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Friday, May 22, 2009

Tit for Tat: Terry vs. Toni in That Paper

I've spoken to the mayor, I've read the articles and the letter wars between supervisor and mayor, and I've seen some of the documents in question.  I have some follow-up questions into them both, but based on what I've seen so far, I think the supervisor's rationale doesn't quite fit the particulars of this case.

In her letter to TP (or That Paper, as Mr. McPhillips likes to call it), the supervisor quotes the entirety of the comptoller's opinion about how to assess ambulance charges when you've got a village within a town, and they each sign their own contracts with the same ambulance company.  The comptroller felt that, since the town contract included everything in its borders, that the village residents really were getting the benefit of that, over and above the level of service they were getting from their own contract with the same ambulance company.  (The opinion is very clear that it applies only in cases where the contracts are with the same company.)  Because they were getting that extra level of service, a town could go ahead and put the ambulance charge in the "A" fund that comes from the taxes paid by all town residents - including the ones that live in the village.

Follow so far?  The comptroller thinks that the same exact ambulance volunteers that are on call at any given time would somehow replicate themselves should an emergency happen in the village, so the village residents should pay twice:  once for the town-hired clone, and once for the village-hired clone.

Granted that the opinion is specious at best and bizarre to the core, it is in fact a legitimate basis upon which to base a defense.  If the town ended up losing under those circumstances, it would really be the comptroller's opinion being reversed by a court of law, not an error in judgment.  However, I don't think that this opinion applies to New Paltz.

I looked at a copy of the town's ambulance contract, and it's pretty clear that services are being engaged for the town, excluding anything within the village boundaries.  The mayor is claiming that this contract is specific enough that there's no way any resident of the village could be benefiting from it, at least not while they're at home.  He believes that the comptroller's opinion just doesn't apply in this case.

22 comments:

kt tobin flusser said...

I still don't get it - and I don't foresee ever understanding to have to pay twice for my village-self to sue my town-self. Elected leaders should do much, much more to resolve an issue before resorting to this type of legal recourse.

Terence said...

I absolutely agree, and I think that's the crux of why the article in last week's paper was more about people being mad at the mayor than about the tax question itself.

I'm still waiting for a response from Toni about the communication that occurred prior to the Joint Meeting Surprise. I know Terry believes he took all necessary and appropriate steps and feels that legal action was the only option, but I'm reserving judgment until I hear Toni's side.

rachel lagodka said...

What drives me crazy about bureaucrats is that they can take a simple question and turn it into a meaningless lump of frustrating gobbledygook. Who cares it the village MAY also contract for ambulance services even though the town has already contracted for the villagers since they also live in the town. Why should they? And if they are not, in fact, getting an extra level of service for the extra money they pay for a second contract, why should they pay? Do we need a law suit to straighten this out??? What are you, kidding me? I would rather pay a little extra for ambulance services than pay one dime for a f**king law suit against the town I live in.

Martin McPhillips said...

Rachel,

"Who cares it the village MAY also contract for ambulance services even though the town has already contracted for the villagers since they also live in the town."

The town contract with the rescue squad specifically excludes the area of the village.

"Do we need a law suit to straighten this out???"

Why not? If the mayor of the village attempts to bring this to the attention of the supervisor and the town board, which he did, and gets stiff-armed, then what is he supposed to do? Abandon his fiduciary responsibility to village residents?

Besides, this is hardly yet what we think of as a law suit, in the grand expensive meaning of that term.

Jason West said...

In the various articles about this, it seems clear to me that Michael Zierler actually did straighten all this out by meeting with the Town Supervisor and the Rescue Squad. While Michael was doing this work - and in the appropriate manner of sitting down and talking through the issue -- Terry seems to have been instructing village staff to contact specific village residents so that they could get together and sue the Town.

Putting aside for the moment that, if true, those actions are illegal (you can't use village resources for private uses, and village staff time to help coordinate a private lawsuit falls into that category), I don't understand why they were necessary if Michael was already working to untangle the issue, and seems to have untangled it well.

lagusta said...

1) Right on, Jason. I've been eagerly waiting to see how this all shakes out and if Terry really was breaking the law.
2) My god, do you realize you misspelled Toni's name in the post title? (Sorry, I'm overly sensitive to stuff like that)

Joshua Simons said...

