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Consultant costs burgeoning in Lockport

LOCKPORT – The Common Council had to come up with another $92,000 Wednesday to pay off the accounting and legal consultants the City of Lockport has been using.

The money was transferred from unused allocations in other portions of the city budget, but the need for it continued to show the costs the city is incurring.

The city had been billed $131,653 from late 2013 through June of this year by Goldberger & Kremer, an Albany law firm that the city chose to handle labor litigation. There has been plenty of that, as the Lockport Professional Fire Fighters Association took the city before the state Public Employment Relations Board to contest the city’s privatization of ambulance services and the lack of a current contract with the union.

The Council had budgeted $85,000 for bills from outside counsel during 2015. That won’t be enough, as the aldermen shifted another $25,000 into that account Wednesday.

In the Treasurer’s Office, the understaffing that Treasurer Michael E. White has long complained about has been covered, at least to some extent, by consultant Mary E. Smith, the former chief accountant for Niagara County, whose $40,000-a-year contract was extended on a month-by-month basis in March. The city allocated another $17,000 Wednesday to pay for her services.

In January, the city hired the Pittsford-based ProNexus firm for accounting help, and an employee who was assigned by ProNexus, Roger Salmons, became a temporary city employee. ProNexus billed $90 an hour but hasn’t been paid yet. The Council allocated $50,000 to do so.

Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said Salmons has gotten rave reviews but will leave the city payroll in a few weeks after he trains newly hired city accountant Cynthia L. Schilling. Smith’s assignment remains open-ended, the mayor said. She’s now working on setting the accounts right in the Community Development Department, where Director of Finance Scott A. Schrader reported Wednesday that three bank accounts were found that other city officials didn’t know about.

The money for the consulting and temporary services included $27,000 from the city’s $100,000 contingency fund, along with $35,000 that was to have been paid to Ruth E. Ohol, the chief accountant and auditor, had she not retired in January. Also tapped was a $30,000 allocation for Lumsden & McCormick, the auditing firm that prepared the last two city budgets.

It won’t prepare the upcoming budget. Schrader said he is now the city’s auditor and budget director.

On another topic Wednesday, the Council agreed to officially extend the eastern end of Willow Street from McIntosh Drive to Briarwood Drive, although the stretch has been paved for decades.

Although the city maintains it, the last block of Willow Street has not technically been a dedicated city street, according to Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano. The 207-foot stretch runs past the site of the former Briarwood Pool, a privately owned sports club whose swimming pool and tennis court have been demolished.

The current owners, Craig and Kristine Towlson, would not have been allowed to construct anything on the lot until the street officially became public instead of private, Ottaviano said.