The Town of Evans, set to vote on Election Day whether to upsize its Town Board from three to five members, should focus instead on restoring the town to solvency.
Spending more money on salary, health insurance and benefits for two more board members will not get the town any closer to financial stability.
The Town Board had five members when the town spent millions of dollars on a water project that nearly caused the town to go bankrupt. Residents will be paying surcharges until 2040 to finance the water improvements, which will include a still-unbuilt water tower. Taxes have gone up about 20 percent in the past two years and long-term prospects are not good.
These are the burning issues that should be keeping officials awake at night, not whether to add a couple more board members. Admittedly the cost would not be enormous – about $40,000 a year for each new member – in a $16 million town budget, but the town should be looking to save wherever possible.
The magical thinking by proponents of upsizing is that because the town has financial problems, it somehow makes sense to have more people working on them. And, they say, the state’s Open Meetings Law makes it difficult for three members to do business.
Wrong and wrong.
Evans made the right decision in reducing the number of board members a few years ago. It was one of five town boards in Erie County to reduce from five members to three between 2009 and 2012. Hamburg has since voted itself back to a larger board. Alden, Orchard Park and West Seneca remain at three.
Among the typical arguments made by three-member boards is the difficulty in getting work done. They complain that two members can’t discuss town business privately because two is a quorum and such talks would violate the Open Meetings Law.
That is a specious argument. Board members should be discussing business in public, and not in secret. Running into each other at the store and deciding to hash out town business is unacceptable and, yes, in violation of the Open Meetings Law.
And then there is that bigger fish to fry.
Late last year, the town ran out of money. It received a $980,000 short-term loan from Erie County. County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw Jr. described it as bringing the town from the “brink of financial collapse.”
Supervisor Mary K. Hosler, who retired in 2013 as a vice president for Evans Bank, favors a three-person board. She’s right. The town needs a three-member board that will work decisively and transparently to repair municipal finances.