Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Alternatives to no NYC Mass Transit

Recently on a trip to Washington DC I had the pleasure of reading Amtrak's Arrive magazine. The issue had an article by Vice President Joe Biden who wrote about train travel and it's importance to our country's future. One particular section stood out:

"Consider if you shut down Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, it is estimated that to compensate for the loss, you'd have to add seven new lanes of highway to Interstate 95. When you consider it costs an average of $30 million for one linear mile of one lane of highway, you see what a sound investment rail travel is."
This reminded me of a blog post, by the Fruminator, who ran the math on what would be needed to replace NYC subway's morning rush hour with cars and parking.

It's staggering.

Makes you think twice about how mass transit is funded.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Power of the free market in East Hampton Village

East Hampton Village owns 13 beach houses right on the Atlantic Ocean. For a long time these were rented out to a core group of people who were able to re-rent each year. This year the Village decided to auction off the rentals. 27East.com covered the auction.

Here's the math:

Expected rent $516,000 (4% annual increase included)
Actual rent from auction $827,000

60% more rental income

13 units for rent
24 bidders

Imagine if this auction had been handled on eBay?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Shop-Vac to the rescue - How not to unclog a shower drain

Getting ready to go out tonight for dinner I find myself showering and the drain is really slow. This is kind of odd since put I Drano down about a week ago and it seemed to run smooth. I asked Diana to bring the plunger, I plunge, it only gets worse.

It's not draining at all and I have a nice broken blister on the palm of my plunging hand.

All kinds of nasty stuff is coming back up, we're no longer headed to dinner and it's a disaster.

Emergency plumber called, sketchy guy calls back. I tell him he's not coming over. Out of Drano.

Time to try my Shop-Vac, first I jam the hose down the drain and suck the water up. Maybe the suction will pull whatever is in the drain up and out. No dice - still not draining.

Next it's reverse the hose and take a wet wash cloth to wrap the hose end and try to blow the clog down. That does the trick. It's draining like never before.

Swab some Manuka honey on my broken blister, nice burning sensation, and I'm good to go.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

East Hampton Town Budget Mess Select Quotes From New York State Comptroller's Audit Report

I recently downloaded the New York State Comptroller's audit of East Hampton Town. It's a long read, but with a quick email to my Kindle I was able to read and select some choice paragraphs for your reading pleasure. This stuff is mind bending, most people in the private sector would get fired for operating in this manner.

Budgeted Appropriations – We analyzed appropriations and expenditures for the 2004 through 2007 fiscal years and found that Town officials significantly underestimated appropriations for police department personal service costs and employee benefits. During this four-year period, expenditures for police salaries and employee benefits exceeded appropriations by a total of approximately $5.9 million.
The Town’s budget officer did not provide the Board with cash flow schedules or periodic trial balances showing current financial condition. Further, the budget officer did not give the Board complete monthly budget reports for either revenue accounts or appropriations accounts. Thus, Board members were not adequately aware of the serious nature of the Town’s fiscal stress.
The Town’s independent public accountant did not prepare and present timely annual financial reports to the Board. For example, the audited annual financial reports for the 2006 and 2007 fiscal years were not presented to the Town until December 2007 and March 2009, respectively. The Board received these reports too late to be useful in developing realistic budgets based on reliable data.
We found that wire transfers totaling almost $8.5 million were made by unauthorized employees without documentation, using photocopies of signed approval forms.
We found the Supervisor’s signature plate was not physically secure. Instead, the signature plate, along with the two keys required to use it, sat in the check signing machine in the budget office, unattended and usable by all Budget Office employees. When we told the budget officer that his signature plate was unprotected, he put the plate and keys in an open safe, still accessible to anyone who worked in the office.
Two contracts totaling $2.3 million were awarded without competitive bidding, and professional services totaling $2.4 million were obtained without using competitive proposals. Further, the Town paid almost $73,000 for services from a company owned by a Town employee’s spouse. The employee did not disclose her interest in this contract, as required by GML and the Town’s code of ethics.
Further, because the Town has not evaluated the terms of these contracts, it has not increased its 15-cent per gallon flow through charge that was set in 1993 when aviation fuel cost about $1 per gallon. Therefore, the FBOs, who made approximately $2 profit per gallon of fuel they sold to customers in 2008, paid only 7 percent of this profit to the Town. 
During our audit period, the Town paid on average, approximately $2.70 per gallon for aviation fuel. If the Town received the same percentage of the purchase price that it received in 1993, the Town would have collected nearly $372,000 in 2007 – $248,000 more than it actually received. Because the Town has not evaluated and adjusted the terms of FBO contracts, it has not optimized the revenues it could be earning from its airport operations.
• For example, the Town made 23 payments to the general contractor of the Justice Court project totaling $1,820,841, but only eight of the claims, totaling $616,073, were available for review at the Town. Town officials could not locate claim vouchers for the remaining 15 payments, totaling $1,204,768.
During June 2008, we reviewed the access rights of 21 individuals who were listed as active employees working for one of the following departments: budget office, purchasing, personnel and town clerk. We found that four of the 21 individuals were actually former employees (two from purchasing, one from personnel and the former Deputy Budget Officer). Although all these individuals had left Town service prior to August 2007 – and the former personnel employee had left in August 2004 – two of their user accounts were still being used to access the system and enter data. For example, the former Deputy Budget Officer left Town employment on July 27, 2007, but his user account was used to access the IT system until April 1, 2008. The user account for the purchasing employee, who left Town service December 18, 2006, was still used to access the system until January 2, 2008. We were told that purchasing employees and budget office employees used the accounts of these former employees. However, neither we nor Town officials know whether other individuals accessed the system using these accounts.