By News Editorial Board | Published September 27, 2017 | Updated September 27, 2017
The Town of Evans, set to vote on Election Day whether to upsize its Town Board from three to five members, should focus instead on restoring the town to solvency.Spending more money on salary, health insurance and benefits for two more board members will not get the town any closer to financial stability.The Town Board had five members when the town spent millions of dollars on a water project that nearly caused the town to go bankrupt. Residents will be paying surcharges until 2040 to finance the water improvements, which will include a still-unbuilt water tower. Taxes have gone up about 20 percent in the past two years and long-term prospects are not good.These are the burning issues that should be keeping officials awake at night, not whether to add a couple more board members. Admittedly the cost would not be enormous – about $40,000 a year for each new member – in a $16 million town budget, but the town should be looking to save wherever possible.ADVERTISEMENTThe magical thinking by proponents of upsizing is that because the town has financial problems, it somehow makes sense to have more people working on them. And, they say, the state’s Open Meetings Law makes it difficult for three members to do business.Wrong and wrong.Evans made the right decision in reducing the number of board members a few years ago. It was one of five town boards in Erie County to reduce from five members to three between 2009 and 2012. Hamburg has since voted itself back to a larger board. Alden, Orchard Park and West Seneca remain at three.Among the typical arguments made by three-member boards is the difficulty in getting work done. They complain that two members can’t discuss town business privately because two is a quorum and such talks would violate the Open Meetings Law.That is a specious argument. Board members should be discussing business in public, and not in secret. Running into each other at the store and deciding to hash out town business is unacceptable and, yes, in violation of the Open Meetings Law.And then there is that bigger fish to fry.Late last year, the town ran out of money. It received a $980,000 short-term loan from Erie County. County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw Jr. described it as bringing the town from the “brink of financial collapse.”Supervisor Mary K. Hosler, who retired in 2013 as a vice president for Evans Bank, favors a three-person board. She’s right. The town needs a three-member board that will work decisively and transparently to repair municipal finances.
By Barbara O'Brien | Published September 25, 2017 | Updated September 26, 2017
It has been eight years since the downsizing winds hit Erie County, and voters in Evans will decide on Election Day if it will be the second town since then to upsize its government.Evans was one of five towns in Erie County that voted to reduce the number of board members from five to three from 2009 to 2012. The others included Alden, Hamburg, Orchard Park and West Seneca. In votes to increase the size since then, only Hamburg decided to have a larger board.Supporters of increasing the size of Evans' three-member board cite the difficulty in getting work done with just three members.But those who like the status quo point to the town's financial difficulties. Having five members on its Town Board didn't seem to help when Evans spent millions of dollars on a water project that nearly caused the town to go bankrupt, they say. Residents will be paying surcharges until 2040 to pay for the water improvements, including a new water tower that has not been built yet."Taxes have been raised 20 percent in the last two years. It still isn't enough to bail them out of the red," Cheryl St. George-Calleri said. "Upsize, are you kidding me? What's in the drinking water?"She campaigned in 2009 to reduce the size of the board from five to three by eliminating two council positions, and she's a leader in the fight this time. The group lays out its positions on a website, Upsizeno.org.The case for a larger board comes down to two points: Now that the town does have financial problems, it makes sense to have more people working on them, and the state's Open Meetings Law makes it difficult to do business."The problem with a three-man board is you cannot efficiently work and get things done," Councilwoman Jeanne Macko said.She said the board meets regularly, but board members can't talk about town business outside an official meeting because it would violate the state's Open Meetings Law."It takes forever, because you can't talk about town business," she said.The group fighting the upsizing said meetings are illegal only if proper notice is not given. Taxpayers designed an app they said would help with the notification process, but said the board was not interested in using it.Macko said she proposed a referendum to increase the board's size because the town had received several letters about it."I'm here for the voice of the taxpayers. I brought the resolution up, because that’s what they're talking about," she said.Voters will decide on the referendum in the Nov. 7 election.Councilmen are paid $15,300 a year, and with health insurance and benefits, it could cost the town as much as $40,000 a year for each new councilman, or $80,000 for two, both sides said.Councilman Dennis Feldmann, who is not seeking re-election this year, thinks having five members working together is better than three. He worked on a larger board when he was a member of the Lake Shore Central School Board."The three-person board, it's great, if you just have basic issues," he said.He said the town needs five members on the board to help it get through its difficult financial situation, but he said it was "definitely" a more political board with five members than it is with three.Town Supervisor Mary Hosler said she favors a three-person board.Activist Kevin Gaughan, who championed the downsizing movement in Erie County, said he is busy with his efforts to relocate the golf course in South Park and redevelop the Delaware Park golf course, and cannot become involved in the Evans vote this year."At the heart of my movement is the idea that citizens should make these decisions. Any time residents have this opportunity, as they have in Evans, I think is a healthy occasion," Gaughan said. "Given the fragile state of the town's finances, I'm confident Evans voters will make the right decision."
