda’s independent study with the possible assistance of a few legislators or the county administrator for guidance before looking into forming a long-term citizens advisory committee.