Below is the text of a letter that I mailed to the town regarding the current practice of scheduling public hearings for budgets and legislation immediately before the vote. I would like to see the town amend its procedures regarding the scheduling of public hearings.
November 28, 2008
Ms. Valerie Bertram
Town of Stuyvesant Supervisor
PO Box 250
Stuyvesant, NY 12173
Dear Ms. Bertram;
I am writing to request that the Town of Stuyvesant amend its procedures regarding the scheduling of public hearings for budgets and new legislation, to allow for public hearing sessions of adequate length, and to allow time for council members to consider public input and possible amendment.
The purpose of a public hearing is to obtain public comment, and ideally that input is carefully considered and applied to legislative and budget decisions. The public hearing for the 2009 town budget was allocated thirty minutes. It took place after the third and final budget workshop and immediately before the town board meeting when the vote was scheduled.
Hearings should be allocated sufficient time so that everyone who wishes to speak has the opportunity to do so, and should not end until there are no further questions or comments from the attendees. Thirty minutes for presentation and comment on a budget that contained a 7% tax rate increase and pay increases for council members and town employees, in an economic environment of job insecurity, severe state budget cuts and revenue losses, seems insufficient. Since the comment period was cut short before audience members indicated that they had no further comments or questions, I am concerned that not everyone had the chance to speak.
Second, the timing did not allow the town board consideration, discussion or amendment based on taxpayer input. The vote took place the same night, with no break following the hearing. The final workshop for the budget had already taken place. Holding the public hearing prior to the final workshop would allow the board to consider and incorporate input and make any needed amendments before voting.
I believe that addressing these changes in the town’s procedures will support responsive representative government and wise legislative and budget decisions.