Showing posts with label Government Waste. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Government Waste. Show all posts

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Reflections of The Way Life Used To Be

UMass exit ramp Rt 116 in Hadley

You sagacious types may have noticed in June/July the state contractor out on Rt 116 between Rt 9 Hadley and Sunderland center doing work that left mysterious newly patched holes 8" in diameter in the center and side roadway every 10 yards or so.

Over the past week the answer to what was going on became more obvious with the installation of new reflectors in the roadway, although located in a slightly different spot from the ones that had been removed.

 Newly installed road reflector

The reflectors were originally touted as "snowplowable" but maybe the company had Georgia or South Carolina in mind when they advertised them as such.  Those that had not been taken up by New England snowplows were removed and new ones installed.

 Let's hope these really are "snowplowable"

The reflectors of course make it a little easier for night driving but are certainly not a critical component of highway safety.  Amherst town roads have none for instance.

The state can be pretty anal with their roadways.  A half dozen years ago they spent $1.7 million installing mile markers every .2 of a mile along all 776 miles of state roadways. 

And of course what baby boomer can forget the infamous "call boxes" all along Rt 91 (that preceded ubiquitous cell phones) that never worked.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

I'm here from the government...

How many teachers, cops or firefighters could $5 million fund here in historic Taxachusetts? Or...just give thousands of state workers a couple days off and be required to pay overtime to those deemed "essential."

I'm a patriotic guy, and if state workers in Suffolk County all attended day-long educational teach-ins and a ceremony celebrating Bunker Hill Day (historically speaking they may want to teach that the battle mostly occurred on Breeds Hill and that technically the Brits won) or Evacuation Day (which sounds like a medical term for bowel movement) then maybe I could live with the $5 million tab...maybe.

But like Columbus Day, the "holidays" have lost any meaning. Even the most meaningful of holidays--Memorial Day--is lost on some clueless folks.

Unsurprisingly, Amherst's state government dynamic duo--Senator Stan Rosenberg and Representative Ellen Story voted to keep the hack holidays alive. After all, Amherst only has a pathetic 9.9% commercial tax base--thus taxpayer/voters gainfully employed by the private sector are in a distinct minority.

September 17 is Constitution Day. Since state and federal workers do not get it as a paid holiday, nobody seems to care. But the Feds, mainly due to Sen. Robert Byrd, decided six years ago that any publicly funded educational institution must have an teach in that day focusing on the most important document in our history.

Since the Feds decided not to come up with any extra money for this auspicious occasion, thereby making it an "unfunded mandate," you have to wonder what the adherence rate is here in our most historic of states?

Do any of the Five Colleges or the venerable Amherst Public School system hold a teach-in that day? We already know the Amherst schools ignore the requirement for reciting the "Pledge of Allegiance," so it's a pretty safe bet 'Constitution Day' falls into the same void.

But our state can continue to squander $5 million to "remember" two encounters that helped lead to the adoption of the Constitution, while not taking a little time remembering what the Constitution is all about. Only in Massachusetts!

The Republican Reports

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Turbo Sucking at the public trough

UPDATE (Wednesday, 2:00 PM) So the Gazette just called as well. Tomorrow morning we will have both Bricks and Mortar articles and some of what you read here will be included. You gotta wonder about these town officials: what the Hell do they think--that the Gazette or Republican would simply run their dumb ass press release without at least making a token effort to check the facts? I just hope the headline editor is paying attention and does not trumpet the "Revenues up 20%!" nonsense.

Amherst Leisure Services recreation empire once again employs deliberate deception to sell the expensive game of golf .

Well…only expensive for Amherst taxpayers subsidizing the minority who actually play the grandiose game (over half of whom live and pay taxes outside Amherst).

Last year LSSE claimed $7,000 in supposed “net profit “ by ignoring $30,000 in hidden costs (that the Finance Committee covered with an emergency transfer from their Reserve Fund thus leaving no money for pothole repairs); and this year LSSE would have you believe it's $50,000 in "net profit", once again ignoring $30,000 in hidden overhead plus $15,000 in capital items (underground storage tank and security fence) AND the guaranteed $30,000 to simply outsource the ailing business to a private enterprise.

Even our toothless “watchdog” Finance Committee clearly pointed out to a clueless Town Meeting two years ago that when Cherry Hill dissolved as an Enterprise Fund--where the state requires a clear accounting of ALL expenses--$30,000 in routine overhead (employee benefits and clubhouse insurance; but not including Capital) would be dispersed/hidden to other parts of the budget.