The ANOTHER VOICE comment of 9/18/17 titled “County needs to fund sheriff’s road patrol fairly” erroneously states if the Town of Evans were to replace the Evans Police Force with the Erie County Sheriff’s Department ”all of Erie County taxpayers will subsidize their police services”. It appears that the writer of this comment did not read the publicly filed Evans Taxpayers United study and wrongly implies that the study places the policing cost burden on the backs of ALL Erie County residents. The fact is that the CPA prepared study makes it clear that the Town of Evans would pay the County for the Sheriff’s policing manpower and associated costs, absorb as many current Evans Police Officers as required by the Town Board and hold 4 public meetings to discuss the pros and cons of the study. This CPA finalized study shows an annual savings of $500,000 for Evans with the same manpower coverage. Finally, the writer of this comment failed to advise the readers, that the Town of Evans is broke, has no reserves, is teetering on bankruptcy and cannot afford the Evans Police Officer’s 2016 average annual earnings of $93,600 as part of the annual total cost, with benefits, of $147,000 per officer. PS: It is unfortunate that the Evans Town Board has stuck its head in the sand and refuses to look into this taxpayer savings possibility.
Certain truths appear to escape the Evans Town Board. First, it’s never a good time to raise property taxes. Second, when you’re in a hole, stop digging. And third, don’t say you’re following the voters’ will when in fact you’re thumbing your nose at us.
Since 2012, Evans has been a government teetering on the brink of fiscal disaster. That year, the state comptroller blasted our government for shoddy record-keeping. After politicians did nothing to correct the problems, the comptroller found in a follow-up review that Evans’ “financial records were inaccurate, incomplete and unreliable,” and there was no way of knowing the true condition of town finances.
When state officials finally sorted through the “disarray” of town records, they discovered that more than $2 million of Evans water project money had been put into the general fund instead, and never repaid.
Fast forward to this month. The Town Board, which has raised taxes a whopping 20 percent in the last two years, announced it wants to add two more politicians – along with their salaries and benefits – on the back of taxpayers.
This, mind you, after Evans residents in 2009 voted by a 2-1 margin to downsize the board to three members – the typical board size in towns throughout America.
And as the politicians scheduled a November upsizing vote, they claimed that a citizen petition required them to do so.
That turns out to be false. Evans Taxpayers United obtained a letter dated May 18 from the county Board of Elections to the Evans board, advising it that the “upsizing” petition was invalid for lack of required signatures.
Evans politicians have every right to force town voters to speak again on the cost of our government. But they have no right to lie about the fact that they are doing it on their own, and without any public support.
In the midst of these clouds, we bear news of sunshine. Working with concerned residents throughout Evans, our organization has researched ways to reduce town costs and save taxpayer money.
We found that Evans can save millions over time, and substantially reduce our debt, by folding our police force into the county Sheriff’s Department. Towns throughout New York State, including Elma and Clarence, deliver law enforcement services in this manner. And they all enjoy superb public safety and lower taxpayer costs.
To express town opinion, we’re circulating a petition calling for public hearings leading to a referendum on reducing police costs through merger with the Sheriff’s Department. We will submit to the board more than five times the number of signatures to save taxes by consolidating services than the board obtained to raise taxes by adding politicians.
And when we do, we expect the board to extend the same respect to our savings petition that members gave to their spending petition.
