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Lockport alderman calls for state audits of two offices

LOCKPORT – Alderman R. Joseph O’Shaughnessy this week called for the state comptroller and attorney general to conduct audits of the Lockport city Treasurer’s Office and Assessor’s Office.

“Lockport taxpayers must know whether the financial and legal requirements of those offices have been fully met,” O’Shaughnessy said.

“I welcome any audit of any city department that the state is willing to perform,” Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey responded.

The Treasurer’s Office has been audited repeatedly in recent years, both by Albany and by a private firm hired by the city, because of the city’s financial crisis.

The state audits pointed the finger at former Treasurer Michael E. White for failing to provide timely and accurate financial reports to the Common Council. White was resoundingly defeated by Sue A. Mawhiney in the November election.

However, there has been no audit of the Assessor’s Office, which has been the first flash point of controversy between McCaffrey and the Council, five of whose members are newcomers first elected in November.

Even though the Council is split 3-3 by party, the battle over hiring a full-time assessor instead of making a shared-service deal with Niagara Falls has revealed that McCaffrey, a Republican, has only one supporter she can count on, that being Council President David R. Wohleben, R-4th Ward.

O’Shaughnessy, D-at large, issued a statement Monday night saying that hiring a full-time assessor would be good business for the city. McCaffrey, who last week vetoed the Council resolutions to recreate the position and rescind the 2015 Council’s approval of the Falls deal, said in her veto message that the move constitutes nepotism, because the Council majority wants her to give the job to Lena D. Villella, the sister of Alderwoman Anita Mullane, D-2nd Ward. The Council is expected to vote on overriding the vetoes Feb. 3.

Villella is the city’s real property appraiser and has worked in City Hall since 1987, including two stints as acting assessor. The Council majority wants to give her a raise from $49,000 to $68,000 to have her hold both jobs. They also want to rent her out to other municipalities, which McCaffrey said contradicts the claim from the Council that the city must have a full-time assessor.

O’Shaughnessy said the McCaffrey-Wohleben position that the assessment job could be handled by a visitor from Niagara Falls “proves beyond any doubt that they just don’t understand all the duties and responsibilities of that position.”

He added that the Council “purposely chose to act now in order to right the ship and not let that department become another disaster, as mayors (Michael W.) Tucker and McCaffrey let happen to the Treasurer’s Office, which nearly led to our financial downfall.”

O’Shaughnessy said doing it the Council’s way saves money. Instead of paying Niagara Falls $30,000 while also spending about $80,000, including benefits, on Villella as appraiser, the salary increase for Villella of $19,000 would not cause added benefit costs. McCaffrey has claimed that the Council wants a three-person staff in the Assessor’s Office instead of the current two, which her opponents deny.