And this past year the golf business required an additional $15,000 in Capital items. Not that "Capital" items are a once in a Blue Moon kind of thing, because in the current year (started July 1) they also required $22,000 for a fancy new lawn mower. In fact, a study done at Town Meeting request five years ago discovered two-thirds of their heavy equipment (and golf courses require a lot of heavy equipment) were beyond their rated lifespan.

So capital items will be pretty routine over the foreseeable future.

Two years ago Niblick Management, a private firm, offered Amherst $30,000 free and clear to take over the Black Hole, White Elephant, Money Pit. But Noooooooo, the rookie Town Mangler wanted to prove he had a bigger penis than Barry Del Castilho, the long-time previous Town Manager, who squandered twenty years and $1 million in tax dollars pursuing this Moby Dick.

So here are the actual numbers:
Total revenues $264,00
Total supposed expenditures $207,000

"Expenditures" do not include:
$30,000 employee benefits and Clubhouse insurance
Plus: $15,000 in Capital improvements (Underground gas storage tank and security fence)
Plus: $30,000 in Opportunity Revenue for privatization
Plus: if you did not expend the damn $200,000 on a golf business, and simply left it in Free Cash or Stabilization it would have generated $10,000 in interest revenue.

Actual losses: $28,000 (give or take).

Saturday, June 14, 2008

One bad apple (or two)

Click to enlarge/read

So now we have not one but two flagrant violations of Mass General Law Ch. 40 Section 14. We purchased land without a two-thirds vote of Town Meeting and we are paying—if the deal goes through—over 25% of appraised value.

Previous post

note April 10 publication date of previous post (day Hubley/Awad became South Hadley residents)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A sucker born...Especially in Amherst!

So of course Amherst Town Meeting, mimicking the spending habits of a drunken sailor, purchased the property on Main Street—two lots that suddenly went from $400,000 down to $270,000 when the professional appraisal (as opposed to the worried-about-his-job town assessor) came back this morning.

And if you look at the “historic” landscape now, it resembles something out of the ‘Wizard of Oz’--only the tornado deposited three tired old houses instead of just one.

Naturally Mr. Moderator (a highly-paid Amherst College employee, the same entity that donated two of the houses and paid the over $110-K moving costs to dump them on Main Street) dictated the deal only required a simple majority vote instead of the two-thirds vote that is REQUIRED anytime borrowing is involved.

And the suddenly revised motion clearly stated “appropriate $270,000 for the acquisition of said land, and to meet such appropriation, appropriate and transfer $81,000 from the Community Preservation Fund annual estimated revenues, with the additional $189,000 to be borrowed in anticipation of receipt of a grant from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

But even if the state comes through with a grant of $189,000 (that could take a year or more) and we “borrow” that amount in “anticipation” of the money eventually arriving, is that not still “borrowing”? If so, tonight’s vote required a two-thirds majority.

If I borrow ten bucks from you today and give you a post-dated check (and you assume I am a premiere businessman in operation for over 26 years and would not risk image damage by bouncing a $10 check), is that not still "borrowing"?

The Dog-and-Pony Show was pretty hilarious: they even Photoshopped in a ramshackle house painted purple to illustrate what could happen if we did not buy this property right now (“This special offer ends tonight. Call now with your credit card in hand as operators are standing by!”)

And they were sooooo cocky they did not even bother to have a Standing Vote or (written) Tally Vote, almost always required for borrowing (unless the voice vote is unanimous).

Yeah, I used “Point of Order!” to ask if the Town Attorney vetted this simply majority vote concept and was told “yes”. But then, this is the same Town Attorney who says it’s okay for Awad and Hubley to live in South Hadley and remain on as Amherst Town officials.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Books or Balls (as in golf)? Only in Amherst!

Amherst Bully (for them) article

Sent: Mon, 19 May 2008 11:11 am
Subject: A chance to keep the Jones Library open on Mondays!

Town Meeting members have demonstrated how important the Jones Library is for our community. That doesn't mean we always agree about the right method for funding the library or the right venue for making changes to the budget.Here is an opportunity for all of you who love the Jones Library to keep the library open on Mondays. An anonymous donor has offered to match any $20 dollar gift with a $10 match. For any of you can afford it, please show your support for the Jones Library, and stop by the library with your donation!

Julia R

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

One too many lemons

In typical Amherst Town Meeting penny wise pound foolish mode last night the ageing-into-senility legislative body voted down $11,000 allow the Jones Library to open on Monday’s next year—you know the institution with a great Kids Room and extensive Special Collections with anything and everything pertaining to Miss Emily, the Belle of Amherst.

