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West Seneca supervisor says $500,000 deficit is 'unacceptable'

West Seneca ended the 2019 budget year with a half-million dollar deficit, according to Supervisor Gary Dickson.

"This is completely unacceptable," he said during a financial update during Monday's Town Board meeting. "That’s $500,000 that comes out of our savings."

And Dickson blamed the former Town Board for poor budgeting.

"The prior Town Board never submitted a balanced budget," he said. "Every single budget relied on savings."

Former Board Member Gene Hart disputed that claim, and he said that budgets are an estimate of expenses and revenues.

Dickson said one of the main reasons for the deficit is due to expenses in the police department, and he again blamed the previous board.

"For several years, the prior Town Board had been ignoring expenses in the police department," he said, adding the expenses had been requested by the police chief and finance director.

Finance Director Megan Wnek said the year-end review is not fully completed, but the police department spent $197,000 more than the previous year. There was $475,000 spent on sick time buybacks, where officers receive cash for extra accumulated sick days, she said.

"This has been an area of concern for the town for the past few years," Wnek said.

She said the second budget concern is recycling, which is expected to come in $290,000 over budget, despite moving to the less expensive biweekly pickup of recyclables. She also said Modern Disposal discovered it had overcharged the town $232,000 for the year.

"To me, this is a clear complete failure of our internal control system. This shouldn't have happened," Dickson said.

He said he and Wnek are working on improving internal controls.

Hart, who lost to Dickson in a three-way race for supervisor, said it is not as "simple" as the supervisor implies. He said police are entitled to cash out sick days, and 12 officers retired last year, increasing the amount paid by the town.

"We have tried to address it, but it's a guessing game," he said.

He said a number of officers announced they would retire after the 2019 budget had been approved.

"We are very aware of situation with the police. It's been a problem every one of my years on the board," Hart said. "You don't always know how many retirements you're going to have."

The board had already adopted the 2019 budget when recycling bids came in much higher than expected. That's when the board went with biweekly collection to save money, he said. And, he said, "we were faced with people in an uproar over taxes." The board did not want to add spending to the budget for a lot of retirements that might not occur, and collect extra taxes that were never used, he said.

"You're damned if you do, damned if you don't," he said.

Dickson said there could be a six-figure deficit in this year's budget, and he will come up with a plan soon to address it.

"You really deserve to know what your budget looks like," Dickson said.

Moody's downgraded the town's bond rating one notch in 2018 to reflect the "town's narrowing reserves following multi-year operating deficits."  The rating agency's "negative outlook," which had been placed on bonds the previous year, was removed in 2018.

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