Friday, January 05, 2007

UNFUNDED LIABILITIES: COULD BE COSTLY

One of the goals I will be announcing on Wednesday is the following: conducting an actuarial review to determine the cost of projected postemployment benefits, other than pension benefits, as required by the GASB (Governmental Accounting Standards Board).
Thousands of government bodies and school districts around the nation have been promising generous medical benefits to millions of employees. Yet, virtually none of these governments keep track of the mounting price tag. The usual practice: budget for health care a year at a time, and to leave the rest for the future.
As an article in the NY Times (12/11/2005) indicated, "off the government balance sheets- out of sight and out of mind - these obligations have been ballooning as health care costs have spiraled and as the baby boom generation has approached retirement."
The GASB will soon require governments and school districts to report this to the taxpayers. This could be very costly to the town. It will be costly to every school, fire district, municipality. Localities will have a few decades to pay off the unfunded liabilities. Nationally, it is estimated that the total will be one trillion dollars.
I am pleased that we are taking an important step to address this problem. I also believe that the Town Board MUST ADOPT A FUND BALANCE POLICY in 2007. This past year the Town Board was able to cut taxes by relying on fund balance.

26 comments:

Michael Kolesar said...

As I pointed out at the public hearing on the 2007 budget on December 13th and as I pointed out a YEAR ago, the issue of post employment benefits is a huge one. It is sad that the Town leadership took no steps in the last year to get their arms around this issue.

While better late than never, better never late.

Anonymous said...

The town supervisor should be congratulated for his warnings about the use of fund balance. Wish the other members of the Town Council would have listened to him.

Anonymous said...

The supervisor has been cutting into the fund balance every election year to minimize any tax increase, starting in 2000. He's been able to do this because the town budget continually understates revenue and overstates expenses. As a result, the town has a surplus which becomes the "accumulated fund balance."

Residents suspected Feiner was playing this game several years ago.

Now, in an effort to distinguish himself from the town council, he professes to have found religion, but the fact is his proposed budget for this year (an election year) used up plenty of fund balance.

By properly accounting this year for the WestHelp revenue of $1.2 million (and by putting the rest of the WestHelp money back on the books), the Town Council also used the fund balance, but the reduction wasn't nearly as bad as it would have been had the money not been properly accounted for.

Does Feiner deserve congratulations for this? You gotta be kidding.

Greenburgh resident said...

This issue is so important that I would hope that the usual politics and insults and blaming will be kept out of it. The buildup of unfunded liabilities has been going on for years, in municipalities (including states)all over the country, and it will explode with great force in the not-too-distant future.

Whatever Feiner's motives -- and I don't disparage them, because like most people he and the Town Council probably weren't aware of the seriousness of the problem until Mike Kolesar pointed it out -- Feiner is entitled to appreciation for raising this issue now so that it can be seriously addressed in time for the next budget.

Anonymous said...

No one likes unfair surprises.

Town officials should indeed become acquainted with what the town's potential exposure might be.

But at this point, the state has not yet been determined whether and to what extent the expected large increase in future employee liabilities will be funded solely through local property taxes.

The state comptroller's office, which issues guidelines to municipal officials on the amount they should expect each year to pay in anticipated employee benefits, hasn't yet warned of anything huge coming down the pike.

For his part, Governor Spitzer seems determined to see New York taxpayers face less of a tax burden, not more, which suggests that he'd make it a priority to find ways to avoid funding this burden through property taxes.

And for all is bluster, even Kolesar, the former Ardsley trustee, didn't say or do squat about this problem when he had to answer to Ardsley taxpayers, and his comments at the public hearing consisted of nothing more than a two-minute phone call.

Bottom line: town officials should stay informed about the risk, maintain a healthy cushion, be wary of local politicos who proclaim themselves to be experts on the issue when the really are not, and avoid unfair surprises.

Anonymous said...

