Lewiston gets favorable audit news
By Terry Duffy
The Lewiston Town Board took steps Monday to get a handle on short-term rentals. While other communities continue to debate the “What to do?” question, Lewiston approved an open-ended moratorium that effectively puts the matter on hold until all questions concerning zoning codes and permitted uses are reviewed in detail.
Titled Local Law No. 1 of 2023, the measure establishes a temporary moratorium on new short-term rentals. Explaining its purpose, Clerk Donna Garfinkel said, “The Town of Lewiston recognizes the growing interest in short-term rental properties. It is further recognized that the short-term rental use is not currently authorized or properly recognized under the Town of Lewiston code, and could be incompatible with the existing character and property uses in some areas of the Town of Lewiston.
“It is further recognized that this incapability would potentially compromise and inhibit more appropriate growth, as established by the Town of Lewiston’s comprehensive plan and zoning code. Therefore, the purpose of this moratorium is to allow the Town Board the opportunity to draft a short-term rental law and/or update the town’s current zoning code as appropriate, including but not limited to: a determination whether short-term rentals should be permitted within the Town of Lewiston; and if allowed, an analysis of where and in what manner short-term rentals are most appropriate.
“These effects are undertaken to promote protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the Town of Lewiston.”
Town Attorney Al Bax said, “This law effectively complies with the town’s zoning. There will be additional opportunity for comment, possibly at another meeting called by the Town Board, but also if and when the town comes with a final resolution and proposed law on the subject. There will be other public hearings where comments are taken for consideration by the town.
“Just so that public is aware, this a place-setter at this point, and effectively will be maintaining the status quo as the law as it exists in 2023.”
No comments from the public were heard, and a motion to close the hearing was moved and accepted thereafter. Local Law No. 1 placing said moratorium on short-term rentals went on to be approved by a 5-0 vote later on in the session.
Town of Lewiston Audit
In other news, the town received favorable news on its 2022 town audit, conducted by Carl Widmer, CPA of Drescher & Malecki LLP, municipal auditing consultants.
“We’re just about ready to release stats,” Widmer said as he opened his comments on the audit completed Dec. 31, 2022. “Here tonight, we’ll offer an overview of the audit itself – a process.”
He explained this involved the firm’s consultants meeting with town department officials as part of the review. The audit presentation itself comprised these main parts: auditor communications; a high-level overview of the town’s major funds – the general fund; town outside village; highway; water and sewer; and overall comments.
Widmer said Drescher & Malecki reviewed the trends in town accounts over the past years, examining revenues, expenditure activity and the fund balances, and comparing those to 2022.
“There were no significant changes this year, so this year’s (2022) financial statements should be able to go up against 2021’s and be a fair comparative statement,” Widmer said.
The firm’s auditors reviewed all facets of the town’s financial statements and, “There was nothing that came up,” he added.
Reviewing the general fund, Widmer said comparisons of the past five years of revenues vs. expenditures to those of 2022 found the town “spent more than you brought in.”
Calling it “by-design” spending, Widmer said the town found itself in the favorable position to work with its fund balance and use available monies for capital improvements. As a result, Lewiston was able to dedicate its general fund toward these expenditures while its revenues line stayed exactly the same. As a result, the fund balance saw a decline of $4.3 million.
Reviewing the town/outside village account, Widmer said the town was again in a favorable position to use available monies to outspend revenues.
“Very similar trend to your general fund: You were making money the last four years but, in 2022, it inversed,” he said. “Capital improvements went up; and this was done by (money) transfers.”
He said the town/outside village account experienced a revenue increase with state aid, but its fund balance also went up by $576,000. As a result, the town had an available fund balance of just under $2 million.
Widmer said a review of the town’s highway, water and sewer accounts, likewise, all showed consistency in revenues outweighing expenditures in the first four years (2017-21), and in 2022 it changed – with the town spending more than it brought in, oftentimes using its favorable fund balances.
Widmer said the water account recorded a $375,000 increase in its fund balance, and that, despite a decrease in the property taxes, “revenues were still able to exceed spending.”
The town’s “plan to move forward and grow a more favorable fund balance is coming to fruition,” he said.
For sewer, Widmer said its fund balance saw a $40,000 decrease, due to the town’s opting to spend more on equipment and capital improvements.
Overall, “There are no reportable findings, Widmer said. “The town is still in a stable financial position.”
•The board approved a new fee and operating schedule for the Dickersonville Cemetery. Garfinkel said that new burial fees are $500 for the traditional opening and closing of graves, and $250 for grave preparation for cremation. Operating hours for the said burial services are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays, with no service offered on Sundays.
•The board approved a motion by Councilman Jason Myers for Christmas lighting improvements in the hamlet of Sanborn. Myers said the $7,900 project would see installation of new displays on 17 light poles ahead of the upcoming holiday season.