CWM a discussion topic at hearing
By Terry Duffy
The Town of Lewiston moved further on its 2017 budget this week, both at a public hearing Monday to override the tax levy limit, and in its $16.820 million preliminary spending plan.
The new numbers released on Tuesday reflect Town Finance Director Martha Blazick's continued intent on addressing town spending by bringing accounts into balance, rather than relying on fund balances, as had been the case in previous years.
"They're minor increases, to bring budgets into balance," Blazick said of the new, $16.820 million total - a slight increase over the earlier $16.620 million tentative plan. She said the numbers were revised following an earlier series of meetings with town departments and outside community recipients.
On Monday, the Town Board held a public hearing on its plan to override the state tax cap - adjusted this year at 0.68 percent for inflation. The hearing on the proposed Lewiston tax cap override - in essence, 100 percent, as the town does not currently have a town tax - saw just two offering comments from the roughly two-dozen attending. The override went on to be passed by the Town Board on an unanimous 5-0 vote.
Of note by the two attending residents who spoke was not the Lewiston Family Ice Rink, which faces suspension in its operations this year and has garnered a fair amount of response in the community and on social media. Instead, it was CWM Chemical Services LLC, a Balmer Road hazardous waste landfill facility whose operations have all but ceased - along with the company's funding to the town in the form of gross receipts taxes, based on CWM's agreements from its haz-waste landfilling activity.
Speaker Kim Hill of Pletcher Road questioned "why the tax override?" and raised the issue of Lewiston funding the efforts of environmental attorney Gary Abraham to represent the town in potential court battles as CWM awaits a state Department of Environmental Conservation hazardous waste siting board decision on its future.
"I understand ... (the) CWM tax levy is no longer affecting the budget these days," Hill said. "I wanted to make it clear ... I do live on Pletcher Road, directly behind the school, which would affect me in anything that CWM does. I have no relation to CWM.
"For maybe 10 years, you ... the board, politicians in Niagara County, have been fighting like mad to get rid of CWM, even though it's going to be there forever."
Hill pointed to past CWM gross receipts money to the town, and the company's now uncertain future. "If you kill the golden goose, it will still be there, but we will all have to dig into our pockets for more money," he said. "I believe the goose has come home to roost, and I am not happy about it at all.
"I realize that money has to come from somewhere, but I don't think it's right," Hill added, and told board members this will be remembered come election time.
Lewiston resident Amy Witryol also spoke on CWM.
"I'd like to begin by complimenting our town employees. They do an excellent job and provide us with quality services," she began. "In tough budget times, that needs to be said."
Turning to the topic of town revenues, Witryol continued, "In the past three years, revenue from Modern has declined by roughly $380,000, and is likely to decrease this year, for a total of $550,000."
Noting the Sentinel's reference in recent articles of Modern's funding to the town as being "stagnant," Witryol noted the decline in Modern funding to the town over the past several years - from "well over a million dollars." She went on to say, "We haven't seen even a fraction of that from CWM in literally decades.
"The comments of $200-$250,000 are accurate, and (the CWM) budget (contributions) in the last two years has been $75,000 on a $16 million budget. ...
"To be fair, the primary factors of our budget problems are, No. 1, the enormous hangover left us (from) Supervisor Reiter's drain of millions of dollars from town reserves, and the income it would have generated. And we're talking millions of dollars, just in a few years.
"No. 2, an event and exchange rate-driven half-million-dollar (decrease) in Modern revenues in recent years, and, threesome, over-optimistic sales tax projections. ... We get over $3.6 million in sales taxes, and that's a significant figure.
"We all look forward to getting past this difficult change, because of the confluence of these three factors, and generating more income for the county, as a whole, through more sustainable economic development (without CWM.) ...
"Change is difficult for all of us. It would help if residents could see a summary of fixed versus variable expenses, trended over the past 10 years, and ranked by highest to lowest dollar amount, in addition to the annual changes in reserves."
Witryol suggested the town post that on its website. She said it would "help residents see the previous year's actual amounts. ... In its format, the budget is very, very difficult ... to understand."
In closing, Witryol said, "Folks that I've met on Creek Road ... are extremely grateful that, since last November, when CWM closed, they've been sleeping a lot better at 4:30 and 5 o'clock in the morning, and certainly every parent who's got a child in that school appreciates what you do, on the Niagara Falls Storage Site and on CWM, to fulfill what I know is your first priority: to protect public health and safety."
Voicing her own and the community's support to Supervisor Steve Broderick and the Town Board as it struggles with the 2017 budget, Witryol said, "We all look forward to helping you build a better Lewiston after we get through this tough change."
Wrapping up budget discussions that night, the Town Board announced it would hold a public hearing en route to finalizing and adopting Lewiston's 2017 budget plan at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 9, at Town Hall. The budget needs to be filed with the state by Nov. 21.
In other news from the session
•The Town Board announced it would hold a joint meeting with Mayor Terry Collesano and the Village of Lewiston Board of Trustees at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 7, at the Red Brick Municipal Building, 145 N. Fourth St.
•The Town Board will hold a public hearing, to extend its six-month moratorium barring sludge use activities on area farms, at 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 14, at Town Hall. Town Attorney Brian Seaman said the town's action is necessary in the face of ongoing litigation that the Town of Wheatfield has been encountering over the use of biosolids on farming properties.
•Town grant writer Bernie Rotella informed the board the New York State Department of Transportation is reviewing final design plans for the Lewiston Trail, which, when complete, will extend from Devil's Hole State Park to Center Street.
Rotella also said he would file applications next month before the Niagara River Greenway Commission for the Mohawk Trail, from Ninth Street to the Lewiston Trail (a $10,000 project); the Morgan Lewis bust project ($25,000); and plans for a restroom at the Lewiston fishing station on Water Street (approximately $50,000).
The Greenway Commission will meet Tuesday, Nov. 15. For more information, visit www.niagaragreenway.org.