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gradall 120A discussion about fund balance policy pitted the Lansing Town Board against Deputy Highway Superintendent Charlie Purcell and Recreation Supervisor Patrick Tyrrell Wednesday, highlighting Lansing's apparent inability to plan for periodic equipment replacement.  They criticized present and past boards for making vague funding promises that don't materialize, frustrating attempts to plan for orderly equipment replacement.

"For seven years I've tried to implement a five, or 10 or fifteen year plan," Purcell said.  "It's frustrating.  The board as a whole has done nothing but blow smoke up our behinds.  We sit here and have these conversations year in and year out at budget time.  How many times have I presented a five, 10 or 20 year plan?"

Purcell said that boards have required department heads to beg for replacement equipment, rather than instituting a policy similar to that of the Fire District, which has a 20 year plan.  He also said that he had been told, presumably by a board member, that there is a reserve account for which $50,000 per year has accrued to $200,000 so far, for the eventual purchase of a grade-all.

"Absolutely not," Bowman said.  "Whoever told you that mistold you."

Both Purcell and Tyrrell are asking for money to replace equipment in their departments.  Both say that purchasing the euipment now, as opposed to ordering the equipment next year, presents an opportunity for the Town to save money. Purcell said two Highway Department trucks are in need of replacement.  Tyrrell said that while the equipment he wants to replace is still in good working order, that by sticking to a replacement schedule he can keep his equipment in reasonable working order.  He said that a reserve budget plan for his department would be a relatively small amount that would eliminate his need to confront the board year after year.

"The prices I have are good now," he said.  "My problem is that (if the equipment is not replaced this year) I am going to come to you next year and ask you for this equipment and this other equipment, and I won't get either one and I'll be that much farther behind.  If our reserve fund was to a certain point then I wouldn't come to the board for any equipment.  My department would be self-sustaining."

"Mine would be the same thing," Purcell added.  "I have explained this for years, but I get farther and farther behind.  In the 22 years I've been here there has never been a commitment to do anything but make the poor sap that runs (the Highway Department) come and beg on his hands and knees to provide a service that everybody in town raves about."

The board has been split over the past year or so on whether or not to create a fund balance policy.  Supervisor Kathy Miller and her staff, including Deputy Supervisor Sharon Bowman, as well as Councilwoman Ruth Hopkins have said they favor instituting a policy.  Miller brought in a consultant last year who advocated for such a policy, and a recent audit suggested implementing one as well.  But some other board members have preferred to decide on equipment expenses on a case by case basis.

"The discussion by some of us was that we should be doing that," Miller said.  "Did it come to fruition?  No.  The reason you do this is so you know, going forward, what you have every year, just to do the things you have to do."

The issue for the Highway Department is that a one ton truck needs replacement, and a 10-wheeler (the big trucks you see plowing Lansing's roads) needs serious repairs that Purcell said could cost as much as $20,000.  He said the Town has an opportunity to replace the big truck before next year's prices go into effect, or to spend the money for repairs this year, and then be forced to replace the truck next year at higher prices.

"There's where it starts to bite you," Purcell said.  "With the winter that we've had our shop looks like a scrap yard right now.  We have an opportunity to replace that 10-wheeler and probably save roughly $14,000 to $15,000 on the price, versus if we ordered one in the fall or some time next year.  If it's $15 grand there's a $30,000 swing either way."

Councilman Robert Cree said that he thought the board had already made decisions on how to use the fund balance.

"To some extent I thought we had already decided where a comfortable place for these fund balance s to be and we would go from there," he said.  "While it's not the budget we have established what our comfort level was."

He later suggested suggested the Town mirror Tompkins County's policy.

Both Purcell and Tyrrell noted their departments 'turned money' back in to the town, money budgeted for their departments that they didn't spend.  Purcell also noted that his department saved taxpayers at least $250,000 on projects that would not typically be done by a highway department, and said he is asking for $203,000 to replace the truck, and potentially saving up to $30,000 in the process.

But Miller said that when a department does not use its budget in a particular year they don't get to spend it the next year.

"It's not a rollover budget," she said.  "It's not your money."

That highlighted a fundamental miscommunication between the board and departments that Miller and Bowman said they will address.  Bowman said that in order to understand why fund balance won't necessarily go to these equipment purchases you have to see the big picture.  Miller arranged for board members to meet with Purcell and Tyrrell Monday morning to explain the Town's overall finances.

"I've been trying to do this for three years," she said.  "We're going to give it try this year.  That's why we've gone to courses.  That's why we've listened to people.  But the whole board has to agree.  That's the bottom line.  Or we can just say we need this and let's buy it, which is a really dumb way to do it because I don't think we have to.  Maybe we'll have to bond to get on track, to purchase a couple of pieces of equipment.  We have to somehow get on track."

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