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Town of Lewiston: Financial woes heard at board session

by jmaloni
Sat, May 31st 2014 07:00 am

by Terry Duffy

The town's troubling financial picture reared its ugly head again at Thursday's Lewiston Town Board meeting.

Topics included a budget deficit, continuing disagreement over Artpark police funding and a new misunderstanding with the New York Power Authority over assistance to Lewiston intended to cover water rates.

All said, it wasn't pretty.

 "We're really getting to a low point ... my concern is the town tax ... something has to be done significantly to bring costs in."

So summarized Town Finance Officer Paul Kloosterman to the Lewiston Town Board as he revealed the latest financial situation for the town. Kloosterman reviewed the preliminary numbers from Brown and Co. that were submitted to the state. It showed that Lewiston had a net deficit of $700,000 from last year and that the town could be looking at the same situation (a $700,000 deficit) again this year.

Specifically Kloosterman reported deficits of $450,000 in the A fund and $100,000 in the BD fund over the past year. Sewer and water accounts were reported in good shape and he said the town managed to cover shortfalls by using its fund balances, with transfers coming from other departments, including highway.

But he said the same scenario appears to be presenting itself this year, primarily due to lower than desired revenues, including reduced tipping fees expected from Modern. The company sets its schedules on what's called the Waste Price Index, a formula based on its recent activity from neighboring communities, which is also down and is likely to continue.

"That concerns me," Kloosterman said, telling board members the town really needs to start addressing it come budget time this fall.

Town Supervisor Dennis Brochey said he couldn't agree more.

"Paul investigated this a couple months ago. I told the board about this (last year's deficit numbers) ... that we're a half million short. At that rate we're going we'll be a half million short this year."

As noted, the matter was one of a few contentious financial issues revealed Thursday. Another was Artpark.

Town Councilman Ron Winkley offered a proposal for the town, beyond the money already committed to Artpark for family programming, to settle the matter regarding police costs.

"I'd like to bring this to an end," said Winkley as he offered a plan to settle it once and for all, with Artpark's 2104 summer concert season ready to begin. "We need to discuss this long term (but) after this season."

With that, Winkley presented a motion for Artpark to reimburse the town $40,000 for police overtime costs, which would include $29,000 in staffing and overtime costs, plus $10,000 to cover the costs of traffic control, namely to cover cone placements by Lewiston officers for Artpark concerts at roughly $750 per show.

Lewiston officers took over that service for Artpark under the Steve Reiter administration; previously Artpark had contracted it out to the tune of $1,400 to a state firm according to Artpark and Co. Chair John Camp.

And once again it was met with disagreement from Brochey. "Ron, I hesitatingly agreed on $40,000 (total costs)" he said. "The cones were not brought up."

"I wanted to give them what the costs are, $29,000 for police overtime," replied Winkley.

"Ron, that's not correct," Brochey returned.

As tempers heated between the two, the police/cones measure went on to be presented for a board vote. It passed with Brochey casting the lone no vote.

Commenting later, Brochey said, "Paul was just mentioning we were short last year. We're short this year ... and we're going to give away more?

"I can't believe we're consistently giving it away and how I can be consistently outvoted. I'm trying to do what I can here for Lewiston residents," said Brochey in frustration.

Winkley in response reiterated his figure of $29,000 in actual police costs - a figure Brochey continues to have odds with. "They (Artpark) wanted a bill," said Winkley. "They (the town) cannot charge twice. It's double dipping."

Still another troubling financial matter that came up was the funding assistance from the New York Power Authority to Lewiston that had been used to cover water systems improvements. Kloosterman said the "water discounts" issue, as had been understood by the town, involved NYPA monies from the 2007 relicensing agreement going toward improvement needs such as meter replacements, which in turn would assist the town's budget picture and its residents. The plan provided $420,000 to Lewiston towards improvement costs last year and was anticipated to provide the same this year.

That is, until NYPA began to raise questions this year when Brochey put in another request.

"NYPA has asked the town to stop it immediately and come up with a new plan," said Kloosterman. He said that NYPA had interpreted its role as differently, with it saying the funding should be going toward assisting toward the town's electrical costs associated with providing water services, not replacement items such as meters. "The town needs to work on this," he said.

Commenting on the matter, Brochey explained, "I asked them (NYPA) for money for meter heads. At first we were going to get it, $420,000 this year, $420,000 next year. It sounded like they were going to, but someone in White Plains (NYPA's headquarters) said this doesn't sound right."

The matter concluded with town attorneys intending to meet with NYPA to discuss a solution.

"I'm hoping it's money we have," Brochey said later.

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