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Residents Question Town Spending, Planning

Jerry Lieberman and David Schwartz hope to effect changes in the way our town is governed.

We all have busy lives and too much to do in too short a time. So I appreciate any residents willing to spend some of that valuable time voicing their beliefs of how to improve the community.

Jerry Lieberman and David Schwartz are two residents in point. Both travel extensively; have families and professional responsibilities and overcrowded schedules as a result. Yet both are taking the time to speak out, attend board meetings and write letters and e-mails to raise awareness and solutions to the serious issues they believe Harrison is facing.

Lieberman has lived in Harrison for 13 years and retired after a long career in finance. Schwartz has lived in Harrison for 11 years and is in commercial real estate development. Both men say they are concerned about what they view as the town’s reactionary responses to issues as opposed to strategic, comprehensive long-term planning.

Lieberman began speaking out about this issue about three years ago, sending 15-20 letters to then Mayor/Supervisor Joan Walsh.

“I was concerned about the upcoming financial crisis and wanted the mayor to think about the impact it was going to have on the town budget and to do a comprehensive financial plan to deal with it,” Lieberman said.

Despite his correspondence, Lieberman said he saw little result.

“I saw a salary freeze and us all having to to the street and that was the extent of the action taken,” he said.

Schwartz expressed the same concerns and has also attending budget meetings while corresponding with town officials.

“There has been a growing level of distress in town that needs to be addressed,” he said. “With constantly rising taxes residents are being forced to sell their homes in a bad market where they are taking a loss to move to somewhere less expensive. That’s just unacceptable.”

Schwartz and Lieberman were hopeful that the new administration under Mayor/Supervisor Ron Belmont would adopt a more strategic approach, but say they haven't seen many changes.

“We gave the new mayor and administration 100 days to see what they would do,” Lieberman said. “We sent the mayor a letter advising him of our concerns but as far as we can see, it’s just been business as usual with no change in thinking.”

The men say they are part of a growing rank and file among residents who share anger over the way the town is being governed.

“Wherever we go we hear the same anger among our neighbors and friends. Residents are demanding real and radical changes. They can no longer sit back and watch continued heavy tax increases as the value in their homes go down,” Lieberman explained.

Lieberman and Schwartz cite six issues they feel the administration needs to address immediately.

The first is the town’s union contracts that have been in negotiation for more than two years.

“There is no doubt that the biggest issue facing the town right now is our union contracts,” Schwartz said. “The healthcare and pension agreements we have are simply unsustainable. These contracts alone almost ensure continuing tax increases unless something is done.”

Both men said the unions are in no way responsible for the town’s economic woes, but hold that unions—as well as town officials—need to accept that we are facing new economic realities.

“There is nowhere in the private sector now that compares to the union healthcare provisions and it is just no longer viable,” said Schwartz. “In this new economic situation every item on every line needs to be revisited and the $10 million being spent on union healthcare is outrageous.”

Lieberman agrees, adding that the town healthcare benefits as a whole need to be addressed.

“Our board members and town attorneys need to lead by example. They should not be receiving health benefits for what amounts to part-time jobs. We need a results-oriented administration with accountability,” he said.

Lieberman and Schwartz say town leadership also needs to look at other major cost items including sanitation and the police force.

“We need to question each of these major cost items. Should a town of our size be in the sanitation business instead of giving it to professionals? We don’t know the answer to that, but neither do our board members," Lieberman said. "We need a professional study done by a sanitation engineer, so that real strategic decisions based on real dollar and cents can be made.”

Schwartz agrees, citing the board's overall support of a new without a completed capital budget for 2012. He said Councilman Joseph Cannella was the only person on the board who hesitated to bond the expense without knowing how much the town plans to spend in total this year.

“We cringed that the other council members of the board didn’t feel the same way," Schwartz said. "We don’t need to be the leading town in sanitation technology, we need to be the leading town in being the most efficient and well-run town in Westchester.”

Both men say the town should also have a comprehensive study done to determine whether to maintain our own police force or move to community policing, sharing costs with neighboring towns like Mamaroneck.

“We are not saying that having our own force is not the best answer," Lieberman said. "What we are saying is that this is a major taxpayer cost and the issue needs to be studied so we know the answer. We won't know until we look into it.”