If I understand this correctly, the Town actually excludes the village within its contract for ambulance service? How exactly does this work? When you are in an accident and bleeding profusely, the dispatcher checks your address against a database and then dispatches the appropriate company as per the contracts? Sounds like a paramount achievment in efficiency.

Ostensibly this is because the fine citizens of the village are not citizens of the town... no wait, that cant be it. Perhaps it is because the Town and Village get a better rate by having two different and smaller contracts... no, that doesn't sound right. I know, the coverage must be better well you know, unless your injured and unconcious body lands half in the town and half in the village. It must then be that the Town and Village want to reserve the right to determine exactly what level of service is necessary to fulfill the agreed upon public good.

gadfly3 said...

Sounds like a good reason to consolidate both

Martin McPhillips said...

The village has its own contract with the rescue squad.

The town contract with the rescue squad excludes the village.

The town pays for its contract with the rescue squad out of the "A" fund (the town wide, includes the village, fund).

Village residents, again, with a separate contract, are billed twice for the same service.

The issue involved is one of basic fairness.

Also, Michael Zierler is not the executive officer of the village, and if his amelioration of the problem does not get to the heart of the issue, then it's not a solution. If in Dungan's judgment, the judgment that counts from the fiduciary standpoint, it is not a solution, then it is his obligation to pursue the matter.

So, even if Dungan is wrong in whole or in part, he is pressing the issue because it is his job to do so.

And, for those attempting to narrow the question down to whether it's illegal for Dungan to do his job, would it not be wiser to actually look at the issue? And watch the matter as it develops?

For instance, Dungan has said that he has identified 18 other items that the town is budgeting in the "A" fund that essentially result in double taxing of village residents. Plus another 23 that are questionable.

Now, as a village resident, do I want that straightened out, clarified, adjudicated if necessary, and rectified, or do I want to hear about whether Terry Dungan asked a clerk to put a form into his mailbox?

Is Terry Dungan acting for his own enrichment, or is he acting in a fiduciary capacity for village residents?

Additionally, the most serious question here is about the town's budget practices and whether they are fair or not. Dungan is not only doing his job by raising that question: he is obliged to do so. He would be derelict if he did not do so.

Martin McPhillips said...

This dispute between the town and the village over double taxation of village residents is not a "good reason" to consolidate the two municipalities.

Would it be a good reason to consolidate New Paltz, in toto, with Ulster County if there was a similar dispute between the two?

An issue cannot be solved unless it is raised. There are always going to be issues between distinct governments. The federal government and the state governments have been in a tug of war for 230 years. Consolidate?

Towns and villages are creatures of the state. The village does very close work with village matters, and has done so for something like 140 years. It is immediate, close, right there government, answering to its close together, funky, small villagey citizens. That should be thrown away because there's a dispute with the town government?

josh said...

I don't think that this is a good reason to consolidate either, and I understand why taxing the village for partial-town service that excludes the village is wrong, and that if the contract does exclude the village portion of the town that the village should be reimbursed for their share of the funds drawn on the "A" fund.

What I can not understand is why the town would provide any service that excludes its residents in the village. Particularly when it is an essential service. My questions are these:

1)Why would a municipality contract for an essential service and contractually exclude a large portion of its population from said service?

2)What possible advantage could there be for contracting Ambulance service seperately?

3)What advantage could there be to persuing a lawsuit (except as an absolutely last course of redress) to ameliorate the situation when the disadvantages of doing so seem so apparent?

Consolidation seems to me to be a bit of a dirty word, eliciting revulsion. Consolidation very well may not be a solution, but it seems to me that somewhere in the mix the fact that the village and the town are not seperate entities, but rather the village exists within, and on top of, the town.

Anonymous said...

Pete Healey says,
As it turns out, and I know this is off-topic but people are always going off-topic here for no good reason, several local landlords hired the van and taxi that shuttled students to the polls on Tuesday May 5th. A pro-landlord college student, who'd a thunk it?
A fair and reasonable resolution was being worked out by those in both village and town governments and the rescue squad who WANTED A FAIR AND REASONABLE RESOLUTION. The Mayor has twice offered a Notice of Claim for a lawsuit that was prepared with Village time, money, employees and resources WITHOUT CONSULTING HIS BOARD. These actions are both unfair and unreasonable. The Mayor is an executive officer of the village but the Village Board as a whole retains executive authority as well. This is just another example of the many times that the mayor has acted without consulting the board, and another of the many in which he has and will be called to account by that same board.

