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Government Waste

The State Comptroller needs to intervene in West Seneca
By Daniel T. Warren
Mar 4, 2018, 14:00
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The New York State Comptroller needs to intervene in West Seneca's finances. We have seen over the past decade or so repeated failings in the financial affairs of our town that has resulted in the wasteful spending of our tax money.

On January 18, 2018 the West Seneca Town Board authorized a bond resolution for an additional $5.1 million for the Library expansion and Community Center project located at 1300 Union Road, West Seneca, NY. This is in addition to the $8.4 million in bonding authorized in May 2016, along with $1.4 million of energy performance contract funding and $1.6 million in grant funds expected from the state ( http://www.westsenecabee.com/news/2016-05-26/Front_Page/Bonding_approved_for_community_center_project.html ).

The West Seneca Bee reported that according to West Seneca Town Councilman Hart that "Part of the purpose for this particular authorization is to bridge until that money comes in; then that $3 million [the energy performance and grant funds] total will be used to reduce or repay bonds. We may not have to spend any of it" ( http://www.westsenecabee.com/news/2018-01-25/Front_Page/Community_center_project_sees_changes.html ). The article also reports that since the initial bond authorization the need for space has increased since the demolition of the Kiwanis Youth Center building and the loss of use of the Burchfield Nature and Art Center.

There are number of issues with this explanation. First, in December 2017 the Town Board authorized some change orders to it. At the time the public was told that "the construction was overbonded, and more bond money will be used to cover the change orders and the increase in project cost." ( http://www.westsenecabee.com/news/2017-12-14/Front_Page/Change_orders_increase_cost_of_community_center.html ).

Second, the demolition of the Kiwanis Youth Center was well under way in 2015 well before the initial bonding of this project. In fact in December 2015 the Town Board authorized a change order to remove asbestos from the Kiwanis building in order for demolition to proceed ( http://www.westsenecabee.com/news/2015-12-17/Local_News/Asbestos_abatement_to_continue_at_Kiwanis_Center.html ). Also, the issues with the Burchfield property were also well known prior to construction of this project began. In fact, it was closed by the Town Supervisor on or about January 4, 2017 ( http://www.westsenecabee.com/news/2017-01-05/Front_Page/Burchfield_closed.html ). Construction of this project began with its groundbreaking on January 19, 2017 ( http://www.westsenecabee.com/news/2017-01-26/Front_Page/New_page_turned_for_library_community_center_proje.html ).

Third, from what can be learned from publicly available sources it appears that West Seneca already received the lion's share of 2 of the 3 grants it was depending on for this project ( http://www.nysed.gov/CAFE/16/CF350/142801700005.HTML & http://www.nysed.gov/CAFE/17/CF350/142801700005.HTML ).

The State Comptroller has previously noted in two prior audits that West Seneca has poor financial controls in 2010 and 2015 ( https://www.scribd.com/book/358520353/West-Seneca & http://www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/audits/towns/2015/westseneca.pdf ).

Just this past fall during the Town’s budget hearings it was learned by the public that the Town virtually depleted its reserves and the Supervisor was calling for a 12% property tax hike ( http://www.westsenecabee.com/news/2017-10-12/Local_News/Proposed_2018_budget_sees_12_percent_increase.html ). In fact, according to the Town’s accountant “The reason fund balance would be declined is because this board has been pushing off a tax increase for several years now, using the available savings in hope that a windfall would come. Well, the windfall never came.” ( http://www.westsenecabee.com/news/2017-10-19/Front_Page/Firestorm_over_taxes.html ). Further the Town has been placed on a “negative watch” by Moody’s ( http://www.westseneca.net/application/files/4015/0963/2674/AD_VALOREM10.16.201701247420171102093227.pdf ).

It is for these reasons I believe it is imperative for the State Comptroller to step in and conduct a complete financial and financial controls audit of the Town of West Seneca.

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