THURMAN — In a reversal of course, the Town Board on Wednesday decided to rehire its bookkeeper — an action that delighted Supervisor Cynthia Hyde so much that she asked if she could hug the two board members who changed their mind.
The board also agreed to attempt to bring back its attorney that it fired in May.
The three-member bloc of Gail Seaman, Brenda Ackley and Doug Needham had voted in January to reduce bookkeeper Deb Runyon’s hours to 20 per week, and then, in July, eliminated her job altogether as part of a budget-cutting move.
Supervisor Cynthia Hyde had repeatedly implored the board to reinstate Runyon — introducing resolutions at subsequent meetings to no avail. Hyde made one more impassioned plea Wednesday night, noting that the town cannot file necessary reports to the state Comptroller’s Office.
“We’ve spent hours getting last year caught up only to now be going backwards. Without a good bookkeeper that has enough time to keep the books current, we basically are going to have trouble even coming up with a budget,” she said.
“I cannot do it by myself. It’s impossible,” she added.
Runyon had been volunteering her time for free, but Hyde said she put her foot down and did not allow her to continue to do that.
Board member Joan Harris has a background in handling books for 27 years in business, and she said no business works without a bookkeeper.
Seaman was absent from the meeting, and Ackley and Needham were persuaded by Hyde’s argument and voted in favor.
“Can I hug Brenda and Doug now?” Hyde said. “Thank you guys. You’ve just done a tremendous service for this town. I’m just happy that we’re moving forward.”
Some residents expressed concern about the town’s financial situation. The July budget cuts were implemented because Thurman owes $300,000 to Glens Falls National Bank. The town had taken out a bond anticipation note in June 2017 to pay for a water system project. It was going to convert that to a regular bond before the BAN came due on July 1.
However, Hyde discovered the town failed to obtain approval from the Comptroller’s Office, which was required because 37 percent of the town’s assessed value is made up of state-owned land. Town officials had thought they were under the 30 percent threshold.
Resident Susan Shepler worried about the financial hit to the town in not paying the note, which is accumulating interest.
Resident Winnie Martin asked what Hyde’s plans were to resolve the issue.
Hyde said she is hoping that the state Legislature will reconvene this summer and take up a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, to grant retroactive approval to the town to borrow the money. Lawmakers adjourned in June before considering the legislation.
Martin said the hot issue in the Legislature was reauthorizing the use of red light traffic cameras in New York City. However, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he is going to go ahead with the program anyway.
“They’re not going to reconvene because of Thurman,” Martin said.
Hyde said she and Harris have spoken with the bank to see if they can pay just the interest.
Seaman, Ackley and Needham had voted last month to pay the bank, which has frozen the town’s account.
Hyde reiterated Wednesday that she has no intention of paying the whole $300,000 now.
“I could not abide by a resolution that wasn’t proper and legal,” she said.
Hyde said the bank is most concerned that that the town does not have an attorney.
The board in May voted 3-1 to fire the law firm of Miller, Mannix, Schachner and Hafner. Board members had asked attorney Mark Schachner what legal action it could take against the supervisor, who they said was not following the board’s orders. Schachner had said he could not make a legal opinion because he had to represent the whole board.
The board had advertised for a lawyer and received no bids. The board decided to see if Schachner’s firm would come back.
“We’ve got to have a lawyer. They see Thurman, they start laughing at us,” Needham said.
White space update
In other business, the town opened one bid to manage the white space internet system — from Fred Engelmann, the previous operator of the system. His bid asks for 50 percent of the revenues from the system.
Hyde said she hopes that Engelmann would be able to attract more subscribers, because there are only 14 now.
The board did not take action on Engelmann’s bid, because it wanted more time to review all the technical information.
Hyde said she was grateful for a productive meeting.
“I think this was a success, and I thank everybody out there and everybody up here,” she said.