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Editorial: Mismanagement in Evans is costing town taxpayers as Erie County comes to the rescue

Now that the Town of Evans taxpayers are on the hook for a deep double-digit tax increase because of the entrenched financial ineptitude of past elected officials, they may want to demand greater transparency and accountability.

The town has run out of money and local taxpayers will be the ones picking up a bill that, had sound management practices been in play all these years, would have been unnecessary. Sure, taxes would have risen and a few people may not have been re-elected. But these leaders would have done their jobs, no matter how hard or unpopular.

Now town finances are in a mess and the county has to put up the bail. Evans taxpayers will have to repay a huge tab that could have been avoided.

As The News recently reported, the town has sought a $980,000 short-term loan from Erie County. This is an “unprecedented” request that the County Legislature helpfully approved through changes in policy language. Bringing the town from the “brink of financial collapse,” as County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw Jr. described it, is spot on.

This is a town whose credit rating is so dismal it is unable to get investors to bite on a revenue-anticipation note. It took a personal appeal to get Evans Bank to finally agree to purchase a smaller $600,000 revenue note to cover payroll expenses only. And that money was expected to run out days later.

The county loan is a tax anticipation note and the good news here is that there is no risk. The county can repay itself through the property taxes it collects on behalf of the town if Evans does not repay its debt. And the county makes out – a little – because it can charge the town a 2 percent interest rate, higher than the county’s current bank investments.

Not so much a relief to Evans residents. As reported, the Town Board adopted a near $16 million budget for 2017. It will raise taxes by 11.8 percent, in addition to the 8.6 percent increase already approved for this year.

Evans Supervisor Mary K. Hosler told The News she had a sense of the problems when she ran for office last year but her experience in the financial sector – regional vice president for Evans Bank before retiring in 2013 – could not have prepared her for the disaster she encountered. As reported, “… thousands of missing financial transactions, internal audits never completed, and a negative fund balance of $523,000.”

There is plenty of blame to go around, and it goes back years. The State Comptroller’s Office sent up a warning flare back in 2012 (and has been sending it ever since). That particular audit criticized the town’s then yearslong handling of its multimillion-dollar water project, in addition to its water system, which repeatedly ran at a deficit.

The finger-pointing took off then. Now it has only increased, but at a much more rapid pace, as one former supervisor after another says this mess was made before taking office. Does it really matter?

Evans residents are the ones picking up the tab. Their elected leaders failed them.

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