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State audit faults Lewiston’s management of Joseph Davis State Park

LEWISTON – With the Town of Lewiston under new leadership and the reins of Joseph Davis State Park in the process of being returned to the state, an audit that questions the management of the park may now be a moot point.

Nevertheless, the state comptroller’s 31-page audit of the park’s management criticized the town for not providing proper oversight.

The audit noted, in an especially embarrassing discovery, that as part of approving payments for design of a campground that was never built, the town had approved paying $450 in invoices for things like “dancing to the tango,” “learning to moonwalk,” and “doing calcs with an abacus.” The audit – covering the town’s management of the park between Jan. 1, 2011 and April 8, 2014 – noted that if the board had performed an adequate audit of these claims, it may have noticed the descriptions and rejected them.

Town Supervisor Dennis J. Brochey, who took office after the issues raised by the comptroller came to light, called the audit an embarrassment for the town, but said with the changes he’s made in the past year, “hopefully nothing like this will ever happen again.”

According to the audit, the Town of Lewiston spent more than $1.1 million on the park and the funds provided little or no benefit, other than normal park maintenance and paving of two parking areas. The town used $900,000 in Niagara River Greenway funds and $211,000 in town funds. Some of these projects were completed before the town officially received Greenway funds.

A large share of these funds went to engineering and planning, including $258,525 that went to a consultant and $266,765 that went to engineering contractors.

According to the audit, the agreement with the state required the town to obtain written approval from New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation for capital improvement projects and submit financial reports. The town did not receive written permission for any of the projects and, as a result, the town contracted for services that may not have been allowed to go forward.

Some of the proposed projects included a new boat launch, a visitors center, the new campground, an Audubon nature center, a water taxi and improvements to the parking areas and roads. The only projects included in the state’s master plan were the nature center and parking and road improvements. The other projects could not have gone forward without amending the state park’s master plan.

In addition, the board did not monitor fuel purchases and the comptroller’s office identified approximately 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel worth approximately $6,500 that was unaccounted for and may have been dispensed into an employee’s personal vehicle.

Brochey noted that a majority of the questioned actions occurred under former Supervisor Steven Reiter, prior to Brochey’s taking office Jan. 1, 2014. He also noted that two new board members were elected in November 2014. In addition, both the engineering firm and the attorneys working on Joseph Davis State Park have “parted ways” with the town, he said.

Brochey said that the employee suspected of misusing town fuel supplies was investigated by New York State Police and “eventually terminated.”

email: nfischer@buffnews.com