LOCKPORT – Continuing to cash in on its increased share of Niagara County’s sales tax, the Town of Lockport added more than $400,000 to its fund balance in 2013, an audit released last week showed.
The town’s total accumulated surpluses now total close to $9 million, which is nearly 63 percent of its total expenditures for the year.
That happened even though the snowy winter and unexpected breaks in water and sewer lines caused spending to outpace revenue in the highway and sewer funds, while the town overspent its budget in the water and sewer funds.
But the town had money socked away to cover the one-year operating deficits, and those funds, like all the other accounts on the town’s books, still have sizable balances, according to the annual report by the Lumsden & McCormick accounting firm.
Ever since the results of the 2010 census showed substantial population growth for the town, which gave it a larger share of the sales tax pie, the Town of Lockport has been piling up the surpluses.
Its total fund balance was $7.22 million at the end of 2011; $8.53 million at the end of 2012; and $8.95 million at the end of 2013.
Last year, sales tax revenue grew by $160,000, or 3.2 percent, to $5.2 million. Property tax receipts of $5.56 million were $51,000, or less than 1 percent, higher than in 2012.
“The one that has concerned us for a while was the water fund, but it appears to be stabilized,” Supervisor Marc R. Smith said.
Despite a rash of unexpected pipe repairs that caused the town to overspend the scheduled water expenditures by $154,000, overall water fund results showed a surplus of $181,000 for the year. That pushed the accumulated water fund balance over the $300,000 mark.
Smith said that although residents seem to be using a little less water because of wet summers the past two years, the Lockport Cogeneration plant that produces steam for the Delphi plant has resumed operation in the past couple of years, adding to the water customer base.
Similar broken pipe woes caused the $235,000 overspending of the sewer budget, which ran in the red for the year by $187,000. But the fund balance remains at $644,000.
Smith said the highway fund took a beating from the weather, as winter set in early. “We really started to get snow in early November, so we had to buy more salt,” he said.
Salt, fuel and overtime pushed the highway fund into the red for the year by $202,000, but the fund still has $553,000 stashed away.
“We continue to be concerned about long-term health insurance,” Smith said. “So far, no one’s given us any guidance about how much to set aside for those legacy costs.”
The audit says the town has $4.6 million in future unfunded retiree health insurance liabilities. Smith said the town has been talking to its accountants about the notion of setting money aside for those anticipated future costs.
Councilman Paul W. Siejak said he was pleased about the steady reduction of the town’s bonded debt. The total debt dropped from just under $8.5 million at the end of 2012 to $6.9 million a year later.
The town hasn’t issued a bond since 2007, when it refinanced some earlier debt. The last time it borrowed money for something new was for a water project in 2002.
The town isn’t scheduled to pay off all the debt until 2021.