Supervisor's Columns

To contact Supervisor Tom Flaherty directly, please visit:  Contact the Supervisor


February 20, 2020:

Last week, I got the opportunity to drive "shotgun" for an hour and half in one of the town of Webster's plow trucks. No matter how much I pleaded with Joe Herbst, Webster's Highway Superintendent, he would not let me drive. For that, all Webster citizens owe a thank you to Joe. The experience was "eye opening" to say the least. I got a perspective of what these talented plow truck drivers have to navigate within the effort to keep our roads clear of snow.

I drove with Tony on a sub division route. At some point in the future I hope to do a main road route. Some things I learned about Webster sub divisions is that there are currently 271 lane miles that need to be plowed. Within these 271 miles, there are 194 cul de sacs. Each cul de sac accounts for 0.2 lane miles. Therefore there are approx. 39 lane miles of cul de sacs out of the total 271 lane miles in the sub divisions or about 15%. Now here is the kicker.... the cul de sacs take about 50% of the time to make one plow run on all 271 lane miles in the sub divisions. Joe Herbst wants to be able to do one plow run of the sub divisions FASTER than his crew currently does it. If they do it faster, it saves the town money, makes the roads clear of snow quicker, and assures our drivers are not overworked. So how do we achieve the goal of doing a plow run faster? To me, the answer is one of two things; 1. find more efficient ways to plow when factoring in the cul de sac challenge, or 2. "Throw money at the problem" and buy more plow trucks, hire more plow drivers, etc.

Bottom line...… I don't like the answer of "throw more money at it". I did not like it as CEO in private industry and I certainly don't like it as Town Supervisor with the fiduciary responsibility to safeguard town funds and try to keep taxes low to its citizens. I feel trying to find ways to become more efficient is ALWAYS the first thing we should look at. I used the plowing example and the cul de sac challenge because in my first 50 days in office, I have seen several such challenges in almost ALL of the Town government departments where "Throw money at it" versus become more efficient needs to be assessed. I feel like we always need to exhaust strategies to become more efficient before resorting to spending money. Luckily, I have experienced town department heads who share in this philosophy. They understand that "throwing more money at the challenge" is not the first option, and often many not be an option at all. Webster citizens can be assured, the department heads and I are aligned in our efforts to improve services to the town while not spending more money while doing it if the opportunity for increased efficiency can be found.

February 12, 2020:

One of the main things I have been introduced to in my first 6+ weeks as Supervisor is the structure of the Webster Village government and the services they provide to approx. 6,000 village residents. Within that structure, there is a unique relationship with Webster Town government and the services the town provides to the approx. 46,000 residents. To me, the "uniqueness" is 3-fold;

The first is that The 6,000 village residents are included in the 46,000 town residents. In such, many services provided by the town are provided to village residents. In such, when Town government is discerning decisions that will be voted on by the town board, the village residents will most likely be affected by those decisions as they are town citizens too

The second is that when the Village government is discerning decisions that will be voted on by the village board, the 6,000 village residents no doubt will be affected by those decisions, but the 40,000 citizens of the town NOT living in the village most likely will not "directly" be affected.... but may have some "indirect" effect.

The third is that on paper what makes the MOST sense for the 46,000 citizens of Webster is that the Town and Village governments should work as collaboratively and harmoniously as possible for the good of the WHOLE community, while navigating the challenge that the two governments operate independently of each other. From the papertrails I have reviewed on several topics and stories I have been told by both town and village officials and citizens..... the history of the town and village has NOT always gone as collaboratively and harmonious as the ideal would have it. Perceptions become reality in people's minds, even if the fact pattern does not support those perceptions

Over the next 2-3 months, the 46,000 citizens of Webster today, and 20+ years from now will be directly affected by the town and and village government's decision on Sewers in this community. Simply said.... the Village government will vote on whether to continue on with their own sewer plant, or whether to join with the town on a regional/consolidate sewer plant. Mayor Byerts, Deputy Mayor Ippolito, Deputy Supervisor Cataldi and myself have been meeting the past month within the effort to work collaboratively and harmoniously for the good of the whole community on this issue. My goal in this process is to make sure the town and village have the facts on the dollars and cents of the 2 options the village government will ultimately vote on. As we progress in this process, we will "increase to number of people" in these meetings beyond the 4 of us. Already we have met with engineering firms who have conducted studies at town and village expense in the past 2-3 years so that we could get an understanding and agreement on the dollars and cents they came up with from their paid for studies. Our next endeavor will be to meet with the DEC and the State grant and financing agency to get facts on what the 2 options would mean to them. By March, The Mayor, deputy mayor, deputy supervisor and me need to determine how many more people to expand these meetings to. Since the village government is making the vote, Deputy Supervisor Cataldi and I will defer a lot of that decision to Mayor Byerts and Deputy Mayor Ippolito as to how many of the 6,000 village citizens should be included in this vetting and discernment process.

