by Terry Duffy
Prior to the Town Board's reconvening of what became two very brief public hearings, Town of Lewiston Supervisor Steve Reiter announced that Lewiston had addressed the main sticking issue with its 2012 budget - the $70 per household Modern Disposal refuse fee.
Soon after, the Town Board moved to adopt the $15.6 million plan for 2012. It featured some reworked funding that enabled the town to remove the unpopular refuse fee item and the possibility of Lewiston having to approve a 2 percent tax cap override in order to pay for it.
"We have sufficient funds to pay down expenses from Modern Disposal," Reiter announced. "I feel we have sufficient funds to cover this. We don't have to override the 2 percent tax cap."
With that the town then closed the hearing in consideration of the tax cap override. It followed with a brief hearing on the budget itself.
Leading off, Town Finance Director Michael Johnson said that thanks to alternatives the town was able to avoid hitting Lewiston property owners with the feared Modern refuse fee. He said available options include Reiter's factoring-in of projected revenues or one that utilizes remaining New York Power Authority "signing bonus" money.
"Steve was looking at revenue-producing measures, expected to be achieved via town vendors," said Johnson. "In a worst-case scenario, I'm also looking at leftover money in the NYPA signing bonus account."
He said that either way Lewiston residents, rather than the earlier $70 would now be looking at paying $23.20 per household for 2012, up from the $15.28 per household fee for 2011. Johnson said Modern had charged Lewiston a $35 per household refuse fee in 2011 that through fund transfers it was able to lower to $15.28, and for 2012 that fee went to $70, which the town was able has lower to $23.20.
Johnson said Modern utilizes the Consumer Price Index in determining the amount of its refuse fee increases and that he is unable to predict what Modern might charge for 2013 and beyond. Modern provides refuse service for 4,560 Lewiston households.
Johnson said beyond the revised refuse fee other budget highlights are: no general town tax, no tax in the B Fund, no highway tax and no tax in the Water Pollution Control Center Fund. He said the town was successfully able to address increases in workmen's compensation, health insurance and retirement expenses in the 2012 plan. "The biggest thing is to seek out new revenues," said Johnson. He told the board that in the coming year he intends to be looking at a number of vendors working with the town and at what the town charges.
In the brief public hearing that followed comments included resident RoseMary Warren questioning fuel expense issues that were raised in State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's earlier town audit. And Diane Roberts, town resident and chair of the Town of Lewiston Democratic Committee questioning such issues as: Johnson saying there was leftover NYPA signing bonus money when last year he said it was gone; one of 53 new hires in the town since Reiter took office; the issue of highway seasonal employees staying on for longer periods of time and one of non-paid highway invoices that had triggered finance charges.
In response Reiter told Roberts he would look into the 53 new hires question, while Johnson said that one highway invoice was settled and for the remaining invoice to Midland Contracting she should ask Highway Superintendent Doug Janese.
Soon after on unanimous vote the board approved the 2012 budget with "no other changes."
In news from the Town Board's workshop session that evening:
•The board approved a $34,000 expenditure for construction of the temporary outdoor ice rink the town is building with the Village of Lewiston at Academy Park. The rink, funding of which was approved earlier by the Niagara River Greenway Commission, is slated to open Thursday, Dec. 1.
•The board announced it would not consider modifying further any street name change for what is now known as The Circle Drive. Reiter said the town would meet with affected residents to discuss the issue further.
•The board approved highway department fund balance transfers of $60,000 to deal with staff expenses stemming from last April's windstorms, and other employee-related costs. Reiter said the transfer would be temporary as the town was expected to receive storm-related reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Administration.
•Councilman Al Bax submitted a request for the town to recognize the Lake Ontario Ordnance Works Restoration Advisory Board as a town committee. Bax said such a move would enable the group to accept donations. The matter was left with it being subject to Town Attorney Mike Dowd's opinion/approval for LOOW-RAB to accept donations.
•Wrapping up, Reiter sought and received Town Board approval for him to submit to the Niagara River Greenway Commission an application to fund Joseph Davis Park projects. According to the Niagara River Greenway website, niagaragreenway.org, all new project determinations submitted will be made on Jan. 17, 2012. The Lewiston application is not yet posted and is expected to be online by Tuesday, Nov. 22.