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No referendum in West Seneca – as Town Board cuts borrowing

West Seneca Town Board members tried to quell criticism on the library and community center – and funding for it – on Monday night.

But strong opposition remained, even as the board eliminated a special election on the borrowing of $5.1 million.

Residents mounted a successful petition drive last month to force a public vote on whether the town should borrow $5.1 million, on top of the $8.43 million already borrowed.

The Town Board ordered a halt to spending on the Union Road project two weeks ago, while its town attorney, engineer and finance director looked into the project and finances.

Town Attorney John Fenz issued the report Monday afternoon.

The key takeaway is the town only needs $1.9 million to finish the project, Town Supervisor Sheila M. Meegan said in a written statement.

That's because a miscommunication between the engineering consultant and the bond counsel led to a $1.4 million energy performance contract being counted twice, Fenz said.

Town Board members on Monday evening followed his recommendations.

The board:

  • Rescinded the borrowing of $5.1 million, which had prompted the petition drive, forcing a referendum on the borrowing.
  • Approved a $1.18 million loan from the general fund to the capital fund, to cover part of the costs until the town receives grant payments.
  • Borrowed $1.9 million to finish the 30,000-square-foot building.

By rescinding the $5.1 million bond resolution, the board eliminated the referendum that could have threatened the project – which was 88 percent completed by the end of February.

The target date for completion is mid-May.

In addition to borrowing less money, the board also decided to make some minor changes that will lower the cost by about $140,000, so the total cost of the project is $13.53 million.

"All of a sudden, the Town Board pulled rabbits out of their hat?" said Dale Clarke, a former Town Board member and frequent critic of the current board. "Do you think you would have lowered the amount if we did not have a referendum?"

Councilman Gene Hart said some criticism of the town is justified but the community will be pleased with the library and community center.

"I don’t believe that the changes that were made to the project were adequately addressed to the town, but in the end, when you finally do see it, they're good changes," he said.

If another petition drive is mounted and is successful to force a public referendum on borrowing $1.9 million, the report said the town could:

  • Halt spending and await the referendum, which could jeopardize completion and grant funds or,
  • Rescind the resolution and adopt another with a five-year payback that would not allow a referendum, or
  • Rescind the resolution and increase taxes in 2019 to fund the budget shortfall.

During the past two weeks, Fenz also looked into not completing, or mothballing, the building.

According to the town engineer, it would cost about $750,000 to mothball the building, including making the heating system operational to prevent damage to finishes and utilities already installed, draining water and blowing out the plumbing system to prevent broken pipes, completing the exterior finish to maintain the waterproofing already in place and finishing the roof.

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