Cheryl St. George is chairwoman of Evans Taxpayers United. Stan Radwan is a town resident and retired law enforcement official, with 35 years on the job.
Begins when the Town of Evans mismanages $2.1 million in funds designated for a mandatory Water Improvement Project [2007-2011]
Town must repay those funds.
Town reduces Reserve Funds to nothing. Our Reserve Fund is now at $0.
Total Water Fund Project Debt is currently $15,936,142, to be paid off in 2040 through oppressive water surcharges.
In addition, Evans Town Board must also borrow $5 to $7 million for a new water tower
Evans Town Board, in Dec. 2016, refuses to investigate a certified public accountant’s comparative study of Evans Police Department costs & Erie County Sheriff’s Department costs that shows minimum annual savings of $470,000.
The Sheriff would have absorbed as many Evans police officers as the Town Board required.
2016 TO 2017
Town Board decisions raise spending questions Measurable savings produce no property tax cuts INSTEAD, PROPERTY TAXES GO UP TWO YEARS IN A ROW, A 20% INCREASE!
In order to keep itself running day-to-day, the Town BORROWS FROM FUTURE REVENUE AND TAX SOURCES through Revenue Anticipation Notes (RANs) and Tax Anticipation Notes (TANs)
THIS CANNOT GO ON!
WHERE WE ARE TODAY
POLICE DEPT. COSTS IN THE 2017 EVANS GENERAL BUDGET TOTAL MORE THAN $4 MILLION! THAT’S 45% OF THAT BUDGET!
*See 2016 Evans Police Salary and Benefits Links Below
WHAT WE CAN DO
WE CAN DRASTICALLY CUT EVANS’ DAY-TO-DAY OPERATING COSTS BY CONSOLIDATING EVANS’ POLICE UNDER THE SHERIFF
The median income for a household in the town was $43,142, and the median income for a family was $50,765.
Males had a median income of $39,022 versus $26,698 for females.
The per capita income for the town was $19,122.
About 5.4% of families and 7.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 8.8% of those under age 18 and 5.3% of those age 65 or over.
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Was it necessary to hire another grant writer because (1) Roberta Rappoccio failed to secure grants or (2) was it because Bernie Rotella is a friend of the supervisor's neighbor ?
If we really needed another grant writer, why wasn't a Request For Proposal (RFP) put out for this new grant writing position ?
ETU spoke to other grant writers. All based their costs on performance. Usually, they charge an hourly rate to write the grant, then receive a percentage of the grant (3% to 10%) to administer it. The percentage (3%to 10% ) is usually reimbursed in the grant award, so the town does not shoulder the burden. NO GRANT, NO MONEY paid to the grant writer!
YOU DON'T HAVE TO LOOK FAR TO SEE HOW IT SHOULD BE DONE.
At the time that our town hired an extra writer in February 2017, two local government employees working under their job title wrote an application and received two grants for the Village of Angola. The employees, Village of Angola Clerk Linda Giancarlo and Erie County IDA Representative Lori Szewczyk, wrote the applications and obtained grants worth over $400,000.
WHY $13,100 a year for a new grant writer when we already have one on staff for $62,000 ?
WHY a $15,000 a year raise for the supervisor when she had told us she should be elected because of her financial expertise and dedication to being a full time supervisor ? She knew what the supervisor's salary was when she ran for office.
The supervisor's conduct on this issue of grant writing, her clear mis-statements about the 2015 alleged fraud, and her non compliance with government rules are examples of her character.
