by Terry Duffy
A realistic budget with a cautious eye on the future summarizes the approach the Town of Lewiston has taken with regard to its 2014 spending plan.
Fresh off Tuesday's election results, which now sees Dennis Brochey taking over as supervisor come January from Steve Reiter, the town presented its somewhat revised budget to the residents on Thursday. A small crowd was on hand, which included members of the local citizens group Residents for Responsible Government that has been very active of late in its attempts to persuade the town and Niagara County to reinstate funding for environmental attorney Gary Abraham. The matter has come to the forefront as the area's battle against CWM Chemical Waste Services' hazardous waste expansion plans and a new Residuals Management Unit-2 landfill heats up.
Also on hand was Brochey, who sat in the crowd as an observer. He offered no comment at the session.
Town Clerk Carol Brandon opened with an overview on the 2014 town budget, one that is slightly smaller from earlier numbers, reflecting growing town apprehension in the face of tight times.
By the numbers, following the latest belt-tightening discussions of town department heads, the overall spending plan now totals $17,170,871, down slightly from the earlier $17,241,603 preliminary budget summary number released on Sept. 30. Broken down, it reflects $11.404 million in appropriations spending (General; General/Outside Village; Highway/Drainage-Town, outside Village; and Water Pollution Control Center accounts). That number is down from the $11.503 million from earlier. Modest spending increases were seen in the General, General/Outside Village and Highway/Drainage-Town Outside Village accounts, but offset by a decline of just over $100,000 in the WPCC account.
Overall, the spending plan, reflecting adjustments from estimated revenues and appropriated fund balance accounts, again calls for $0 to be raised by taxes, continuing for now a trend enjoyed by Lewiston property owners.
Special districts spending (Lewiston Water Improvement; Fire Protection; Lewiston Master Sewer; Lewiston South Sewer, Lewiston Heights; and Refuse accounts) totaled $5,765,963, a roughly $32,000 increase from the earlier numbers in September. However following adjustments from estimated revenues and appropriated fund balance accounts, the amount to be raised via taxes remains at $2,465,504 -- the same as earlier estimates.
Commenting on the 2014 plan, Town Finance Director Michael Johnson noted it increased $530,259 from 2013 and attributed that to a number of factors, including increases in the police and state retirement system accounts; and increases in workmen's compensation and insurance costs. He said that was offset by higher sales tax numbers realized in 2013, but that extra money also went toward increased Highway Department spending. Johnson added that thus far sales tax numbers in 2014 are slightly lower.
He went on to advise caution to Town Board members for the future. "This is as trim as we can get on this budget for 2014," said Johnson, adding he was "very concerned" for the years 2015, 2016 and 2017.
"The time has come for the board to sit down and look for new revenue," he continued, advising the board to look at such revenue streams as fees and money realized from collections and franchise agreements, such as the recently reworked agreement with Time Warner. Johnson closed his remarks by advising the Town Board to issue a directive to department heads, advising them to not pursue any increases in spending without board consultation and approval. Soon after, Councilman Ernie Palmer presented such a resolution, which went on to be approved unanimously by attending members. Councilman Al Bax and Reiter were not in attendance; Deputy Supervisor Gary Catlin filled in for Reiter.
Residents' comments for the most part consisted of urgings by RRG attendees and others for the town to resume its funding for attorney Abraham as soon as possible. Lewiston resident Amy Witryol, noting the continuing inaction by the town on funding Abraham despite it being contained in the 2014 budget plan, advised that an "immediate 2013 disbursement of $32,000 to Niagara County is needed to put health, science and legal professionals back to work on pressing issues of public risk."
She went on recommend that Lewiston include "budgeting $100,000 for 2014" to address what she called "extensive and intense state proceedings to finally determine whether to allow or deny CWM's massive 30-year expansion proposal."
"Failure to finish the fight with adequate funding could leave Lewiston with one of the last toxic waste landfills in the U.S. with all the associated negative impacts," Witryol said in closing.
Similar urgings were echoed by RRG members, including attorney Nils Olsen of Youngstown. "It's crucial that the town become involved quickly," said Olsen, noting the state Department of Environmental Conservation's pending "notice of application" announcement on CWM's years-old application for expansion and RMU-2. The announcement will then trigger the formation of a siting board by the governor en route to public hearings as part of the review process.
Others in the crowd were not as supportive to the Abraham funding request. Water Street resident Bart Klettke told the board "the town should not spend a penny to stop CWM. Keep CWM a viable operation," he said.
And Fourth Street resident Ron Craft questioned Abraham's value and the use of taxpayer money to fund him. "(I have) questions on the use of this money," said Craft, asking the board to whom, where does it go, and what's the end result for success?
"What's his batting average?" he asked.
RRG president April Fideli thanked the board on its move to resume funding, but also urged it to act quickly. "It's in everyone's best interest to fund this," she said, urging immediate payments to the county.
Town Board members offered no response to the comments heard and adjourned the session soon after. It was announced that the Town Board would meet again on Tuesday, Nov. 12, at 3 p.m. at Town Hall to move on formally approving the 2014 spending plan. It needs to be adopted and filed with the state by Nov. 20.
Tuesday's session is open to the public.