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Change the key issue for local governments

Thursday, January 03, 2013 - Updated: 9:32 AM


For the C-S-E

As Montgomery County voters made a historic pick this year in adopting a charter to give its government direction, focus and efficiency, the city of Amsterdam mulled changing its own charter to deal with problems in its controller’s office.

• Montgomery County’s new charter was approved by roughly 8,000 voters Nov. 7 in majorities of both the city of Amsterdam and the 10 townships.

Many local officials admitted their surprise of not only the outcome, but the turnout.

“I truly never thought I’d live to see the day, having served on three county charter commissions going back to when I was still in law school in 1977-78,” said Charter Commission member Robert Going.

The charter will be instituted in 2014. Nine legislative district boundaries will be finalized in the upcoming months, with elections for legislators and the county executive to take place in November 2013.

• The city of Amsterdam’s budget was adopted late, and failed to follow the charter’s target dates for the spending plan’s development under the direction of Controller Ron Wierzbicki in his first year in office.

Wierzbicki blamed the tenure of his predecessor in sorting the city’s finances, and by November, Wierzbicki requested the creation of a $70,000 deputy controller position for his office. Instead, an accounting consultant was approved for Wierzbicki’s office for no more than 40 hours.

In December, the council started discussing a local law that would amend the city charter, and change the controller from an elected post to an appointed one.

• The city of Amsterdam’s budget was helped with an overhaul for its metered water rate structure, which will be evaluated in 2013 for compliance with intermunicipal agreements. The change was implemented during county-wide droughts in July, and unknowing users in the towns of Florida and Amsterdam were shocked by their first quarter bills.

• Montgomery County’s budget was approved Dec. 18, utilizing about $1.8 million in reserves, and what Treasurer Shawn Bowerman deemed crapshoot sales tax estimates to reduce the total tax levy.

“I don’t agree with the acts taken here tonight, because the exercise of decreasing the budget to zero out the levy got us in the trouble we’re in today,” Bowerman said when the budget was adopted. “My concern is blowing up these numbers is an artificial way to use fund balance.”

The county has between $3.5 million and $4.5 million in its reserves for upcoming years.

• After overriding the state-imposed property tax cap for the current budget, Fulton County supervisors in November resorted to using $3.3 million in reserves for the upcoming 2013 spending plan.

 With hopes of increased sales tax revenue, Fulton County Treasurer E. Terry Blodgett tried to be optimistic, and noted the county is lucky to have the fund balance to fall back on.


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