Lieberman and Schwartz are also asking for a focused plan to deal with the town’s ballooning debt. They are concerned that the Town Board continues to run up  debt—including last month’s approval of just under a $1 million for summer maintenance—without a plan in place for its repayment.

“Our town is in poor financial health and debt has been run up with no game plan for paying it down over a set number of years,” said Schwartz. “This debt will eat us alive if not managed correctly.”

Schwartz uses the town's recent financial crisis as a clear example of our financial vulnerability. He added it's not necessarily the expenditures that have him concerned, it's that he hasn't heard of a finalized plan for how to pay for them.

“We have no financial cushion and we have just seen how vulnerable we are to rising interest rates," he said. "While we recognize that there need to be expenditures made, they need to be made with a plan for their repayment in place prior to the expenditure.”

Both men want to see the same level of planning in place for the revitalization of the downtown area and to attract and maintain our much-needed corporate presence.

“Both issues are talked about continuously and we see piecemeal action taken,” Schwartz said. “We need a comprehensive plan. Our downtown area has been struggling for years and now the tax grievances filed by large corporations are eroding our whole tax base. We have no plan in place to replace that erosion of the tax base. We are still on a very steep slope down and need to do something to turn it around.”

The men offered three suggestions for the town board. The first is to switch from reactionary, tactical thinking to strategic thinking and decision-making. The second is to make use of professional studies by consultants with specific knowledge applicable to the problems at hand. Their third suggestion is the employment of a professional town manager.

“We have reached a point in growth where we can no longer be administered by well-meaning laymen and women without the necessary skills and training,” said Lieberman. “We need a professional who has experience and training in all critical areas and who will be accountable to the taxpayers for the decisions they make.”

Both men have been invited to meet with town officials to air their concerns and say they are looking forward to making their concerns known and seeking real solutions. If those solutions are not forthcoming, Lieberman and Schwartz are prepared to take further action.

“We’re not going away,” said Schwartz. "Residents have seen their home values drop some 30 percent and we are just not going to keep forking out money to watch more of these decisions and their lack of results.”

