The City of Lockport will be under a state comptroller’s financial microscope for 10 years after an audit by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli released last summer once again criticized the city’s poor accounting and budget practices, but Mayor Anne McCaffrey, who has only been in office since last February, believes the city can put the pieces back together again and is on course to do just that.
The mayor believes the current $32 million budget approved Nov. 19, while packing a nearly double digit tax increase, is a step in the right direction because it reduces costs through job cuts and by getting out of the ambulance business by turning that over to TwinCity at no cost to taxpayers, a savings of $400,000.
“We were facing a 20 percent tax increase to deal with the shortfall, but we were able to cut that to 9.8 percent by cutting 15 positions, including five fire fighters, and not filling four existing vacancies,” said Mayor McCaffrey in a phone interview with the Niagara Falls Reporter. “And getting out of the ambulance business is a big savings.”
The job cuts did not come without opposition, especially from the fire union, but McCaffrey insists the city must move forward by reducing costs and correcting the internal policing and lack of financial controls that got the city into trouble in the first place. To that end, the new budget includes $75,000 for a director of finance to assist Treasurer Mike White who took the brunt of the criticism from the state audit.
“We’ve been concerned that the records have not been accurate and that’s why we need a financial expert on staff, and that selection process will include the council and mayor,” said Mayor McCaffrey. “We are still working out the details.”
In September, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that authorized the city to borrow $5 million to settle a $4.6 million multi-year deficit, a move the mayor praised, saying “with this bonding, we’ll be able to pay off those previous year’s deficits and put us in a better cash flow position right now.”
But with the loan comes state oversight for 10 years, and the city must provide the state comptroller with quarterly reports on the state of its finances.
McCaffrey is quick to point out the city is not under a control board, but it does face increased scrutiny and tough decisions will have to continue to be made if the city is to come full circle.
“We have a lot of cultural assets,” said the mayor in talking about the future, specifically mentioning the new Cornerstone Ice Arena that features two NHL-sized rinks for youth hockey and room for 360 spectators. Annual skater and spectator traffic is projected to be 150,000 by next year.
The mayor also talked about the Flight of Five canal restoration which aims to restore locks 67 – 71 on the Erie Canal to their original condition as of 1842.
If Lockport is on the rocks, financially, the mayor is not about to let the difficulties translate into a grim outlook. On the contrary, the former council president who took over as mayor last February after the resignation of troubled Mayor Michael Tucker, is committed to restoring community pride and dealing with the financial challenges ahead including possibly running for a full term as the city’s chief executive next year. She said she has not made a final decision on her possible candidacy but she sounds like she likes her job and is eager to be part of Lockport’s future.
“Deficits and cash flow problems are not on the horizon,” said the mayor, and she hopes to keep the city on its recovery course over the coming months.