To:Evans Town Board Supervisor Mary Hosler Councilman Dennis Feldmann Councilwoman Jeanne Macko
Evans Taxpayers United (ETU) is an incorporated, non-profit taxpayer watchdog group that by charter assists in citizen property assessments and advises residents of governmental activities. Because of the town’s financial difficulties, ETU, through the use of Freedom Of Information Law (FOIL), obtained the salary and benefit costs of the Evans Police Department (EPD) and the Erie County Sheriff’s Department (ECSD). The attached document is a comparison of those departments’ costs by a certified public accountant (CPA) using FOILed information. We respectfully present it to the Town Board for their consideration, further investigation and determination on whether to implement it. The CPA comparison reveals a minimum potential ANNUAL SAVINGS of $472,558 if the Board enters into an agreement with the ECSD to perform town-wide police services.. The comparison, because of police officer title differences, eliminates the position of Chief of Police. However, the comparison reflects 24 police officers, covering the same areas of the town, same police coverage (manpower per shift) and working out of the Town Hall Police station. None of the 24 officers will lose their jobs. This ETU cost comparison does not take into account the cost of cars and dispatching police and fire calls. Further savings may be garnered in these areas of public service protection. ETU asks the Town Board to study this comparison. Contact the ECSD, updating the savings therein and working through all the details. And then vote on these savings that do not cut police protection. We believe a “yes” vote will give the Town of Evans a strong, effective tool to significantly cut the town’s debt “every year” and provide tax relief for the hard-pressed taxpayers of Evans without cutting police services.
Ernest Waddell ETU Co-Chair
Cheryl St.George Calleri ETU Co-Chair
The Town of Evans has run out of money after years of borrowing and refusing to raise taxes as needed to address financial mismanagement that dates back nearly a decade. Vendors have gone unpaid for months, and the town has missed debt payments, officials said.The town has sought a $980,000 short-term loan from Erie County, an unprecedented request that the County Legislature approved through policy language changes Thursday afternoon."We are going to bring the Town of Evans from the brink of financial collapse," County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw told county legislators at a morning meeting. "They're frozen from the market right now. This is their only option."The town's credit is now so poor that when it attempted to sell a revenue anticipation note last month, no investors were willing to buy it. After a personal appeal, Evans Bank finally agreed to purchase a smaller $600,000 revenue anticipate note from the town to cover payroll expenses only.ADVERTISEMENTThe Erie County loan – a tax anticipation note – represents no risk to the county since the county can repay itself through the property taxes it collects on behalf of the Town of Evans if the town does not repay its debt. The county will also charge the town a 2 percent interest rate, which is higher than the county's current bank investments.A revenue anticipation note is an advance of 2016 town revenues that may not be collected until early 2017. A tax anticipation note, which is what the county is agreeing to provide, is a short-term loan based on 2017 property taxes the town has yet to collect.Meanwhile, the Town Board has adopted a roughly $16 million budget for 2017 that will raise taxes by 11.8 percent, county officials said. That's on top of the 8.6 percent increase already approved for this year.The property tax increases are supported by the town's finance and accounting firm, which has made it clear that the town must take painful steps to get itself back on proper footing after years of budgetary mismanagement and neglect.Last month, the town sold a revenue anticipation note to Evans Bank so it could continue paying its employees. But that money is expected to run out by Dec. 9, said county officials.Evans Town Supervisor Mary K. Hosler said she knew when she ran for office last year that the town was in difficult financial shape, but she was still stunned by the enormity of what greeted her after she took office – thousands of missing financial transactions, internal audits never completed, and a negative fund balance of $523,000.The town currently owes vendors $700,000, she said, but those debts can't be paid before she is sure she has the money to meet payroll for this year. She also said the town's current health insurance costs have risen at double-digit rates, yet the town has shorted health costs by $900,000.The town's outside auditor, Drescher and Malecki, was so distressed by the state of the town's financial statements in 2014 and 2015 that it refused to offer a formal opinion for either year and threatened to quit, Hosler said. The accounting firm has since been hired to essentially recreate four years worth of back financial statements."We haven’t had a good budget in seven years," she said.The county comptroller praised Hosler's efforts to try to finally address longstanding issues with the town's finances, while the supervisor thanked the county for working collaboratively with the town."I cannot praise the supervisor enough for her aggressiveness in trying to solve the problem," Mychajliw said. "It's bad. She did not hide from it. She did not stick her head in the