Who caused the fiscal meltdown in Lockport? There are a lot of fingerprints on the mess that has been dumped at taxpayers’ doors, but the line starts at the City Treasurer’s Office.
It was Michael E. White’s job to evaluate finances, monitor spending and set off alarms when imbalances threaten. Yet the city’s financial condition is so perilous that the state Comptroller’s Office predicts the city will run out of money next month. White has failed at his primary task and seems not to recognize the gravity of the situation.
But he’s not alone. Former Mayor Michael W. Tucker was in charge of the city’s overall wellbeing, and members of the Common Council are charged with operating the city intelligently. More failures. Voters, of course, elect the people to those offices, although White, the brother-in-law of Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, was appointed by Tucker to fill an unexpired term before winning three terms on his own.
The bottom line is that the city’s finances have been disastrously managed – worse even than Buffalo, which got a much-needed control board but never came within a month of insolvency, and worse than Niagara Falls, which suffered mightily during the three-year standoff over casino revenues between the Seneca Nation of Indians and New York State.
The question now is what to do to ease this crisis. Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey, in office since March, has a good idea in the possibility of restructuring the Treasurer’s Office to produce “the proper people in the proper positions with credentials that would guarantee effective accounting procedures.”
Indeed, that ought to be a fundamental requirement for so specialized an office, and not just for Lockport. All levels of government should require basic qualifications for this kind of position, even if that means paying more to attract the right candidates.
The city has also laid off 16 workers, abolished the youth and recreation director position and allowed the public works director post to remain vacant. It plans to contract out ambulance service, as most other cities do, and when that is done, will reduce shift sizes in the fire department to reduce overtime. That could take time since the city hasn’t even prepared a request for proposals from private ambulance firms. It should get busy.
More immediately, Lockport will need money to pay its bills. That mechanism exists in an emergency borrowing measure approved by the State Legislature two months ago. As part of that deal, and at the proper insistence of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office, the city also agreed to give the state Comptroller’s Office a veto over its budgets for the next 10 years.
What remains is for Cuomo to sign the bill. He needs to do that. There seems little time left to waste.