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By Michael DePietro
The Town of Lewiston’s independent outside auditing firm, Drescher & Malecki LLP, delivered an overall positive report to the Town Board last week regarding the 2018 fiscal year – albeit with some cautionary advice for the future.
“Overall, we went through it, the financial position, and the town is in a stable position,” said Carl Widmer, a partner with the firm who was on hand to deliver the results. “You've had growth in fund balance in all of your major operating funds, so you're in a good place to adopt a fund balance policy, and say what levels are appropriate to maintain and evaluate the capital needs of the future.”
In the general fund, revenues and transfers-in were above expenditures for the third straight year, with a $373,000 increase in the funding balance for the year. Overall, the town’s unassigned fund balance was about $1.2 million.
Of all the numbers given, Widmer said the upward trend in the town’s general fund balance is the most noteworthy.
“When a reader of financial statements is looking at any one number, this is the number they're looking at,” Widmer said. “A common benchmark for what they use to evaluate this dollar amount is to say, ‘If we look at your next year's budget … how long could we go through the next year using only your unassigned fund balance?’ So, this $1.2 million represents 43% of the 2019 year’s budget.”
Other balances listed in the report: the general-town outside village fund balance was $1.8 million; the highway fund, $795,000; the water district fund balance, $362,000; and the sewer district fund, $2.7 million.
While the report was positive overall, Widmer advised the board to address a few concerns, primarily a need for the town to establish a fund balance policy.
Widmer said it was “imperative” that a policy is put in place and that the town “marry that with plans for future capital reinvestment and use of the restricted funds.” He went on to note, “The cash on hand for the town is at a high level, and looking at the interest earnings … there (are) certainly some opportunities to net some interest earnings.”
In response, Town Finance/Budget Director Jacqueline Agnello said the town is currently working with Seaman Norris LLP to formalize a fund balance policy.
Additionally, Supervisor Steve Broderick noted the plans for an investment policy the board approved last month. He said he and Agnello would look to begin investments in “the next week or two.”
Broderick went on to clarify that whatever investments the town decides on will be low-risk investments backed by the state.
“New York state, like I said before, has some of the strictest investment policies for what you can invest in. So we will not be buying bitcoin or anything like that. It's basically T-bills, is what we're looking at,” Broderick said.
Widmer also advised the town to consider raising the Water Department’s fund balance.
“(The water fund balance) did improve from 2017, but when you consider a budget of nearly $3 million in the water fund ... you may want to maintain a higher level of fund balance in something like a water or sewer district fund in the event that an emergency occurs, or you need a quick repair, to have that cash on hand,” Widmer said.
Finally, Widmer brought up the issue of IT security.
“I think it's becoming apparent that governments, or software data, is vulnerable to penetration or misappropriation. … We want to make sure that the Town of Lewiston is prepared to ward that off and then, in the event that something did happen, you would have a policy in place to say, ‘This is what we do now,’ ” Widmer said.
Broderick noted the town recently adopted a cloud-based system. He said the board is, “definitely going to come up with a policy for a ‘what-if,’ if something were to happen.”
LED Conversion Update, NYSERDA Bronze Certification
Councilman Rob Morreale took a moment to recap the developments made during the special session that occurred on July 8, wherein the town approved the proposed LED conversion plan through National Grid.
At that meeting, National Grid representative Marc Gschwend said that, per the plan, National Grid would retain ownership of the town’s streetlights, while Lewiston would reap the savings benefit in exchange for funding to facilitate the conversion.
The new LED lights carry an overall life expectancy of around 25 years, and are estimated to generate $8,500-$8,600 in annual energy savings, which results in 156,000 kilowatt hours saved annually, Gschwend said.
While the plan carried an upfront cost of roughly $33,000, an incentive of $27,190 was offered by National Grid, meaning the total amount paid by the town would be $6,489.44.
Gschwend also assured the board that upkeep and repair of the lights remains the responsibility of National Grid.
“If there’s (damage), you guys don’t actually see a price change. The overall change is that annually you will see a cost savings,” Gschwend said.
The current rate plan offered by National Grid runs through 2020. However, per a state agreement, the town still has an opportunity to purchase the street lights if it choses to.
When asked how long the project will take to complete, Gschwend said that, for the proposed 500 lights, it would take approximately three to four months, meaning construction would be completed by the end of the fiscal year.
Additionally, Gschwend said the company is working on a proposal to convert the remaining 86 “ornamenta” lights located around the town.
Also at Monday’s meeting, Broderick thanked Morreale and Building Supervisor Tim Masters for their efforts in getting the conversion plan completed.
Masters went on to announce Lewiston was recently awarded a Bronze Certification from NYSERDA as part of the Certified Climate Smart Community Program. The certification means the town had hit a number of milestones or “action items” relating to environmentally sound policies, including the installation of an electric car charger, reinsulating the Senior Center, and adding LED lights to all of the town buildings.
“Anytime we do an action item, we send that information to NYSERDA … and that gets us a higher rating,” Masters said. He went on to note the certification had been issued before the conversion plan was announced.
Riverfront Park Master Plan Postponed
Resolutions regarding Riverfront Park were removed from the agenda after an apparent miscommunication about what was needed for the grant.
“It had to be submitted by July 26, which required SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review), which we weren’t prepared to do. So, unfortunately, we’ll miss out on the opportunity for a grant this year,” Broderick said. “We’ll attempt to claim the same grant next year. It's a yearly grant, so if we’re going to go after the grant, it would have to be next year.”