By Terry Duffy
Key financial issues affecting the town and its residents occupied significant discussion in what turned into a lengthy Lewiston Town Board work session Monday.
But other than a fair amount of talk, no action was to come.
Leading off, Financial Officer Martha Blazick offered some clarity and perspective to recent reports of a downturn in the town's bond rating by Moody's Investors Service.
"There's a couple issues that I wanted to point out," she said. "No. 1 is that the downgrade of our bond was not the result of any one year. What Moody's looks for in trends (is) if there's a consistency."
Blazick told the board the bond rating service had issues with how Lewiston manages its fund balance - namely its operating funds - the town's A, B and C (highway department) accounts - and any presence of a positive fund balance.
There's been no fund balance.
"The last time that we had an increase in our fund balance ... the last time we had a positive fund balance in those funds, was in 2011. And so that's what they're looking at. They're looking at the trend of that," Blazick said.
She noted Moody's is fully aware of recent efforts by the town to curtail its expenses. "But their real concern is with the revenue, and that we are so completely dependent on the A, B and C fund, and that there are so very few businesses, sources of revenue. It's a huge concern for them," Blazick said.
While not coming out and saying it, Blazick was inferring the Town of Lewiston was not helping itself by withholding a town tax on residents and businesses.
That issue has been discussed, most recently when talks of the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission facilities garage surfaced. Supervisor Dennis Brochey eventually worked out an arrangement with the commission on a new fee/reimbursement schedule.
Blazick suggested the town needs to do more with its other tax-free entities.
"The other thing is, I wanted to remind people that, as you are going forward (with budget planning), they (Moody's) are not looking at the capital funds either; they are looking at the operating funds," Blazick said, suggesting the town needs to plan better while also toeing the fine line when it comes to department spending (payroll and expenditures).
"Looking backwards at all is not going to help us," Blazick said. "Pointing fingers is not going to help in any situation. Our biggest concern has to be how we move forward and what we are going to do to remedy the situation."
Brochey and Town Board members offered no response. And there was little talk later on when the issue of the long-stalled New York Power Authority low-cost power credits issued for residential electrical users arose.
Brochey informed the board he was still seeking to get some type of reimbursement plan in place to which NYPA would be agreeable. Recent moves by the town for NYPA low-cost power reimbursements to be reflected via discounts to town and village water bill users were not met with favor by NYPA, with the authority suggesting water usage bill discounts are not considered electrical.
"I want to work out some sort of plan," Brochey said, adding he has been working with Blazick, the town finance department and the town assessor's office to come to a solution.
He did say NYPA is agreeable to working with town residential electrical power users in determining a reimbursement schedule, but a formula to determine the individual discounts from electrical billing statements was not in place - and it is not NYPA's responsibility to develop one.
It would be up to the town to pursue it, Brochey said, and it could be a potentially complicated scenario, considering there are power customers in the town and village who own their property and pay their electrical bills directly, and those who rent.
Brochey suggested a monitoring setup of individual users, similar to the water bill plan NYPA rejected (a database and comparative statements), could be the answer.
"They do like the idea of sending a letter out (to town residential power customers) to furnish a bill," Brochey said.
He said such an arrangement would have NYPA reviewing individual residential billing statements, compiled and furnished to NYPA by the town, for certain periods - say one in December, another in June - which NYPA would then compare to determine the amount of an individual user's discount.
"When we get this, it would result in a year's payment (to the user)," Brochey said, noting a potential payment of approximately $110 annually.
Town Attorney Brian Seaman said that type of plan had been discussed earlier with directives to former finance officer Paul Kloosterman to carry it out.
It was never done.
"It has to be detailed in writing (to NYPA) on how we are going to do it," Seaman said. "The process of getting that money out there is in black and white - no question."
He suggested a database of Town of Lewiston electrical users should be created. And it would be up to the town to compile the complete database and comparative National Grid bills (obtained from residents) and furnish them to NYPA to determine payments.
Town Councilman Al Bax labeled such a plan "a logistical nightmare," as it would involve the aforementioned letter to residents and the town's responsibility of compiling residential electrical billing statements.
Brochey and board members said they would study the matter further.
No further action was taken Monday.