New hires, town's bottom line discussed
By Terry Duffy
The Lewiston Town Board spent much of its Dec. 12 work session addressing a host of year-end business and financial issues. Included was a presentation from new Niagara River Greenway Commission Executive Director Jeanne Leccese; the town's finalizing of a retainer agreement for attorney services to handle Teamsters negotiations for water and highway employees; its approving water department hires; reviewing anticipated staff changes with Lewiston Police; and setting the date for the final audit for 2016.
As Lewiston property owners face the return of a town tax for the first time in nearly two decades, one newsmaker involved a rather lengthy discussion by Town Councilman Robert Morreale, a Niagara Falls businessman. With the topic of new hires for the town's Water Department and wastewater treatment plants on the agenda, Morreale raised issue on the state of the town's financial affairs and hiring practices.
"We have a $200,000 balance on a $16 million budget. That gives us 1-1/4 percent of our budget that we have in the bank," Morreale began. "If you went to any business person, CPA, and told them you wanted to hire employees with that kind of balance in your bank account, I know what they would tell you."
Raising the issue of new hires, Morreale continued, "(You know) when old employees leave, you still incur costs," noting the associated medical and retirement costs. "Then you hire new employees so it starts all over again. Now you incur more costs. And I don't feel we're actually in the position to do that."
Morreale suggested he felt it was about time the town began considering its bottom line when it comes to hiring. "We need to get our bottom line up to where we need to be. We're quite a bit away," he said, noting the $3 million to $4 million figure raised by town auditors Drescher and Malecki LLP.
"Next year all our costs are going up. ... I don't see any new revenue coming in, really, that's going to help us. And I don't want to go to the taxpayers next year," Morreale said. "It's not the employees, it's the financial part."
Morreale went on to fault long-standing issues the town faces: the New York Power Authority agreements and pacts with landfilling companies.
"I just wanted to touch base," he said.
Town Supervisor Steve Broderick spoke on the current state of the town's departments, noting limited staffing and growing needs. Pointed out was two impending retirements in water and the need for covering shifts to meet demands.
Town Finance Director Marti Blazick said the new hires were already factored in the town's 2107 budget.
"I understand where Bob is talking about very clearly," Blazick said. "This comes back to really looking at each department; what it takes to work that department; not to replace out of habit, but to replace truly out of need."
Morreale suggested not focusing on layoffs, but attrition in addressing future town hiring needs, while Town Councilman Bill Geiben said a good approach might be sitting down with town department heads, with a mindset toward better methods of obtaining greater efficiency where doable.
All town officials that night were of the consensus on the need for having capable employees to allow the town to function.
"I do support the department heads ... they are all very aware of the budget and what they're spending and why," Blazick said.
"Well, we just can't keep going back to the taxpayers," Morreale said. "It just doesn't work that way."
Soon after, the board went on to approve Water Department hiring of Michael Wise.
Town Board members also heard from Lewiston Police Chief Frank Previte, who informed LPD would need to replace two part-time officers, Dan Trepasso and Jeff Sweik, who are departing for full-time positions with other agencies in the area. Previte said he would be doing interviews and adjusting schedules with information on any new hires still to come.
Other news from the session:
•Leccese visited with Town Board members, where she discussed the Greenway Commission, its vision, objectives and priorities, and future goals of making the Niagara River corridor an ecotourist destination.
"People come from all over to experience what we have right here in our own backyard," Leccese said, as she invited the town's input on new ideas.
•The town discussed potential for a new kayak launch for the Niagara River.
Earlier, at a recent joint session of the Town Board and Village of Lewiston Board, strong interest was expressed by trustees in having a kayak launch in the river. However, concerns involving other users of the Lewiston Landing boat launch were viewed as an obstacle at the time.
On Monday, board members discussed the potential for a launch on lands Lewiston owns north of the Stella Niagara Preserve. The town had recently completed a comfort station nearby and expressed interest in establishing a kayak launch on the site for residents and to further ecotourism.
Town grant writer Bernie Rotella revealed the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation had given its blessing for construction of a kayak launch on the river, either for a site at Joseph Davis State Park by State Parks, or for the lands north of the preserve and built by the town. Rotella said such a project would be in the range of $30,000 to build. He suggested funding could be obtained from various sources, including from the Greenway.
Rotella said Lewiston could act as soon as the Jan. 17, 2017, deadline in submitting an application for the kayak project to the Greenway Commission.
The matter was left with the town to review its access options on the Lewiston river property before submitting a formal application.
•The board finalized its contract for retention of attorney Ed Perlman to handle upcoming Teamsters-related matters. The contract was approved at last month's session, however, some billing-related matters were left unresolved.
•The board will hold its final audit session for 2016 at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 29. It has set its re-organization meeting for 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 9.