There’s a dirty word being whispered in the Town of Sweden this week – Corruption.
Because of a series of very dubious actions recently taken by the Sweden Town Council, people all over town are shaking their heads and are asking, “What’s wrong with the Sweden Town Council? Are they incompetent? Are they clueless? Or are they corrupt?
After reading the front page story on this week’s Town of Sweden Snapshots (Volume 8, Issue 4), “Sweden/Clarkson opt for Monroe Ambulance and fire district” (December 12, 2010), you have to wonder.
After witnessing the disgraceful behavior of the Sweden Town Board at the public hearing at 5:00 PM on December 22nd, the answer is obvious.
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
Hamlet Act 1, scene 4, 87–91
So many people showed up at the Town Hall that the meeting had to be moved to the court room so there would be enough seats.
The meeting lasted until 6:40 PM, and not one single person spoke in support of the idea of signing a contract with Monroe Ambulance.
But the members of the Town Council didn’t seem to care. They seem to have already made up their minds and do not want to be confused with facts.
Three of the members of the Town Council were openly antagonistic to the people who had given up their time to attend the poorly planned meeting.
Only Mike Meyers showed any respect to the people who took time from their busy holiday schedules to show up and express their concern about the draconian measure the Town Council is planning to take.
Rebecca Donahue sat silently at one end of the table. It was her first meeting since being appointed to the Council, so she gets a pass.
Pat Connors sat at the other end of the table smirking and laughing throughout the meeting, despite the fact that the Sweden Town Council is about to assassinate the Brockport Ambulance Corps, one of the most dedicated and honorable volunteer organizations in the United States.
Jack Milner refused to let anyone speak about anything except the ambulance contract, even though the prepared statement he read to open the meeting contained numerous factual inaccuracies.
When EMS Chief Lucas VanDervort provided the correct figures, Milner did not acknowledge his own mistake. Other than his prepared statement, Milner also refused to provide any information about why the Town Council wants to abandon the free services of the Brockport Ambulance Corps and substitute the expensive services of a private company.
It was not Jack’s best day.
Rob Carges, laughed and scoffed at several constituents expressing their concern that the Town Council is making a decision that will cost Sweden residents a lot of money, and that the Town Council is taking this action to attack the Village of Brockport.
It was painful to watch Rob in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. He’s a better man than that. Too bad he didn’t show it.
Fire Chief Mike Henry made it quite clear to the five members of the Town Council that a decision to sign a contract with Monroe Ambulance will be the death of the Brockport Ambulance Corps
But the Town Councilors didn’t care. They have already made up their minds, and they think they are immune from being defeated in an election. They are in for a rude shock.
The Ambulance Fiasco
The Sweden Town Council has decided to throw the baby out with the bath water.
Despite having the least expensive fire and ambulance protection in Monroe County, the Sweden Town Council keeps whining about the Fire Department and the Ambulance Corps.
To some people, having the best just isn’t good enough.
These Sweden politicians plan to sign a contract with Monroe Ambulance next week to provide ambulance service to the Town of Sweden in 2011 and they want to form a fire district. But, there are some serious problems with those ideas.
The Town of Sweden has already signed the 2011 fire contract with the Village to provide ambulance service for free. So why does the Town Council want to force Sweden resident to use Monroe Ambulance?
There must be an ulterior motive; something that has more to do with power and political influence instead of looking out for the health and welfare of Sweden residents.
The response time statistics presented at the public hearing clearly show that abandoning the Brockport Ambulance Corps will also endanger the lives of Sweden residents. The response time fro Monroe Ambulance is significantly longer then the response time from the Brockport Ambulance Corps.
The cost statistics presented at the public hearing also clearly show that the Brockport Ambulance Corps provides much better service than Monroe Ambulance at a significantly lower cost.
Furthermore, Sweden currently has no building to stage an ambulance in, so the ambulance would have to be parked outside all winter. For the past decade, there has been public discussion that Sweden wants a fire house south of Route 31, but the Town Council has done absolutely nothing about it.
Are the members of the Sweden Town Council going to volunteer 24 hours a day to keep the ice scrapped off an ambulance parked in the parking lot of a convenient store on Route 19?
Or is the Town Council planning to raise your taxes to pay for a building to house the ambulance?
The Snapshots article and the Supervisor’s recent letter to the editor of the Suburban News also mention that, “The two towns are also pursuing the formation of a Fire District.”
Are they insane?
It is really hard to ask your friends and neighbors on the Town Council tough questions. But it has to be done when they start talking about raising your property taxes 60.4%.
And that’s exactly what happens when you form a fire district.
According to an August 2007 report “Financial Report on Fire Districts” published by the New York State Comptroller:
- Real property taxes are responsible for over 90 percent of fire district revenues,
- And over the ten year period studied in the report (1995 – 2005) real property taxes for all fire districts across New York State increased 60.4%.
When Councilwoman Pat Connors was asked about this last week, she replied, “That’s only for districts with paid fire fighters.” Unfortunately, her statement is totally inaccurate, because the Comptroller’s report clearly states that the 60.4 % tax increase is for all fire districts in the State.
She doesn’t have her facts straight.
In the past week, two Sweden Town Councilors have been asked if they had read the Comptroller’s report and neither of them had. All they had read was the article in last Sunday’s Democrat & Chronicle, which painted a dismal picture of fire districts in Monroe County.