That argument took about an hour. But when the $1.2 million Capital Equipment article quickly followed with the $22,000 buried in it for a lawn mower at our expensive White Elephant Golf Course, hardly a fiscal conservative could be found.

If the Town Mangler had taken the privatization offer from Niblick Management last year the town would be guaranteed a check for $30,000 without any worries about the weather or expensive landscaping equipment, two-thirds of which is beyond its rated lifespan.

Thus, instead of investing an extra $22,000 now into a lawnmower, that money would be available for something like THE LIBRARY, with enough left for The People’s Republic to finance its Protest Parade next July 4’th.

Only in Amherst (or perhaps South Hadley).

Friday, September 7, 2007

Evel Knievel rides again!

As usual, the glitch with anything relating to transportation in Amherst rests with Select Man Rob Kusner. He pressured the DPW into abandoning the normal installation specifications for the “speed cushions” on Lincoln Avenue out of concern for cyclist.

Well, as you can see, that concern was ill founded. But it also has to make you wonder: if a 19 pound bike can deal with these obstacles at 25 mph then multi-thousand pound vehicles will not be overly impressed.

And the bumper sticker campaign is a tad wordy and whimpy: “Drive slowly to respect Amherst neighborhoods”. How about the more declarative: “Drive fast and die!”

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A whistleblower wails.

Yikes! I certainly hope Mr. Bowser continues to be a town employee, as Amherst could use more Stand Up Guys (and gals). And if the Gazette or Bulletin doesn’t print his on-the-money diatribe, some of us will go hmmmm…

In a message dated 7/13/07 9:07:08 PM, writes:


I submitted this letter to the editor to both the Bulletin and the Gazette, not sure if they will ever post it. Thought maybe you could spread the word or post on your blog

Monday night July 9th the Select Board voted to approve a recommendation by the Personnel Board to reclassify over 20 non-union employees. These employees are mostly management positions, department heads, directors, and their assistants. These reclassifications will result in at least 1 level increase for each employee over the next fiscal year (a few received more than one level). These reclassifications are being phased in and some will argue that the fiscal impact is very small. But since most of these management positions are long-time employees they are probably already on the top step of their current levels and they will be to the top of their new levels again in 1or 2 years. The difference between each level is anywhere from approx. $3000-$5000. This money could have been used to help ease the health insurance burden for all employees instead of giving a select few employees an increase. On top of this increase in regular pay any COLAs, longevity and other costs based on their salary (taxes, unemployment ins, benefits, etc) will increase each year also. This will have a huge fiscal impact in the next several years and we will again be struggling to balance our budget with this added burden.

I cannot believe given the fiscal crisis that the Town is in and the grueling Town Meeting that just resulted in several cuts to personnel that the Select Board could in good conscience agree to such a recommendation. We are cutting police officers, school teachers, reducing positions/hours for lower level employees in, for example, the Finance Dept and Health Dept, and then turning around and giving their supervisors increases.

This is a slap in the face to all of us Town employees and to everyone who fought so hard to keep the Town budget under control in this recent Town Meeting. Town Meeting members and Select Board members mentioned several times about not allowing COLAs and steps and then less than a month after Town Meeting adjourns the Select Board goes behind closed doors and approves large increases for management employees and a 1% COLA. This year’s budget will now be in danger of going over due to these increases in salaries.

As a result of this year’s budget woes the Police Chief has said that response time for non-emergency calls may be delayed. The Department of Public works was not filling potholes for a time, not filling vacant positions and is possibly still dealing with a hiring freeze as well as holding off on many purchases so they do not run low at year end again. The Town Hall will be reducing its hours. Property tax increases, Water and Sewer rate increases and permits for things such as driveway permits, street openings, sewer connections have all gone up to help balance the budget.

For example a driveway permit has already increased from $50 to $200, that’s 400%! What will it have to go up to next year?

In the future I hope the Select Board does not dare ask for another override. I did not vote for this last one because I knew the Town could not stick to the Amherst Plan and curb spending. This blows that 3 year plan out of the water. They have created this problem themselves and I hope that everyone will remind them of this when next year’s budget woes come up.

