Village, town reach agreement on police
Story and photo by Terry Duffy
With the winds and rains of Hurricane Sandy pelting on the outside, the Village of Lewiston trustees and Lewiston Town Board met inside Monday at Lewiston Town Hall, and there were degrees of storminess felt at both sides of the table.
Discussed that night in what became two separate meetings were differences on water and police operations financials between the village and town. Water came up first, followed by a hastily called, but lengthy, executive session over police.
And consensus wasn't exactly flowing on either issue. In fact, the dialogue between the town and village grew contentious at times, particularly when it came to water funding.
It opened with village Mayor Terry Collesano reporting the town had "made an offer." He said it was a "doable situation." With that, Richard San Giacomo, who handles village engineering responsibilities, presented what he called a "Water Rate Analysis, Town versus Village." San Giacomo focused his remarks primarily on "expenses," telling village and town officials, "There's definitely a difference on rates ... a difference on expenses."
Specifically, he pointed to comparisons between the two municipalities where it comes to delivery. San Giacomo reported that water delivered to the village totaled 94,450,000 gallons, while on the town side that figure was 804,314,400 gallons. Delivery costs were compared, and for the village they were significant.
Revealed was such village rate expenses as water administration, $32,163; transmission/distribution, $37,387; and employee benefits, $84,736, for a source of supply total of $204,400. On the town side, the total in the first three rate categories was zero, and a source of supply total was $124,377.50.
"The bottom line is unless village distribution costs can be offset, it would cost the village $59,463 to join with the town," said San Giacomo. He explained that in order to offset village collection costs on this, the town would need to reimburse the village to cover its administration.
That didn't sit too well with town Supervisor Steve Reiter, who questioned village billing procedures and the need for staffing to accomplish this. "The town could absorb this cost through sharing costs (personnel), by having the town pick up the billing," said Reiter. He said administrative costs reduce the savings to village residents.
San Giacomo and village Trustee Bruce Sutherland responded that such an approach would have an obvious impact on personnel. "If costs are absorbed by the village (under this scenario), the village would have to lay someone off; it would put a hardship on village residents," said Sutherland.
"I thought you would have formulated some type of plan to this," responded Reiter.
"That's what we're doing now," said San Giacomo. He said the problem is the village having to absorb employee and benefits costs, noting the aforementioned cost figures of $32,163; $37,387 and $84,736.
"What about village water maintenance contractuals?" inquired Reiter. "When I looked at your budget, after cost, (I see) a possible savings of $150,000," he said, noting that under that scenario the town would absorb one employee into its budget.
Distribution costs could be absorbed, Reiter said. He suggested that the village go back "and sharpen your pencils a little bit to see how you can adjust that $32,000."
Reiter continued, telling Village of Lewiston officials that they need to cover costs more efficiently. Of the town's intent, he said he wants to consolidate billing, absorb one village employee and have the town handle water administration in the village. "When you buy in bulk, utilize in bulk, you make savings," said Reiter.
"It's difficult without stepping on toes," added Town of Lewiston Councilman Al Bax. He suggested the village re-examine its personnel issue, particularly as attrition approaches.
"There is another option or two," piped in Sutherland, telling the group that the village might want to enter into some type of temporary agreement with the town on water costs, followed by a more formal agreement to let "issues work themselves in over a period of time."
Reiter replied he is seeking "a more consolidated water department with everyone paying a more uniform rate." He suggested the village return with a better scenario. "Revisit this and return before budget time," he said.
San Giacomo inquired on whether such a scenario would involve the town taking over village assets. Reiter and Town of Lewiston Attorney Mike Dowd responded that any town-wide district would include the village.
"This could involve assets, necessitate a village referendum," said Sutherland. He again suggested a temporary arrangement might be the best approach.
"The biggest expense is your overhead," returned Reiter.
"Another is giving up the water system," returned San Giacomo. "You are taking over our assets."
Bax explained the town would be merely picking up water and sewer expenses. "Consolidation would be our best approach."
"To have two hubs doesn't make sense," said Reiter.
"Consolidation is going to require some pain," added Bax.
Questions and disagreements continued with the two boards, on issues such as a village employee working for the town, the impacts on village DPW staffing, the shared jobs between village departments and the cost. In their remarks, Town Board members went to lengths to try to consider the village.
"Look, we all want to work together," said town Councilman Mike Marra.
"We need to equalize rates, costs," said Bax.
And Reiter told village members, "If you have more than one option, we want to look at it."
In response, Sutherland suggested "some type of lease" be worked out between the two municipalities.
"We'd be interested in looking at it," said Reiter. "It's an unusual opportunity to create savings for village residents."
Reiter wrapped up discussion on the matter by commenting that the village "has more questions to answer." He suggested an April 1 date "to finalize things. I'd like a deadline to deal on this."
Sutherland closed by telling Reiter the village intends "to meet soon. We want an agreement."
Moving on to police, discussions opened on a congenial note, but began to turn sour soon afterword.
"We're not too far off here, we can go a long way through discussions," said Collesano. He added the village at first wasn't sure on its figure of $294,500 paid to the town to cover its share of the Lewiston Police nearly $1.3 million budget, noting the town brought that figure back to $240,000, or two payments of $120,000.
"Is that it?" he asked.
Reiter responded the town budget calls for the two payments of $120,000, nothing more. He then began to sound off on what he saw as a lack of communication that has existed between the municipalities over police. What of "all this discussion going on (in the media) without calling us?" asked Reiter. "I'm looking at quotes (in the papers) that weren't true."
Reiter then raised issue on calls for a substation in the village to allay concerns over a lack of LPD presence on village streets. "That's more cost," he charged. "Why?"
"I'm very frustrated, the board is frustrated. We are more than willing to work with you on shared services, consolidation," said Reiter.
Sensing the growing antagonisms brewing, town Councilman Ron Winkley then called for both boards to break and convene into executive session to discuss the matter at length in private.
The session went on for well over an hour. When both sides returned, there was a brief session where it was announced that an agreement in principal over village funding to the town on police had been reached. Reiter said the village has agreed to pay the town a total of $250,000 for the years 2011-12, with $130,000 still owed, and would pay the town $284,000 for 2013-14.
Reiter said the village-town LPD agreement brings with it no changes on police enforcement and that no substation is being considered. He added that Artpark funding assistance "was discussed, but nothing was resolved."
"I have to represent all residents, while trying to protect village residents," said Reiter. "Unfortunately, the village has asked more" of us.