One of the main reasons why fire district expenses are so out of control in New York is that there are absolutely no checks and balances on fire districts. When you establish a fire district you give away all control of expenditures.
The other main reason is that almost nobody votes in fire district elections.
Brutally Low Voter Turnout
According to an April 2008 report by the New York State Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness, “Elections and Voter Participation,” voter participation in Fire District elections is abysmal.
In almost all fire district elections in New York, less than 1% of the registered voters vote.
The final report of the New York State Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness used a fire district in the Town of Greece to illustrate the dire consequences of what happens because of low voter turnout in fire district elections.
Although Greece has a population of 94,141, only 68 people bothered to vote in a recent election to approve a $3.2 million expenditure for a new firehouse. In other words, less than 1/10th of 1% of the voters spent $3.2 million of the taxpayers’ money.
By law, Fire District elections are held on the second Tuesday of December.
December is a good time to hide things from public view. The weather is bad and people are Christmas shopping.
Perhaps that’s why the Sweden Town Council scheduled the public meeting on the questionable ambulance contract at 5:00 PM on December 22nd, three days before Christmas.
Perhaps Jack Milner, and his behind the scenes advisors, were hoping that nobody would show up. He was wrong.
So it isn’t surprising that the people in Sweden are questioning why the Town Council wants to turn over control of the taxes for the fire department to such a small percentage of the population.
Sweden is short changing the Fire Department again
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that the Town of Sweden has stuck it to the Brockport Fire Department, the Brockport Ambulance Corps, and the Sweden residents who live in the Village.
Jack Milner refused to let anyone talk about it at the public hearing, but the Sweden Town Council has a long history of acting irresponsibly in this regard.
The Sweden Town Council negotiated, but Sweden failed to sign either the 2009 or 2010 fire contracts, which meant that, by law the 2008 fire contract stayed in effect until the Village Board was forced to cancel it last fall because of underpayments by the two towns.
Under the terms of the 2008 fire contract, Sweden was paying $307,161 per year for fire and ambulance protection. Under the terms of the 2009 fire contract Sweden should have paid $317,494 But since Sweden only paid at the 2008 rate, Sweden underpaid by $10,333 in 2009.
The 2010 fire contract called for Sweden to pay $304,087.00 this year, but since the Town council didn’t approve the fire contract, Sweden paid the 2008 amount again.
This means that the total underpayment by the Town of Sweden in 2009 and 2010 is $7,259.
In other words, the incompetence of the Sweden Town Council cost the Brockport Fire Department $7,259. Sweden stuck it to the taxpayers of Brockport, who had to pay that extra money.
To make matters worse, Sweden’s fire contract payments throughout 2010 have been late, further damaging the Brockport Fire Department.
What’s Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander
There are two old sayings that seem to apply here:
- What’s Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander
- What’s Mine is Mine, and What’s Yours is Mine.
After last night’s disastrous meeting, there is no doubt the Sweden Town Council is governed by the second principle.
In Snapshots, the Town Council whines about the towns not getting any money from the third-party ambulance billing, but they won’t say a word about the Village of Brockport not getting a cent from the revenues Sweden receives from the traffic tickets written by the Brockport Police Department.
In 2009, the Brockport Police Department wrote 1,661 traffic tickets, and all of them were adjudicated in the Sweden Town Court. According to figures provided to foamcage.com in April by Sweden’s Director of Finance, Leisa Strabel, the Sweden Town Court retained $141,697.73 of the revenues generated from the fines from those tickets.
In other words, Sweden turned a profit of $141,697.73 from those tickets, but didn’t give a single cent of that money back to Brockport. Sweden kept it all, even though the residents of Brockport bore virtually 100% of the cost of generating that revenue.
From 2002 to 2009 the Brockport Police Department wrote 12,951 traffic tickets. That means that in the past eight years, the Brockport Police Department has generated approximately $1,104,832.81 for the Town of Sweden.
That’s more than a million dollars of revenue, yet Sweden has not returned a singe penny of that money to Brockport.
But it is almost impossible for Sweden residents to realize just how much revenue Sweden receives from these tickets because it is not reflected anywhere in the 2010 Town of Sweden Adopted Budget, which is posted on the town website.
Even though tickets written by the Brockport Police generated approximately $206,839 in revenue for Sweden in 2007 and $201,789 in 2008, the budget estimates for revenue for the following two years, 2009 and 20010, are only $115,000 for 2009 and $125,000 for 2010.
Why would the revenue estimates be so low in relation to the real revenues, unless someone is trying to hide the fact that Sweden is making a huge profit from the tickets written by the Brockport Police?
The real revenues in 2009 were $174,751, but the next year’s budget estimate is only $125,000.
With that in mind, you have to wonder what the District Attorney would think about the town hiding about $50,000 in the budget.
Stretch that over the 8 year period and you’re talking about $400,000. That’s the kind of money that leads to corruption.
Because of the Sweden Town Council’s greed and total lock of cooperation, the Village Board last night took the first steps necessary in the formation of a Village Court. That means that over the next 8 years the Sweden Town Council will have to find another way to raise a million dollars in revenue.
The five members of the Sweden Town Council have just screwed the taxpayers of Sweden, and they are trying to destroy a great Fire Department and Ambulance Corps too.
So it isn’t surprising that people all over town are asking, “Is the Sweden Town Council incompetent, clueless, or corrupt? Given the facts, those are the only three possibilities.
The Town of Clarkson has taken the same dubious actions.