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Cheektowaga officials say changes implemented following state audit

Steps already have been taken to correct how Cheektowaga’s public works contracts are put out to bid, town officials said Thursday, and offered documents to prove it.

A recent state audit faulted the town for incomplete bid specifications for goods and services contracts, as well as a lack of planning and oversight, after reviewing five contracts awarded between Jan. 1, 2010, and Aug. 28, 2013. Auditors from the state Comptroller’s Office went as far as to suggest that town actions were done to favor a contractor.

With two contracts up for approval Monday, Councilwoman Angela M. Wozniak made a motion to table both, saying the related documents were lacking in detail.

When Wozniak said she wanted to table the contracts, “That kind of raised a red flag,” Councilwoman Diane Benczkowski said Thursday.

“I seconded ... that in order to vote on them with good conscience. I needed more information,” Benczkowski said. So she spent the next two days meeting with personnel from the highway and engineering departments and reviewing the documents.

Thursday, she and Highway Superintendent Mark Wegner met with reporters and said changes have been made in developing bid specifications, as per the audit’s recommendations. Those changes are reflected in the contracts put on hold earlier this week.

Benczkowski pointed to the bid specification booklets for the equipment and operators contract and a sidewalk replacement project, which went out to bid earlier this month. “There were numerous changes here. They went according to what the auditor told them to do,” she said.

Wegner acknowledged that previous specifications, which are prepared by the engineering department, were vague.

While the audit claims the town overpaid for certain aspects of public works projects, Benczkowski and Wegner said it didn’t take into account the amount of money actually saved by having town employees perform the labor on jobs such as paving.

Instead of hurting taxpayers, “We saved them money,” Wegner said.

Meanwhile, the two contracts tabled Monday are expected to be on the agenda at the next Town Board meeting. “I will be voting ‘yes’,” Benczkowski said.