The Finance Committee meeting on Tuesday night was supposed to determine if the City would plunge over a fiscal cliff if the Dunn warehouse and the lot at Fourth and State streets were not sold to the highest bidder before the year is out, but that discussion really didn't happen. But even though that question was never answered and the meeting sometimes devolved into bickering about money, some important information emerged.
The big topic of the evening was the news that Galvan Partners was walking away from the purchase of 405 Warren Street. There were questions about who knew what when (the city treasurer, it seems, was among the last to know), whether the City can now go to the next highest bidder (assistant city attorney Carl Whitbeck reportedly has reservations about that), and if the City has to return the $26,000 down payment (the letter to Whitbeck from Galvan attorney Mark Greenberg, which gives no reason for backing out, makes this request: "Please return the down payment at your earliest convenience"). When committee member Nick Haddad (First Ward) suggested that the City has shown some discretion about returning down payments on auctioned property in the past, Ohrine Stewart (Fourth Ward) said, astoundingly, since she is usually the Council's self-appointed bean counter when it comes to getting and spending, "If we've done it in the past [i.e., return a deposit], we should do it again."
The topic that provoked shouting at the Finance Committee meeting was the purchase of two new "unbudgeted" police cars. Chief Ed Moore, who told First Ward residents in May that he thought the police car was one of the worst inventions for municipal policing, now wants two new ones. (By Gossips' count, there are currently five "black and whites" and an untold number of unmarked police vehicles.) Cappy Pierro, chair of the Police Committee (and police commissioner in the past), wants to deliver those cars, but city treasurer Eileen Halloran cautions budgetary restraint.
Halloran prefaced the police car discussion with information about the budget. To balance the 2013 city budget, $200,000 was allocated from the general fund. So far in 2013, the Common Council has appropriated expenditures from the general fund that exceed that amount by $130,000. Those expenditures include the $71,000 paid to Spacesmith for the design of a senior center that was never built; $26,000 allocated for the demolition of 67 Fairview Avenue; and the down payment on 701 Union Street.
Although the actual amount in the fund balance has never been disclosed, we are led to believe that it is an adequate and healthy amount. Making reference to the fund balance, Halloran said on Monday, "We didn't get in the healthy condition we're in by purchasing every bright, shiny object." She was alluding, of course, to the new firetruck for Hoysradt and the two new police cars, and her comment incensed Pierro, who accused her of jeopardizing the welfare and safety of Hudson residents with her penury. The police, Pierro asserted, haven't had a new vehicle in three years, and the cars to be replaced have more than 90,000 miles on them.
The solution suggested by Halloran is the one that the Council decided to follow: the cost of one car--$22,000--will come from the general fund; the police must find the $22,000 for the second car in their own budget.
To continue her theme that the Council needs to be disciplined in its spending, Halloran updated the committee on the "foreclosure list"--the list of properties at risk of foreclosure owing to nonpayment of property taxes. The list, which every year starts out long and ends up fairly short as property owners enter into payment agreements or find ways to pay their back taxes, is now down to 81 properties. These properties, she reported, are spread throughout the city: 13 percent in the First Ward; 27 percent in the Second Ward; 16 percent in the Third Ward; 18 percent in the Fourth Ward; 26 percent in the Fifth Ward. "Foreclosures," said Halloran, "are a factor of the taxes. The stress [indicated by these numbers] is across the city."
The question of whether or not the City needed to sell the Dunn warehouse and the lot at Fourth and State was never actually addressed, but on that topic, Cheryl Stuart expressed the opinion that "every time the City mismanages money, they shouldn't turn around and try to sell valuable property." In truth, it's not a matter of mismanaging money. It's more of a Jacob and Esau thing--being willing to give up something of immense long-term value to satisfy an immediate need. Haddad alluded to this when he declared, "The Dunn warehouse has no business being sold."
COPYRIGHT 2013 CAROLE OSTERINK