Last week, Town of Lewiston finance director Martha Blazik finally unveiled the tentative 2016 budget. The big news was that there will not be a town tax for 2016, but there was also an unhealthy dose of bad news included in her presentation of the $15.608 million budget.
Blazik told the town board she was simply buying time, and went on to guarantee that next year there will definitely have to be a town tax. She and Supervisor Denis Brochey both went to great lengths to point out that their tentative budget would not utilize money out of the town’s fund balance. The fact that Lewiston could have a balanced budget without having to dip into any of the funds that had been set aside for a rainy day seemed almost too good to be true.
As it turns out it is too good to be true. There are several accounts within the town budget that have fund balances. One of them is called account number H-97. This account receives its funding from the NYS Power Authority and is to be dedicated to cover repairs and improvements to the town’s roads, water, and sewer lines. It has a current fund balance of $2.8 million dollars but in a classic move that robs Peter to pay Paul almost half of that money will not be used for its primary purpose. Instead H-97 funds are being drawn out to balance the town budget. It’s nothing more than fiscal hocus pocus to siphon money form one reserve account so that you don’t drain another.
What will the town do if they have to replace a large failure in a water line or have another need for expensive infrastructure repairs? My understanding is that over three hundred thousand dollars are already tagged to be used to fund a new pump in Sanborn and that money will have to come out of that H-97 account too. So if any emergency does arise will funds have to be borrowed and town’s bond rating will sink even lower? Some people say the foundation of the quality of life in a community is in the infrastructure. You can ask residents of LaSalle who went weeks without running water if they think that is the case. Hopefully no Lewiston resident will ever have to experience that same thing.
The 2015 budget had been criticized by some as having contained inflated revenue figures that would never materialize. That now appears to be the case. The revenue that was being relied on because of the town’s agreement with Modern Disposal will only be a fraction of what the budget was relying on. CMW tax tipping fees are likewise down Sales tax revenues are flat and Seneca Niagara Casino monies Blazik called “iffy”. New York Power Authority hydropower reimbursement monies to the town, which are based on trends in the electrical commodities market, are way down.
So with the money having already been spent the town will have to find a huge sum of money to balance its books for this year. The taxpayers won’t get the bill for that budgetary failure until next year. But by then Supervisor Brochey will be safely out of office and someone else will have to clean up the mess that was left behind.
This is the text book definition of kicking the can down the road. The town’s budget problems won’t be fixed but you do get to pass the buck to the next guy in office. Brochey will make himself look like the good guy on the way out the door by “balancing the budget”. And while he’s sitting in sunny Las Vegas the next town supervisor will look like the bad guy for having to install a town tax.