by Terry Duffy
The Town of Lewiston Board was proactive as it moved on various financial fronts Monday. It approved a restructured $16.640 million town budget for 2013; reviewed a number of improvements for the soon-to-open ice rink at Academy Park and heard more on the benefits of Lewiston's new surplus electrical power sales package.
Leading off, the 2013 budget saw unanimous approval by the board.
The plan, which was trimmed from a $17.9 million plan submitted earlier, stays within the state's 2 percent tax cap and came to be as a result of spending reductions, plus the town choosing to go the low-interest bonding route versus new taxes to fund needed highway paving work. "With the help of the board, all the department heads and the highway superintendent, we were able to keep it down" said Town Finance Director Michael Johnson, who added that, once again, Lewiston, unlike other towns, will be able to avoid imposing a town tax on its residents for the coming year and still stay within the 2 percent cap.
Johnson explained that, thanks to a number of cost-saving factors, Lewiston was able to hold the line this time around. Included were state retirement expenses that came in less than expected; town insurance costs that dropped an estimated $40,000 to $45,000 from last year; the town facing a modest $4,000 increase over budgeted numbers in workmen's compensation costs; increases in sales tax revenues; the town reaching agreement with the Village of Lewiston on funding the Lewiston Police Department budget; plus the town being able to achieve favorable bonding for the Master Sewer District. Johnson noted that Supervisor Steve Reiter was able to gain a significant reduction in master sewer costs from $105 per unit to $35.90 per unit. It's "one of the major factors that kept us under the tax cap.
"It's trimmed down," said Johnson of the overall budget, adding the town needs to be very cautious on its spending in the future. "The next three to five years, it will be a little bit different. After the first of the year, we should start focusing on revenue and cut spending."
Johnson said that Reiter and the Town Board are already pursuing new revenue sources and that Town Recreation Director Mike Dashineau is doing the same for the town ice rink this year in the form of new sponsorships.
"This budget is based on bonding money to do road construction for highway ... we're getting some (bonding) rates now, we hope to have this done by the first of the year," said Johnson.
Board members on roll call vote went on to approve the 2013 spending plan soon after. It includes $10.862 million in appropriations (general, general/outside village, highway/drainage-town outside village, and the Water Pollution Control Center) - all fully funded with no taxes; and $5.778 million in special districts funding (Lewiston water improvement, fire protection, LMSIA, Lewiston south sewer, Lewiston Heights and refuse) with $2.445 million to be raised by taxes. Other highlights are a 3 percent increase in salaries for all town employees, excluding the Town Board who "graciously gave theirs up," said Johnson.
In other news from the session:
•The board approved a motion for $29,152 in electrical improvements at Academy Park in preparation for the ice rink operations.
Reiter said money for the improvements came from the recent sale of Lewiston's low-cost power allocations on the market. He said that as a result of a new arrangement for Lewiston to sell its annual New York Power Authority low-cost power allocation of 6.5 megawatts, the town was able to pay off more than $57,000 in debt owed to National Grid - a final payment from an earlier staggering $1.2 million owed to National Grid under an expired sales reimbursement arrangement. In addition, Reiter said the town received $80,000 in its latest electrical sales proceeds to fund the Academy Park work; and all new electrical sales revenue to the town is going into an escrow account. Reiter said further that the town is working on a water billing package with the Village of Lewiston to have surplus money from town electrical power sales go to lower water bills for village residents in the form of a debit on their bills.
•In related ice rink news, the town approved the hiring of new staffers for the facility. Councilman Mike Marra reported that new sponsors have been signed up and Dashineau is actively pursuing more. Sponsors signed up thus far include: Wendt's Propane, in the form of $15,000 in assistance to cover heating costs and rental equipment related to rink operations; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 37, with $20,000 in in-kind support for electrical upgrades; Falls Tent, $5,000; and $5,000 from the Village of Lewiston.
Dashineau seeks $17,000 in additional sponsorships from area businesses and is expected to name them in the near future.
Reiter closed by saying the rink, which will open on Dec. 1, will be one-and-one-half times larger in size than last year's and more elaborate, with the above facilities improvements plus a number of embellishments coming from the Village of Lewiston. He went on to praise the efforts of Dashineau, saying, "Mike is doing a great job of getting costs defrayed." (See related Page 1 story on the ice rink.)
•The board set a public hearing for Monday, Dec. 10, at 5:45 p.m. to consider a draft submitted by the town's Wind Tower Committee for a new commercial wind energy code. It also reminded residents that a public hearing to review the Lewiston's zoning map amendment will occur Monday, Nov. 26, at 5:30 p.m., prior to the Town Board's regular monthly meeting at Town Hall.
•The board discussed, but took no action on, a possible purchase offer by Coppins family interests of a green space area currently owned by the town in the Lewistowne Park subdivision-Raymond Drive neighborhood. Reiter noted that he and the board have been actively pursing letting the town's numerous green space lots be sold off. More news on this, at next month's meeting.