If Feiner really wanted to help with the unfunded liability issue, he never would have allowed the former town asesor Iagello to take a consulting gig with teh Town of Bronxville. Iagello has now "retired" from greenburgh, at a full pension, while working for bronxville (a move which gburgh facilitated).. Full time supervisory personnel shoudl not be allowed to take consulting jobs.

Paul Feiner said...

Over the years I have expressed opposition to having full time employees/dept heads hold part time jobs-after hours. The Town Board disagreed. Shortly after Gerry Iagallo retired as Assessor I asked the Town Board to adopt a new policy: that any new department head who is hired be prohibited from holding a part time job. I made that suggestion during a work session. The Board rejected that requested rules change. I need 2 additional votes from Town Board members before such a change can be adopted.

Anonymous said...

Feiner is playing fast and loose again.

Former town employees cannot collect their pensions until they actually "retire."

"Anonymous" says Feiner made the issue of unfunded liabilities in Greenburgh even worse because he allowed his former close aide Iagallo to retire from Greenburgh and collect his full pension, even though Iagallo left to assume similar responsibilities as tax assessor for Bronxville.

Iagallo got around the law, and Bronxville went along with it, by having Bronxville give him the title "consultant." In fact, he's their full-time assessor.

Only Greenburgh, now having to pay Iagallo's retirement, was in a position to complain, and Feiner (as is to be expected for a friend) turned a blind eye.

Meanwhile, what Feiner is talking about is something completely different, which is whether full-time town employees should also be permitted to hold part-time jobs.

During his tenure as Greenburgh's tax assessor, Iagallo also worked as tax assessor for most of Greenburgh's villages and, on top of that, often used Greenburgh personnel to help him do those side jobs (although only Iagallo got the extra dough).

Residents complained for years that Feiner should not be allowing this to occur but, because Iagallo was a trusted friend, Feiner let him get away with it. As a result, Iagallo was allowed to rake in tens of thousands of dollars more a year doing part-time work for other municipalities on Greenburgh's nickel.

Now Feiner tries to absolve himself from responsibility by telling some cock and bull story about how he tried to do something in a work session but his town board colleagues wouldn't go along with it. Yeah right.

Anonymous said...

This "double dipping" is a serious issue, and the tragedy is that the outrageous behaivor of people like Iagello (such a Freind of Feiner, that Feiner tried to pay him bonuses that the Council objected to) will come at the price of the working people.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 7:27 is all wrong. Feiner doesn't have the power to unilaterally give Iagallo or anyone permission to work as a consultant elsewhere. This is a decision that only the Town Board can make. The members of the Board are Eddie Mae Barnes, Diana Juettner, Steve Bass and Francis Sheehan. None of the Board members initiated any action to prevent Iagallo or other town staffer's from holding other part time jobs. The only Town Board member who has objected to town staff holding part time consultant jobs has been Paul Feiner (see his comments).
Instead of pointing fingers the Board should start the new year right: with a new policy prohibiting management from working elsewhere. Feiner is already on board (see previous post). Where does Steve Bass, Diana Juettner, Francis Seehan & Eddie Mae Barnes stand?

Anonymous said...

The issue wasn't whether Feiner or the Town Council gave Iagallo permission to work as a consultant elsewhere. He didn't need their permission. He left Greenburgh to work as Bronxville's assessor, but in order to double dip, they have to call him a "consultant" thre instead of an "employee."

If we were still a municipal employee, even somewhere else,he couldn't collect his Greenburgh retirement.

As for when he worked in Greenburgh, Feiner never had a problem with Iagallo's moonlighting on Greenburgh time for the villages and even for Bronxville. He also didn't have a problem with his using town resources to do so.

When town council members complained, Feiner spit in their eye and proposed raising Iagallo's salary by several thousands of dollars.

Iagallo claimed that the Town Board's failure over the years to stop him from holding all these other non-Greenburgh jobs meant that he could hold them. When the Town Council, over Feiner's objection, froze his compensation,Iagallo filed a state labor grievance.

