by Terry Duffy
"We pulled the fat out."
So summarized Town of Lewiston Director of Finance Paul Kloosterman Monday as he presented the tentative 2015 Town of Lewiston budget to Supervisor Dennis Brochey and Town Board members for their initial discussion and review.
It a nutshell, it cuts down on the frills and brings the town more into reality with respect to its ability of funding and maintaining operations in tight times, he said.
As presented, the town's $16.03 million budget reflects a $1.3 million cut in appropriations across the board for all town accounts - A General; B General/Outside Village; DB Highway/Drainage-Town Outside Village and SSI Water Pollution Control Center.
Totals for all these accounts amount to $10.265 million in appropriations and $10.058 million in estimated revenues, with $207,290 coming from the appropriated fund balance and $0 to be raised by taxes.
Overall, the budget calls for no new town tax, zero layoffs and no pay raises for non-contractual employees, excluding union employees. Kloosterman pointed out that last year's budget provided all town employees a 3 percent salary increase while the actual COLA was pegged at 1.5 percent.
"This budget at this time does not lay off any employee," Kloosterman said.
Kloosterman said the A Fund (whole town account) bore the brunt of the cut, decreasing by $955,133. He said cuts became necessary due to a $500,000 drop in revenue projections across the board, led by a roughly $200,000 drop in Modern tipping fees, changes in Greenway account appropriations and a projected $50,000 shortfall in sales taxes.
"Sales taxes from last winter were very flat," he said.
The 2015 plan also sees a sharp reduction in the overall appropriated fund balance - $357,884 compared to $1.256 million in 2014, a drop of some $899,098 or 71.5 percent. Kloosterman said this came to be from sharply lower activity (and lower appropriations) for Joseph Davis State Park expenses, a lower allotment in the B fund and a zero fund balance in the highway account.
The Highway Department 2015 budget was pegged at $2.863 million - 21 percent of the town's overall budget, which includes $300,000 in the highway infrastructure account for paving and $100,000 allocated for snow season removal (plowing) - a 1.5 percent decrease. At the session, Kloosterman raised issue with the overtime numbers presented to him earlier by Highway Superintendent Doug Janese, commenting that he (Janese) had miscalculated them. (See Page 4.)
Special Districts accounts - SW1 Water Improvement; SF Fire Protection; SS2 LMSIA; SS3 Lewiston South Sewer; SL Lewiston Heights and SR refuse totaled $5.7 million with $2.5 million to be raised by taxes. Notables here, according to Kloosterman, are: a 2 cent per $1,000 increase in the Fire Protection Fund; a 5 cent per 1,000 gallons increase in sewer rates (SS1); a 10 cent per 1,000 gallons increase in the SS2 LMSIA account, with 5 cents going to the Water Pollution Control Center; a 5 cent per 1,000 gallons increase in the SS3 account; a 5 cent increase in the SWI Lewiston Water Improvement account; and a change in the water account billing from a bimonthly plan to quarterly. The water billing change was approved earlier by the board and is effective Jan. 1, 2015. Kloosterman commented that overall, town residents would see a benefit in the water billing changes and said the only beneficiaries under the older plan were such larger users as the New York Power Authority, Mount St. Mary's Hospital and Health Center and Niagara University.
Overall, the budget plan, while far from finalized, does call for some significant changes, according to Kloosterman.
•A sharp reduction in the town's contingency fund to cover unforeseen expenses. Budgeted at $88,000 in 2013 and $100,000 in 2014, Kloosterman recommended a mere $25,000 for Lewiston in 2015 - a 75 percent drop. He said that other towns, naming Wheatfield as an example, typically planned their contingencies at the $25,000 amount.
"It's just waste," said Kloosterman, arguing that in past years town departments have looked at the fund for what he called "frills spending."
•And it calls for a potential removal by the town of more than $100,000 in Modern tipping fees going toward Artpark funding and programming and a renewed call for Artpark and Company to fund police protection to the tune of $40,000 for its Tuesdays and Wednesdays concert series in the summer.
"I aim to withhold all of it," Brochey said this week. "That will definitely help the Town of Lewiston."
Brochey said he had wanted to talk with Artpark and Company for some time but the matter has been put off. "I am waiting on them for a meeting," he said, adding Artpark put it off, as President George Osborne had been sick.
"Now I have this memo from last month that they're planning a million dollars for new suites. ... If they can do they that, they can help us out," he said.
John Camp, Artpark and Co. board chair, in a memo to Artpark board members and staff this week, said that Artpark was never advised of the town's intentions.
"It's regrettable that the Town of Lewiston is redirecting the tipping fees earmarked for Artpark family programming to address their budget deficit," he said. "Family programming is a cornerstone of Artpark's mission statement and Artpark will make best efforts to maintain the level of family programming (for 2015) at 2014 levels."
He continued, "Artpark must re-evaluate its ability to pay for Lewiston police traffic control as this was agreed in 2014 with the understanding that the tipping fees would continue to be provided to fund family programming."
Camp said the Artpark board would continue to discuss this matter at its future meetings.
Meanwhile the town will be continuing its own discussions on the 2015 budget, with a public hearing tentatively scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 27, at Town Hall, prior to the Town Board's regularly scheduled meeting.