sand. She reached out to anyone and everyone who could help them solve a very serious problem."Hosler took over as supervisor this year, replacing former Supervisor Keith Dash, who also worked full time as a teacher in the Lakeshore Central School District, she said. Dash did not raise taxes until the 2016 budget. Prior to him, Francis Pordum served as supervisor and did not raise taxes, despite warnings from the state about financial instability.The town's financial issues have been repeatedly criticized by the State Comptroller's Office, though the dire state of the town's finances have apparently not been widely communicated with residents. At a public hearing on the proposed 2017 budget Nov. 2, only four people spoke, criticizing the budget and the Town Board for its lack of oversight.The town's financial problems were sparked in 2007 under Supervisor Robert R. Catalino II, when the town borrowed $12.6 million to install new water lines, hydrants and a water storage tower. Instead of setting that money in a separate account, as required, the town combined that money with the rest of the town's funds. Catalino said that while he approved of the borrowing, he was not in office after Dec. 31, 2007, when the money came into the town."I wasn’t there to spend one penny of that money," he said.A state audit showed that $2 million of that money was used to cover operating expenses, mostly for the town's troubled water operations. Ever since then, the town has relied increasingly on revenue and tax anticipation notes to make ends meet."They just corroded the fund balance," said Supervisor Hosler. "The water fund was borrowing from the general fund, which is a misappropriation of money, to the tune of $3.6 million."Hosler blames the Town Board for its lack of oversight. She recognizes that by further raising taxes on the shrinking population in Evans, she's making unpopular choices. But she also said that with her background in investments and banking, she knows what must be done to clean up the town's financial mess. Hosler was a regional vice president for Evans Bank until retiring in 2013."It’s political suicide, as people would say, but is it the right thing to do?" she said. "It’s absolutely the right thing to do."The State Comptroller's Office has been sounding the alarm on the town's finances since 2012. Two audits criticized the town for poor oversight and financial records that were “inaccurate, incomplete and unreliable.”“The board is not in a position to properly monitor the town’s financial condition,” the 2016 audit concluded.An audit issued in 2012 criticized the town for allowing the water fund to sustain repeated operating losses. The town also improperly entered into a lease-purchase agreement with a third party for equipment and machinery that had been previously acquired, the audit said.At the time, the town put much of the blame on a former finance director Charles Katra and former town supervisor Pordum.[Read the Town of Evans 2012 audit]Four years later, when the comptroller’s office reviewed town finances again this year, it found the town spent more than $281,000 for various accounting and audit services, “but many significant audit findings and accounting deficiencies remain unaddressed.”The board also did not ensure that its “corrective action plan” to address the deficiencies was implemented, the audit said. The comptroller's office also listed the Town of Evans as one the state's "fiscally stressed communities" in September.[Read the Town of Evans 2016 audit]Former Supervisor Dash could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.But Pordum, who served as town supervisor from 2008 through 2011, said he did not know about deficit problems and issues with past borrowing until his last year in office. He said he kept taxes stable during his term and always spent less than was budgeted.“We did the best we could with what we had,” he said. “That hole was there before I took office. I didn’t know about the bonds.”He also disagreed that he was negligent in the 2012 budget, a charge that was made in Dash’s response to the 2012 audit.Pordum said he and former finance director Katra – now assistant deputy commissioner for the county's Division of Sewerage Management – set up a plan in order to cope with the problem. Board members, which included Keith Dash, who would succeed him as supervisor, were included in budget meetings."It wouldn't have been easy," he said. “We would have gotten through it. We would have done what needed to be done.”Katra, who served as the town's finance director from 2003 to 2010, called the town's water system the "albatross" that created the town's financial difficulties. He said the town tried to manage the deficit, but delays in the town's plan to transfer its water system to the Erie County Water Authority prevented the town from realizing more revenue."I always recommended that the budget be properly funded," he said.The 2017 budget provided on the town's website does not highlight the impact of a budget increase on town taxpayers since it does not include prior-year revenue comparisons. It simply states that the tax levy, the overall amount of money the town collects in property taxes, will be $8.2 million.Next year’s overall budget is $15.95 million, up $1.46 million over the 2016 budget.The Erie County Legislature is not required to approve the county's loan, but is required to approve any changes to its investment policies to allow such a loan to occur. That is what the Legislature approved Thursday afternoon.Bryan Fiume, the comptroller's