By Mike Dunn 

Public asks for transparency with proposed budget

 


Despite the short agenda and 20 minute meeting, the June 3 Saratoga Town Council meeting was filled with heated discussions between Mayor John Zeiger and Saratoga residents.

Ordinance 826, an ordinance to provide the necessary income to finance the 2014-2015 fiscal year, was passed by the Saratoga town council on the third reading. The ordinance proposes the town raise $2,954,874.41 for the general fund.

Saratoga resident and candidate for Mayor of Saratoga Glee Johnson asked the council if a line item budget was available for public view before a final budget is proposed.

Town Clerk Suzie Cox said she would be more than willing to show the line-item budget to people in her office, but would not want it to released to the public yet. Attorney for the Town of Saratoga Tom Thompson said it is not a public document until the budget is passed by the town council.

Saratoga resident Leon Hetherington, who recently wrote a letter to the Saratoga Sun asking Zeiger to resign from his office, said he did visit with Cox earlier that day to look over the budget but did not understand why citizens cannot review the budget as well.


Hetherington said allowing the public to examine the budget after it is passed is hindsight. He argued it would be more beneficial for citizens to be able to read and study the budget before it is passed.

“It’s too late then, it’s a done deal. And we are the citizens that have to pay the bill,” Hetherington said.

Before Hetherington could finish his statement, Zeiger cut him off.

“Thank you Leon, we are not going to (interrupt) tonight. I’m done. [Cox] will get it done, she will do it for you. You are not going to sit there and carry on …”

Hetherington asked “the question is simple: is she going to make it available to us before - ”

Hetherington was interrupted again by Zeiger before Hetherinton could complete his sentence.

Zeiger attempted to move to the next item on the agenda. He was openly criticized by the audience for cutting Hetherington off in the middle of his statement.

Brad Cary proposed the idea of placing the budget for public view on the town’s website.

Thompson said he would have to examine the law to see if posting the budget online would be allowed. He said if it was labeled “draft” or “proposed budget” it may be allowed. The public needs to understand it is not the final product, Thompson said.

Cary said allowing citizens to see the budget could go a long way with helping the town be more transparent with the public. The proposed budget is currently on the town of Saratoga’s website.

The town council also approved appointment of the new town treasurer Tommy Flohr. Flohr, who was introduced to the public at the May 6 town council meeting, was not officially appointed by the council.

Zeiger took responsibility for not calling for a vote to appoint Flohr, saying it was an oversight on his part.

Additionally, the agenda for the meeting was short, which included call to order, approval of agenda, approval of minutes, approval of the bills, reports from department and adjournment.

“Items from the public,” an item traditionally held at the end of every meeting when members rom the audience would be able to ask questions and make statements towards town officials, was not included on the meeting’s agenda.

In a later interview, Zeiger said the reason for the short meeting was it was a busy few weeks for the town with the flood. Zeiger said he was unsure if the Town Chambers would have been available, as the room was being used as a command post of the National Guard.

Zeiger said he was attending to his job as Carbon County Emergency Management Coordinator during the recent flooding incidents

“I do have other obligations besides mayor,” Zeiger said. “I needed to attend to my job.”

He said all they are required to do in every meeting is approve the minutes and pay the bills.

Leaving “items from the public” off the agenda is typical with shorter meetings, he said. Zeiger could not remember the last time there had been a short meeting, but he said it has happened “two or three” times.

The franchise agreement with Carbon Power and Light was not discussed during the meeting, but Zeiger said it will not have any effect on the agreement being passed.

“[The agreement] doesn’t have to be ready at the time it expires. Until we get a new agreement, the old one stays there.”

The next meeting will be held 6 p.m. on June 17 at Saratoga Town Hall.

 

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