Town waterline replacement project major factor; board approves Rubino brothers project
By Terry Duffy
Visitors to Thursday's Lewiston Town Board session came away with a greater understanding on why town property owners will be contending with a tax increase for 2019 on the town's now $18,127,133 budget.
"Tonight we have brought with us budget handouts," said Town Budget Finance Director Jacqueline Agnello, as she began her detailed presentation. Her actions followed last week's Sentinel report that contained an incorrect 2019 tax rate estimate, based on information conveyed from Agnello.
The tax increase is per $100,000 of assessed valuation, not $1,000.
"One of them is the 2018-19 Lewiston town tax comparison. The other is a worksheet that an individual resident can calculate their own tax liability for the 2019 year," said Agnello.
With that, she went into detail on the impact of the increase on three examples of town properties - one on Powell Drive, one in the village and one on North Hewitt Drive - each assessed at $200,000.
"If you look at the town tax comparison 2018-19 ... you can see at the top that the total budget expenditures from 2019-18 increased for a total of $839,239. But please be aware that total, $570,435, (is) for the new waterline project."
Agnello went on to explain the town's $10.4 million waterline project has resulted in an increase of 4.6 percent, or the aforementioned $839,239 impact to the current budget. She pointed out that, without the water line project factored in, the budget increase would be 1.5 percent, or a $268,804 impact.
'That is a very solid budget when you consider our contractual salary increases are 2 percent; our workers comp went up 65 percent; our property insurance increased 5 percent; and gasoline itself went up. All of these expense increases, and only a 1.5 (percent) budget increase from one year to the next," Agnello said.
She went on to say the Town Board and department heads worked "very hard in calculating this very solid financial budget."
Further, she said the town water project has reached a point where it could no longer be delayed. "It was put off (10) years ago, and it would have only been a $5 million project at that time."
Town Supervisor Steve Broderick said the Town Board has been working in earnest to address all elements of the extensive water line project in the town's northern areas - one that will see 8.3 miles of new water line infrastructure once it is complete.
"This is a project that we've been working on for two years. We had public hearings on it; its infrastructure ... every community ... is going to have to address. We've chose to address it. I wished they would have addressed it 10 years ago, they didn't."
"It needs to be replaced," Broderick said. "Fire companies made the town aware of the situation 10 years ago. When I took office, Mike Townsend, head of our water department, made me aware of it. We worked with Bob Lannon, Brian Seaman, all the board members. ... It is a project that needs to be done, and we're going to take it head on."
"Again, it's a project that we're addressing; we're not kicking the can down the road for anybody else to take care of. ... It needs to be done," Broderick said.
With regard to the town tax levy, Agnello said that, without the water project included, "the town tax levy would only be going up 2.5 percent, which would have been below the tax cap."
"The water line project is 12.8 percent of that 15.3 town tax," she said.
She continued, "The Town of Lewiston's total expenditures, $18 million worth of expenditures, is only funded through taxes by 24 percent, which is lower than the areas we have around us."
For comparison, she said the Town of Wheatfield is funded through taxes by 28 percent; the Town of Lockport, 37 percent; and the Town of Porter, 35 percent.
"Ours looks larger because our tax base to begin with is very small," Agnello said.
She closed her remarks by saying that residents who still have questions with the budget are welcome to contact her at Town Hall. Agnello can be reached at 754-8213, ext. 238.
Soon after, came Town Board votes on the town tax override, as well as to adopt the town's $18.127 million budget. Both were solid 5-0 votes for approval, with all board members expressing strong support for the water line project, as well as the budget. Town Board member Rob Morreale, in his support, called it, "a no-fat budget."
"It takes a lot of money to run this town. Seeing what it takes to operate this town, it's phenomenal," Morreale said. "I think we do a good job to keep the costs down."
As the matter closed, Broderick focused on a recent state comptroller's fiscal stress report for townships and cities. "Three years ago ... out of 12 towns in Niagara County, Lewiston was the most fiscally stressed," he said. "... As of this year, we have zero fiscal stress. We are the lowest fiscal stressed. That is a lot to be said. We've made the tough decisions and I believe we have done what is right for the town."
"We went from worst to first," Broderick said.
In other news from the session:
•The Town Board session led off with three public hearings. Included were a site plan/special use permit for the Bella Rose Winery on Ridge Road; a SEQR negative declaration/special use permit for a sign for Lewiston No. 2 Fire Co.; and a detailed site plan/special use permit with conditions/site plan approval for the Rubino brothers PUD on Upper Mountain Road/Bronson Drive.
•No comments were heard at the Bella Rose public hearing; save for concerns voiced by attorney Charles Greco, representing Modern Disposal, regarding a property issue conflict with Bella Rose interests.
That night, the Town Board opted to table the Bella Rose matter on the recommendation of attorney for the town, Ryan Parisi, who stated he wanted to review easement concerns that were presented earlier by the owner.
•The Lewiston No. 2 hearing, likewise, had no public comments, and the Town Board went on to approve parts 1, 2 and 3 to allow for a State Environmental Quality Review negative declaration for the sign.
•The Rubino brothers' public hearing also had no comments. Soon after, the Town Board, in procedural fashion, went on to approve the various elements of the project. Included were the detailed site plan approval that had little board comment; the special use permit with conditions, which included such issues as a traffic study, flood analysis and storm water concerns; and the actual site plan approval. All saw board approvals by 5-0 votes.
The project to be known as Escarpment Estates will see construction of 90 patio homes and 16 townhouses over 80.2 acres.
Commenting on the project, developer John Rubino said, "There will be a total of 90 patio home lots, and 16 townhouses built on a new street called Glen Iris Way. There will be two other new streets. The Village Green will start the first phase of 29 homes and will connect to existing Bridle Path Lane. Hidden Creek Lane will be the third new street starting from Upper Mountain Road and connecting to Bridle Path.
"(This) site is part of an existing planned unit development that was started in the 1980s and was never completed. Our concept mainly is focusing on the need for patio homes in the Town of Lewiston. I have spoken to numerous prospective buyers and local real estate agents that have told me they want patio homes. There hasn't been a patio home development in over 15 years in Lewiston, as far as I know. I know there are residents that want to size down from their existing homes and build a patio home."
Commenting on a recent agreement with the Niagara Frontier Bible Church that could see increased recreational space with the neighborhood, Rubino continued, "(We) found out that the Niagara Frontier Bible Church on the corner of Upper Mountain Road and Bronson Drive had a parking lot that abutted a playground. This was brought up to us to be a safety concern, so we will be donating 4.79 acres of land to either the Town of Lewiston or NFBC to help create a future park with many other possibilities for recreational activities.
"We think this is a win-win for the town, the church, and the community of Lewiston. We will also be helping solve an egress safety issue with the existing subdivision by adding another road off Bronson."
"New drainage will be much welcomed by existing townhouse owners that have experienced some problems the past few years," Rubino closed.
An artist's rendering of the Rubino brothers' new Escarpment Estates development at Upper Mountain Drive and Bronson Road.