My last few tax blogs have been about rather complicated subjects. But saving village revenues to reduce taxes doesn’t always take complex steps. Sometimes it can be simple. Take mileage for example: a fleet of village cars and trucks does mean gas bills. One way to reduce costs is to create an atmosphere of accountability. Village vehicles are after all public property and need to be respected as such each and every time a village worker or public official uses any vehicle in the fleet.
The Seal makes it official
One basic cost control: make sure that every car or truck in the fleet has visible decals. Door decals remind drivers that they are using a car or truck owned by the tax payers of the village. It is not personal property. In addition it allows the public to act as a monitor too. The presence of an official vehicle in a location that seems out of place is a tip off to the public that perhaps something is amiss. But without those decals the public is in the dark and a driver is in the driver’s seat but not the one that the public necessarily benefits from. Making sure that every vehicle is properly identified would be a low cost reform that over time produces savings.
Perhaps not a lot but savings that reduce taxes need to be fed by a number of such small streams that taken together create a river of long term revenue cuts and then tax cuts.
Decals are an old school way of enforcing accountability. A more modern approach would be making sure that every vehicle in the fleet had a GPS hook up that would allow for supervisory management as well. Islip Town recently took this step with pretty spectacular results. Once supervisory officials were able to exactly track their fleet a number of things started to occur: mileage use dropped and managers gained a greater ability to see where public employees actually were while on duty. There is no reason to think that the same effect would not occur in Patchogue Village too.
Set an Example
Changes like these sometimes are slow to effect as old habits are sometimes hard to break. The Mayor should take the lead and start any such project by making sure that his car was the first to be so equipped. That would send by example a powerful message of accountability. It would say that every public employee from the Mayor down to the most humble is bound by the same rule: no one is above the law; each and every worker from the highest to the lowest has the same equal duty to respect the rules.
The Public needs to be heard and to show up
Tax payers are reminded that the current village budget is on track for presentation, discussion and voting on over the next few months. This may begin with a vote to pierce the existing tax cap. Such a vote was approved by the Village Board of Trustees last year although last year the village did stay within the tax cap. In any event there will be a point in time when the budget will be released to the public, the proposed tax rate announced, a public hearing will be held probably sometime in April (date not yet announced) and then the Board, as has been its usual practice, will vote on the new budget.
In years past few village tax payers have been present at the Budget Hearing. Attendance has not been encouraged by the Board that has historically called this meeting for a time in the late afternoon when most tax payers are at work or returning from work. This too needs to change. The public hearing that precedes a vote on the budget should begin at 7:30 p.m. as that time allows working tax payers to get back from work, take care of personal business and then have a say about the business of the public of which every tax payer is a member whatever amount of taxes they pay.
Maybe changing the time will not make a difference but I think that the Board has to give the public a real chance to show up. They might, they might not but no one knows for sure. That chance ought to be there regardless as it is only then that I think that the Board can say it met its duties to include the public whether the public took advantage of that right or not. And it is a right not a privilege.
Since the date and time of this meeting has not yet been made public it remains to be seen whether this year things will be different. We will all see soon enough.