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Town of Lockport maintains strong surplus as it invests in infrastructure repairs

LOCKPORT – The town, known for having large amounts of surplus cash, trimmed that figure in 2015 by beginning to plow the money into infrastructure repairs, according to the annual audit.

But leaving aside the construction projects, the accumulated balances in all the other budget areas continued to rise, except for the highway fund, which fell by only about $9,000.

The report, presented to the Town Board this week by the Lumsden & McCormick accounting firm, showed the town’s total fund balance, or surplus, at $4.4 million, which is 23 percent of the town’s total spending of $18.9 million.

The total surplus fell by $3.4 million in 2015, as the town spent more than $4.1 million on various capital projects, mostly water and sewer upgrades.

“We did South Transit Road water, which was $2.8 million,” Supervisor Mark C. Crocker said. The town also carried out an assortment of other infrastructure projects, much of it paid for with money accumulated in prior years.

The State Comptroller’s Office has been criticizing school districts this year for overtaxing residents and building up surpluses. But in the Town of Lockport, there is no general town tax, so the $5.6 million fund balance in the general fund, which is $2 million more than last year’s spending in that area, came from frugality and town growth, according to Crocker.

“Some people would say we have too much (surplus),” Crocker, who became supervisor Jan. 1 after serving on the Town Board, acknowledged.

But he disagrees with that opinion. He said, “We want to maintain our good status, so when we have to borrow for bonds, we get the best interest rate.”

When Moody’s Investors Service, a Wall Street rating firm, upgraded the town in September 2014, its report cited Lockport’s “healthy financial position, evidenced by consecutive solid reserve levels, annual surpluses, a growing tax base in Western New York and manageable debt and pension burdens.”

The town eventually will be issuing long-term bonds to pay off some of the infrastructure projects. “As part of our 100-year infrastructure plan to keep it all healthy, we decided this was the best time, with low interest rates,” Crocker said.

The South Transit water project involved relocating and enlarging a main that used to run beneath a traffic lane on the heavily traveled road, which is Route 78.

“It took quite a beating from the trucks,” Crocker said. “As we develop the Transit Road corridor, we’re going to need the water capacity, anyway, for the businesses we anticipate over the next 20 to 30 years.”

The town has been retiring its long-term debt, which stands at $4 million, a figure that fell by $1.4 million last year. Ten years ago, the town had $18 million in long-term debt.