Taxpayers Alliance presents new ethics policy to board
By Terry Duffy
With budget season at hand, and rumors of a town tax already circulating, the Town of Lewiston announced this week it will debut its preliminary 2017 budget at a 5 p.m. session Monday, Oct. 3, at Town Hall.
"The final budget is due on Friday," Finance Director Martha Blazick announced to Supervisor Steve Broderick and the Town Board this past Monday. Blazick requested the board schedule a special session, open to the public, intended to review the document. "We're just planning on presenting it at that time."
No budget numbers were discussed at the board's regular meeting this week.
With Broderick, as well as board members Rob Morreale and Bill Geiben, still green to the town's overall budget review process, Town of Lewiston Attorney Brian Seaman and Blazick went on to provide a quick lesson.
Seaman informed the typical procedure for presenting the budget was to file the document with the town clerk by Sept. 30 and then present it for public review by Oct. 5. Following that would be sessions to go over the numbers with the various town department heads - highway, water/sewer, parks and recreation, plus outside entities - nonprofits such as Artpark, the Lewiston Council on the Arts, the Historic Lewiston Jazz Festival, etc. - all portions of whose funding is also covered by the budget.
"Once that budget is presented, we need to establish dates that the board can meet with different department heads as well as the nonprofit organizations and anyone else who receives funds through the budget. ... I figure you're going to need two to three meetings to cover everybody," Blazick said.
"It depends on how the board wants to do it," Seaman said. "You can have prolonged eight-10-hour sessions where the whole board sits and talks about the budget, or Steve (or a board liaison) can meet with department heads one-on-one to go through things ... to streamline the process."
"The whole board is not taking any actions; you're just working through it at that point," he said.
Seaman said public meetings would follow, where, at that point, any changes or amendments could be made.
Broderick said that, from the Oct. 3 debut until the Town Board's scheduled Oct. 13 work session, he and/or board members (liaisons) would meet with the various department heads and nonprofits, and then a public meeting will be held to review the numbers.
"We'll be discussing this further on Oct. 3," Broderick said. Then "we can make any one of them public."
In other news from this week's session:
•The recently formed Lewiston Taxpayers Accountability and Action Alliance submitted its updated ethics policy for board review. Member Karen Lyle of Lower River Road presented the document to Town Clerk Donna Garfinkel.
"All across New York state, municipal governments are beginning to seriously address the need for ethics reform," Lyle read in a statement. "The Lewiston Taxpayers and Accountability Alliance, for several months, has researched and inquired and formulated a revision to Lewiston's 40-year-old ethics policy.
"Tonight, the Alliance is submitting an updated policy to the board for consideration and implementation. It is our hope that this updated and improved policy can be a first step forward towards a renewed call for action and ethics reform for our wonderful town."
Roughly 2,800 words in length, the six-page document opens with "Article I, Intent of Town Board," where it states:
"In accordance with Article 18 of the General Municipal Law and in recognition of the policy of the State of New York to maintain the highest standards of integrity and public service, the Town Board of the Town of Lewiston recognizes that there are state statutory provisions mandating towns to establish rules and standards of ethical conduct for public officers and employees which, if observed, can enhance public confidence in local government. This policy is intended to afford Town officers and employees guidance in conforming to ethical standards to promote public confidence in the integrity of Town Government, to require public disclosure of financial interests that may influence or be perceived as influencing the actions of Town officers and employees, to minimize unwarranted suspicion and to provide for fair and effective administration of this policy.
"This policy shall be in addition to all other restrictions, standards and provisions pertaining to the conduct of Town officers and employees. Every effort should be made to assure the highest caliber of public administration of this Town as part of our state's important system of local government. It is the purpose of this local law to implement this objective through the establishment of standards of conduct, provide for punishment of violation of such standards, and create a Board of Ethics to render advisory opinions to the Town's officers and employees as provided for herein."
The document continues with definitions covering the various town boards and town employees, and then moves to address such areas as: "Rules with respect of Conflict of Interest," "Standards," "Civil Penalty," "Penalties for offenses," "Maintenance of Disclosure Statements," "List of Officials," "Notice and verification for filing," "Standards" and "Penalties for violations."
It then details what comprises a board of ethics, its duties, rules and records, the policy regarding the posting and distribution of same, and procedures for complaints and the board's duty to report.
"Our hope is that the board conducts a serious reading of our proposed policy and, in the true spirit of ethics reform, views this as a positive for our town and implements," Lyle said, noting the former policy for the town was written almost 40 years ago and much has changed since then.
"This document is a very laborious product," commented Alliance member Nancy Correa of the work done by Lyle. "She researched many towns, many cities, took the best, and tried to be concise and thorough. I am hoping that you will give it the consideration and courtesy of a thorough review and update your 40-year-old plan. It's long overdue."
Broderick thanked the women and indicated that he, Town Board members and Seaman, would be reviewing the document in the near future.
The document is now available for review at The Lewiston Taxpayers Accountability & Action Alliance page on Facebook.
•The Town Board approved an agreement with the developers of the new French Landing subdivision covering the installation of sidewalks. Seaman noted the measure ensures sidewalk installation and establishes a time schedule of three years for completion. It further specifies that certificates of occupancy for residences would not be issued until sidewalks are completed.
"Basically the agreement ... ensures the sidewalks will be put into place, lays out how it will be done, what assurances (the town will have)," Seaman said. "I think this (agreement) adequately ensures that the sidewalks are going to be put in. It includes a time schedule for portions (of installations) ... and ensures that no certificate of occupancy gets issued for any particular lot until a sidewalk is put in, regardless of what happens in the subdivision."
"If it goes into a dormant phase, the developer still has to put all the sidewalks in throughout the whole subdivision," he said.
Seaman added it requires the developer to put $10,000 in escrow with the town, and guarantee reimbursements for any expenses to the town that might be incurred.
The measure went on to be approved 5-0.
•Also approved that night was a local law that, for now, puts a hold on installation of solar panels in the town. It calls for a six-month moratorium on the permitting and construction of ground-mounted solar energy systems within the Town of Lewiston.
The Town Board held a public hearing on the measure. It saw no comments. The moratorium passage now provides time for the Town Board to consider "appropriate revisions or amendments to the town code" with respect to solar panel installations.
•The Town Board approved the hiring of Tarra Johnson at a rate of $20 per hour to serve as a junior accountant to Blazick.
•And the board announced Halloween trick-or-treat hours in the town would be from 4-8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 31.