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Councilmen clash, then compromise, over budget

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Fri, Nov 8th 2019 04:00 pm

By Benjamin Joe

Tribune Editor

The Town of Niagara Town Board parted ways Thursday night after three-hours of discussing the budget. Councilmen Samuel Gatto, Marc Carpenter, and Richard Sirianni ran plans to trim budget lines to free up funds for other endeavors by Deputy Supervisor Charles Teixeira via phone. The resulting argument ended the meeting.

However, calmer heads did prevail and Teixeira, Gatto and Sirianni were able to meet the following morning and compromise with little contention.

Carpenter was at his day job, but indicated the night before that he would review the changes to the budget and any agreement the other three came to.

“This is probably one of the biggest things, no matter what we disagree on throughout the year when we vote on stuff. This is the one thing, (whether) we either agree or disagree. This is one of the most important things they pay us to do as residents. This is huge. It’s the hugest thing,” Teixeira said after the dust settled with what looked like a final plan for the 2020 budget to be voted on Nov. 6 following a public hearing.

Final Compromise

In conclusion, the Councilmen proposed five clerks and a recreation aid receive a $1/hour raise in light of the workload expected in 2020 referenced by the Town Justices and Police Chief James Suitor. Also, Highway Superintendent Bob Herman would get one or two part-time seasonal helpers for the summer, working in total, 800 hours. Finally, the promotions director for the town and the adult recreational director would each get an additional $975 each for the work they do.

The board also discussed the possibility of hiring two part-time workers, one as a part-time tax assessor, and another as a part-time assistant building inspector. However, it was decided to combine the jobs despite Sirianni’s misgivings.

“I’m not against if it (the assistant building inspector position) goes to full-time down the road, but I would rather start part-time,” Teixeira said. “Like you (Sirianni) say: without adjusting the budget and controlling our costs.”

“I just believe that it’s not going to work because you’re going to have one person trying to train and get certificates as a building inspector and try to train as a tax assessor,” Sirianni said. “That’s going to be a big thing.”

Beginnings of a Plan

The night before, Sirianni came to the rest of the board – minus Teixeira, who was at his other job – with some research and a plan to execute.

“Let me tell you where I’m hoping to get some money,” Sirianni said. “Let’s go to engineering, Page 26.”

Sirianni brought the board’s attention to what appeared to be cache of funds, unused, as of Sept. 30.

“What I’m saying is, he (Bob Lannon, town engineer) put in $55,000,” he said. “He has, this year, as of Sept. 30, $46,000 left in his budget.”

With a piece of these funds, about $20,000, Sirianni proposed the clerks be given a dollar raise and two part-timers be given to the highway department for summer paving.

“So, if you took $20,000 for that budget, it doesn’t affect Lee’s (Supervisor Lee Wallace) numbers and you could pay for both,” Sirianni said.

“I think with some of that excess engineering money, that would be hopefully be there, will go back to the general fund. We just take it back and add those two items,” Carpenter said. “Cover the clerks, the court clerks, and the part-time summer help for the highway department.”

Plan Continues

Sirianni wasn’t done yet.

The concert series in the Town of Niagara has been doing well, so much so, in Wallace’s tentative budget, he estimated $125,000 income from them, Sirianni said.

“He spent this year on the concert series $136,197 and he brought in $139,400,” Sirianni said. “So, even though he brought in $3,000 more than he spent. It’s a wash. … He did not use the $15,000 we gave him for the concert start up. He didn’t use that.”

Sirianni indicated that because the concerts had been so successful, he was led to ask, “So, why do we have to give another $15,000 this year?”

Carpenter said that it was possible that the money could be used to bring in a bigger band and perhaps Teixeira would know the answer. It might be better, he said, to check in before declaring open season on the funds.

Sirianni said he did not want to hurt the concerts, but also, “There’s money in the pot, so why add to it?”

“If that $15,000, if we utilize that, what do you have in mind?” Carpenter asked.

“If we take care of the clerks and the part-time people, the only other concerns would be $5,000 for the trees,” Sirianni said, referring a request Herman had made in another budget session. “And a tax assessor. … I think the focus with that should be the tax assessor.”

Sticking Point

“The money is there for half and half,” Carpenter said. “But you want to make it into a full-time inspector. … I’m not against that.”

Carpenter then asked the group to run it by Teixeira, but said he could agree with Sirianni’s plan.

“I would have to agree with Rick, in the sense that if we were to hire one person to cover both, that’s asking for a lot of training, and a lot of back and forth,” Carpenter said. “I mean, having them half time in the inspector’s office and then having them part-time in the assessor’s office. … If the person had one skill and didn’t have to learn both jobs, then I’m saying, I’d probably be OK with that. … (But) I would be comfortable with designating a full-time assistant building inspector and try to get some of this money earmarked, where-ever we can get it from, and see if we can get a part-time tax assessor.”

