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Keep meetings open to public

December 2, 2012
The Leader Herald

Taxpayers have a right to know how and why their money is being spent.

With that in mind, the Fonda-Fultonville Central School District's Mid-Year Budget Committee made the right call in allowing its meeting scheduled Monday to be open to the public.

Initially, the meeting was set to happen in a closed session. The state's Open Meetings Law does not apply to the committee, despite the fact three school board members are among the 15 committee members.

While public comments will not be allowed at the meeting, people will at least get to hear how the committee decides on $500,000 worth of budget cuts to recommend to the board. The cuts are meant to help build up the district's fund balance and avert cash-flow problems at the end of the year. Without spending cuts, the district would face a $1.4 million budget gap for 2013-14, requiring the tax levy to go up about 20 percent.

While it's good the committee intends to keep the meeting open to the public, it should have planned on doing that from the beginning.

State law allows the committee to have a closed session, but that does not mean it is the right thing for the committee to do.

At a prior meeting, members of the public suggested possible ways to cut the budget. They included eliminating spring athletics, reducing staff and transportation costs and closing the high school pool.

We understand the reality of the situation: Publicly supporting any of those proposals may not make members of the committee - or a member of the school board who votes to enact them - popular.

However, the public has a right to know why certain cuts will be made and others will not. Keeping the meeting open will invite people, at the appropriate time, to give the school board an informed opinion about the cuts before they are official.

Local officials - and committee members -should not seek to mirror Albany's infamous three-men-in-a-smoke-filled-room approach to reaching a consensus on state budgets.

The last thing taxpayers want to see is another government body that appears to want their money but not their opinion.



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