Iagallo "retired" from Greenburgh when he realized, by retiring he could collect his Greenburgh pension and work full-time as Bronxville's assessor by having them call him a "consultant." The grievance proceeding was dropped.

Feiner could have complained about Iagallo's deal to the state comptroller's office, but didn't.

Now all of a sudden Feiner changes the subject and pretends he has always been against town employees holding part-town jobs elsewhere, and claims it's the town council's fault that this happened.

Sounds like BS to me.

I'd like to see Feiner post his proposal so that we could see for ourselves what he claims the Town Council is against him on here.

Anonymous said...

Francis: would you support a new policy that would prevent management from holding part time jobs?

Michael Kolesar said...

Dear Anonymous 1/5/07 11:47 PM,

First, why don't you identify yourself? As for your statement below

"And for all [h]is bluster, even Kolesar, the former Ardsley trustee, didn't say or do squat about this problem when he had to answer to Ardsley taxpayers, and his comments at the public hearing consisted of nothing more than a two-minute phone call."

How do you know what I did or attempted to do during my term? Were you at the work sessions regarding the police and Teamsters contracts? I don't think so. I personnally undertook a study to quantify Ardsley's problem and it is huge relative to the Ardsley "fund" balance. Bet no one on the current Board or Village Administration has any idea of the nmagnitude.


In fact, it takes three members of a Village Board or Town Council to make changes. Was I successful in getting my fellow Village Board members to change their attitude and approach? Obviously not, but not for trying. I could list a whole lot of Ardsley issues that I raised unsuccessfully. They are still there. But that's for another blog site.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Kolesar: Work sessions regarding Ardsley's contract negotiations with the police and teamsters would have been held in executive session, so no one would know what you might have said there, if indeed you said anything at all.

But if you personally undertook a study to quantify Ardsley's problems and found them to be "huge" relative to the Ardsley fund balance, where is this study? Did you share it with anyone? Did you post it on the Ardsley chat site? Did you share it with any Greenburgh officials?

Rumor has it that Feiner invited you to come to a town work session to discuss the issue, but that you declined on the ground that you prefer to get paid to give such advice.

Anonymous said...

So what would be the problem with Kolesar getting paid -- Feiner always want to give away the store to the villages

Anonymous said...

As usual, a serious issue -- unfunded liabilities -- quickly becomes a vehicle for attacking Feiner and Feiner's "friends."

What the hell does Iagallo, and whether he should or should not have retired with a pension, have to do with the problem of preparing to deal with the unfunded liability issue of employees' pensions? It has nothing to do with it. But it is obviously more important for the Edgemont crowd to attack, attack, attack, rather than face up to serious issues.

By the way, Iagallo had the absolute right to retire and take his pension, and he had the absolute right to take a position as a consultant. It is one of the many cute ways that people can take advantage of the municipal pension system. Feiner and the Town Board could not stop him. It is the pension system that is at fault.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 10:04 -- what makes you think it was edgemont people complaining about iagello?

Anonymous said...

Mike Kolesar provided the town with an important service when he urged the town to look into unfunded liabilities. I hope that all the Board members, including Francis Sheehan, will give this issue serious attention, despite their opinions about Kolesar.

Michael Kolesar said...

Dear Anoymous 1/6/07 3:49 PM

Fisrt, why don't you at least pick out a "name" and use it consistently so all the readers will know whether you are also Anoymous of 1/5/07 11:47 PM. Why won't you identify yourself? What's the problem????

As to what was communicated to the Town of Greenburgh officials, why don't you FOIL their email and find out what I sent them before their vote on the budget?

My point to the Supervisor is that I work as an independent consultant and get paid by my clients only when I work. I am presently fully engaged. I am not about to "donate" my time for free to a Town that can pay Judge Fredman $425 per hour and hire other consultants to look into the failures of the Twon Comptroller at $400+ per hour. In one day I would donate more back to the Town of Greenburgh than the Supervisor has "given" back from his annual goals in many, many years.

