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City of Lockport achieves surpluses in wake of deficits

LOCKPORT – The city finished 2015 with an operating surplus in all of its governmental funds, Finance Director Scott A. Schrader told the Common Council last week.

The books aren’t complete yet, since all expenses for 2015 have yet to be paid, but Schrader said the city definitely will be in the black, two years after the state allowed Lockport to borrow some $4.5 million to pay off deficits.

Unlike the 2014 surpluses, which an audit attributed to emergency borrowing, these resulted from the city’s fiscal policies, Schrader said, along with higher-than-expected sales tax receipts and a healthier city workforce that made fewer insurance claims.

“We’re no longer on life support, if you’re going to use a medical analogy. We’re stable,” he said. “It’s not great. It’s better.”

As of late January, Schrader told the aldermen, the general fund showed a $619,000 surplus for 2015. However, some health insurance benefits and other bills have not yet been paid, so the final figure will be lower.

“It won’t go to zero,” Schrader vowed. “I stand by my assumption that it’ll be around $250,000.”

General fund surpluses occurred even though the city again failed to budget enough for overtime in the police and fire departments. The 2015 budget allocated $300,000 for overtime in each of those departments. The cost of fire overtime was $329,488, but the police total zoomed to $602,713.

The city imposed 12-hour shifts on the Police Department at the start of 2015 and paid the price. “We didn’t staff it properly in 2015,” Schrader acknowledged.

In a new deal with the police union, the city agreed to hire six more officers, three this year and three next year, while limiting vacations to two officers per platoon at any one time.

Police will return to eight-hour shifts in 2017, Schrader said. “I think the additions will reduce the overtime by half,” Schrader said.

Other surpluses, with some bills still to be paid, were: water, $400,000; sewer; $260,000; and refuse disposal, $372,000. Schrader credited that last amount to City Clerk Richelle J. Pasceri and her “brilliant effort to get a grant for totes. … We received $200,000 for that, and then we performed better in disposal and billing.”

Pasceri said the state Department of Environmental Conservation in December reimbursed the city for the cost of garbage and recycling totes. She said the city needs to buy some more in the next four to six weeks and that the minimum order would be $3,500. She said the city is out of 64- and 96-gallon totes.