‘Concerned Residents of Lewiston Beware!!!’
By Alphonso Marra Bax
Town of Lewiston Councilman
It was only nineteen days into the new year when I read Mark Briglio’s very dark letter to the editor voicing his concerns about Town Hall. I would like to mention at the outset that, over the past eleven years as Town Councilman, I have rarely felt the need to personally respond to an individual resident’s public comments. Usually in such op-ed pieces, there is an underlying truth upon which that person’s opinion is based, and as much as I may respectfully disagree, everyone is entitled to their opinion. This time, it was different. Not only was the opinion expressed not based on fact but, more importantly, the person making the comments was in a unique position to know that what he was saying was untrue. This letter is an effort to set the record straight.
During my time at Town Hall, I have developed a deep respect and appreciation for each and every individual I have worked with, Democrat and Republican alike. Remarkably however, party lines do not enter into the day-to-day decision-making role of the Town Board. There are no fundamentally Democrat/Republican issues facing the Town. There are only questions of what is best for our residents.
For those who may not know, the Town of Lewiston had a town tax until 2006. Although its elimination was praised as a great political accomplishment, this action actually weakened the town’s fiscal stability. As a direct result, we became dependent upon revenue streams outside of our control. Additionally, we found ourselves powerless to raise the funds necessary to adequately care for our roads or to replace equipment on a regular schedule. At best, annual revenues each year remained stagnant while the costs of employee benefits and basic operations increased exponentially. Through the extraordinary efforts of our department heads, operational budgets have been cut to the bone. To cut operations any further would most certainly result in drastic reductions in the quality of life that we have all come to enjoy and expect in our town.
What I describe above has been the status quo confronted by every Town Board for more than a decade. In his letter to the editor, Mark Briglio tries to suggest that Town Republicans “liquidated” cash reserves only after he was removed as Supervisor in late 2015. This statement is a complete fabrication. Mr. Briglio fails to disclose that the 2015 and 2016 budgets were actually authored in 2014 and 2015, respectively, by his prior boss and Democratic Supervisor, Dennis Brochey. Yet he fails to take any ownership in them. In all fairness to Mr. Brochey, both budgets were unanimously passed by bi-partisan boards. My point remains, however, that it is simply disingenuous for Mr. Briglio, knowing what he knows, to now try to place blame solely at the feet of Republicans. Shame on you, Mark.
Mr. Briglio also makes some very oversimplified inferences regarding staffing levels at Town Hall which require addressing. It doesn’t take a business degree to know that having fewer employees results in lower costs. But, as actual Town Board members, we must consider business realities when making decisions. From my perspective, safety is the most important concern. In departments such Water, Highway and Waste Water Treatment, it is simply too dangerous to perform many vital tasks without the requisite number of workers. Attempting to do so with fewer would put employee lives at risk. The Highway Department needs a minimal number of plow drivers to ensure the public’s safety during inclement weather. Similarly, the Police Department maintains just enough staffing for a two-car patrol for the entire Town. I, for one, am willing to allocate the resources necessary to ensure that we continue to live in the third safest town in New York State.
Another consideration Mr. Briglio fails to recognize is the institutional knowledge that our valuable town employees possess. As each employee nears retirement, it is imperative that their experience and know-how be imparted to those who are to follow them. In most of our facilities operations, there is no substitution for hands on training and experience. Town residents look to us to ensure that our employees can perform in an emergency. The lessons learned and applied in this fashion save taxpayers an incalculable amount money every year.
So the answer to your question, Mr. Briglio, is a resounding “Yes!” We did ask the hard questions. We continue to do so. Maybe you should have paid more attention during the meetings. Not one of us rushed in, without exploring every other alternative, before deciding that a town tax was our ONLY solution. Your “concerned citizen” letter smells of sour grapes. If your fears are genuine, why haven’t you attended a Town Board meeting in more than a year? The fact remains, if it weren’t for Ron Winkley stepping up in 2015 to make the hard decisions after you were replaced, we would have had a town tax a year earlier.
The decision to reinstate the town tax was certainly a difficult one, but it was the right decision. It was never a matter of “if”, but “when”… and you knew that, Mr. Briglio. Even Councilman Morreale commented that he decided to support the town tax only after personally investigating every single invoice paid through Town Hall and concluding that there was no more we could cut. This Town Board took responsible action, in a bi-partisan fashion, and refused to ignore the financial realities facing our town.
For Mr. Briglio to publicly pose misleading and nonsensical questions, only to walk away and point fingers, is hypocritical. To follow his “stump speech” advice and indiscriminately cut without concern for the state of the Town’s basic infrastructure, our quality of life or the safety of Town employees and neighbors would be grossly irresponsible. It took a Town Board with the courage to recognize what was right for our residents in the long term and I am proud of our bi-partisan decision.
The truth of the matter is that the Town of Lewiston IS moving in the right direction. We are engaged in the wonderful process of redefining ourselves, shifting our focus from a landfill/clay mining economy to one based on tourism and eco-friendly projects. We have worked together to responsibly cut spending where possible and have implemented zero-based budgeting in every department. For the first time in recent memory, Town departments are working together in a cooperative, cost-effective way. And to boot, we finally have a long-term financial plan to reinvest in our neglected Town infrastructure.
CONCERNED RESIDENTS… Beware of the political Kool-Aid!!! Things are not as bad as “Dark Mark” Briglio would lead you to believe. I would like to invite anyone with remaining questions to contact myself, Supervisor Broderick or our Town Finance Director to set up an appointment at Town Hall to have your concerns addressed first-hand… with the facts.