In summary, I am an accountant by trade so I am biased. almost 100% of the time, consolidation makes more dollars and cents sense today and 20 years from now than 2 separate entities. However, I am keeping an open mind to the facts as them come in from engineers, DEC, state finance and grant agencies etc. Also, even though I am new to this process, I am sensitive to the NON dollars and cents aspect to this decision by village government that may influence the decision. I do have trust in the Village government that they will make a fiduciary decision based on the present and future of the community and not on what has happened in the past.


February 5, 2020:

I'm a self proclaimed "data junky". I went to college for Accounting and then was in some form of a financial business for the past 30+ years. In such, I came to depend on data as both a) being facts and b) thus being foundational to decision making. Data can also be misleading if not looked at from all sides. For example, saying that you attended 100% of the board meetings this year when there has only been one meeting is not really statistically relevant.

With the spirit of data in mind, I'd like to tell you some of the things I have learned the past year campaigning and now being in the Supervisor position about our great town of Webster! The town is 35 square miles and has approx. 45,000 people. Therefore there is approx. 1,300 people per square mile. For a point of comparison, Irondequoit has 51,000 people and is 17 square miles or approx. 3,000 people per square mile. There are 31,000 registered voters. Approx. 1/3 of them are registered Republican, 1/3 Democrat and 1/3 unaffiliated or other party. 13,000 people voted in the November 2019 election or approx. 42% of all registered voters actually voted. I'd like to think that the early voting opportunities now available to webster residents will increase voter participation in 2020 and beyond. I think we all can agree that maximizing voter participation is a good thing. Hard for me to hear a citizen complain about something and then find out they did not vote.

I was surprised to find out that 76% of the November 2019 13,000 voters were over 50 years old. My surprise comes from the fact that there are approx 8,500 students in the Webster school system and about 6,500 live in Webster. I have not done a deep dive on this, but I felt it safe to assume that the majority of these 6,500 student's parents are UNDER 50 years old. I sure hope they vote!

The 2020 town annual budget is approx. $30 million. That's the money we have to provide the services to the 45,000 townspeople such as sewers, highway department, etc. Of that, approx. $30 million, half comes from real estate taxes, and the other half from federal, state, county monies, other taxes such as sales, mortgage, and fees. The approx. $15 million collected in taxes is spread over an aggregate assessment of $3 billion on 17,000 tax parcels of which approx. 12,000 are people's residences. The simple math of $15 million taxes needed from $3 billion in aggregate assessment means about $5 per thousand. So, if your house is assessed for $200,000, the town portion of your real estate tax bill is about $1,000.

There are a lot more data points I have picked up in these past few months, but I'll conclude at this point before I have you all fall asleep from reading this. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have on the data points I presented in this article

January 29, 2020:

One of the things I truly believe in is that "you are part of the problem or part of the solution". I used to tell the staff at my company that there was no talent in pointing out the problem, but that talent lies in proposing some solutions to the problem. WIth that in mind, I have been blown away by home many boards, committees, associations and clubs there are in Webster. The people on these boards and committees are giving their time, talent, and treasure to several causes. They by definition are "part of the solution". I would welcome getting a chance to meet all of these organizations. It gives me the chance to learn more about their mission and it gives them a chance to query me on things important to them to see where we match up.

The more involved the citizens are in a community, the better the community. Involvement in various organizations usually results in participants understanding that facts drive good decision making, and opinion drawing. They tend to be more understanding of other organization's challenges based on what they have experienced with their own, and less apt to just blindly accept as unequivocal truth a rumor they heard. The social media society we live in has wonderful aspects to it in the access to information we now all have. One of the unfortunate by products of this is that anyone can be a "keyboard, faceless warrior/troll" and put rumor and statements out to the world that are not based in fact and have them accepted by many as fact. Before social media, such people either were not heard, or if heard it was by a few people at the corner bar or diner and most likely the person was not take that seriously. Now that person's vitriol can be seen and heard by thousands and potentially drive decision making and opinion drawing. Very scary.

As previously stated, good decisions and opinion drawing are based in facts. The keyboard warrior/troll poisons the well to being able to make good decisions and draw opinions. My experience has been that involved people who are giving their time, talent and treasure to various causes tend to not be these keyboard warriors/trolls, and they also are not as willing to accept their bombastic statements as fact. In summary, if you're already involved, THANK YOU! If you are not involved, please consider doing so. It is so rewarding for both the community and you personally. Finally... please reach out to me to have me as a guest at your organization's meeting.

