Blazick responds to budget concerns
By Terry Duffy
"We are trying to figure out what the problems are and what the solutions can be. Our desire is to do things the right way."
So commented Town Finance Director Marti Blazick Monday as the Lewiston Town Board went on to adopt the town's $16.820 million budget for 2017 by a 5-0 vote. The plan includes the return of a town tax, with a rate of $1.36 per $1,000 of assessed valuation approved for town property owners. The budget calls for tighter spending across the board for a host of town departments, and cuts to a number of town nonprofits.
The budget also allows for the Lewiston Family Ice Rink to operate this year, with some funding that was set aside in the 2017 plan to be up-fronted for use in 2016 - enabling the rink to open in time for the Lewiston Christmas Walk on Dec. 3.
"We tried to do what is right here" with respect to the budget, commented Town Councilman Rob Morreale. He called the Town Board's budget decisions "a quality of life issue" for residents. Morreale went on to point out the town already "has cut to the bone" for 2017.
In her remarks, Blazick strived to answer a number of issues raised at the Nov. 9 public hearing by resident Paulette Glasgow of the Lewiston Taxpayers Accountability and Action Alliance. "At the public hearing on the budget, there were several items that were presented and we did not have a chance to respond," Blazick said. "... The library, there was some concern about the $10,000 additional amount. ... The library was cut by (the same) 10 percent that all other organizations were cut."
"The subject of attorney's fees was brought up," Blazick continued, as she noted a question of $50,000 for personal services and $100,000 in contractual spending in the 1990s on the attorney's line. "For the 2017 budget, those two lines are a total of $169,500 ... an increase of $19,500 over a 20-year period. Considering that we are facing two major union negotiations, this seems to be a fairly reasonable increase.
"The total legal expenses also include ... the other items within legal ... and $100,000 for the CWM legal action, which Lewiston is participating in with the support of its residents."
With regard to New York Power Authority monies to the town, Blazick said, "The treatment of the NYPA revenue is per our previous boards and two different auditing firms. ... (We) feel that is the correct way of handling that."
Moving to address the town's retention of a dormant account for Joseph Davis State Park, Blazick said it was part of her overseeing of earlier Greenway-approved funds for the town to address residual projects at the park with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, as JDP returns to its control.
"We have looked at what (all) those balances are, we are very aware of them and are trying to resolve these issues," Blazick said.
And finally regarding the town's holdup of NYPA power allocation funds (electric bill rebates) to residents, Blazick asked for continued patience.
"This is a work in progress. I have said for the last month that. ... I am the hold-up. I'm working on the budget. I can't work on it right now," she said.
Blazick went on to explain the town had been pursuing the assistance of National Grid to assist with the disbursements of rebate money to residents, but was turned down.
"So it kind of puts us back to square one," she said. Blazick added NYPA is aware of the town's dilemma and fully supportive of its efforts in addressing the rebate issue.
In other news
•Town Parks and Recreation Director Michael Dashineau reported applications for ice rink guards and customer service operators are now available online at www.LewPortSports.com and at the town clerk's office.
Dashineau said open interviews would be held at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 21, at Town Hall, 1375 Ridge Road.
He also reported pre-sales of season passes will begin on Monday at Town Hall and online. Cost is $25 per individual and $50 per family.
•The Town Board held a public hearing on extending its moratorium on the disposal of sludge and septage (equate) on town lands. The hearing saw no comments and the measure went on to be approved by a 5-0 vote.
Town Attorney Brian Seaman said extending the moratorium was necessary. He said the town awaits a final determination in Wheatfield, which is dealing with litigation matters with Quasar Energy Group following approval of a local law barring the use of biosolids on farming properties in that town.
•Seaman also advised the board he was researching funding/borrowing options to allow for the town to get its planned waterline replacement work underway. Noting two options used in the past - designating individual water districts, with cost assigned to the residences involved, versus the creation of one townwide water district, with debt spread throughout the town - he said there are advantages to working under both scenarios.
With the town currently debt-free with regard to water improvement, Seaman said it makes sense for Lewiston to consider financing via a consolidated townwide district approach.
No action was taken, other than Seaman being directed by the board to further investigate the consolidated funding option.