There seems to be a difference of opinion on the state of finances in the Town of Lewiston.
Six months ago, Town of Lewiston Supervisor Dennis Brochey stated that "Things are looking pretty bright for Lewiston."
He made that comment after the abrupt resignation of former Finance Officer Paul Kloosterman.
He credited that success to the work that he and Kloosterman had done on the Supervisor’s 2015 budget.
In April when asked about the current financial position, he told this newspaper that "the finances here are in pretty good shape," referring to his work on the Lewiston budget.
He went on to say "I could leave today and be proud of the work I did to straighten out the budget."
Yet on July 2 Moody’s Investors Service downgraded the Town of Lewiston’s bond rating from an AA3 rating to an A1.
Moody’s is the major source that banks and other investors use to determine the creditworthiness of bonds and other securities. Their ratings effect the interest rates that municipalities will have to pay on long term debt and Lewiston will be reissuing $6.2 million of long terms bonds on July the 8th.
In their Summary Rating Rationale, Moody’s wrote that the downgrade to A1 reflects the town's weakened financial position following several years of fund balance draws that are expected to continue through fiscal 2015; significant reliance on economically sensitive revenues.
Moody’s warned that the rating could sink even lower if there were “continued structurally unbalanced operations and reserve declines in fiscal 2014 and/or fiscal 2015 beyond current expectations.
According to informed sources both of those things will be the case for 2015.
Last year Brochey and Kloosterman blamed former Supervisor Steve Reiter and his all –Republican council for most of the financial problems Lewistown was going through.
And Moodys did downgrade Lewiston in large part on the basis of several years of overspending. However they noted that the overspending continued in 2015 on Brochey's watch.
Moody placed part of the blame for the downgrade on the 2015 budget planning as well.
“I warned the Council last year that this would happen with the Moody Rating but they didn't believe me,” Brochey said.
Yet the 2015 budget that was proposed by Brochey wasn’t balanced.
The Town had to take almost $370,000 out of their reserve fund to make the budget work.
Yet, that was a vast improvement over the 2014 budget, put together by Mike Marra, Mike Johnson and Gary Catlin for the Reiter administration in 2013, according to Brochey.
Brochey says the 2014 budget needed $840,000 out of fund revenue (savings) to balance.
Yet with decreasing revenues such as Modern Disposal tipping fees there seems to be reasonable concern that more money will have to be taken out of the Town’s reserve accounts for budget 2016.
The 2015 proposed budget – which was approved by the Republican town council - allocated hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to various events and organizations.
The chamber of commerce actually received an increase from $50,000 to $55,000 for 2015 and promptly gave their director a $5,000 raise.
Brochey said the council, not he, raised the Chamber gift.
“I tried to cut the Chamber’s yearly funding from $55,000 to $50,000. The Town Board rejected that and you can check the minutes, it was a 4 to 1 vote with me casting the lone ‘nay’”
Still Brochey and Kloosterman’s 2015 budget drew from the town’s reserves, was reliant on economically sensitive revenues, and was structurally unbalanced.
Just like the budgets before them.
All of which were part of the recipe for the fiscal woes described by Moody’s that led to Lewiston being downgraded to an A1 and perhaps in the near future even lower.
On the other hand Brochey did make cuts.
He led the town to cut Art Park’s $100,000 plus concert party-hardy subsidy paid by Lewiston.
In 2014, he had a meeting with Mark Thomas from the N.Y.S. Parks about getting out of Joe Davis State Park.
“He understood our finances and all he asked for was a 30 day notice,” Brochey said. “Board members said ‘No’ and that they had too much invested to get out. I tried three times to remove the position of Internal Claims Auditor. (I had no work for him to do). I tried to get $13,500 from George Osborne for our Police budget. Winkley, Bax and Conrad shrugged it all off.
“Back in 2014, if they had listened to me that $840,000 would have been $440,000 instead. Funny that it took them all one full year to realize that I was correct as shown this year where we stopped giving Artpark money, we are getting out of Joe Davis and removed the Claims Auditor position. The fruits of my labor and ideas will be found next year at this time and the following year after that,” Brochey said.
Brochey also cited other savings.
“Tim Master, Linda Johnson and I met with the Bridge Commission; we got an extra $50,000 coming in this year. Donna Garfinkle and Darlene Norwich came to my office with an idea to consolidate the Clerk Dept. with the Tax Receiver. We talked great lengths on this and ironed out how to get this accomplished. Lisa Rizzo retired from the Police Dept. I came up with the idea of moving our Junior Accountant over there. Three positions were not filled saving us close to $160,000 with benefits.”
Finally Brochey says that any capital projects that he has talked about were not with the use of taxpayer money but with either Greenway funds or NYPA Hydropower allotment funds.
“If you add up what Kloosterman and now our new Finance Director Martha Blazek have been working on, it adds up to almost $600,000 better than the 2014 budget. No, by no means are we out of the woods yet but Marti and I and the people I work with directly at Town Hall are not finished yet and we are working for a stable budget by the end of 2016.”
None of it changes the fact however that the Town of Lewiston elects politicians that spend more than theTown takes in.