January 22, 2020:

My friends and family have been asking me how the first couple weeks on the job have been going. My answer has been "challenging.... and pleasantly surprising". The challenging aspect has been that the position is robust as it pertains to all you need to know to be effective. To me, being effective means you support and advocate on behalf of the organizations employees and customers. The town of Webster has 45,000 customers in the form of its citizens. Between full and part time, the town has approx. 200 employees operating under more than a dozen departments. Bottom line... it is incumbent on me to learn and absorb all aspects of the position of Town Supervisor as quickly as possible so that my effectiveness can be sooner than later.

The pleasantly surprising aspect has been in what I have encountered with the department heads and employees of the town. The stereotype of government employees not having some of the characteristics of private industry employees could not be further from the truth in Webster. I've found several of the department heads to be type A personalities who work way more than 40 hours a week, own their department with the pride and attention to detail commensurate with high success individuals. These people would be successful in any line of work including had they chosen entrepreneurial business ownership. I cannot emphasize how critical that is to my potential success in the position of Town Supervisor. In any organizational structure, if the CEO, General, or whatever title is on top has great leaders, department heads, great things can be achieved. The top of the organizational chart has a lot to do with the culture that evolves at the organization. However, that person at the top can only do so much and if the department heads don't genuinely buy in to the culture, it will not happen. I'm very excited at what I have seen so far and feel confident great things will happen in 2020 and beyond for Webster.

Something i found on the campaign trail in 2019 and has continued to manifest itself since I was elected in November and took office in January is that there are a lot of talented citizens in Webster who have conveyed to me they want to help their hometown out. I want to tap into these people's talent and enthusiasm for the greater good of the town today and the future. I'm new to the position and still vetting how such citizens can be involved. Some of it is easy to assess as there are boards and committees they can be appointed to. However, I think there is an opportunity for several ad hoc committees to evolve in the future to research topics that are hot buttons to the town. A potential example of this would be an adhoc committee to research and make recommendations to the town board on amending zoning laws that have been in affect in some instances over 40 years. Webster and the world in general is very different in 2020 than it was in 1980. Do some of the zoning laws put in place in 1980 that made sense then not make sense in 2020?

As the saying goes, "Rome was not built in a day". I'm anxious to move forward with ideas and plans for Webster. I have also learned over the years that I need to be measured in that. I need to continue to learn from the great department heads Webster has. every day brings a something new I learn that will be foundational to any plans ultimately proposed. I promise you all I will continue to be a sponge and get in a position of being efective as soon as possible.

January 15, 2020:

As a 54 year old husband, father of 7, and business owner the past 25 years, I have seen a lot. The past year of campaigning for and now being the Webster Town Supervisor has accentuated something I am very familiar with. That being that "various forms of misinformation or being devoid of information" is the biggest hurdle to effective communication, decision making and/or determining one's opinion.

As I met with Webster citizens the past year, I found that many had a perception that Webster Town Government was not being transparent. The more I looked into it, the more I started to understand how that perception could be just a "form of misinformation/devoid of information". Now don't get me wrong, one thing I learned a long time ago is that you don't argue against perceptions by defending what you did in the past. You CHANGE perceptions by what you DO in the present and future. Hopefully this column can act as a start to that change

At the top of Webster Town Government is the 5-person Town Board. As Town Supervisor, I am one of those board members. We minimally meet 24-times a year for regular board meetings, on the 1st and 3rd Thursday of each month. These meetings are open to the public and are in the Town Board meeting room in the courts building behind town hall. These meetings are also by law given public notice by publishing in the local newspaper. (I.e. the Webster Herald) ALL decisions made by the board occur at such meetings including resolutions, ordinances, and laws. Based on the last 3-4 sentences.... Webster town government IS transparent. So why the perception it is not?

The first challenge is that the "relatively universal" law of publishing/posting government meetings in a local newspaper was adopted when newspapers were the main means of citizens consuming information. Reality is that in 2020, "print media" is having its challenges as other digital means of information consumption become more utilized by people. I'm not certain the current subscription levels of the Webster herald, but my guess is that a minor percentage of the approximate 45,000 citizens in town and 31,000 registered voters subscribe and/or read the "print version". That can lead to a majority of the population being "devoid" of the information about Webster Town government notices and just how accessible and transparent it can be.

One thing I learned as a CEO of a company was that you have to accommodate the demands of the customer base. Where I may like having a print version to read my news (which in fact I do cuz I'm old school) I have to be aware that a majority of people may not and want it in some digital form. I don't foresee the posting/publication laws changing any time soon from newsprint, However, as Supervisor, I will work to make sure that an expansion of these postings will be done in a variety of digital ways so that a majority of the townspeople will know when these town board meetings are, and what topics will be discussed at them.