Attorney general's office declines request for boot drive opinion
By Joshua Maloni
The Village of Lewiston unveiled its proposed 2016-17 budget at a public hearing and board meeting Monday. As published last week, the property tax rate ($7.38 per $1,000 of assessed valuation), water rate ($3.54 per 100 cubic feet) and sewer rate ($4.64 per 100 cubic feet) will remain the same.
The total budget demand did change since the board met for a work session last Wednesday. It now stands at $3,338,596 (up from $3,322,798). Total revenues are forecast to be $3,172,145, also up (about $5,000) from last week. Under these figures, the village would be left with a $166,451 deficit, which would require an appropriated fund balance - a transfer of money from the municipality's $1.2 million surplus to balance the budget.
"This budget is not nearly as firm as budgets in the past have been. That is primarily because we are still negotiating our collective bargaining agreement with our DPW employees," Deputy Treasurer/Budget Office Edward Walker said.
He explained, "We did put in for a budget for potential increases in salaries," for both the Department of Public Works and village employees. However, "The second to the last page shows salary - the salary structure that we're required to put in the budget - and that is still all of the current salaries. Because we don't know what the collective bargaining agreement is going to say, and how much the raises are actually going to be - if there are (any)."
Walker offered residents a budget highlight sheet (download it HERE), which compared Lewiston's projected tax rate to the other Niagara County villages. It also pointed out the municipality's top five fixed expenses account for 57 percent of the budget. This includes sewage treatment ($467,910), fire protection ($462,504), water services ($326,340), employee benefits ($365,055) and police protection ($284,000).
He noted the village saved money in general fund expenditures (decreased by $11,350), water fund expenditures ($2,596) and sewer fund expenditures ($5,811).
Under the state's tax cap guidelines, the village could've raised taxes 0.0012 percent - one cent - to net an extra $1,282. Trustees said the increase wasn't worth the effort.
The board expected to lose between $80,000 and $90,000 this fiscal year but, thanks in part to a warmer winter, could wind up with a balanced budget.
The next fiscal year begins June 1.
The public offered no comment. Former Village of Lewiston Mayor Richard Soluri, representing both state Sen. Robert Ortt and the Niagara River Greenway Commission, said both parties stand ready to assist the municipality.
Trustees will vote to approve the budget at a special meeting 6 p.m. Monday, April 25, in the new Red Brick Municipal Building boardroom.
Speaking of which. ...
Board Debuts New Boardroom
Following several weeks of renovations, the Village Board opened its new boardroom. The former Lewiston Police Department headquarters - most recently a private law office - has a newly finished floor and new paint, blinds and a carpeted dais for board members. A large flatscreen television sits on the east side and will be used to project plans and proposals. Historical photos and a large clock decorate the walls.
Trustee Vic Eydt welcomed guests.
"It was quite a project," he said, noting the dais countertops were installed just six hours prior to the meeting. "It was put together by a lot of people. It came right down to the wire."
Eydt extended thanks to the DPW; historian Pam Hauth and her husband, Skip; his fellow trustees; and to Walker. He said their work crafted the space.
"Hopefully everybody will appreciate what we've got here, and it will last us many, many years," Eydt said.
He gave special thanks to Scott Pedley, who created a hand-drawn representation of the village seal.
Eydt said he was "absolutely amazed" with the drawing.
"It's turned out awesome," he said, as the audience applauded Pedley.
Boot Drives Still Considered Illegal
Village of Lewiston counselor Joseph Leone informed trustees New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office declined to offer an opinion on the legality of boot drives.
In recent months, the village had been seeking an answer to provide Lewiston No. 1 Volunteer Fire Co., which sought to continue holding a boot drive fundraiser on Center Street.
Leone said his interpretation of state law led him to conclude such activity is illegal. Still, he offered to consult the AG's office.
The firefighters' leadership, seemingly frustrated and disappointed, said the company's specific training would ensure both members' safety and the safety of passing motorists. Deputy Mayor Bruce Sutherland said the state law is vague, wherein it expounds such collections are illegal - but possibly not within villages.
"I have, again, gone through the statute," he said. "I have gone through, this time, the legislative intent of the statute, as well as reviewing the statute. I have found a state comptroller's opinion - which is not an attorney general's opinion - but the state comptroller deals with the statute. ... And the state comptroller's opinion basically comes out the same way that I came out to begin with."
Leone submitted a letter to the board. He shared highlights of that correspondence.
Citing section 1157 of vehicle and traffic law, Leone said, " 'No person shall stand in a roadway for the purpose of soliciting a ride, or to solicit from or sell to any occupant of any vehicle.' I'm emphasizing the word 'roadway.' Then it goes on to say, 'No person shall occupy any part of a state highway, except in a city or village, in any manner for the purpose of selling or soliciting.'
"Emphasis has always been made on the 'except in a city or village.' Really, the emphasis should be made on the words 'state highway.' 'Roadway' and 'state highway' are not interchangeable words. 'Roadway' is a part of a highway. 'Roadway' is the part that people drive on. 'Highway' is one edge to the other edge, including the shoulders and berms.
"So, nowhere in the state can people be in a state roadway for purposes of soliciting. They can be on state highways, on the berm part, in villages and cities, but not in towns.
"Confusing? Yes. But does it fly exactly with the state comptroller's opinion? It does."
Leone referenced an opinion from Dec. 2, 1985.
"The bottom line is, my recommendation concerning the fire companies has not changed," Leone said. "I still think that it's illegal to do a boot drive in the center of the road."
This illegality extends to newspaper drives and any other on-street fundraising, including the annual food drive outside of Artpark's two entrances. (The latter's volunteers collect on the walking path, not the roadway.)
Leone speculated the AG's office declined comment due to the "political nature" of siding against local laws and/or local firefighters.
Mayor Terry Collesano thanked Leone for his research, but noted, "I'm sure the fire companies aren't going to be pleased with it."
Sutherland said, "Unfortunately, all of us are going to be losers with that. The fire company's not going to be able to raise as much money. They're going to take some of (the food collectors') area. And so, (food collectors are) going to lose money. And the village residents are going to lose money, because (the fire company will be) unable to collect as much money for ambulances and services that we get."