Jeffrey Bowser
Town employee and Town of Amherst taxpayer

Unlike Mr. Bowser, for those of us who were not paying attention to the July 9’th Select board meeting I borrowed this from Stephanie O'Keeffe. Blogging colleen of InAmherst:

Executive Session – Collective Bargaining Agreements/Open Session – Salary Chart

The Select Board went into Executive session at approximately 7:25 p.m., with members of the Personnel Board and with Human Resources Director Kay Zlogar and Assistant to the H.R. Director Eunice Torres, for the purpose of discussing collective bargaining agreements. They reconvened in open session at approximately 8:10 p.m.

Personnel Board Chair Flo Stern said that the Personnel Board had been working on amending the non-union employee salary scale chart since January of 2006, conducting interviews with 74 employees. She said that various factors had prolonged the process, including the change of Town Manager and the National Guard deployment of the DPW Superintendent. Mr. Weiss thanked all concerned for their work on the chart.

The Select Board voted 4 to 0, 1 absent, to approve the amended salary chart.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Only in Amherst: Pothole Alley.

If I lived on Hulst Road I would engage in civil disobedience to draw attention to the moonscape that once was a road. Unsafe for cyclist (I almost crashed), unsafe for cars, or even pedestrians.

Somebody should collect the hubcaps and dump them on the Town Manager's desk.

Stan Gawle, founder of the Amherst Taxpayers for Responsible Change has a great letter in this week's Amherst Bulletin:

To The Editor,

The Town of Amherst is projected to collect $1.4 million in motor vehicle exise taxes this year.Yet our Town Officials have declared a pothole fixing moratorium until July 1st because we ran out of monies to patch potholes, I recently took a ride to visit some friends in South Amherst. As I entered their street, I was impressed with the amount, variety and depth of the potholes. The road appeared to have been a receipient of a B-52 carpet bombing run. A caring resident had even gone so far as to paint circles around some of them.

I am nominating Hulst Rd. as the worst maintained road in Amherst. It is yet another example of the Town's failure to provide basic core services while wasting tax dollars on non-essentials like Leisure Services. If the Town can put off its basic responsibilities, so can we.

I encourage the residents of Hulst Rd. and other neglected streets, as well as other sympathetic taxpayers, to take the first step and not pay their exise and property taxes until the day they are due.
Stanley Gawle

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Revenge of the Potholes

Monday night the schizophrenic Finance Committee voted unanimously to support Wednesday night's Special Town Meeting warrant article to "strongly urge" the Select board to "strongly urge" the Town Manager to reissue the Cherry Hill Golf Course privatization proposal but with a three year contract.

Yes, these are the same fiscal watchdogs that wrote in the 2004 Annual Town Report: “The Town should no longer operate Cherry Hill Golf Course. Instead, requests for proposals for outside management should be put out by the fall of 2004. If this is not done the course should be closed.”

Barry Del Castilho did put the course out to bid (telling the Select board the minimum bid needs to be $30,000) but garnered no responses. The Finance Committee then went back to supporting (losing) business as usual at Cherry Hill. They predicted a loss of $8,710 for FY06 countering the Pollyannaish outgoing town manager’s prediction of a $16,084 profit. Actual losses that year were $59,649

And last year they opposed Irv Rhodes Town Meeting article that “strongly urged” the Select board to reissue an RFP for the beleaguered golf business. Town Meeting supported it anyway and the rookie Town Manager then turned down an offer for $30,000 to $35,000 annually because the respondent wished for a three-year commitment.

Perhaps the Finance Committee feels guilty about spending one-third of the emergency Reserve Fund on golf, leaving no money for filling potholes.

Yesterday Fin Com member Andy Steinberg, in an attempt at damage control, wrote on the Town Meeting Listserve: “The $16,425 was due to costs associated with the change in management, unbudgeted increases in utilities and some additional seasonal help that was required.”

Yeah, sound like typical cost overruns to me.

Superintendent Dan Engstrom, believe it or not, made $60,000 annually running Cherry Hill for 7 months out of the year. But he was paid in $5,000 monthly installments. After his sudden resignation on March 17 (or be fired) he collected his final salary check on April 1. So his impact on the budget normally would have been $15,000 over the last three months anyway.

On August 18,2006 the rookie Town Manager issued a press release announcing that “the Cherry Hill Golf Course operation has been assigned to the Director of Leisure Services and Supplemental Education department, with Barbara Bilz assuming oversight of the course operations on a day to day basis,”

Interestingly the press piece closes with: “The town is fortunate to have Dan Engstrom, Course Manager, to continue his expertise in maintaining one of the highest quality public golf course in Massachusetts.”

Well, big old Dan continued to offer his expertise only until March 17’th, when the luck of the Irish suddenly and mysteriously ran out for him. Now if only the taxpayers could catch a break!