Ada B Angarano May 24, 2012 at 12:02 PM
11 year and 13 year residents who are worried about our town taxes and spending, that is great but unfortunately had they not been in town long enough or they would be attacking our 'real' problem - the School Taxes which double our town tax! No one complains about where our tax dollars are really going, everyone just sits back and takes it! Don't compare money being spent to keep our town running instead of becoming rundown which is what happened under the previous administration..... Sorry but town needs fixing, now not later. Did anyone question Mr Wool or his board on the drug dealing maintanence man? When Dr Howard was fired when a maintenance man drove threw a school fence!!!!!!!! Get real Harrison, town taxes is not our issue, school admin & taxes are! And yes, I had lived here over 50 years, been there done that! Seen it all! There was a time when our PUBLIC schools were great like our town, they have both gone down the tubes over the years...................
Denise Di Biasi May 24, 2012 at 12:37 PM
uj: As far as the school taxes go, you will have to address the correct board: that would be the Board of Education. But, remember this: those taxes are voted on, not imposed upon us. If you are unhappy with them, VOTE and make sure your friends and neighbors know when the budget is to be voted on. Publicize the date! Believe me, if everyone in Harrison knew the date this year's budget was to be voted on, there would have been lines of citizens wishing to vote around the block.
Denise Di Biasi May 24, 2012 at 12:41 PM
OK. As mentioned, the new administration has only been in place for four plus months. Most of what was mentioned above has been a problem for years. You CANNOT expect these huge major changes to take place in few of months when it took four years to get to where we are now. It is like trying to lose 100 pounds in two weeks when it took years to gain the weight. Relax…breathe and see what happens. If you have lived in this town for any length of time and you have children, then you have to know that our current mayor was Director of Recreation for years: he developed one of the best recreation departments in the state. He had a budget and always kept within its boundaries. Do you (authors of the article above) realize that our recreation program ran for a year under Mayor Belmont’s supervision and he did this as a volunteer? He worked day and night to ensure the program not only continued but flourished. He did this without accepting a dollar in compensation. He volunteered his time to make sure that the summer concerts continued, that Little League remained the amazing organization it is, that the senior citizens program remained intact, and oversaw everything else that falls under the umbrella of the Department of Recreation. Give this administration time. You will not be disappointed. Rather than attack the government for what you do not like, see if there is anything you can do to support the different programs as concerned citizens.
Denise Di Biasi May 24, 2012 at 12:47 PM
So true, Ada. I have lived here for 34+ years. Our town does need serious help, and, it is getting it. But, as I commented below, this is not going to happen over night. It will take time, but, we will get there. We need to have support, not people going around to drum up what we already know. At least Ron is doing something about getting the ball rolling in the right direction. As for the schools & the schools taxes, that is another story all together. It is heartbreaking to see seniors having to sell their homes because they can no longer pay the taxes. Ugh! One day at a time. We will get there!
TheBullDog May 24, 2012 at 01:08 PM
The town stinks and so do the people running it past and present. Change? We don't get change, we just get different names to blame for the same problem... Change? We get no change...
Donna May 24, 2012 at 01:10 PM
When you privatize anything, you lose control. The private sanitation companies give the towns a great deal -- in the beginning. But after that, if you want a low bid, then you have to accept less service. I can see a private company limiting how much garbage you can put out. I'd really think about privatizing anything. Once you go that route, there is no returning back.
scared May 24, 2012 at 02:55 PM
It is so refreshing to see people stepping up to let the Town Board know how they feel and that they want to get some changes in place. I agree that the any Board should live be example from their own actions. The union contracts most defiantly need a professional negotiator to work on the behalf of the towns people not the workers that they know on a personal level. Get a new face into town to negotiate the contracts. The private sector can no longer keep up with the town and school taxes going up all the time. As an owner of a small business I see first hand how difficult it is to keep up. I felt like I was watching a group of big boys getting a new motorized toy the night the voted on the new garbage truck. Lets get back to basic services. I personally enjoyed having my garbage pick up from the back of my house and more important- I hate how it make Harrison look. Our small town look and and clean streets have become a
scared May 24, 2012 at 02:58 PM
