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Finances cloud race for Wilson supervisor

Wilson Town Supervisor Jerry Dean hasn't been to a board meeting since January, when a state comptroller's audit criticized him for spending thousands of dollars on cemetery repairs without competitive bidding and Town Board approval.

He fell ill about the same time with a stomach aneurysm.

There have been three town bookkeepers and three audits in the town during the past year. There is no town assessor. Nobody is exactly sure about the state of town finances, although there are fears of a deficit.

Amid the confusion, and sadness, election season looms. And storm clouds have appeared here, too.

Last month, a state judge bounced Democrat Edward A. Hastings off the fall election ballot for town supervisor. The ruling means the next supervisor likely will be decided in a GOP primary Tuesday between Councilman Bruce G. Muck and former County Legislator Joseph A. Jastrzemski.

Hastings, a Democratic town councilman, took the Fifth Amendment rather than answer questions about whether the witness statement on his election petition was signed by the same person who collected the signatures. He told The Buffalo News last month he wanted to quit the race but missed the deadline to legally withdraw.

Dean, whose third two-year term is up Dec. 31, is not running for re-election.

Muck locked horns with Dean last year for authorizing $57,000 to repair vandalism at Greenwood Cemetery without Town Board approval. The other three members of the board retroactively approved it, but Dean's action violated municipal law, concluded an investigation by the state comptroller.

"We found that the supervisor paid claims (to the contractor who did the cemetery repairs) prior to the board's approval, acting outside of his permitted authority and circumventing town law," the comptroller's office wrote in a report released last December.

"In short, said former Supervisor Walter Evans, "In taking it upon himself to OK projects, Jerry broke the town law."

Dean, who runs a lawn care company, was stricken shortly after the report. He hasn't been to a Town Board meeting since Jan. 24.

Neither Muck, a 60-year-old farmer, nor his opponent, Joseph A. Jastrzemski, 50, coordinator of the Niagara County Sheriff's Department prisoner release program, wants to get into the Dean matter now.

The financial audit of the town's 2004 spending, being conducted by Gray Certified Public Accounting of Rochester, is a different matter.

No one on the Town Board, not even Hastings, the deputy supervisor, claims to know if the town is operating with a surplus or a deficit. The results of the audit are not expected before the primary.

Muck said he is "sure it's not going to show a surplus." While steering clear of involving Dean in the town's finances, Muck, a Republican who has served two four-year terms on the Council, is calling for "fiscal responsibility."

Also, he said, "The Town Board must make the decisions, not the supervisor."

If elected, Muck said he would set aside certain hours and certain days when his office would be open to all residents.

"In the past, this accountability has been kind of loose," he said.

Dean couldn't be reached for this story. "He's never coming back" to politics, said a longtime friend who asked not to be named out of respect for Dean. "He's not the same Jerry."

Jastrzemski said he believes Wilson needs a new hand at the helm to cut through the town's murky monetary situation.

"We're at the point where the town needs strong leadership and hard decision-making to save taxpayers money," said Jastrzemski, an active member of the community and a Wilson High School wrestling coach who has lived in the town for 30 years.

Turning some full-time Town Hall positions into part-time jobs is one way to save money, said Jastrzemski, a Republican who represented the 14th District, which includes Wilson, on the Niagara County Legislature for four months in 1994. He was appointed to complete the term of Legislator Curtis Hopkins, who died.

During the long tenure of Town Assessor Milton S. Bradshaw, the position was a full-time one, paying upward of $36,000. The town has been without an assessor since Bradshaw took a similar position in Orchard Park in April. Jastrzemski believes the assessor's job could be filled by a part-time employee, a view not shared by some at Town Hall, particularly workers in the Building Department.

With Dean seriously ill, both Muck and Jastrzemski are treading carefully as they compete to remedy the past.

Though not a factor in Tuesday's primary, three candidates -- incumbent Brad L. Clark and newcomers James Muscoreil and Melinda Holloway -- are running in the November election for two Council seats, Muck's and that of Clark, whose four-year term is up for re-election.

Staff writer Thomas J. Prohaska contributed to this story.

e-mail: bmichelmore@buffnews.com

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