Revised $15.588 million plan includes cuts, no taxes
By Terry Duffy
What was anticipated to be a Lewiston Town Board budget discussion en route to budget adoption Monday turned into a bit more than expected.
No sooner did Deputy Supervisor Mark Briglio open the proceedings than immediately unusual things began to happen.
Town Clerk Donna Garfinkel read a letter submitted by Councilman Ron Winkley, informing the board of his intention to resign, effective immediately. Following approval of a Councilman Al Bax motion to accept Winkley's resignation was another from Bax to nominate Winkley as town supervisor.
Briglio inquired of town attorneys as to the appropriateness of this under Roberts Rules of Order and town law. Brian Seaman advised him, "It is (appropriate)."
"Mr. Winkley, since he resigned from his seat on the Town Council, is eligible to be appointed to the vacancy, which was created by Mr. (Dennis) Brochey's resignation," Seaman said. "So, upon a motion and a vote by the majority of the Town Board, it is proper."
Soon after, Briglio departed his seat as Bax acknowledged his service to the town.
Winkley then appeared with town justices Tom Sheeran and Hugh Gee. Sheeran conducted a brief swearing-in ceremony.
Next was the appointment by Winkley of Councilman Bill Conrad as his deputy supervisor. Conrad, who lost his seat in the Nov. 3 election to newly elected Democrat Rob Morreale, will fill the balance of Briglio's term. He was approved by the board, then sworn-in by Gee.
Part three of the appointment proceedings came with the nomination by Conrad of newly elected Bill Geiben to fill the vacancy of Winkley's resignation on the board. As a result, the Town Board is currently completely Republican.
Procedural moves establishing the hydropower accounts and town bank account signatories of Winkley, Conrad and Finance Officer Martha Blazick came next. Then budget discussions commenced.
Well, sort of.
Winkley presented the unexpected motion for approval of a New York Power Authority resolution and referred the matter to Seaman.
"This is a resolution I prepared at the board's instruction," Seaman began. "As everyone knows, the town, under our agreement with NYPA, has the ability to designate its ultimate user of the hydropower allocation. ... The resolution as prepared designates the Town of Lewiston and its special districts as the ultimate user of the allocation."
Bax then made motion to approve the resolution as drafted. The new board summarily approved it.
In his remarks Winkley stated, "We have tried for two-and-a-half years to figure out ways to handle this (NYPA hydropower) money. At this time, I feel, after discussing with the other board members, that this is the best way to help the Town of Lewiston as a whole and help our budget and keep our services. ... It also allows our ability, the next board, the ability to ... come up with cost-saving, energy-saving means that will really affect the town for a long time."
"I believe the resolution is going to help us in a lot of ways," Winkley said.
Soon after, the NYPA resolution was approved. It set the stage for the 2016 budget to finally come together.
Next were minor approvals covering five pieces of surplus parks equipment, all under $500 in value (equipment used earlier by the town for Joseph Davis State Park maintenance, but no longer needed) and a new recreational fee schedule. Both saw approvals.
The new recreational fee schedule provides for the following: $25 registration fee goes to $30; $50 registration will go to $60; $75 to $90; and $100 registration fee will go to $120.
Winkley said both moves would assist the town in raising additional revenue.
Budget discussions then resumed and included criticisms of Brochey.
"After our enlightening budget discussion last week ... where we were suddenly informed ... 'It was worse than we thought' ... it was like a ship without a captain," Winkley said. "The supervisor is like the chief budget officer, and they have to give guidance to the finance director. They also have to communicate with the board. Whether it was intentional or not - I don't believe it was - there was no communication.
"The board, finance director and all the department heads really have come together (since)," Winkley added. "They have come up with an amendment to the budget where we will not have a town tax this year. We have not gone into the appropriated fund balance, and we are not raising any of the (special district) fees."
Winkley then made a motion to decrease Town Clerk Donna Garfinkle's earlier approved salary increase of $10,000. It was passed unanimously.
And he then introduced the revised $15,588,294 2016 town budget for approval.
"It was at the level it was in 2012. ... It's gone down from last year; down from the year before ... the previous three years," Winkley said. "We are using no money out of the appropriated fund balance."
He presented the measure along with the NYPA hydropower addendums for approval. Both won unanimous passage.
"It was the hard work of Marty, the department heads" for bringing the budget to approval, Winkley said. "They did a good job."
Blazick said highlights of the revised budget reflected the following adjustments:
•Modern tipping fees increased by $47,000 rather than $50,000 as projected earlier, and CWM tipping fees increased by $25,000 per the Town Board.
•NYPA energy credit calculations were re-estimated on the town's H-97 infrastructure account, per the aforementioned NYPA agreement. The result is a $905,837 H-97 account total, down from $1.4 million earlier - saving the town $324,868 - and utilizing the $850,000 annual NYPA hydropower benefit to the town to fund the bulk of it.
•Salary increases of 1.5 percent were removed from the highway superintendent and town justices and deputy supervisor, as $10,000 was removed from the town clerk's salary.
•Reduced contractual expenses of 3 percent or more were realized by town departments, including town justices, supervisor, budget officer, senior center, safety department, election contractual, assessors and town clerk's office.
•Assorted fee adjustments (recreation) plus hourly expense adjustments for recreation and the Lewiston Family Ice Rink operations.
•Delaying some town expenditures until 2017.
Following a minor matter involving board approval of National Grid electrical pole billing, the meeting was adjourned.
Commenting afterward, Seaman discussed the moves that brought about approval of NYPA hydropower money for use in town operations. He said it would not be going toward actual funding of the budget, per se, but, instead, would be geared toward what he termed "energy credits" in various town operations, intended to save money.
"All it did was change the ultimate user for the hydropower allocation," Seaman said.
Previously, the "ultimate user" under the NYPA 2007 federal licensing settlement for 25 megawatts of low-cost power was town residents, who had benefited in the form of reduced electrical bills. Now it's the town itself as the "exclusive ultimate user," Seaman said.
"The effect will be that residents are not the ultimate user" of this (low-cost power) benefit, he said. Seaman declined to give an actual dollar amount of the low-cost power benefit, saying it changes from year to year depending on the conditions in the electrical commodities market.
Seaman said Lewiston always had the ability to name the ultimate user.
"It doesn't (mean) this money will be used for general budget purposes," he said. "It will be used according to the agreement with NYPA. For designated things, energy-related expenses. It's not as if the town is plugging this money into its general fund. ... It will be used for energy-related expenses" to be determined by the town."