Breaking News Update: 2:45 pm. Turn About Fairplay

Vince O’Connor, everyone’s favorite activist and longtime Town Meeting member and member of the Public Works Committee filed a written complaint on June 1 with the DPW department with a list of streets where “potholes constitute a safety hazard to both motor vehicles and bicyclists." He closes with “Even tho the Department has expended its budget on other projects I believe these areas constitute such a hazard as to require a trip to the Finance Committee Reserve Fund”

Vince will be disappointed to learn the Finance Committee Reserve Fund is spoken for, with Cherry Hill Golf Course yelling the loudest. Now if only Vince had not been so instrumental in the original Taking Of Cherry Hill 20 years ago…

Saturday, June 2, 2007

A Question of Priorities in The People's Republic

Filling potholes is one of those mundane tasks of local government that goes unnoticed until it doesn’t happen. Like forgetting to brush your teeth once to often and then having to fill a cavity or endure tooth replacement.

Mayors have lost elections because snow and ice removal was ineffective after a particularly bad blizzard, or garbage collection languished in the middle of a blistering heat wave, or because an influential individual had their luxury car’s suspension ruined by a cavernous pothole.

Town Manager Larry Shaffer reported to the Select board Thursday night that the $27,600 DPW asphalt budget was depleted, so we would have to wait until the start of the new fiscal year (July 1) for pothole maintenance.

Excuse me?

Would a restaurant in Florida wait a summer month for air conditioning repairs because their HVAC maintenance budget was expended? Divert from another budget, take out a loan or rob a bank.

I quickly asked if the $50,000 emergency Reserve Fund controlled by the Finance Committee could be tapped and Mr. Shaffer responded that it was completely encumbered.

Moments later the Town Manager championed the Cherry Hill Golf Course; but he made the mistake of releasing current revenues—$175,000—with only June remaining in the Fiscal Year. And last June they generated $28,000, so even if they do 10% better that still brings them in at $206,000. The Finance Committee declared $224,000 in revenues required for break even.

Even worse, the Town Manager projected operations at $213,000 a $21,000 overrun from the $192,385 budget approved by the Finance Committee and Town Meeting. $18,000 in revenue shortfalls combined with $20,615 budget overruns equals tax losses of $38,615 for FY07 (not counting the $17,000 Payment In Lieu Of Taxes no longer made).

So if the Niblik privatization contract had been in effect, rather than a $38,615 loss we could have had a $35,000 gain or a $73,615 turnaround, significant enough to fund teachers, police or human services.

Last year Cherry Hill lost $59,649 and the Finance Committee covered $13,419 of that from the Reserve Fund.

On Friday I called FinCom chair Alice Carlozzi to confirm the current status of the Reserve Fund. She corroborated that it was entirely tapped out and, indeed, Cherry Hill will absorb $16,500 of that—or one-third of the total fund created to cover “unanticipated emergencies.”

We can spend emergency money on golf, but not on potholes? Only in Amherst!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Yeah, I'm still teed off!

So I hate to move on, but move on I must. The flag issue will never, never, never go away; and by this coming 9/11 highlights of the Town Meeting vote that turned Amherst into the Village of the Damned will be available on Youtube.

So what better subject than the beleaguered Cherry Hill Golf Course (to steal Mary Carey’s lead in this morning’s Gazette) for shifting gears?

Sounds to me like the rookie Town Manager is getting a tad testy about our municipal albatross: “It’s really a red herring, a straw man. It’s taken on a dimension and scale it doesn’t deserve. I’m sick of Cherry Hill being put on the Cherry Hill Cross.”

Of course Mr. Shaffer also insists giving up on Cherry Hill will have “zero effect” on this years budget. Really? First off, Shaffer must not have read the Special Town Meeting warrant article because it “strongly urges” him to accept $30,000 a year for the next three years to lease out the White Elephant.

Thus, rather than losing $59,000 like Cherry Hill did last year we could gain a guaranteed $30,000 or an $89,000 turnaround that could fund police, firefighters or teachers.

The Finance Committee told department heads to stick to a 1% budget increase. Cherry Hill’s FY08 operation budget increases $15,000 but that increase does not include another $15,000 in capital improvements hidden elsewhere in the General Fund budget. So while public safety and school budgets are limited to 1% increases, Cherry Hill bloats by 15%.

Cherry Hill is a symbol. It’s a symbol of waste, highlighting a ludicrous and irresponsible attitude about priorities.