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Opinion: Careless Mayor Botches Budget, Time to Audit Books

Written By Editor on 8/18/23 | 8/18/23

By Matthew Avitabile

Several weeks back I wrote something to the effect that I would hold off on writing an extensive opinion on the Cobleskill Police Department situation. There’s still a lot more to write, of course, but we’ll start here. Below is my opinion based on primary sources.

In our July 28th edition I wrote a front-page article in the Cobleskill Herald regarding the current Village of Cobleskill/Cobleskill Police Department budget. It’s a topic near and dear to my heart. Doing the municipal budget was likely my favorite part of eight years as mayor and six years as trustee in Middleburgh. I’m still not sure why I liked it so much, but I was good at it. Nine of those thirteen years saw me take on primary responsibility for those budgets. They were all balanced and they were all under the tax cap. They came with significant increases in the Middleburgh Fire Department’s budget and improvements for local events and parks. Our taxpayers didn’t get soaked.

During Tuesday’s Village of Cobleskill meeting, Mayor Becky Stanton-Terk dismissed the article as if it was false, saying that the information wasn’t corroborated.

To quote from the meeting, the mayor said, “They did not get any information to back that up. So or you to claim that that is accurate because you read it in the paper, I will totally disagree.”

She also used the word “misinformation” to describe press coverage.

We should know that it’s not quite true. Not quite true statements are a politician’s dream. Fitting for one of the few local elected officials who treat the job more as a politician seeking a political ladder rather than a local public servant.

So, were my numbers corroborated? Let’s take a look directly at the Village of Cobleskill’s Annual Update Document (AUD), which is the yearly summary of its budget situation. Does it agree with what I wrote? Here’s a photo of it.

And how about the tax situation? Were those numbers manipulated or misunderstood by our paper? Well, take a look at the village’s own budget and see if it is inaccurate:

Or perhaps the argument is that the village’s reserve fund balance is not too high? Again, I have the experience of understanding the state Comptroller’s Office recommendations. If you look at a Comptroller’s audit from June (double check our sources here:, the office wrote about the Olean City School District made a critical error holding so much in reserve funds without justification.

To quote directly:

“The Board and District officials properly established the District’s nine general fund reserve funds totaling $10.9 million but did not use the reserve funds and could not demonstrate that approximately $8 million held in seven of these reserves was reasonable or needed.”

“In addition, the Board and District officials did not:

“Adopt a comprehensive written reserve fund policy or transparently fund reserves.

“Take appropriate action to address overfunded reserves.

“Funding reserves at levels higher than necessary for operations and/or need creates an undue burden on taxpayers and withholds funds that may have been used in a more beneficial way.”

Perhaps a school district’s audit is too vague? Let’s take a look at the Comptroller’s Office official recommendations (double-check our sources, page 13 here:

“When preparing a tentative budget, if the current balance of the contingency and tax stabilization fund exceeds 10 percent of the eligible portion of the annual budget for the current fiscal year, any excess must be used to reduce the amount of real property taxes needed to finance the eligible portion of the annual budget for the next fiscal year.”

The current reserve for the Village of Cobleskill is about 50%. I understand that by massaging the budget, this may be a few percentage points different, depending on your point of view. However, it’s certainly not five times different.

The requirement is clear— this money should be returned to the people through a tax cut or spent responsibly. Since the current mayor inherited a very good budget situation from previous Mayor Linda Holmes, this should have already been done.

Just to make sure that this information isn’t lost in the wind, we’re doing three special things. First, we’re going to republish the entire article below so you can double-check and see if we were wrong. We welcome open examination.

The last audit for the Village of Cobleskill was released in January 2020 and pushed hard by Mayor Stanton-Terk. For all of the complaints about hours used by former Clerk-Treasurer Samantha Moyster, the financial carelessness expressed both by the CPD disaster and the too-large fund balance is a recipe for a fiscal nightmare.

It’s well past time for another audit.

The mayor’s comments sparked us to be in a giving mood, and we will be gifting the State Comptroller’s Office, Division of Local Government and School Accountability a complimentary subscription to our paper.

Lastly, we will also begin a formal investigation into the collapse of the Cobleskill Police Department. Just as the situation with Dr. Amy Gildemeister was incorrectly reported by the Times Journal earlier this year, we’re here to set the record straight. We uncovered $150,000 in alleged fraud in Delaware County in the spring and would be happy to collect more information to get the whole story. Got a tip? Call or text my cell at 518-763-6854 or email us at

Unfortunately the mayor chose to double down on misleading statements. The information about the budget was misleading and the comments at the meeting were dismissive and incorrect. Fortunately, I know much more about municipal budgets and how the village’s budget is not being used to help the people the mayor represents.

Please find the original article below, unedited.

Mayor Digs In After CPD Resignations

A Closer Look at Cobleskill’s Budget Situation

By Matthew Avitabile

COBLESKILL — We reviewed the mayor's statements that 83% of the village's annual general tax levy goes to the police budget. 

Forgive the math, but here is some context. Local government budgets are derived from multiple sources, often with the largest chunk coming from the municipal tax levy (local property tax). 

The Village of Cobleskill's 2023 general fund budget is $3,574,080 total, with $1,888,503, or about half, coming from local property taxes. The general fund is generally everything but water and sewer, which are funded largely through usage rents.

The mayor is correct that the salaries for the officers represent a significant portion of that, with almost $940,000 budgeted for 2023 alone. The police budget, including non-personnel expenses, does represent more than half of the total village taxes.

In addition, there are a number of other direct costs tied to the police department, including liability insurance, health insurance, and retirement costs. They’re not parted out in the budget specifically, but it is not unreasonable to believe that they represent about the percentage of the tax levy the mayor stated.

However, that’s only a part of the story. The little more than $1 million in the police budget represents less than a third of the overall budget, not 83%. The mayor did not claim that the police budget was 83% of the total, but for those not familiar with municipal budgeting, it would seem as if the vast majority of property taxes were forked over to the police. That's not the case.

There are other questions for future articles, including the fact that nearly half of Cobleskill's land value— 47.4% to be exact— is exempt from taxation, usually due to use by non-profits. Right now the village taxes on the $155,912,979 that is eligible for full valuation, while a little more than $140 million is partially or totally exempt.

The police budget has also grown in recent years, with personnel costs increasing from about $918,000 in 2019 to almost $940,000 in 2023. This is a 2.5% increase overall. 

However, what was not explained effectively at the last meeting is that the village government had cut back its police personnel budget from 2019 (about $918,000) to 2020 ($903,000) to 2021 ($880,000) to 2022 ($903,000).

Increases to the police budget have been a major portion of the village's government for years and represent a major factor in the budget's overall growth. There are two crucial elements to consider. 

Number one is that while the funding for police wages has increased by 2.5% in four years, the overall general fund has increased from $2.968 million in 2019 to $3.574 million in 2023, a 20.4% increase. Proportionally, police spending has not kept up with the remainder of the budget. 

In addition, the village has increased its fund balance (the amount left over at the end of each year) from $1.583 million in 2019 to $1.973 million in 2023. A large majority of that is "unassigned," meaning that it could be used for any purpose, including the police. the village of Cobleskill now has a fund balance of more than half of its operating budget, which the State Comptroller's Office recommends against. The state often recommends that municipalities either spend the money or lower taxes.

A closer look at the budget shows that there was a possibility for a compromise, at least as far as numbers are concerned. We will continue our research in the coming weeks and months.

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