Martin McPhillips said...

Again, as a village resident, I support the mayor. The way this claim was/had to be structured wound up not making it something that the board of trustees needed to act on. The mayor went to individual residents and asked them if they would like to join in filing this claim. Whatever arcane New York State laws are involved in a procedure like this, it is indiviudal residents who have filed it, and the mayor's time and energy is appreciated.

Also, the only beneficiary of a positive resolution to this (from the point of view of village residents) is the village treasury. Neither the individual claimants nor the mayor would benefit directly.

Any attempt to narrow this question to whether the mayor, in meeting his responsibility to not allow village residents to be cheated, is only diverting attention away from the primary issue of unfair double taxation.

Further, from the mayor's point of view, again, there are several more budget items (18, in fact) that the town has in the "A" fund that don't belong there. And several more after that (23) that are questionable.

And, again, this is not an issue about the rescue squad, per se. It is about how the town funds a budget line, any budget line, where services are not provided to the village by the town government. The proper place for services like that is the "B" fund. Not the "A" fund.

Martin McPhillips said...

Josh writes:

<<<"What I can not understand is why the town would provide any service that excludes its residents in the village. Particularly when it is an essential service. My questions are these:

1)Why would a municipality contract for an essential service and contractually exclude a large portion of its population from said service?

2)What possible advantage could there be for contracting Ambulance service seperately?

3)What advantage could there be to persuing a lawsuit (except as an absolutely last course of redress) to ameliorate the situation when the disadvantages of doing so seem so apparent?">>>


Without looking at and comparing the two contracts, I don't know what the village does differently than the town in its agreement with the rescue squad. But if you think about it, just the geographical configuration and population density differences could result in a number of basic modifications from the town to the village contracts.

But from my point of view as a villager, in terms of direct accountability, I'm happy to see the village with more direct control over its services. I held this point of view even when West was mayor, and I did not support West, at all. I look at the town government, the political side, and I never like what I see. It seems completely uninterested in the village other than as an abstraction that could be consolidated within a town-wide bureaucracy. As a villager I want to see the village have less to do with the town, which is why getting the double taxation issue squared away is important to me.

The more local the government, the better, as far as I'm concerned, which doesn't mean that I see the village as some sort of power base with growing bureaucracy. The simpler, the smaller, the more stoical the government, the more I am going to like it.

I'm especially interested, contra unification advocates, to see how the village can get out of the arrangement with the town on the police. I don't think that the village needs that deal, and it is an expensive deal, for everyone, village and town.

A much smaller village police force or constable's office that referred major crimes to the state police, agreed with the campus police that they will handle the bar scene, and handed off appropriate miscellaneous cases to the Ulster sheriff, leaving itself with some very manageable and routine tasks would make best use of the available resources. Using the college force, in particular, would be a way to have SUNY make a contribution to the village in an area that is clearly a set of problems generated from the college side of the village population much of the year. It might consist of nothing more than a jurisdictional loop that would extend down from the college grounds to cover the main strip of bars.

And if the services of the town police are ever needed, in some sort of emergency, then the village would pay for them as needed.

But the village doesn't need a police force that would handle major crimes, like murder and armed robbery, etc. That's something that would fall quite naturally to the state police.

Just as drunk and disorderly bar scene situations are a natural for the campus force. If students are not always the cause, they are often the victims. It is a logical extension of the campus jurisdiction.

Jason West said...

There are clearly two distinct issues here:

1) Double Taxation.
Terry claims to have a list of 18 instances of double taxation. I don't believe he has made pubic what they are, and until he does, and people have a chance to verify that his information is accurate, there's not much to say about it. Ever since Joe McCarthy and his "list" of commies in the State Department that he made up, I think it a bad idea to take someone's word that they have proof of wrongdoing if they won't show you the proof.

As for the Rescue Squad, Terry claims ~$77,000 is owed, Michael claims the possibility of ~$10,000. Having worked closely with both of them for years, I will always trust Michael's research as more thorough and accurate than Terry's. But that's me. I had too many frustrating instances where Terry hot from the hip based on faulty, innacurate or incomplete data. Michael wont' take action until he has all the facts, so his comments carry much more weight with me.

