Obvious efforts were made to keep the process as far from public view as possible. The Town Clerk’s Office failed to honor Freedom of Information Act requests for copies of the proposed budget in time for the meeting to which the public had been invited to participate in a public discussion of that budget. The meeting time had been changed, and it was inconveniently scheduled for the day after the election, November 4. But it didn’t really matter because without the numbers–projected taxes, debt payments, salary increases–what was there the public could add to the discussion? The few who were present did ask questions, but those were summarily dismissed by Supervisor St. Lawrence, manager-in-charge of Ramapo’s mole-tunnel democracy: “We’re here to listen,” he said, “not to answer questions.”
So after a public discussion that didn’t get much beyond, “Why haven’t you given the public the documents they FOILed?” we wind forward two weeks to Thursday, November 19. This would be the meeting for the board to vote on the shadowy new budget. Those who had requested electronic copies of the preliminary budget a month ago still hadn’t received them. And the meeting was at 10 in the morning, not an optimal time for any taxpayer with the ordinary obligations of daytime employment. Again, it wouldn’t matter though because when St. Lawrence was challenged with pointed questions by those who were present, he and the other board members just stared back, mute conspirators with no need to explain their actions or to lay out the changes to next year’s budget and taxes.
The vote to approve the budget–as it was presented to Brendel Logan Charles, Pat Withers, Daniel Friedman and Yitzchok Ullman by St. Lawrence–was 5 to 0 to approve. The vote to exceed the tax cap was also 5 yes none against. The vote to hike taxes was unanimous, but any explanation for how high or why didn’t come up.
Today is December 1, and there has been no response to Preserve Ramapo’s Freedom of Information Act request for the approved 2016 Budget. The FOIL request was submitted electronically Monday, November 23.
At the November 19 board meeting, St. Lawrence said that he would have the approved Town of Ramapo 2016 Budget posted on the Town’s website. Today, it still is not there.
Tomorrow we will file an appeal with the Town and with Albany. And as soon as we get a copy of the 2016 budget, we will post it on this website. At that point, the public discussion that was supposed to take place November 4 at Town Hall can then perhaps begin. We would especially appreciate input from those with experience in budget preparation, especially municipal budgeting.