Town Board talks general fund and other monies in heated meeting
By David Yarger
At Tuesday's monthly Town of Niagara Town Board meeting, conversations got quite heated at times.
The meeting opened with two public hearings in regard to two rezoning requests from properties on Porter Road. Neither garnered comment and the requests were approved later in the meeting.
Next, the board heard from residents, mostly regarding the Bri Estates proposal.
The first citizen, a Colonial Drive resident, said he heard possibilities of the town incorporating a town tax, which the board deemed incorrect.
Supervisor Lee Wallace said, "We have not discussed that as a board. It was thrown out in discussion, 'Maybe we ought to have a general fund tax,' but that's the extent of it. Nothing serious at this point. "
Councilman Richard Sirianni chimed in that during a work session he grew concerned about the town's spending and said if it gets worse, then the town may have to consider a town tax.
The resident also voiced his concerns about drainage for the Bri Estates proposal, as well as the cost analysis of how much money the project would actually bring in for the town.
"I think what you're going to end up with that project, as far as a cost analysis goes; what you're going to bring in as compared to what expenditures are going to be and discomfort to the citizens - citizens who have been paying taxes for years and decades - if you take a look at this ... you're talking about snow removal, road repair, garbage pickup, possibility of sewage problems, water pressure problems and I'm telling you living 34 years on Colonial Drive. That property you're going to have drainage problems, believe me.
"I ask you as a citizen, please take a look at expenditures and what you're actually going to bring in, because I don't think you're going to bring in as much taxes as you think once the county and school system gets their share," he said.
Wallace replied, "Anyone who thinks we're behind this project ... because we want more tax dollars can not be any further from the truth. ... The developer owns the property. He has the right to make a presentation, we have the obligation to listen."
Another resident from Colonial Drive suggested the town go through and make a list of pros and cons based on the project.
The board agreed the idea is smart, but members would need to see a presentation on the proposal before any list is made.
Councilman Charles Teixeira said, "I wish they would just bring us a presentation, so we can say, 'Here's the pros and cons,' and then share it with all of you. ... Until they bring us a presentation that we can really go through, we'd be wasting the taxpayers' money doing it before."
Following privilege to the floor, Sirianni and Wallace engaged in an argument about the bill payment.
Sirianni has voted against the bill pay at recent meetings, citing the town needs to cut certain spending, such as the $1,800 plus commissions for the town's publicity firm; $995 per month for a grant writer; various department costs such as a leased truck for $300 a month; and certain entertainment venues, such as $5,000 pre-paid for a band, along with lodging.
"I know I get a 4-1 vote and I have no problem with that, but we are watching our fund balance being depleted," Sirianni said.
Wallace replied, "I don't wanna fight with you, but you insist on airing these things out in public, which I do not understand why you insist on doing this when you're painting an inaccurate picture. You're trying to paint a color by number painting that takes 10 colors and painting it with a black felt pen."
Wallace added that the concert series is self-supported, with the exception of a small amount of money, and has brought in over $60,000 in sponsors to date. Wallace also called the series a benefit to the community, because it's helped the fire company, the local Lions Club, the 50/50 organizations, the food vendors and provides entertainment to the town.
Sirianni replied, "I'm glad the fire company and all these fundraisers get money. That's not a problem. But not on the expense of our citizens. ... I've heard you say no tax dollars, but that's not true. My estimate was $30-$50,000 them concerts cost us. ... As far as airing it out publicly, I feel like I have to for two reasons. When I try to do it privately, nothing happens - that's No. 1. No. 2, it's their money. It's their fund balance. They need to understand what's going on, or at least hear one side of the story, and the proof will be in the pudding."
Wallace responded by saying the town does not have a general fund tax, which makes the argument invalid.
"The money that's in our general fund comes from revenues that the town brings in and monies that come to us from a variety of sources. No one in here gets a bill for a general fund tax. That is misleading," Wallace said.
Sirianni mentioned an auditor's report, which recommended the town spend less money.
Wallace and Sirianni also went back-and-forth regarding the town's credit card, which ended in the duo "agreeing to disagree."
Councilman Marc Carpenter also chimed in his comments regarding Sirianni's argument.
"The sky is falling is not the method I would use to describe what we're doing with our fund balance. Yes, we have to reign in some costs, there's no doubt about it. ... We're still well within the normal fund balance that we're supposed to be," Carpenter said.
Wallace added that there were years where the fund balance dropped below $200,000 and the town recovered, and he realized some changes needed to be made, but he added the auditor also suggested implementing a town tax and that department heads have had trouble staying at or below their budget.
In other news, the town said it may have to look into stricter regulations with its police officers after a part-time officer requested a six-month leave of absence after finding a job elsewhere. The town went through with the leave, though, and all agreed it's a cost that can't be anticipated.
The town pays for training for its officers and when an officer requests a leave of absence, they usually grant it to give another applicant time to train and see if it works out, and also time for the officer on leave to see if he wants to come back to the town position.
Teixeira called it a "money factor" that is a "tough decision."
Next, the board approved to revise the Youth Recreation and Parks director position to recreation director as recommended by the New York State Civil Service.
Sirianni voted against the motion, saying, "You usually get the most qualified person through the civil service. They have to take a test and maybe the top-three. What this allows, is a political appointment, a frontend or something else not necessarily qualified for the town job."
Wallace responded, "We're switching this back, because we do not have a need for a parks and recreational director. It would cost us more money. It would be cheaper for us to do it this way."
The Town Board also agreed to purchase a large area gang mower from John Deere at a cost of $52,396, with $50,000 of it coming from the New York DASNY grant. The mower covers more ground than the current town mowers and will also reduce man hours.
The board also added Bryan Kieley, Royce Consigli and Cody Guiliani to active roles with the Niagara Active Hose Fire Company.
Sirianni also rejected a late agenda item for the parks department to lease a new truck, which would replace an older truck that had been broken down for majority of winter.
At the end of the meeting, Sirianni cited his reasoning for opposition to several items.
"When I ran for Town Board I wanted to continue to make our town a great town. My intentions were never to come here and argue, fight, disagree with this board. But in my heart, I believe there's some foolish, unnecessary spending that is reducing our fund balance and possibly hurting our residents down the road," Sirianni said.
In his final remarks, Carpenter said, "I don't think it's right to really scare the residents that we're spending money foolishly. That's not the case. There are some areas we can look and review after this year and if we need to ring it in further, then we'll do that, but I don't see the town as in desperate mode as you happen to see it."
Teixeira, in his final remarks, praised the residents for their willingness to come and voice their opinions to the board.
The next Town of Niagara Town Board meeting is at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 17.