City Determines Path for Distributing Tax Increases

By Mark Gerlach

The City of Newburgh came to a fork in the road pertaining to its 2017 budget this week – distribute a tax increase among homestead and non-homestead properties, or dish out a sizeable increase to non-homestead properties, while homesteads would receive a tax decrease. The city council ultimately chose the former by a close 4-3 vote.

The decision followed a lengthy discussion, while the council decided which path to travel down.
“Everybody on this council that I’ve talked to believe the taxes are too high,” Mayor Judy Kennedy said at the Nov. 28 meeting. “And some of us are very much struggling to pay our own taxes.”

The chosen route, dubbed “Resolution A,” includes a $19.66 tax rate per $1,000 of assessed valuation for homestead properties, an increase of 13 cents or 0.68 percent from 2016. The non-homestead tax rate per $1,000 of assessed valuation is $26.13, an increase of 30 cents or 1.16 percent from 2016. In this scenario, taxes on a $200,000 property would increase $26.45 for homestead for an estimated total of about $3,932, and $59.70 for non-homestead for an estimated total of about $5,226.

Council members voting for the “Resolution A” path included Kennedy, as well as Regina Angelo, Genie Abrams and Karen Mejia.

“Homeowners, since the economic crisis in 2008, have lost services, have paid higher taxes on property, in addition to the fact that we do have a large senior community and those seniors are homeowners. They are longtime stakeholders in this community,” Councilman Torrance Harvey said. “They have complained to me in large numbers that they cannot afford an increase in their homeowner’s taxes. Seniors are being priced out of our community. Elderly are being priced out of our community by raising taxes on their homes that they’ve owned for 20, 30 and 40 years.”

Harvey and council members Cindy Holmes and Hillary Rayford shot down “Resolution A.” The city’s total 2017 budget is $62 million, with $44 million in its general fund. The city’s budget is under the state’s tax cap mandate, which is 2 percent, or the rate of inflation.

To read the full article see the Friday, Dec. 2 editions of The Sentinel and Orange County Post. 

City Comptroller Arrested, Resigns

By Laura Giner Bair

John Aber, City of Newburgh comptroller, resigned on May 24 after being arrested on a grand larceny charge. Aber was released on his own recognizance until a court date is set.

The investigation is being conducted by City of Newburgh Police Chief Daniel Cameron and Lt. Det. Peter Vancura.

When asked how long the investigation has been going on, Cameron responded: “It began only recently.” Cameron wouldn’t comment further, however, as the investigation is ongoing.

Aber’s office has come under scrutiny in recent months. In April the city council passed a resolution requesting state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office conduct an audit of the bureau of collections in the city’s finance department. A few months earlier in January former city Tax Collector Helen Murphy spoke at a city council meeting requesting an investigation into her termination, which led to a request for a forensic audit.

When reached by phone to question Murphy if she had heard of Aber’s arrest, she replied: “Yes. It’s not a surprise. God is good.”

As city comptroller, Aber was responsible for managing and supervising the city’s annual budget. The budget includes the collection of tax revenue, as well as grants from federal and state sources. He also oversaw all expenditures which includes city employees’ payroll, payments to outside vendors for services rendered and oversight of the city’s financial portfolio.

For the complete story see the Friday, May 27 editions of The Sentinel and Orange County Post.

Town Approves Water, Sewer Rate Increases

The Town of Newburgh approved new water meter rates at its meeting Monday night after a public hearing. The changes, which only increased less than $1 in most instances, are effective Jan. 1.

The new minimum quarterly charge is $16 for the first 7,500 gallons, according to a bulletin posted on the town’s website. The minimum last year was $15 per quarter.

For the next 10,000 gallons used, an additional charge of $4.40 will be added for each 1,000 gallons, up from $4 in 2015. For the next 82,500 gallons, residents will pay $5.20 per 1,000 gallons, which is up from $5 in 2015. For more than 100,000 gallons, the rate will be bumped up to $6.20 per 1,000 gallons delivered per quarter, which is up from $5.80 in 2015.