look of the past. Now we line our streets with garbage bins 4 days out of seven and it looks like a horror. Like the two men in the article I have written several letters to past and present boards with no answers ever given. empty promises and no action.The fact that they are willing to yet again bond millions of dollars is going back to the time when Mr Malfitano was Mayor. Yes perhaps the get things done on a small level but we the tax payers of Harrison pays the ultimate price. Our new Chief of Police acts like we are such a crime written community and get what he wants by using the fear in people. Did we really need the new ugly and imposing cameras in the middle of town?Just a small example of overspending. I agree we need to look at the departments with a fresh set of eyes and ideas.A quick note to people agains the school taxes- Yes get informed and step up to the plate and do something yourself. You can make calls to your friends and have them make calls. Make a big sign and post it. Do not sit back and wait for others to do for you. It is about time people in this town starts getting involved themselves.The people that you are fighting has a well oiled machine with people,phone numbers ,emails and addresses in place- start your today. write down peoples names you talk to that agree with you and call them a few weeks before the voting. get a group started. There is a lot to do if you are fed up
douglas b. schaper May 24, 2012 at 02:59 PM
In Scarsdale is a home valued at 3.75MM; their taxes are $30K. My home is valued at 1.25MM, My taxes are 30K. Subtract county taxes, mine 5K theirs 15K, and we see Harrison town and school taxes are 4Xs what they are in Scarsdale. 105MM for 3000 students is insane. INSANE. The groups perpetrating this situation, Harrison Republican party and school board, are deeply entrenched and highly coordinated. Opposition is completely fragmented and therefore ineffectual. In greenwich is a home valued at 2MM. Their taxes are 8K. Have a great day.
grassroots May 24, 2012 at 03:25 PM
Two of the towns biggest expenses are the union contracts and the Healthcare plan they are currently paying for that is soo excessive compaired to that of the private sector.When is this stuff going to get renegotiated? I have two sanitation men that live on my street. they leave for work at 5:50am and return home by 11:00am.They complain that they are so shorthanded that they have to pickup leaf/clipping bags on Sat.I wouldn't be surprised if there getting overtime for Sat.This is crazy!!!!!!!
Denise Di Biasi May 24, 2012 at 03:32 PM
I agree with everything you said up to the part about how the Harrison Republican Party is contributing to our INSANE school taxes. You couldn't be any farther from the truth. And again, this is an issue to be brought to the school board. I know because I was there. I used to make the calls. The nonsense we told people about how our children's music would be dropped (someone would be tarred and feathered before that would ever happen) and other nonsense. You know, if our kids performed at a level worthy of these taxes, that would be one thing. However, as a whole, they do not. But, this is about apples and the article was about oranges.
grassroots May 24, 2012 at 04:07 PM
I see many complaints about school taxes and the BOE on this site.I went out in the rain last tuesday and voted NO for the school budget.I was one of only 600 and something that voted no against 1100+ that voted yes.Where are you people.???
Denise Di Biasi May 24, 2012 at 05:30 PM
Grassroots, if you do not have a computer, it is difficult to stay on top of things. Many people, seniors, the aging baby boomers do not use computers. Most do, but, many do not. There were hardly any signs (I did not see any where I live) telling people to vote for the school budget. If I am not mistaken, this one is adding more than 3% to our taxes. For those on a fixed income, that can be difficult to do. Scared made a great point: when speaking with people about town issues, expenses, taxes, etc., take their names and phone numbers so that you can call them and advise them about the vote. If everyone who voted (using 600 as a number ) called 20 people and they went to vote, that is a difference of 12,000 votes. Pretty impressive. Spread the word when it is time to vote. Then, pull out the list. I will do this. Anyone else up to the task?
J May 24, 2012 at 05:35 PM
These people are itemizing the town budget. They should look at their own tax bill the same. The town tax is not the problem its the school taxes, just like many of you have already said. Look at our surrounding towns, our taxes are significantly lower, than them, and they don't appear to be struggling. That tells me that past managements of our town are to blame. Now to solve this problem let's hurt the union workers who also live in the town, shop, etc. So the union employees carry the burden. This is not fair.
Ross Revira May 24, 2012 at 05:55 PM
Stop with this baloney that because you have lived in Harrison longer gives you any more credibility than someone who moved in yesterday. One could argue that the multi-generational residents have been the main reason for the financial condition and have made reform almost impossible. Residents should look in the mirror if they want someone to blame.
Ada B Angarano May 24, 2012 at 07:32 PM
Listen Ross, nobody said that life time residents are better in any way that non lifers, we are just stating that newcomers move into Harrison thinking that this was the way it's been forever, not farther from the truth! My argument is that life timers have lost their status and do not have a proper say on how the school system or town administration should be run........... Even though we have stuck it out our entire lives, never moving out of town just to return 20 years later to settledown, we are looked down on by people like you (who by the way have not one bit of backbone using a BLOG name not your real name). I have the right to speak my mind as does anyone else, we still have 'freedom of speech' I believe, but I really must object to "ALL" the BLOG nameless people who put in their 2 cents as it's not even worth that much! You may be from another town for all we know and have no business in these conversations what so ever! I'll end this with - it's the school taxes that are destroying this town more than the newly increased town taxes which have only gone up since the Walsh era, but the School Taxes (and Mr Wools's salary with his 5-year contract which is rewritten every year not every 5-years as it should be) have been going up astronomically since he became Superintendant. If you are indeed a Harrison resident & maybe even a lifer, you should look in the mirror and 'open' your eyes to what is really happening to this town. Enjoy your weekend!
