Yesterday, the Ramapo Town Board released its proposed budget for 2018. To create a sound budgetary forecast, you need accurate numbers on the current fiscal state of Town’s finances. But the last set of complete numbers that now exist are the very same fraudulent figures that are sending the past Supervisor to federal prison and the finance and legal director to court facing SEC charges. A budget requires reliable information, not the felony-tainted figures that inspired the State Comptroller to classify Ramapo as “fiscally stressed.” A current, clean audit would help, but the board and temporary supervisor say the current audit, and the one for the year before that, aren’t done yet. We know that because the interim supervisor has now said they won’t be ready until late November—that is, you’re not going to see the real picture until after the election is over. But you can come to the public meeting before those audits see daylight, and discuss the current budget. Anybody else smell something untoward here?
Here’s the coverage of the budget release from The Journal News:
Ramapo: Proposed election-year budget offers property tax decreases
RAMAPO – “Residents across the town would see 2018 property-tax decreases under a proposed $96.9 million budget unveiled Tuesday.
Several million dollars in savings in police and legal costs accounted for a good amount of the spending decrease from $101 million in 2017, acting Supervisor Yitzchock Ullman said.
Ullman also said he and Finance Director John Lynch cleaned up former Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence’s over-estimates of revenues and use of money from other budget accounts to hide the town’s general fund deficit and provide a less-than-honest picture of the town finances.
Those budget practices played a part in St. Lawrence’s conviction for security fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy charges in May — for which he faces federal prison when sentenced Nov. 27. Ullman became acting supervisor after St. Lawrence got booted from office based on his federal conviction.
Ullman said the “balanced budget that cuts taxes and spending, improves transparency and efficiency, and provides accurate revenue projections is the latest step in our effort to restore public confidence in their town government.
“Combined with the reforms we have enacted in recent months, this budget shows we are moving Ramapo forward,” he said.
The budget comes in an election year. Ullman is seeking re-election for Town Board on a ticket that includes deputy town attorney Michael Specht running for supervisor and David Wanounou for Town Board.
Bill Weber, an accountant, heads the opposition fusion slate for supervisor, with activist Shani Bechhofer and Chestnut Ridge Trustee Grant Valentine running for the board. Weber is a Republican, Bechhofer, an independent and Valentine a Democrat.
Weber on Tuesday labeled the budget proposal “nothing but a cynical, election-year gimmick” and accused the Town Board of not releasing Ramapo’s audited financial statements dating back years.
Weber called the budget’s revenue projections overstated and its expenditure reductions unrealistic. He specifically singled out cuts in funding for non-profits and building and zoning safety.
Ramapo’s 2017 budget, prepared by St. Lawrence, then the acting finance director, proposed a state cap-busting $102 million spending plan with 5 to 7 percent tax-rate hikes, as well as funding to hire 15 police officers for the then-$42 million department.
Councilman Patrick Withers said he praised Ullman and Lynch for the tax decreases and more honest budgeting, but still had concerns.
“We don’t have a current audit so how can we know what the general fund and fund balance is looking like,” Withers said. “Although Supervisor Ullman and Finance Director John Lynch provided a very good tentative budget, we don’t know the real amount of money former Supervisor St. Lawrence padded the budget.”
An audit is being done by Roth & Company, replacing the Mamaroneck-based PKF O’Connor Davies that severed its ties to Ramapo after the SEC penalized the company. The auditing company paid more than a half-million dollars in penalties for issuing fraudulent audit reports in connection with municipal bonds sought by Ramapo for construction of its baseball stadium.
Ullman said Roth originally promised the audit in August but issues with confirming O’Connor-Davies’ work meant the audit would take longer. Ullman said the audits could come in November.
The Town Board must adopt a budget by Nov. 20. The board members publicly review the budget and then hold a public hearing before passage.
Residents can visit www.ramapo.org to read the 179-page budget document.”
You can read the complete Journal News coverage here.