Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Ward 4 councilman Ben Lapham: Why I voted no on Glens Falls 2024 budget

Glens Falls Ward 4 Common Council Member Ben Lapham sent the following letter to The Chronicle on Wednesday.

Last night I voted against the mayor’s proposed budget for 2024. I wanted to take a moment to explain my vote. There are many things that I support in the budget, but I fear the process is broken and needs to be addressed.

The mayor and council-at-large said the process was an improvement over last year. It is still far short of what is required. The mayor cited 17 meetings involving the budget. There were also many scheduled and cancelled.

Also, Open Meeting Law requires that minutes are posted within 2 weeks of the meeting. I don’t know of any minutes from any of these meetings. I know when I do open meetings for technology committee and when I did the climate smart communities task force I was at least getting them out before the next meeting.…/open-meetings-law-faqs.pdf

Another issue and it is something 3rd Ward Council member Dr. Diana Palmer has brought up time and again, is that not long ago the city was in a state of fiscal crisis because fund balance had gotten as low as $600,000. The mayor is allocating nearly $2 million of fund balance to make up the difference between projected revenue and expenditure.

To hear him describe the rationale is to hear a gambler saying it will all turn on the next big score. Trust him.

I would not trust someone to gamble with my savings and I don’t want to gamble with the city’s funds. I feel this is the most important commitment I make to fellow tax payers. I will take our public money seriously.

The city would not get cleared from that fiscal distress designation until 2017. It was not that long ago. Both the mayor and council-at-large were representing their respective wards at the time.

If we really are set to make $2 million more this year than the projected $1.6m shortfall last year, aren’t you interested in reading how that came to be? I would rather have that conversation.

I feel that the people who voted for the budget did so out of fear because the mayor and council-at-large did not present this for the council to vote on until after we were at risk of getting a negative finding in an audit. 2nd Ward Council Member Bob Landry said the city would be at risk of missing out on grants and possibly be made to pay higher interest on bonds.

The city had a negative audit in 2022 for risk of fraud and financial misstatement because of no documented risk assessment performed by management or the Common Council. This has been a repeat finding since 2013. The good news is this year’s audit by another firm did not find this, the bad news is no risk assessment has been done.

I am happy to see the city obtaining a grant to help with a comprehensive plan which is a necessary first step to updating our zoning. I want to thank Third Ward Council Member Dr. Diana Palmer for bringing this to the attention of the council and for fighting to make sure that we made the application against the advice of the mayor, the economic development office and the city’s consultant.

Dr. Palmer said the program was not in any way connected to the Brownfield Opportunities Award the city was seeking and I personally called Department of State three separate times to confirm what she heard. That’s $150,000 for the city after being told by the city that it couldn’t be done.

I am hopeful for the city. I think there is a lot of good intention in the plan. The city employees need to be paid a fair market value or we will lose them. We need to continue to improve our infrastructure and make the city better than the way we found it.
— Ben Lapham, Ward 4, Common Council

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