As do his tactics -- the grown-up way to deal with this is to get all the facts, sit down with the relevant parties, and hash out both the exact problem and the solution. Michael has already done most of this. the next logical step is to attach a rider to the Rescue Squad contracts correcting the amounts owed, and to get the Town Board to pass a resolution authorizing the payment to the village of any over-charges. Done. But that hasn't been tried yet, and it's possible terry's lawsuit is now preventing that solution from being put into practice.

2) The second issue is the way Terry went about suing the Town. This has nothing to do with the merits of his argument, whether or not the Town overcharges, etc. This has to do solely with whether in pursuit of his goal, Terry broke the law. That's important.

The bottom line is that you can't use the public treasury for private purposes. Terry had the village attorney draw up a lawsuit against the Town. When he brought it to the Village Board to get their permission to file it, they said no. He then instructed the Village Clerk and Deputy Clerk to set up meetings with select private citizens in order to persuade them to sue the Town. When some of them agreed, he handed them the lawsuit that the Village Attorney had drafted. That's illegal.

if those citizens wanted to hire their own lawyer, and pay that lawyer to draft a lawsuit and then file it against the Town, they are fully within their rights. But you can't have public resources go towards a private citizens' lawsuit. And you can't have village staff on the clock setting up those meetings.

So while Michael Zierler was doing the responsible thing and ironing out this situation by talking it through with the Town and Rescue Squad, Terry was illegally using village resources to help private citizens sue the town.

Jason West said...

Martin --

Given that this blog sometimes gets heated, i wanted to take the time to say that I like very much your comment above re: the merits of smaller local government and possible re-organiztions of the police. I have to thnk that last through, but it has some very good merits on its' face.

Terence said...

Lagusta,

I'm sensitive to name misspellings myself, and I don't know how I let that one slip by! My apologies to Madame Supervisor.

Terence said...

I understand and appreciate your desire for a smaller, more manageable police force, Martin. Having police that are more directly accountable to the citizens is generally a good idea. However, I don't see how giving police duties now managed by the Town to two State-controlled forces. It's essentially consolidating in the ways you don't like and assuming that it will be cheaper to allow the larger government to take care of such things.

The village force you describe sounds appealing, but I wouldn't enjoy the enhanced SUNY jurisdiction terribly much. They aren't subject to our local Police Commission, nor are the troopers. We would have a more difficult time influencing policy decisions regarding enforcement of laws ranging from granting pedestrian right-of-way to loitering to open containers. Those decisions regarding how to employ enforcement can significantly alter what type of community we have here, and I'd prefer to make those decisions on a local level.

What you're proposing would give up control in very much the way you believe unification would.

Anonymous said...

Jason, when you say, correctly, that public resources cannot be used for private purposes, you seem to be forgetting the instances in which you, as Mayor and your campaign manager, serving at the time as Village Clerk, conducted campaign operations for your re-election bid from Village Hall, using public computers, internet connections, telephones, etc.

Jason West said...

Anonymous -

You seem to be misinformed. The Village Clerk at the time was Brittany Turner, my campaign manager was Jonathan Wright. And we did not use village resources for the re-election campaign: all phone calls were made on private phones, the posters paperwork and such were designed on our personal laptops and printed at home, and volunteers worked out of Rachel and Ryszard Lagodka's house on Plattekill Ave. All I worked on at Village Hall with Village staff was Village business.

Anonymous said...

I got her title wrong, but the Village Clerk nonetheless worked on your campaign. And I recall very clearly getting a campaign message from you via email on my phone as I was pulling up to Village Hall. About two minutes after it was sent, you emerged from the building for a cigarette break, which surprised me since I naively assumed that you must be elsewhere just meoments after doing campaing work.

Brittany Turner said...

As the Clerk in question, I can say that there was absolutely no political work conducted in Village Hall on Village time as it pertained to Mayor West's campaign.

While I was an obvious and vocal supporter, volunteering with the campaign efforts, this was all done on personal time with personal resources outside the boundaries of Village Hall.

Any work I did with regard to the election in general was done at Village Hall, as it was part of my job. This work was completely non-partisan (and not in the way that we pretend our elections are non-partisan) and completely within the scope of my position.