by Terry Duffy
Porter Town Board members wrestled with a number of financial matters at separate sessions on Monday and Thursday.
With the town's 2012 budget process slowly ebbing along, board members this week tackled employee health insurance plan options for next year, discussed grant funding possibilities, weighed staffing options for the town Highway Department, and made some moves on wind energy proposals, among other actions. Heard in between were varying degrees of frustration and disagreement echoed by members in how the town manages itself.
Monday's brief but active session included discussion on changing the health insurance provider for town employees.
Council member Joe Fleckenstein, noting the measure was contained in Supervisor Mert Wiepert's report, who was absent, immediately questioned Supervisor's Assistant/Town Bookkeeper Norm Ault why the item was even being presented. "I've got a problem with this," said Fleckenstein telling Ault the matter was a still-to-be addressed budget item.
"We're jumping the gun on this. We're in the middle of a budget; we don't have a budget on this. It's yet to be approved," said Fleckenstein.
Ault responded that it needed to be addressed as the town had to formally select a provider for 2012 by Thursday. Deputy Supervisor Tom Baia suggested tabling the matter, and it was deferred for further discussion on Thursday.
That morning, following limited discussion on the matter of employee-spouse insurance alternatives and possible cost savings for the town, the board opted to go with the Independent Health option over current provider Blue Cross Blue Shield. Members viewed the Independent Health plan as preferred in terms of cost and benefits provided. Both health care providers announced rate hikes, with the current town plan by Blue Cross Blue Shield pegged to increase by 19 percent, according to Ault. The board OK'd the option to go with Independent Health with future wording to be inserted regarding employee-spouse insurance options.
Also discussed on Monday and tabled till Thursday was consideration of the town seeking grant money for various Porter on the Lake improvements outlined in the park's master plan. Town grant writer Bernie Rotella spoke of a new CFA grant application eligibility with New York State Parks that provides the town with upwards of an $800,000 matching grant for park improvements, with the option for Greenway funding considered, and the town to cover 50 percent of the balance. Project items under consideration include trails, lakeside bathroom facilities, a promenade at the lakefront and shoreline stabilization. "The town has the option of taking a partial grant; it can be awarded a certain share," said Rotella, telling board members the town can be selective on park needs. Viewed as pressing was park infrastructure to address lake erosion problems.
Board members gave their OK on the resolution, allowing Rotella to pursue the grant, which has a filing due date of Oct. 31.
Another grant item discussed Thursday involved pursuing multi-modal grants for a Youngstown Estates road extension whose cost was budgeted at $900,000. Members and Highway Superintendent Scott Hillman discussed various options, including the possibility of linking Youngstown Estates to the Collingwood Estates subdivisions, but no action was taken at this time.
In other news:
•At its regular meeting on Monday, following months of inactivity, the board took action to get the town's wind energy applications moving. "What's going on with the windmills?" asked Fleckenstein. He reminded members the town has been considering the $320,000 New York State Energy Research and Development Authority grant-funded project since March of 2010 and that time is running out. Fleckenstein stated the town wind energy proposals - construction of two standalone units eyed for the Town Highway garage on Braley Road and two standalone units on town property on Balmer Road - needed requests for bids immediately and the projects needed to be completed by March 2012.
The matter saw limited discussion, and members moved to approve the bid requests resolution unanimously.
•The board approved the hiring of Charmayne Pollow as part-time highway department clerk at a rate of $11.65 per hour. Councilman Larry White said that four candidates were considered. "Charmayne was the best candidate," said White.
•The board OK'd for Hillman to declare a 1999 International truck and salt spreader as surplus equipment, allowing for a possible purchase by the Village of Youngstown DPW. It would be sold as-is for a trade value of $8,000.
•On a budget matter Thursday, the board discussed, but took no action on, the matter of adding funding to allow for another highway employee, as that department has been operating one short following an earlier retirement. Board members also discussed the town's staffing options to cover both Porter on the Lake and Town Hall grounds maintenance responsibilities, and related parks duties, but likewise took no action.
The board is expected to meet at 8 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 17, and Wednesday, Oct. 19, to discuss the budget matters further. "We have a lot to cover," Ault told members, suggesting the board might also add Friday, Oct. 21, to the budget work schedule as the budget finalization process continues.