We need a system of checks and balances

Dear Editor,

Village of Owego residents are being asked to go to the polls on Aug. 1 to vote to give up their voice in all future elections of their Clerk-Treasurer. In our democracy the people, through their votes, decide who will represent them in the various public offices. 

This is the system we choose and with good reason. It is a system of checks and balances. It does not invest in a few, all or most of the authority and control of our systems of government. Each elected official is a check on every other official and subject to citizens’ removal at election time. 

We elect a Town Clerk-Treasurer, a County Clerk and Treasurer, and a State Comptroller because we want a direct voice in those who will be an independent representative beholding to us and not to the changing political winds of the day.

Appointive positions are filled with their man (woman) and the next executive or board replaces them with their own for political spoils. We change our Mayor and Trustees often. And each new group will have their own favorite. 

The Clerk-Treasurer is often our constant for institutional knowledge and continuity. If the job is not being done satisfactorily we can replace the clerk every two years. 

Practically every single elected officer in the United States from President to Dog Catcher and town, county, state fiscal officers have only age and residency requirements. This is not by accident, but by design for democracy to function best for you.

Pro and Con

We have heard the arguments and justification for appointment. They boil down to we need someone with more education and accounting background. And the last two clerks couldn’t agree more that the Clerk’s Office needs someone with more accounting background. 

They have asked the Village Board for more than ten years to hire a qualified bookkeeper-accountant, only to be rejected. The clerk makes $30,000 per year with no benefits. How much will a private sector educated experienced MBA want to be an appointed Treasurer subject to replacement every year; so much for cost and continuity. 

Today the Board could hire an accountant to work in our village office and solve most of our problems at a lower cost and no loss of our choice at future elections.

Village previously researched issue in 2008

Didn’t we have a similar discussion and proposal in 2008? Yes we did, and the village board formed a 15-person committee of citizens and board members to look at a proposal to have an appointed village administrator instead of an elected Treasurer (same concept as today’s). And they spent months researching and presented a 69-page report on this concept. 

The recommendation of the committee was for the village to not have an unelected Chief Fiscal Officer. They were called the Executive Administration Committee or EAC. 

On page five of their report they state: The EAC would like to set a standard that will raise the bar for future village actions, a standard that will require all significant changes to the village include at least the following: Document reasoning/justification for proposed changes; Document research and findings including public involvement; Document transition management; Document budget impact; Document all communication between Mayor, Trustees, employers and include public communication directed at village residents through all phases.

On Page 8 recommendations: That the board ensure that the Clerk-Treasurer’s office be reconstituted by quickly filling positions of Deputy Clerk Treasurer and Bookkeeper with competent experienced personnel.

On page 13 Additional recommendations: Additional staff should include a Bookkeeper/Accountant with a four-year degree or equivalent experience including municipal accounting and technology literacy.

So did any village board since follow any of these recommendations? Did our current board study this document? Did they speak to any of the EAC members? Did they do any research? Did they involve the public before this drastically final referendum? This is not how you govern.

On Tuesday, Aug. 1, vote no to this poorly researched poorly vetted, poorly discussed attempt to disenfranchise your selves in all future electoral decisions. 

On the subject of the village justice position being abolished, I offer the following. 

The numbers posted on the third party Village of Owego website are in dispute with the numbers on the monthly state comptroller’s reports, which show significantly more revenue in addition the court budget is inflated with security and utility expenses in the police station, which are not directly court expenses. 

If the court is abolished the town will by law be required to pick up the village load which last year was 3,000 cases. This will be a tremendous workload increase for Town Justices and staff requiring significant financial increase. 

Do we already pay a share of Town Court costs in our village portion of town taxes? Yes and no. We pay a much smaller town tax as village residents than outside village town residents do.

Taxpayers will pay for services

When we increase our burden on town resources (such as adding our court or DPW or any other service) the town is required to supply the service. But not for free, and not because we already pay town tax for it, we don’t. The town board decides how much our share of town taxes will be each year. And if we add expense to it we will pay for it in a higher local town tax, thereby negating any perceived tax savings or they could just tell their town voters, “Your taxes are going up to pay for the village taxpayers’ to go down.” Nah. And like everything else money isn’t the only consideration. 

There were 53 domestic violence cases last year, 100 people jailed with no revenue, 3,000 cases, Home rule, local knowledge and experience and local proximity in the village. Tickets are down because we have budgeted for two, yes, two full-time police officers. Every ticket or arrest, over to town hall we go. Not efficient at all.

There is no grant

And about that $100,000 secret grant. No information is available at the clerk’s office. No information was allowed after a FOIL was sent to the village. After contacting the New York State Financial Restructuring Board, the Village has been permitted to pursue a grant, but no grant has been approved or awarded. Yes, financial considerations are important. Do not exaggerate them for a desired outcome. 

Good-bye court – drip, drip, drip. Goodbye police – drip, drip, drip. Imaginary savings from the town and county. What is your plan for the village? No, we don’t want to abolish our local effective court.


Rusty Fuller

Owego, N.Y. 

Member 2008 Executive Administration Committee

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