ScorpioSr May 24, 2012 at 07:59 PM
Ross, I take exception to your rant. I have voted in every election in this town for 50 years, to no avail ! How am I and other long time residents to blame if our "no" votes on the budget mean nothing...and the budget gets voted in every year and our school taxes are out of control?
Ross Revira May 24, 2012 at 08:30 PM
Ada if you have been in Harrison for as long as you say than you know that town taxes have gone up quite a bit more than inflation well before the Walsh administration. The primary reason for Joan Walsh (an inept Supervisor) being elected was the out of control spending by her predecessor Steve Malfitano. If you average the yearly increases in taxes from Marraccini to Bianchi to Malfitano they were approximately 7 % or higher. It is no secret that the Republican Party owes its sucess to the town's employees and their families for votes. How could you ever expect a Republican majority to cut back on labor contracts. They would be cutting off the hand that feeds them.
uj May 24, 2012 at 08:41 PM
We are so proud of the excitement this article has stirred up with the citizens of Harrison. Every one of you are right in your thoughts ; now lets make a stand like we have done with our family generations before us. First and foremost form a committee that we can hire an attorney for the citizens of Harrison 's interest. That is let transparency rule the agenda and each line must be answered,questioned,scrutinized in writing by each level. We all agree that this is a bubble busting at its seems and just think for a moment about the audacity that Mr Wool receives 330 thousand dollars with no end in sight! As we have stated he makes almost as much as the Office of the President of the US. LET US HIRE LEGAL REPRESENTATION , WITH IMMUNITY FROM RETALIATION; AND LOWER OUR SCHOOL , UNION, AND OTHER PERKS.... JUST ASK YOURSELVES; CAN YOU GET AWAY WITH ALL THIS STUFF IN YOUR PRIVATE EMPLOY?
Ross Revira May 24, 2012 at 08:50 PM
Ada I agree that the school tax is the elephant in the room but beating up on Lou Wool and cutting his pay will solve nothing. 80 million dollars in the school budget is for employee compensation. The total administration expense is maybe 5 million dollars. The only way you will control taxes is by reducing teachers compensation and raising class size to the contracted limit of 25 per class. Presently it averages 17. Why is this never brought up? Is it easier to complain about Lou Wool who makes over $330,000 per year and does not even have a doctorate? I probably agree with you 80% of the time but I do not put blinders on when I see my friends destroying the town we both love. Get over where the message is coming from and listen for the truth in the message.
uj May 24, 2012 at 09:04 PM
WE try not to respond to any one comment;but the problem with the school is systemic,in that, your children,which may have all the true qualifications and credentials do not get the job in the hhs system;but the people with a "record" always some how get the good jobs there and it is the superintendents duty to protect our kids;not look the other way at some hires.....Its Lou Wool, yes with out a doctorate, who dictates to our administration in a very cunning way....never under estimate his power...Its Lou Wool who lets his teachers , who really do many great things, but the ones who have the "keys" to our childrens future in other ways,in the palm of there hand , can destroy that childs dream and financial hurt a family in higher education ..... Its the Lou Wools of the world , that must be watched, questioned etc when they have this ":extreme power" with children and teachers of our children. This includes the coaches there, we should have 'TERM LIMITS THERE TOO" The financial numbers you say are a great example of the lopsided views of both boards....Re read our other comments about attending the school board meeting and the town board meeting;;its like going to the A party or a B list party.................The citizens have the power and they are either too busy or gave up to fight any more..Thats why I would invest in a few thousand dollars to get all of our citizens a fighting chance to regain our dignity and truly make Harrison proud again.
Donna May 24, 2012 at 10:08 PM
While I agree that the town's medical program needs to be looked into, it appears as though you expect town workers to work for peanuts with little or no health insurance. Many of these workers live here -- they pay taxes too...No, I'm not a town employee or a relative. All I am saying is that these workers, including police and fire, affect your lives every day.
J May 25, 2012 at 02:37 PM
The truth is the economic world screwed the pooch and they are looking for the little people to pay for their mistakes. I'm really sorry that you can afford your 5 million dollar house anymore, but maybe you should have planned for times like these. Us civil servant dont/have never made the money you guys make/made. A lot live check to check in order to live in this area that we serve in and take pride in. So maybe you, who live in your million dollar homes should shout your mouths and pay for your mistakes! If you haven't realized this really strikes a nerve with me with q family of five on one income. My co-pays this last month with the great benifits that we have totaled to the sum of around 500 dollars this last month. Due to to surgeries, medications, and trips to the hospital.
