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Lockport Council continues battle over budget

LOCKPORT – The Lockport Common Council argued for 45 minutes Wednesday over whether to limit department heads’ ability to put budgeted money on hold so it can’t be used for other purposes. Despite the struggle, the Council ended up shelving the matter for a later time.

Democratic Alderman at Large R. Joseph O’Shaughnessy wanted to pass a measure requiring that the Council receive 10 days’ notice of any move to “encumber” money. In a continuation of the same tone heard at last week’s meeting, when there was a vicious argument over cutting Finance Director Scott A. Schrader’s salary, Schrader told O’Shaughnessy that his idea was “exceptionally irresponsible purchasing practice.”

Schrader said all purchase orders “encumber” money before goods or a bill arrive. Needing Council approval before making an order would “stagnate” city government, Schrader said.

Schrader said it would delay all purchases by 10 days or two weeks.

“Or you’ll have to meet every day,” he said.

“Couldn’t permission be given by email?” asked Alderwoman Anita Mullane, who last week led the effort to cut Schrader’s $95,000-a-year salary.

“That’s crazy,” Schrader shot back.

Of the encumbrance practice, he said, “That’s not crazy. It’s good government.”

“I don’t approve of that,” O’Shaughnessy replied.

The real issue, it appeared from the resolution, was that Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano encumbered $50,000 in his outside counsel budget for use on attorneys from the Albany law firm Goldberger & Kremer for a coming, but as yet unscheduled, arbitration hearing with the firefighters union over a new contract. A majority of the Council was endorsed by the firefighters union in the November 2015 election.

Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said she and Ottaviano want Bryan J. Goldberger of the Albany firm to handle the hearing, even though the city has a staff of three part-time attorneys on salary.

Although she expressed confidence in the city’s legal staff, McCaffrey said, “We want to put our best foot forward.”

Ottaviano insisted that he, like all department heads, has the right to encumber money to keep it from being “raided” by the Council. The Council grabbed $77,000 of the $150,000 in Ottaviano’s outside counsel budget earlier this year to fund the salary of the city’s assessor, a post that was added to the budget early this year.

“You can’t control my department through the purse strings,” Ottaviano told the aldermen. “If you don’t want to spend money on Goldberger, take it out. … Just be upfront and take it away from me.”

On the Schrader salary issue, the motion to cut his pay to $75,000 was withdrawn by Mullane after an executive session.

Although the finance director job was advertised at $75,000 in 2014, McCaffrey said Schrader, one of only two applicants, agreed to move from Vermont to Lockport if the pay could be set at $95,000 instead of $75,000.

Schrader said if the Council cuts his pay, he will sue the city. “I’ll be left with no other choice. The agreement was,$95,000 and I’ll move into the city. I kept my side.”

Ottaviano said the pay cut resolution might be legal if it was part of the 2017 budget, but not otherwise. Schrader said he has never signed his contract and said he is being paid the $95,000 under “a tacit agreement.”