Saturday, October 1, 2011

Town Special Reserve Accounts--a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma

Via E-mail and US Mail

PO Box 130
West Shokan, NY 12494
October 1, 2011

Supervisor Berndt Leifeld
PO Box 180
West Shokan, NY 12494
FAX 845-657-6117

Dear Supervisor Leifeld:

At the recent Town of Olive budget workshop several citizens raised the question of balances in special reserve funds being used for emergencies such as the recent tropical storm devastation.  Your response was that money in reserve funds cannot be used for purposes other than those designated in the accounts.  Your claim is false because special reserve accounts can be reduced or dissolved.  I located a policy statement of the New York State Comptroller’s Office located  at: .   The report states:

When conditions warrant (subject to legal requirements), the board should reduce reserve funds to reasonable levels or liquidate and discontinue a reserve fund that is no longer needed or whose purpose has been achieved.

The report implies that different reserve funds are subject to different methods of dissolution or reduction.  As well, the report states:

Because of the complexity of some of the legal requirements relating to the establishment, funding, expenditure, and dissolution of reserve funds, we encourage local officials to consult with their municipal attorney.

I assume that you have done so and can produce letters to and from lawyers as to the statuses of the various special reserve funds.  As well:

(R)eserve fund(s) should be established with a clear intent or plan in mind regarding the future purpose, use and, when appropriate, replenishment of funds from the reserve. Reserve funds should not be merely a “parking lot” for excess cash or fund balance.

The report also gives some guidance as to prudent oversight of reserve funds:

Reserve funds can be excellent financial planning tools when combined with a realistic analysis of future financial needs and obligations. All too often, however, reserve funds are established and substantial cash is accumulated without due diligence in monitoring the reasonableness of reserve fund balances. To help ensure that reserve funds are being properly established for an authorized and needed purpose, and the balances in existing reserve funds are not accumulated excessively or unnecessarily, governing boards should answer the following questions:
  • ·         Has legal counsel provided guidance on the authority to establish new reserve funds?
  • ·         Has the financial need or purpose served by the reserve been identified?
  • ·         Does the reserve fit within or complement the long range financial or capital plans of our locality?
  • ·         Has a written reserve fund plan or policy been developed?
  • ·         What events and obligations is the board planning for?
  • ·         Is cash being accumulated for the purchase of a major piece of equipment or to help finance other major capital outlays?
  • ·         Is cash being sequestered to help mitigate the impact of other large, nonrecurring expenditures?
  • ·         Are there risks that need to be protected against?
  • ·         Does the board’s policy address replenishing depleted reserve balances, as appropriate?
  • ·         Is the board provided with periodic financial reports on reserve fund activity?
  • ·         Are reserve balances at an appropriate level?
  • ·         Has the board reviewed all reserve funds currently established and determined if the balances are necessary and reasonable?
  • ·         Is there a limit on the dollar amount to be accumulated?
  • ·         Is the reserve serving the purpose for which it was established?
  • ·         Are the best interests of the taxpayers being met?
  • ·         Any governing board that is planning to establish and finance reserve funds on a regular basis should develop a written policy that communicates to taxpayers why the money is being set aside, the board’s financial objectives for the reserves, optimal funding levels, and conditions under which the assets will be utilized. Boards should also periodically assess the reasonableness of the amounts accumulated in their reserves.
  • ·         When conditions warrant (subject to legal requirements), the board should reduce reserve funds to reasonable levels or liquidate and discontinue a reserve fund that is no longer needed or whose purpose has been achieved.

The last three bullets address questions that citizens asked you and that you failed to answer.  Surely you have addressed all of the concerns listed in the above bullets, and I now request you to apprize the public of your deliberations, due diligence, and thoughtful planning at the next town meeting.  Alternatively, I can send an additional freedom of information law requesting documentation of your compliance with the Comptroller’s guidelines and take the information to the media.  As a local gadfly, I anticipate your response with interest.


Mitchell Langbert, Ph.D.


Mairi said...

Mitchell, I don't know if you have tried going through any of the local "CAFR" reports for your area, but you just may want to get hold of one, and start picking it apart. I think you will be AMAZED at what you find.

Anonymous said...