Residents raise issue over attorney, finance personnel expenses
By Terry Duffy
The Town of Lewiston held a public hearing Monday on its preliminary $17,287,894 budget for 2018. It was a session that saw very few comments heard from the roughly one-half dozen in attendance.
By the numbers, the budget reflects $11,184,254 in total spending for the A general, B general/outside village, DB highway/drainage-town outside village and SS1 water pollution control center accounts, with $1,044,448 to be raised by taxes.
In special districts, it totals $6,103,641 in spending for the S10 French Landing drainage, SF fire protection, SL Lewiston Heights, SR refuse, SS2 LMSIA, SS3 Lewiston south sewer and SW1 Lewiston water improvement accounts, with $2,740,722 to be raised by taxes.
Totals for both accounts to be raised by taxes amount to $3,785,170 under the 2018 plan, compared to $3,772,058 for 2017 - a year that saw a tax rate of $1.36 per $1,000 for town and village property owners.
As revealed earlier, (Sentinel, Oct. 7), the 2018 plan provides for a 2 percent increase in salaries for town employees, excluding the Lewiston Police Department, due to continuing union contract negotiations. It also maintains sustained funding for Lewiston nonprofits at 2017 levels.
Proposed salaries for elected town officials are as follows: supervisor, $41,906; Town Board members (four), $13,856 each; town justices (two), $27,399 each; town clerk/tax collector, $62,192; and town highway superintendent, $70,181.
While not providing an actual tax rate number for 2018, Town Finance/Budget Officer Martha Blazick indicated Monday she expects the 2018 tax rate to remain about the same as last year.
"If you want to look at the rate as compared to '17 and '18, (there's been some declines) ... the fire (account) went up because contracts went up; fire did go up, (but) I think the rest of them are staying pretty much the same," she said.
Of the tax rate, Blazick said, "The dollar amount is staying the same, but because of increased properties, the rate went down slightly, but it's pretty well (the same)."
As mentioned, public response to the budget was very limited from the handful of visitors at the Town Hall hearing Monday. In fact, Supervisor Steve Broderick and board members heard just two comments: one from visitor Rose Mary Warren, the other in the form of written commentary from Paulette Glasgow, who was unable to attend the session.
Of Warren's comments, she raised issue with the town's Parks and Recreation account, noting expected payment transfers for the Lewiston Family Ice Rink, and called for a "more realistic budget" to handle the department's future expenses.
She also raised issue with the town's attorney costs.
"The attorney, your litigations in 2016 was $95,000; 2017 you budgeted $169,000 - that's up $51,000. ... But 2018 only $139,000 - you're bringing (it) back a little bit," Blazick said. "But ... there's going to more attorney fees with this water district consolidation. It's not going to be them (the assigned attorneys for the town) doing that, it's going to be Brian Seaman coming back to do the water district."
"I think there's going to be more (attorney) fees with the water district," she said.
Glasgow, in her lengthy comments, raised issues on a number of fronts. Included was what she called "nonessential services" such as the Lewiston Family Ice Rink, and a proposal for a town dog shelter. Also, concerns over town attorney expenses and staffing costs in the finance department.
"I would hope that, in 2018, the Town Board would discourage such activity (soliciting money for rink operation via town employees and public resources) and hand over the operation and maintenance of the Academy Park ice rink to the community sponsors who raised nearly $90,000 to not only run the ice rink, but extended the skating season," Glasgow wrote.
Of the dog shelter, she commented, "To some, this may be an essential service but to the Lewiston taxpayer it is a long-range expense. True both the dog shelter and ice rink can be funded using NYPA funding along with grants but money from these sources can not be used to pay salaries or future maintenance, operation and possible liability. That cost would be passed down to the Lewiston taxpayer."
Regarding town expenses for legal costs, Glasgow said, "... I am questioning why we need a labor lawyer to negotiate contracts. Two town lawyers and one to oversee the $10 million water line project. Some will say there is a need for this legal advice, yet in the past previous Town Boards hired one or two lawyers that handled all aspects of the law. Further by centering all legal work on one particular law firm you might not be realizing a cost savings by seeking competitive bids for all the services you need."
And commenting on the use of additional help in the town finance department, Glasgow commented, "Some will say there is a need for three individuals to oversee and manage our finances but common sense tells us that if you need three people to do the finances, either someone isn't doing their job or this position was once again filled via nepotism. This job was originally created so that an individual could receive retirement benefits, which the Lewiston taxpayers are paying for. Former Supervisor Brochey and one member of the present Town Board, realizing it was a needless position voted to have it abolished and in the process save the taxpayer money. But for some reason this position is being funded even though it has never received a reinstatement of Civil Service approval.
"I urge the Town Board to once again remove funding for the Junior Accountant and return this money to the general fund. Should the need arise for assistance in the finance office quite possibility you might want to do as the assessor does and hire someone as a temp. The town would only have to incur the cost of salary and not benefits, which would be a cost savings."
The Town Board is expected to move on adoption of its 2018 spending plan at its Nov. 13 work session. The budget needs to be filed with the state by Nov. 20.