chief of staff, said the county would have preferred to simply advance the town its share of sales tax money for next year. But after spending much of last week working to do that, the Comptroller's Office belatedly discovered that the incoming sales tax money had already been used to secure the loan from Evans Bank.That led the Comptroller's Office to pursue a $980,000 loan to the town backed by future collections of town property taxes, Fiume said.Legislature Chairman John Mills, R-Orchard Park, whose district includes the Town of Evans, said he had no inkling of the town's deep financial troubles and was shocked when he attended the town's public hearing on the budget Nov. 2."I was blown away by the situation," he said.The State Comptroller's Office must approve the change in county investment policy language in order for the county to transfer money to Evans. Mychajliw said he was hopeful that transfer could occur as soon as Friday or Monday.Brian Butry, a spokesman for the State Comptroller's Office, said that while lawyers must still sign off on the legal language, he didn't foresee problems."They’ve been working with us throughout the process," Butry said, "so at this point, I don’t think there would be any more additional hurdles they would need to clear."Hosler said she wishes the state had been more proactive in holding the town accountable for keeping its promises to clean up its financial issues after the 2012 audit was done. But Butry said that's not the state comptroller's job -- its the job of the elected officials who oversee the town."They are the making the budget decisions in the town," he said. "They are are responsible for the town finances."He added, however, that the state is willing to work with the town to help it improve its financial planning. Mychajliw also said he offered staff from his office to assist the town.Hosler said she expected to work with both state and county officials to develop a better long-term plan for the town's fiscal stability. In the meantime, she has already frozen spending and laid off part-time employees, she said."We’re cleaning up a lot of things," she said.
Evans Taxpayers United (ETU) was formed in 2007 and incorporated in 2009. Our mission, according to our charter, is to assist Evans taxpayers in property tax assessments and to advise the public on government activities. ETU has about 150 members. Ernie Waddell and Cheryl St. George-Calleri are its co-chairs. The focus of this posting, however, is NOT Evans Taxpayers United. The focus is to provide the Evans Town Board with practical options for cutting the Evans town debt. Except for ETU, it appears no-one in our town has offered the board a solution to cut the debt. Evans has an ongoing $2.1 million debt and a newly acquired $700,000 debt to vendors that it can never liquidate by borrowing because its credit rating is so poor. In response, the town board raised property taxes 11% this year for a total of 20% over the last two years. The town board has just raised the water surcharge. Now the the town board proposes an energy, or “sun” tax, on solar panels and heat-saving windows and doors. ETU has offered two solutions to our crisis that save the Town of Evans more than $470,000 yearly. We believe the Evans Police Department budget, which comprises almost 40% of the Town of Evans budget, is unacceptable. At the town board meeting of Dec. 21, 2016, ETU presented a certified public accountant’s comparison of the policing costs of the Erie County Sheriffs and the Evans Police Department. We presented it to the town board for their “consideration, further investigation, and determination.” Then we offered our first solution: the transfer of town-wide police services to the Erie County Sheriffs Department. The town police would work as county sheriffs at the Erie County Sheriffs pay scale, saving more than $470,000 every year. Family members of the Evans police soon pushed back strongly against this proposal. Recognizing that all our police are town residents and so very familiar with the town’s financial crisis, we also recognized they are aware of the many town resident workers laid off or induced to retire because of our crisis. Quite a few of those workers are living off their Social Security checks and depended on their town jobs for food and medicine. So, how about our town board and police officers taking a crucial step for the town’s good? Those town workers did their part. They lost their jobs while we, the taxpayers, surely have done ours. So now it’s time for the Evans Town Board to be responsible to the whole town during present contract negotiations with the Evans Police Benevolent Association (PBA). The board should ask the police, as the responsible Evans residents they are, to help our town out for the next three years by reducing their salaries to those of the Erie County Sheriffs. This is what ETU proposes. If the police agree, the town’s $2.1 million debt is reduced by almost 75%. The board could then increase police salaries in the fourth year of a new contract commensurate with the town’s financial condition. About 61% of Town of Evans revenues come from real property taxes. Added to these revenues are the surcharge on our water and a new energy, or “sun” tax on our homes. This tax, discussed at the Dec. 21, 2016, board meeting, will be levied on home and apartment owners who install solar panels and heat-saving windows and doors. All of us must sacrifice in Evans. Not just we, the taxpayers. All of us must row the boat. We shouldn’t have to do it all ourselves.