While our current Evening Sun reporters are working to bring you our Progress Chenango 2009 special sections this week, I’ve asked five of my favorite ES alumni to fill in as guest columnists. I hope you enjoy catching up with them as much as I did. – Ed.
By Christian Vischi
Progress – at least in my days at The Evening Sun – was a dreaded word. It meant late nights, crunched deadlines and hair-pulling. Not like two individuals in a cat-fight; no, often it was your own, and wads of it.
But in my current role as clerk-treasurer in Earlville (literally just feet from Chenango County), progress as a term is both accurate and descriptive of the process that unfolds during the first month of each year. January is a culmination of the work accomplished in the preceding calendar year – W2’s, 1099s and a host of other reports. Depending on your fiscal calendar, January is the launch pad for the coming fiscal year with the single most important feature of this profession rearing its head: the annual budget.
The annual budget. In reality, this is a relatively simple document – roughly 16 pages long with several additional components (a Salaries and Wages Worksheet, a Tentative Calculation of Tax Rates, an RPS 495 report – it just lists all the tax exempt properties in a municipality, and the list goes on). However, one number – yes, just one – often is the representative mark of a good budget or a bad budget in the municipality’s residents’ eyes: the tax levy.
Progress is a term difficult to come by in this economic climate. It isn’t really a singularly decisive concept, but more of a barometer. For instance, nearly a dozen years ago progress was displayed as the first Prius hybrid vehicle went on sale in Japan – progress of automotive initiative. Today, progress is not of new technology or new chemistry, progress is the ability to adapt to a changing global structure. Best Buy and Wal-Mart will undoubtedly see larger gains in their electronics merchandise sales. Is this progress? Of course not, a large percentage of any gain will likely be attributed to the market’s loss of former giant Circuit City.
So back to our budget; progress is being able to adapt. In most years, a “healthy” tax levy increase is usually considered in the 2 to 3.5 percent range. With a New York Times’ reported potential 2009 U.S. unemployment rate of 9.0 percent ( ‘Dire economic signals for Obama,’ Jack Healy, Jan. 22, 2009), any tax levy increase better be well justified. At the same time, services and opportunities are still expected. So how do you juggle those two items: capped tax levy vs. full service? I certainly don’t have all the answers (and thank God I wasn’t voted into office to provide them, that’s what the trustees and mayor are paid the big bucks for). However, I do know that clerks and for that matter budget technicians from all financial disciplines have a very unenviable task ahead of making the figures work.
As I “patiently” wait for the first month of the New Year to finish ticking away so I can turn the page of my 2009 The Art of the Bistro calendar, I am staring at a computer screen filled with numbers. Lots and lots of numbers. Salaries, equipment, fuel, social security, FICA, balanced by the fun of reports: IRS 941 and NYS-45 reports, monthly finance reports for the trustees, meeting minutes and the list goes on. What does it all mean? Late nights. Crunched deadlines. And, of course, hair-pulling. Just like being back for Progress.