What West Seneca has – at least in the opinion of a Town Board majority – is a failure to communicate.
So the town plans to spend $30,000 to do something about it.
Town Board members voted, 2-1, Monday night to hire e3communications for a flat fee of $3,000 a month from March 1 to Dec. 31. Councilman Gene Hart voted against the measure.
By doing so, West Seneca joined the ranks of the Erie County Water Authority as a public entity hiring an outside public relations firm.
Some municipalities have hired spokespersons, but few have hired an outside firm. The Water Authority, which hired Zeppelin Communications, run by Republican strategist Michael R. Caputo, is one exception.
The vote comes after a brutal budget season last fall where some residents were highly critical of the board on the tax increase, and after residents recently circulated petitions to force a vote on borrowing for the library/community center. The board eliminated the public vote by rescinding the borrowing Monday night, when it also passed a smaller, $1.9 million bond resolution.
Daniel Warren, who initiated the petition drive, said he has drafted a petition to force a public vote on whether to borrow $1.9 million for the library/community center.
"Now they hire a PR firm because they can't talk to the people. That’s what they were elected to do, communicate with the people," he said. "Where was that money when we were looking for cuts in November?"
Warren said he is seeing if volunteers are willing to circulate petitions again, particularly since the Town Board could change the 25-year bond into a five-year payback, which would not allow for a referendum.
According to the town, e3communications will provide professional public relations services including media relations, development and administration of social media platforms, electronic communications, issues management and crisis communications and advocacy for town initiatives.
Hart said he thought the town should hire a PR firm on a month-to-month basis, and he did not know what services the company would provide after the library/community center opens.
"In light of recent budgeting of the town, I think we should look at saving as much money as we can," Hart said.
Supervisor Sheila M. Meegan said members of the public have spoken clearly that they do not think the Town Board is communicating with them. She said the town is on Twitter, updates its website and informs residents of major events through Code Red telephone notifications, but the message does not seem to get through.
"In my opinion, this is a very worthwhile expenditure and it will be a positive to the taxpayers, the residents of our town," Meegan said.
She said the town has spent almost $23 million on road reconstruction projects and more on the sewer project, but "nobody knows this."
"What we failed to do was communicate that to the public," she said.
She said the town did not send out a request for proposals, but did interview several firms. Funding for e3communications will come out of the town attorney's budget, she said.