Harrison @ Halstead May 25, 2012 at 09:27 PM
What we need to be "Scared" of as a community is people who give out misinformation. Fact: Town Board has yet to vote on the garbage truck. Fact: The ugly camera's will save us thousands of dollars toward fighting crime. Imagine if we had those camera's during the bank robberies and had camera's at all entry points of town. How would they have helped during the home invasions? Finally, if you don't know that the the school board elections are held EVERY YEAR in MAY you need to have your voting rights withdrawn because you aren't smart enough to cast a vote! The budget vote takes palce in EVERY Town, Village and most cities in the state on the third Tuesday of May for almost 75 years.
Harrison @ Halstead May 25, 2012 at 09:43 PM
Well Doug old boy, if your numbers are right why the hell are you still living in Harrison? It seems your saying your home is devalued and you paying too much in taxes. Doesn't sound like you’re a good investor. If I were you I'd be out of that house in no time flat. So many variables! When was the last time your home was reassessed and when was it done in Scarsdale? Stop comparing town to town. What are their total assesed value and what is Harrrison's. Don't just tell half the story to suite your point of view. You lose credibility with inteligent people when you only tell half the story. You are intentionally being misleading. Joan Walsh told us last year we were the second lowest taxed town in Westchester. Now Doug says we're to high. Please Doug, take the Meds.
Harrison @ Halstead May 25, 2012 at 09:58 PM
Leaf collection has been done in the fall on Staurdays for many, many years. Sometimes into the spring. They may be short handed but I think you should ask those guys what med plans were offered by the previous administration. I think you'll be surprised to learn that only a single proposal was made by them. By the time it was offered by Mr. Paladino, the company no longer could offer the same rates. So they NEVER came back to the table. STOP BLAMING THE EMPLOYEES! Three years and only one attempt by the previous adminisration to offer any kind of plan. And you heard Joan Walsh tell our community at a town board meeting saying "WE are so close." So close that they had nothing to offer. Every employee knew she was flat out lying! That's what the sanitation men on my street have just told me.
Harrison @ Halstead May 25, 2012 at 10:11 PM
Ross, we tend to agree but this time I don't. The reason Malfitano lost is 1100 less voters hit the polls in 2007 then in 2005. Malfitano beat Paladino by 1250 Votes. However in 2007 Joan got 112 more votes than Paladino but beat Malfitano by aroung 100. That means around 1100 voters didn't come out to the polls. The reason Malfitano lost was it rained in April and people didn't come out in November.
uj May 25, 2012 at 10:26 PM
We still are amazed of the words of our citizens. Lets try to have a small agenda ; have legal representation; and help Harrison to its full beauty. Yes if politicians can not do it in a certain period of time albeit roadblocks they get from any angle;then its simple fix. We unite for real, and help us out of this mess. Yes privatize sanitation,why you ask its economics; some of these people are really terribly we sadly admit;look around town pails thrown , damage to our property, stuff 'not" picked up ,and the best they pick up same type of stuff at "the old gangs" homes. Listen to all of us its change we need in the workforce starting with pensions,comp time,unions,healthcare, and other perks.You watch , when they have to 'PAY" OUT OF THEIR POCKETSFOR THE SERVICES THEY WILL REALIZE WHAT THEY HAD AND WAS TAKEN FOR GRANTED......The bigger picture are the SCHOOLS WHY IS THAT???WELL LOOK AT EACH LINE.....THATS OUR BIGGEST HURDLE;YET NO ONE STOPS THE RUN AWAY TRAIN..........FOCUS ON THAT AND WE CAN HAVE ALL THE BELLS AND WHISTLES FOR OUR EMPLOYEES OF THE TOWN......WE PREDICT , ONCE THE EMPLOYEES AND UNIONS CONCEDE THEN YOU WILL SEE THESE CITIZENS "AWAKEN" TO THE HIGHEST SCHOOL EXPENSE BUDGET IN THE COUNTRY!!!!!!!!!!!!
Ross Revira May 25, 2012 at 10:53 PM
If you listen to the conversation you would think that Harrison is made up of the wealthy on one side of I 95 and the municipal workers on the Downtown side plus Silver Lake. If Harrison does not get it's fiscal house in order the losers will not be the wealthy. By virtue of their wealth they have the greater ability to pack up and move anytime they want. The majority of Downtown and Silver lake is made up of solid middle class families, both blue and white collar working in private industry. Many of these residents have family members who work for the town which is why they are reluctant to buck the system for fear of hurting their relatives. It is these people who will have a hard time to continue to live in Harrison when they retire. Nobody wants to balance the budget on the backs of the municipal workers but these same workers have to realize that many people in town have less family income and considerably less medical and pension benefits. As for taxes paid many people think Harrison's are significantly less then neighboring towns. This is only true if you are living in an older home that has not a revaluation since the 1930's. If you live in a home built in the last 20 years your taxes are as high as Rye without the resale value.
Ross Revira May 25, 2012 at 10:53 PM
The two gentleman who want to help the town government get their fiscal house in order would be better served if they also look at the wasteful spending of the school district especially the over staffing of teachers. School taxes make up 75 % of the total tax bill.

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