If you know me so well then you know how to contact me directly. I will be more than willing to share the information, but you have to identify yourself. No more hiding.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like Kolesar's just in this to make a buck. Kind of puts a whole new light on anything he might have to say.

Anonymous said...

Amazing, but predictable, that an effort to discuss a serious issue like unfiunded pension liabilities turns into the inevitable ad hominem attacks on anybody who lives in one of the villages.

Unincorporated Greenburgh deserves what it will get.

Angry resident said...

Is Kolesar now to become the latest whipping boy for those who can't stand the truth when it interferes with their hates?

As I understand it, after Kolesar called the Town Board and made his valuable comments about unfunded liabilities, Feiner asked him if he would come to a work session on Tuesday at 4 o'clock and talk about it some more. Kolesar explained that he earns a living and works at 4 o'clock, but if the Town wanted him to consult it is something for which he gets paid. The matter was dropped.

And why shouldn't he get paid for giving value? The Town Board wastes tons of money on consultants who provide no value. Not everybody can afford to spend time during the work day. The Supervior and the Town Board get paid plenty, and they don't do the kind of work that Kolesar and others are being asked to contribute free.

If the Town Board asked the Comptroller to do his work Kolesar wouldn't have to make suggestions. And we we wouldn't have the mess of the $500,000 money "saved" from Westhelp in a secret account. We wouldn't be spending $20,000 on an independent counsel to do something that Kolesar probably could do for $5,000.

Instead of criticising people like Kolesar you should be criticising your friends, Bass, Barnes, Sheehan and Juettner. But that doesn't fir your bias.

Anonymous said...

This business about Kolesar just looking to make a buck was a real eyeopener for me.

I thought he was just a concerned resident and at least on this issue it didn't matter to me whether he was from the villages or the unincorporated area.

Now I understand why he won't share that study he claims he did as a trustee for Ardsley. He wants to be paid for it.

I'm glad Greenburgh has no shortage of intelligent accountants, lawyers, engineers and businessmen who graciously volunteer their time for the town free of charge and are not looking to make a buck for doing so.

Paul Feiner said...

For the record - I appreciate the input Mike Kolesar provided members of the Town Board with. I appreciate the fact that he took the time to explain the impact of unfunded liabilities to the town - in simple, easy to understand terms. This is a very significant issue that will face Greenburgh and the rest of the nation.

Michael Kolesar said...

I never said that I wouldn't share my analysis. Just stop hiding beind "Anoyomous".

I am also not the only person who can do this. Didn't the Town Comptroller say that the Town was going to hire an actuary to do this? Will they do it for free?

The rest of the comments are accurate. I am not in such a lofty ecomonic position that I can take time off in the middle of the afternoon to leave a fee paying client and travel to Town Hall and meet. Sorry. If the Town Council wants to meet on another mutually convenient time, we can discuss. I also respond to emails when I am able. No one sent any requests for more information my way, not any member of the Town Council, not the Town Comptroller.

In the meantime, don't lose sight of the fact that the Town probably has an unfunded and unrecorded liability north of $25 million and the Town Council just used about $7 in cash to fund current operations without addressing this issue.

Mayor Bloomberg put aside $3 BILLION recently in New York City on this issue rather than cut taxes.

Anonymous said...

It really doesn't advance the discussion to say, without citation to any evidence, that the town "probably has an unfunded and unrecorded liability north of $25 million."

How did you calculate that sum? What formula did you use? Are the municipal rating agencies that have nowhere expressed to the town any such concern on the same page as you? If not, why not?

What is it you know that they don't and how would anyone know that you know what you're talking about?

If you actually did do a study on this subject as an unpaid elected trustee for Ardsley, as you say you did, why not just send it over to the town so residents can FOIL it if they like?

I bet Ardsley residents would like to see it too.