After some discussion, the three decided to take $15,000 from the concert budget line, put $5,000 toward taking down dead trees, and use the remaining $10,000 for a part-time tax assessor. From engineering, they’d take $20,000; $12,000 for the part-timers in the Highway Department, and $5,000 to give the clerks a dollar-raise, leaving an additional $3,000 for the assessor.

“Now, if you do this. adult recreational,” Sirianni said. “He’s (Wallace) has increased his salary $1,600 a year. … We don’t get a $1,600 raise, nobody does! … Let’s keep him at $10,400. That’d be $14,600 (for the assessor). … Lee’s got for half of an assessor is $22,500.”

To bridge the gap, Sirianni had the answer.

“Promotional,” he said. “Now, if Lee wants to do what we did and come up with the other $10,000 … I don’t want to give him a raise.”

“I don’t know what he does, to be honest with you,” Carpenter said. “I mean seriously. I’m not trying to be funny. I don’t know what Lee asks him to do, whether he’s increasing the workload or he just believes he needs a raise. I don’t know. … We need to ask, can we take the raise out of the concert funds?”

“The $350 a night comes out of the concert series.” Sirianni said. “Why can’t that $9,400 come out of concert series?”

“So, what you’re saying is you don’t think the town should pay for it?” Gatto asked.

“It’s not necessary, is what I’m saying,” Sirianni replied. “We could give that to a part-time assessor and a full-time inspector.”

It Falls Apart

The three called Teixeira, but it quickly spiraled out of control. Sirianni took the lead speaking position, but like “oil and water,” as Sirianni put it, he and Teixeira did not see eye-to-eye.

Even before the call was made, Carpenter noted that Teixeira would be “blindsided” by the proposal having not sat in the room as the plan was being constructed. Gatto said that it might be better to arrange a meeting for the next day where he and Sirianni could sit with the deputy supervisor.

“If you guys could do it tomorrow,” Carpenter said. “Just to give him a little more detail, because doing this over the phone is rather difficult. … It’s going to be difficult for him to see what we’re talking about.”

However, the phone was made. Voices were raised, eventually it seemed like the board’s vote would be split with either Sirianni or Teixeira being the lone dissenting vote depending on where the other councilmen went in the split.

For the night, any agreement seemed impossible.

Next Morning

“I understand you want to keep it in the budget without changing the budget total,” Teixeira said. “A couple different things. I looked back at the engineering in the last three years. We were overbudgeted ’17 and ’18 by $100,000 each year in engineering costs. And in ’18 we were over $40,000. We were over budget. So, I understand that we budgeted and we still have some left (but several projects are being looked at this year)… I understand what you want to do, and I understand we have to try to compromise. I looked and we have maybe $100,000 in contingency funds.”

“It’s extra money for when things come up,” Teixeira said. “This is money we didn’t use last year. It’s called a contingency fund because you didn’t have it spent on something, but you got to put it in there, and it’s kind of like for stuff that comes up like, ‘OK, you need $5,000 for trees?’ We’d pay it out of that if you need it.”

Teixeira said he’d rather wait for a bid on the trees and find out what is needed to move. He also had something to say on the concerts.

“I know it’s a touchy subject,” Teixeira said. “Why can’t we keep the money in that line. If we can take the money to do all these things that we can agree on from the contingency, if we leave that money in there, in one way it says that we, even if we don’t end up using it. … We have the ability to say, ‘Yes, we are for what it does for the vendors, for all the volunteers that make the profit, and one of the big things is: the firemen. Hear me out on this. Over the three years we’ve been doing the concerts, it’s been $80,000 into their fund. Now, that’s $80,000 that we would have had to come up with tax revenue to put into a fund for their equipment and stuff. … If we leave it (the $15,000) as a seed and don’t use it and it can go back. To me it looks like we would rather have to tax our residents for the money the firemen would make (if we didn’t use that seed). It sends a better message.”

In the end, the three agreed on each point except for the subject of a part-time assessor on top of a full-time inspector rather than one person doing both jobs. However, they agreed to compromise and use the latter until that no longer works.

“Down the road, if we choose to make this inspector a full time, he takes the test and he passes then he automatically gets it and preferably it’s a town resident,” Teixeira said. “If we just go full time right now, off the list, it might not be a town resident and we don’t even know if the person would end up staying.”

A public hearing on the Town of Niagara budget took place at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 6. The Niagara-Wheatfield Tribune will publish the results of that public hearing and any subsequent vote on the budget at its website: www.wnypapers.com.

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