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There’s a $16.7 Million Mistake in the Sweden Town Budget

Math Midway, Rochester Museum & Science Center
Math Midway, Rochester Museum & Science CenterMath Midway, Rochester Museum & Science Center

It’s strange but true; there is a $16,729,200 mistake in the 2013 Sweden Town Budget, published on the town website.

It’s actually two mistakes on the Exemption Summary page of the budget, a $7.73 million mistake in the COMIDA tax exemption numbers and an $8.99 million mistake in the Business Exemption numbers.

It’s a classic garbage in, garbage out situation, because the numbers published by the Town Financial Director on the town website don’t even remotely match the numbers for the same items published by the Town Assessor the same website.

A Simple Math Test
Here’s a simple math test that illustrates just how messed up the Budget and Assessment numbers are in the Town of Sweden, and how weak the math skills of the Town Council members are.

How much is 3.5 + 0.5 + 2.0?
a) 6.0
b) 13.8

The correct answer is (a) 6.0.

But somehow, the members of the Sweden Town Council choose answer (b) 13.8.

It is their job to review and approve the budget, and yet they signed off on that mistake. That’s pretty stunning, but it’s true.

The multi-million dollar in the budget were discovered Saturday when a math professor compared the Exemption Summary in the 2013 Sweden Town Budget to the data on tax exemptions released by the Town of Sweden in response to a FOIL request.

There are only 3 properties in Sweden that got the COMIDA exemption in 2013: The Hampton Inn and two Professional Buildings.

The Hampton Inn got a $3,476,000 assessment reduction, the Professional Building on West Avenue got a $440,700 assessment reduction, and the Professional Building on Fourth Section Road got a $2,160,000 assessment reduction.

Simple enough: 3.5 + 0.5 + 2.0 = 6.0; and $3,476,000 + $440,700 + $2,160,000 = $6,076,700.

But according to the Exemption Summary on the last page of the budget, the three COMIDA tax exemptions were worth $13,812,300. The budget is available online at: http://townofsweden.org/pdf/finance/2013_tentative-budget.pdf

The data about those three COMIDA grants is readily available on the town website in the Final Assessment Roll 2013. It’s online at: http://townofsweden.org/pdf/assessor/Final-Assessment-Roll-2013.pdf

So it is easy for the Town Council members to check the numbers.

All you have to do is open the document and search for the word COMIDA. And then compare the Full Market Value to the Town Taxable Value for each of the three properties.

Hampton Inn
4873 Lake Rd
Full Market Value: $3,476,000.00
Town Taxable Value: $0.00
Assessment Reduction
2013 = $3,476,000.00

465 Prof. Bldg.
6668 Fourth Section Rd
Full Market Value: $2,160,000.00
Town Taxable Value: $0.00
Assessment Reduction
2013 = $2,160,000.00

465 Prof. Bldg.
375 West Ave
Full Market Value: $440,700.00
Town Taxable Value: $0.00
Assessment Reduction
2013 = $440,700.00

Two of the properties are even listed on the same page, so it only takes a few minutes to check the amount of the COMIDA tax exemptions.

But it is pretty obvious that no one on the Town Council ever bothered to check.

There are 35 different types of exemptions listed in the Budget, and the COMIDA exemptions have the 4th highest Exemption Amount. But no one on the Town Council bothered to check and verify that the budget numbers were even remotely correct.

That is disgraceful.

Brockport is a college town, and SUNY Brockport is a State run institution, so all of its land is tax exempt.

That’s the way it is in a college town, so there’s no sense in whining about it. But that’s exactly what Councilwoman Windus-Cook did at the last town council meeting, and the other members of the town council sat there and didn’t say a word.

Past and present members of the Town Council blame the County and State for the fact that 49.9% of the property is tax-exempt and that 21.7% of the properties in Sweden receive some type of tax exemption.

But they can’t even add three simple numbers together and get the correct answer.

The accounting is sloppy. The numbers published on the town’s website by the town’s Financial Director, Leisa Strabel, do not match the numbers published on the same website by the town’s Assessor Tony Eaffaldano.

According to the town’s 2013 Adopted Budget published by Strabel, 3 properties received COMIDA tax exemptions worth $13,812,300.

But according to the Final Assessment Roll 2013 published by Eaffaldano, those 3 properties received COMIDA tax exemptions worth only $6,076,700.

That is a $7,735,600 discrepancy that none of the members of the Town Council caught.

It gets worse.

The numbers in the spreadsheets released by Eaffaldano, in response to a FOIL request about tax exemptions, contain a third entirely different set of numbers that do not match either the numbers in the budget or the numbers in the Final Assessment Roll 2013.

But if you compare those numbers to the budget numbers, the problem grows from a $7,735,600 discrepancy into a $9,257,790 discrepancy.

Another Simple Math Test
The other discrepancy involves the 485-B Business Exemptions granted by Town Assessor Tony Eaffaldano.

Here’s another math test to illustrate just how weak the math skills of the Town Council members are.

How much is 9,000,000 +5,000,000+ 400,000 + 220,000+300,000 +500,000+ 20,000?

a) $15,411,130.
b) $6,417,530

Again, the correct answer is (a) $15,411,130.

It is a pretty easy test: the first number you have to add is larger than answer (b), so the answer must be answer (a). But somehow, the members of the Sweden Town Council choose answer (b) $6,417,530.

According to the town’s 2013 Adopted Budget published, 7 properties received Business Exemptions worth $6,417,530.

But according to the Final Assessment Roll 2013, those 7 properties received Business Exemptions worth $15,411,130.

That is an $8,993,600 discrepancy that none of the members of the Town Council caught.

Abbott's Frozen Custard
4599 Lake Rd
Full Market Value: $67,200
Town Taxable Value: $46,760
Assessment Reduction
2013 = $20,440.00

Classy Chassy Car Wash
4653 Lake Rd
Full Market Value: $351,000
Town Taxable Value: $132,500
Assessment Reduction
2013 = $218,500.00

Lakeside Quality Building
5954 Brockport Spencerport Rd
Full Market Value: $523,500
Town Taxable Value: $177,635
Assessment Reduction
2013 = $345,865.00

Lowe's
300 Owens Rd
Full Market Value: $8,308,800
Town Taxable Value: $3,408,800
Assessment Reduction
2013 = 4,900,000.00

Sonbyrne Sales (gas station)
5550 Brockport Spencerport Rd
Full Market Value: $801,300
Town Taxable Value: $267,975
Assessment Reduction
2013 = $533,325.00

Tim Horton's
6573 Fourth Section Rd
Full Market Value: $573,000
Town Taxable Value: $174,000
Assessment Reduction
2013 = $399,000.00

WAL-MART
6265 Brockport Spencerport Rd
Full Market Value: $13,698,300
Town Taxable Value: $4704,300
Assessment Reduction
2013 = $8,994,000.00

It is obvious that the members of the Town Council never checked and verified the numbers in the budget, even though that is part of the job they get paid to do.

The data for these two critical tax exemptions from the Financial Director and from the Assessor do not match. In fact the numbers are not even remotely close, except in the number of properties that received the tax exemptions.

No wonder the members of the Sweden Town Council don’t have a clue what’s going on with tax exemptions.