All fund balance accounts healthy; Broderick addresses residential water meter replacements
By Terry Duffy
The Town of Lewiston received favorable news Monday on the status of its overall financial health. It received a preliminary results analysis of fiscal year 2017 ending Dec. 31 by external auditing firm Dresher & Malecki.
"Overall, the town is in a stable financial position," said Carl Widmer, senior manager of Dresher & Malecki. He appeared before the board with Matt Montalbo, CPA and partner, to present the audit findings.
In his analysis, Widmer made note of favorable fund balance increases in all the town's major operating funds. "That's putting you in a good position to take on the budget challenges ahead ... health insurance, retirements, others ... so you're in a good position," he said.
Widmer cited the cooperative environment and transparency that exists between the town and its auditor.
"This year, fortunately there weren't any major changes; we have received full cooperation from the town; we visit(ed) several departments and received full cooperation from the supervisor and his staff to get all the record in order," Widmer said. "We had a full scope audit, unlimited."
And as mentioned, his report showed basically all positives for the town.
Focusing on the town's general fund activity for 2017 - town spending, monies taken in, and where the fund balance ended up - Widmer said, "The general fund in 2017 experienced an increase in fund balance of $465,000, while expenditures stayed relatively steady (controlled spending). Revenues did experience an increase (from the town's new property tax). By Dec. 31, 2017, the total fund balance is $966,000. ... It grew considerably from last year."
He told board members the Government Finance Officers Association recommends municipalities maintain an ideal of two months of available fund balance spending. In Lewiston's case, that has grown appreciably in just past years.
"Last year, the general fund was at about 18 percent; this year it has grown to about 34 percent," Widmer said.
Reviewing Lewiston's general town/outside village fund, he commented, "Both revenue and expenditures increased a little bit, but again (a) controlled increase in the spending; revenues went up a little bit, there was some favorable mortgage tax and some state transportation money coming in this year. The results of the activity increased fund balance $314,000."
As a result, Widmer said the town's amount of funding assigned for specific use (money available) now totals $1,469,950, or about 48 percent of that fund's budget for next year.
"That's a growth of about 34 percent," he said.
Looking at the town's highway fund, Widmer again pointed to positives: "(Last year saw) an increase in activity on both sides. On the revenue side, it was the newer property tax. On the spending side, there was a pretty significant truck purchase this year, nearly $190,000."
"Considering that year's activity, this fund balance increased $154,000, to $664,000 (in) total fund balance (for highway)," he said. "The available portion is about $515,000; that represents 18 percent of next year's budget. ... It's an increase from last year."
Reviewing the town's water district fund, Widmer commented, "Activity is relatively consistent with the prior year."
He cited a fund balance increase of $67,000 that resulted in a total of $315,000 in available fund balance. "Last year, it was about 13 percent; this year it (amounted to) 12 percent -- due to an increase in the 2018 budget from 2017. "When you look at the infrastructure needs in the water district, this is a fund that is not at the same operating levels of the other funds."
Turning to the sewer district fund, Widmer said it experienced "a moderate increase" in 2017 -- $56,000 - to reach a "whole fund balance to a little bit over $2.6 million. This fund is fully funded when you compare it to next year's budget. Certainly an adequate fund balance in this year's fund."
Wrapping up his remarks, he told board members, "We've seen firsthand the improvements with the town. This is the third year in the audit. ... This year we don't anticipate any reportable findings (deficiencies in the budget).
"Our recommendations in prior years, it's been addressed and actions been taken. The reporting of the financial records are much more consistent and the maintenance of the records (by the town's financial office) have vastly improved (from 2015).
"The town has taken care of all the major issues. There's nearly $4.5 million in cash at year's end in the capital projects fund. There's a lot of money in there, a bunch that's been committed to various projects out there. But there's still some money in there that represents either past grants or past proceeds of debt (issued)."
Widmer encouraged the town to determine the status on whether the grant (and other) funding sources concluded, had wrapped up, or if there was still surplus money available. "Look at the source of those funds, and (see) where they can be applied to (otherwise)," he said.
Widmer also recommended the town develop an actual fund balance policy, pay further attention on improving its IT operating policies/procedures, and further analyze the financial impacts of its various capital projects.
On a question from Town Councilman Bill Geiben on whether the town could look forward to an improvement in its overall ratings by Moody's Investors Service, Widmer sounded cautiously optimistic.
"The improvement to fund balances and the Town Board's willingness to put in taxes (is) something that's weighed favorably by the ratings agencies," he said.
The Dresher & Malecki full audit is expected to be available for viewing on the town's website in coming weeks.
Moving to other items:
•In related financial news, the Town Board authorized Finance/Budget Officer Jacqueline Agnello to pay off a $995,000 highway department bond anticipation note, using available funds in the town's H-97 NYPA hydropower account.
"The town will save over $90,000 by paying this off," she told board members as the request was approved.
•The board addressed the large number of Lewiston residences still in need of cost-free water meter replacements (to property owners). Town Supervisor Steve Broderick said that, in order to get the work done, Lewiston Water Department crews need to access properties to complete installations of new meters, but homeowners need to cooperate.
"There are 700 homes we still need to get into to replace the water meter," Broderick said. "This is (done) at no cost to the homeowner."
Announcing the town's next step, Broderick stated, "We're going to start the process of sending a letter - the first letter, a general letter. Then we're going to send a (reminder) letter three times. ... If we get no response, we're going to send (it) certified mail, advising them that, if they do not make an appointment (to address the installation), their water service will be shut off."
Once a resident receives final notice, he will have "72 hours to contact us or your water will be shut off at your expense. So if there's any costs incurred (by the town) it will be to the homeowner," Broderick said. "All we ask is the people contact us to change the meter."
Broderick noted the entire install entails a five- to 10-minute appointment on the part of the homeowner.
"We will start shutting off water, because we're getting no response and 700 is too many," he said.
For more information, affected homeowners are asked to call the Water Department at 716-754-8213, ext. 235 or 236, to schedule an appointment.
•The Town Board held a public hearing on a proposed local law to amend the town code, with regard to fees, allowing for the board to establish an assortment of new fees by resolution.
No comments were heard from residents Monday and, pending attorney review, further action is anticipated by the board at its August meeting.
•Attorney for the town Ryan Parisi said the Planning Board reviewed a new solar project being considered for a property at 1897 Swann Road. A Town Board public hearing to consider site plan review and special use permits related to the solar project will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 27.
•The Town Board approved a retirement request for Lewiston Police Capt. John Penzotti, who will be leaving his full-time position with LPD after 20 years of service.
Penzotti was approved to remain with LPD as a part-time officer.
Board members also approved the appointment of LPD officer Josh Caine to captain of the department on a provisional basis.