by Terry Duffy
With the Lewiston Town Board set Monday to review a presentation from the Joseph Davis Park Local Development Corporation, one Town Board member announced this week he is requesting a formal audit of the JDPLDC, calling for them to account for town funds already allocated to the group and spent thus far.
Town Councilman Alphonso Marra Bax, noting his concerns over what he termed "questionable expenditures of public money" to the JDPLDC (see Page 4 guest editorial,) said Thursday he wants answers. "I am seeking a formal audit," said Bax, who is also an attorney. "There are state procedures in place (governing LDCs) that we should be following."
Earlier, the Niagara River Greenway Commission approved $5.7 million in Phase I funding to Lewiston to cover a number JDP improvements, from a nature center to a boat launch, a visitor's center and more. But the Lewiston Town Board has yet to formally sign off on the funding plan, enabling the Greenway-appropriated monies to actually begin flowing to town accounts. It was expected to do so Monday, following the JDP presentation by Lou Giardino of CEA International of Rochester, who manages day-to-day operations of the JDPLDC, and by LDC member Neil Nolf.
Now that may not happen as a result of concerns raised by Bax. In an email this week to Supervisor Steve Reiter and Town Board members, Bax stated:
"I believe it is imperative that Lou provide the board with a formal accounting of the funds directly spent on the park and all 'in-kind' expenditures coming out of other department's budgets. I do know that Lou is planning on addressing the board at our next meeting, but I wanted to make sure that the presentation would also benefit the public and that there would be sufficient time allotted for questions from all sources and for additional public comment on the project."
In the email, Bax also raised issue that Joseph Davis State Park is currently under a 10-year lease to the town by State Parks, and monies are being spent to improve a property the town does not own. "As I have stated previously, I do not believe we should invest substantial amounts of public/quasi-public funds into the J.D. project until we have some reasonable commitment/assurances from the state that the property will ultimately be deeded over to the town."
Bax said he does support the town's JDP improvement project, calling it "One that can certainly beautify and improve the quality of life" in the area for generations to come.
But Bax also admitted he hasn't kept as informed on the ongoing, at times, fast-paced JDP developments as he would have liked. And as a result, he said wanted to take a more cautious approach.
"I do not want to be forced to make a hasty decision on funding because the shovels are poised to go into the ground in the short term. This is an issue that stands to affect a portion of the town's Greenway Funds for the next decade and I believe we should take more measured steps toward assuring that we make the best deal we can for the residents. To date, the impression I have fielded from those who ask me about the project is that the Town Board is not telling the public everything they ought to.
"I believe that we as a board should immediately implement a public procurement policy for the LDC and a method to disseminate information regarding all aspects of the project to the public. ... Given the amount of money involved in this particular project and the number of years required to pay it back, I do not believe that there can be such a thing as too much input from the community. ... More complete, and regular communication with the public ... is absolutely essential as we move forward."
When contacted on Thursday, Reiter stated that everything the town has done thus far with regards to the JDPLDC has been transparent and up front. "He (Bax) was the one who signed the vouchers. Everything we have done so far is legitimate," he said.
"I'm sorry that Mr. Bax ... has not kept up with what's going on. I feel badly he has not attended the meetings, the work sessions we have done for the park."
Reiter concluded by saying that Bax as well as the public will certainly find out all they wish to know about the park improvements and the JDPLDC, when Giardino and Nolf do their presentation on Monday.