Sewer maintenance and operation charges were also modified in the following districts: Algonquin (increased from $3.80 to $4.40 per 1,000 gallons of water consumed per premises); Crossroads (increased from $4.20 to $4.60 per 1,000 gallons); Gidney (increased from $4.54 to $4.80 per 1,000 gallons); Meadow Hill South (increased from $4.12 to $4.48 per 1,000 gallons); Meadow Hill North (increased from $3.75 to $4.20 per 1,000 gallons); 17K/UA (increased from $3.64 to $4.20 per 1,000 gallons); Nob Hill (increased from $0.00325 to $0.005 per gallon); Fleetwood (increased from $6.90 to $7.20 per 1,000 gallons); Wintergreen (increased from $5.50 to $7.20 per 1,000 gallons). The minimum sewer operating cost and maintenance charge per quarter is $36, up from $30 last year.

Proposed Budget Under Microscope

Laura Giner Bair

TOWN OF NEWBURGH – The Town of Newburgh’s 2016 tentative budget was presented at a town council meeting on Monday evening.

The town’s tentative budget is projected to be below the current property-tax levy cap rate of .73 percent with total projected expenditures coming in at 39.4 million dollars. This is a lower cap rate than previous years when the state set the cap at 2 percent.

“We’ve been working on this budget a long time, and we were able to save money by sending every item out to bid,” Newburgh Town Supervisor Gil Piaquadio said.

For the complete story pick up a copy of today’s Sentinel. 

Comptroller’s Office Scrutinizes Washingtonville Village Hall, Finances

The state comptroller's office recently examined Washingtonville's finances. (Sar Maroof/Wikimedia Commons)
The state comptroller’s office recently examined Washingtonville’s finances. (Sar Maroof/Wikimedia Commons)

By Mark Gerlach 

WASHINGTONVILLE – Washingtonville’s village hall project and other financial activity was recently put under a microscope by state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office. The outcome wasn’t good.

“The board did not properly plan and provide sufficient oversight and management of the village hall building project,” the report said. “As a result, the second floor of the current village hall is incomplete and unusable more than three years since the start of the project.”

The report, which examined financial activities in the village from about March 2011 to July 2013, also said: the village didn’t keep accurate records; the board wasn’t provided with “detailed and periodic reports so that it could make informed decisions;” and that officials didn’t use “appropriate process to ensure that they obtained and renovated the new village hall at a reasonable cost.”

“We found no documentation that supported the basis for the $1.5 million bond anticipation note that was issued to purchase the building and perform renovations,” the report from DiNapoli’s office continued. “There was no evidence that board members requested or reviewed any cost analysis to confirm that the building was feasible to become the village hall, or that they sought other properties prior to selecting this location. As a result, they may have paid more than necessary for this property.”

Current village hall, located at 9 Fairlawn Dr., was taken over as a foreclosed empty building after Hurricane Irene in August 2011. The property was initially used as a temporary emergency shelter for hurricane victims.

After leasing the building at a cost of about $3,000 per month, the property was bought for about $935,000, the report said. The renovation cost was slated to be about $565,000.

Prior to the hurricane, village hall was located at 29 West Main St. It was recommended that the old village be condemned circa September 2011, citing problems with the building’s foundation. However, the village lost approximately $280,000 in Federal Emergency Management Agency funding because the old village hall was condemned before FEMA officials could inspect the damage, the report states.

“The board needs to improve its oversight of village financial operations,” the report continued. “We found significant weaknesses in the internal controls over the village’s financial activities… the lack of board oversight of the former mayor’s activities provided opportunities for significant errors and irregularities  to occur without being detected and corrected.”

Mayor David Heintz took office in 2013, replacing former Mayor Kevin Hudson, who took the mayor’s seat in 2011.

The former mayor increased his annual salary and received more than $4,000 without board authorization, the report alleges.

“The village acknowledges that the aforementioned recommendations are reasonable concerns and will implement the (comptroller’s) suggestions,” wrote Heintz in a response to the report. “The village board is thankful for the professional, courteous manner of the state auditors and appreciates the assistance in identifying areas in which improvements are advised.”

“Recommendations have been given serious consideration and a corrective action plan is in the process of being completed,” Heintz continued.

A call to Heintz regarding the corrective plan’s particulars wasn’t immediately returned.