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Lockport Council sets July 15 hearing on cutting treasurer duties

LOCKPORT – The Common Council voted Wednesday to hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. July 15 on reducing the duties of the city treasurer to that of a tax collector.

The Council is likely to vote the same night on cutting the salary for the position from the current $81,949 to $55,000 a year.

Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said that pay cut, if passed by the aldermen, would take effect Jan. 1 regardless of whether voters approve the reduction of duties in an Election Day referendum. She said making the reduction conditional on the outcome of the referendum would not be legal.

Most of the duties given the treasurer in the City Charter relative to bookkeeping and financial reporting already have been transferred to Director of Finance Scott A. Schrader, in a move that Treasurer Michael E. White said last month violates the Charter.

Schrader, who started work March 30, is being paid $95,000 a year, although he has yet to sign a contract with the city.

A special Council committee was appointed to consider the treasurer’s duties after state and private audits handed White most of the blame for the city’s 2013-14 financial crisis, which was attributed to White telling the Council incorrectly in the fall of 2012 that the city had a small surplus of $37,308. The audits concluded that the city’s general fund actually was $1.15 million in the hole at the time.

White has blamed the problem of completing timely and accurate financial statements on a shortage of personnel, saying the Council and former Mayor Michael W. Tucker didn’t let him fill positions left vacant because of long-term employee illnesses. Also, the 2013 budget assumed major savings in employee benefits through new union contracts, but they were not negotiated, and the city overspent the 2013 budget by $1.26 million. About half of that figure was attributable to health insurance and the other half to overtime in the Police and Fire departments.

As part of a special state law allowing the city to borrow nearly $5 million to close accumulated deficits, the city’s budgets must be pre-approved by the state Comptroller’s Office for the next nine years.

White, who is running for re-election, would be left only with the duties of collecting taxes and other city billings, and of arranging the paperwork in case the city needs to borrow money. He is expected to be opposed by Democrat Sue A. Mawhiney.

Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said the Council doesn’t necessarily have to vote July 15 on scheduling the referendum, but it does have to vote on any changes in elected officials’ pay during July, according to the Charter.

Ottaviano explained that the reduction in duties must be submitted to voters because the state Municipal Home Rule law lists such a change as one of the topics that requires a mandatory referendum.

Other types of Charter changes, such as last year’s vote to do away with the provision that required the budget to be adopted before Election Day, can be made by the Council alone, Ottaviano said.

The vote on scheduling the public hearing was unanimous. “I’d like to hear what the public has to say,” said Alderwoman Anita Mullane, D-2nd Ward, who served on the special committee. “These are duties that have been in the Charter for 150 years.”

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com