New Role At Board Of Supervisors Brings Increased Impact On All County Residents’ Lives
BALLSTON SPA – Matthew E. Veitch is beginning his fourth two-year term as Saratoga County Supervisor, one of two supervisors representing the City of Saratoga Springs. Each year, the board elects new officers and for 2014, he was elected vice-chairman.
As such, he will assume the chair the board of supervisors’ important law and finance committee, which renders an advisory opinion on virtually every matter that involves any expenditure of county money.
He also will have primary responsibility for the preparation of the county’s 2015 budget and is chairman of the board of supervisors’ agenda meeting. By rule, given that he will not face re-election, he is also in a direct line to become 2015’s chairman of the board.
All told, this means he is in an increased position to have an impact on every Saratoga County resident’s lives. We sat down at a local coffee shop to discuss the workings of county government and to gain some insights as to some of the things he hopes to achieve in this increased capacity.
How does the process of being elected to the chair and vice-chair work? Is it a true election akin to running for office?
MV: Yes and no. There is an actual vote to ratify officers, but unlike a general public election there are different rules in which seniority controls. The chairman is the most senior member of the majority party (Republican), who has not previously served as chair. In this case, Malta Supervisor Paul Sausville was elected to that post. The vice-chairman is the second most senior supervisor who also has the most time served as a member of the seven-person law and finance committee. I was appointed to that committee three years ago.
What are some of the major areas that the Law and Finance committee has primary responsibility for?
MV: The county budget itself is passed at the end of the previous year. Law and Finance renders an advisory opinion on any budget amendment after that, and can modify an amount it recommends if it feels an adjustment is called for. This committee is responsible for all rules and regulations, oversight of the county sewer district and outside standing agencies. We also oversee donations to not-for-profit agencies as they occur, and as needed screen and interview candidates for personnel vacancies for department head level and above (non-civil service positions.)
In your new role, you have primary responsibility for the preparation of the 2015 budget. When does the process begin, and how does the timetable to passage play out?
MV: We begin in July, with a survey of all department heads for their requests, and work on this into October. We generally release the preliminary budget in late October, shortly before Election Day. While I intend to keep an eye on and be involved in each request, I also will rely on County Administrator Spencer Hellwig and Management Analyst Ryan Moore for their expertise. In November, law and finance holds a meeting to take any recommended adjustments to personnel by the county’s Personnel Director, and other special changes as needed. In early December, the Board of Supervisors holds a budget workshop and we adopt our budget at the Board’s last meeting of the year.
Looking ahead to the 2015 budget, what would you like to see accomplished?
MV: First of all, I have to give credit to my predecessors. We had some rough budget years in the past, but the measures that they have taken, including the sale of Maplewood Manor, the county landfill and the setting up for a new strategic economic plan, has put us in great shape going forward. Assuming the economy stays the way it is, we should have some extra revenue to develop in ways that will be beneficial and visible to all county residents.
The first thing I hope will happen is for us to refund our open space activities, which had to be defunded during lean times. I don’t expect to fund it to the previous high level it once was, but reestablish it. Second, I hope to develop a new county trail grant program, in which all towns could competitively submit projects for the county’s support.
I’d also like to see support for a county wide green initiative, in conjunction with our buildings and grounds committee. This takes many forms- from looking at ways to save on energy by removing some of the excess florescent lighting in county buildings, putting high-efficiency LED lighting in our parking lots. We should look at the feasibility of establishing a solar park somewhere on county land. It would be great if we could take the county buildings off the grid, perhaps return some surplus. It would be an investment and a long-term project, but I’ve never been against spending money if there’s a strong potential for a payback to us.
The biggest goal I would like to shoot for, given a good budget year for 2015, is to not increase taxes, which was necessary the past three years. I’m hopeful and optimistic.
How will you involve your colleagues, either from rural towns unlike Saratoga Springs, or from the other party?
MV: I’ve always been of the belief that a good idea doesn’t come from one side or another. Show me a good idea, and I’ll back it.
You just had your first agenda meeting. How did it go?
MV: We were out in six minutes. I got a lot of compliments about that!