by Terry Duffy
There was plenty of discussion, some progress made, but its' still not done.
That best summarizes where the Town of Lewiston stands on finalizing its $16.037 million adopted, but still not completed budget plan for 2015. At a public hearing Thursday, Supervisor Dennis Brochey and the board heard comments, criticisms and suggestions from roughly a half-dozen residents on how the town could make some headway as it strives to better manage its financial affairs.
Resident Ron Craft had questions on why there are cuts in services overall but increases to such groups as the Lewiston Council on the Arts and the Historic Lewiston Festival, who both will be receiving $65,000 in 2015 from the town. "When they come here they get all the money they want," Craft said, as he went on to raise issue with their signature events held on Center Street and the at times unfavorable resulting impacts to Center Street businesses.
Craft also had issue with Joseph Davis State Park and the town's not capitalizing of Greenway funding to improve the park and in turn generate revenue. "Why isn't the Greenway money being used?" he asked, noting plans and money set aside for riverside improvements at the park (the boat launch faculty near the fishing dock) that have gone nowhere.
And resident Paulette Glasgow hit on a number of areas, including questionable town spending practices, Artpark, and the hour-plus long discussion/charade seen at the Oct. 27 meeting with Brochey, board members, Finance Officer Paul Kloosterman and Highway Department Superintendent Doug Janese over the use highway manpower and overtime. "The adults have arrived; the town needs to face reality and end the wasteful spending," Glasgow said.
Among her criticisms: the use of budget funds to retain a professional grant writer when equally capable sources could be available from such groups as the Niagara River Region Chamber; the town's longstanding practice of retaining two attorneys; the Highway Department's practice of providing brush and limb pickup services to homeowners who utilize private firms (apparently done in violation of town law, according to Glasgow) and the town's funding relationship with Artpark.
"Nonprofit entities such as Artpark can make a profit," said Glasgow, who added she supports the $100,000 in Modern tipping fees from the town to Artpark and Company for children's programming.
But she drew the line on any funding when it comes to police services. "Before any funding is released (the $100,000 intended for Artpark that the town rescinded on Oct. 27), an agreement should be formed with the nonprofit to assume all costs for police protection," said Glasgow, adding that some containment needs to be in place on the town providing Lewiston Police services for Artpark concerts.
Glasgow closed her remarks with a call for the town to embark on creating some type of business council with professionals in the community, geared at creating more revenue enhancing opportunities (business development and residential growth) for the town. It was an idea others in the audience supported at the session.
The problem with that is, "there's no town tax," shot back Deputy Supervisor Sean Edwards, commenting that because of Lewiston's lack of a town tax, there's no opportunity to garner any new revenue from any development, new business or residential, and that the town would still be eating the costs associated with growth (i.e. providing more services).
As the session went on, some changes to the still-in-progress budget were revealed:
•The Town Board reversed itself and will be providing 1.5 percent salary increases to non-union town employees. Other salary figures presented in the budget are as follows: supervisor, $41,906; council members (4), $13,856; highway superintendent, $70,181; town clerk, $48,672 and town justices (2), $27,399.
•Janese announced that, as a result of the feedback he received from residents on the brush pickup plan revealed in last week's Sentinel, he has scrapped the idea. "I will continue to provide brush pickups with no changes, as had been done in the past under five highway superintendents," he said.
"I know what the residents want; I will stay within my budget and will continue to provide the service. I will work with the board, but I will work for the residents," Janese said.
He then put in a request for $50,000 to be pulled from the highway $300,000 paving budget and transferred to the highway machinery equipment account. "I want to use some of the money in different areas," he said, adding it would have a zero effect on the overall highway budget.
Brochey replied he felt leaving the $50,000 funding intact for paving would be "the better way," and asked Janese to work with him. Other town board members conveyed the same sentiment. "Our goal is to have enough money to provide for a percentage (of needed) paving to be done yearly," said Councilman Al Bax.
Discussions then transgressed to highway department overtime, with Janese saying his department averaged a mere 2.2 hours of overtime per week, per man for his 16 full-time employees, offering a total six-month cost figure in the mid-$30,000 range, and he said he had it under control. Brochey went on to dispute that finding, as did Kloosterman, who said the entire highway O/T budget was pegged at $115,000 for the year.
Highway issues remained not finalized, with Kloosterman saying he expected to have the whole budget matter resolved for Town Board approval hopefully come Monday.
"We have a budget," said Brochey. But turning to his differences with Janese, he added, "Other department heads are working with us, but not Doug."
Turning to some positive news, Brochey revealed that he's been in discussion with the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission on a revenue plan that, once approved, will see new money to the town from the Bridge Commission's headquarter operations on Military at Upper Mountain roads and a new Bridge Commission garage planned across the street, on land opposite Mount St. Mary's. Brochey said that numbers now before the Bridge Commission board call for a 2015 initial reimbursement to the town of $67,400 jumping to $81,400 in 2016 and the possible of additional increased annual payments once the garage facility is in full operation. "It could go upwards of $100,000," he said.
Brochey closed, however, with words of caution on the town's finances and its spending, saying, "I'm trying to work with these guys," but the town could still be looking at a possible shortfall, possibly as much as $300,000 in 2015.
"If this spending continues we could be broke in the next four to five years," Brochey said.
Of the 1.5 percent in salary increases agreed to by the board, he added, "It wasn't my idea."