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Financial chaos poses challenge in West Seneca

Gary Dickson knew he would face financial challenges in his new role as West Seneca town supervisor, but he may not have anticipated to what degree. What he discovered is a budgetary mess.

The town ended the 2019 budget year with a half-million-dollar deficit which, as Dickson said, is unacceptable. The previous administration and Town Board have some explaining to do, although Dickson has some theories, starting with the fact that the former Town Board budgeted poorly. It “never submitted a balanced budget,” he said, citing police department expenses as the key driver of the deficit. The town’s recycling program is also expected to land $290,000 over budget.

Former Board Member Gene Hart, who lost to Dickson in a three-way race, emphasized that budgets “are an estimate of expenses and revenues.” That’s true, of course, but it’s also true of municipalities that produce reliable budgets.

At the police department, budget problems include officers’ ability to cash out sick days – to the tune of $475,000 – and the fact that 12 officers retired last year, increasing the town’s costs. Hart noted several officers announced they would retire after the 2019 budget had been approved.

Dickson is absolutely justified in fuming about the messy conditions he inherited. The town of about roughly 45,000 can hardly bear the burden of a half-million-dollar deficit, let alone waste time on excuses.

To make matters worse, Moody’s was already unhappy with the town, downgrading its bond rating one notch in 2018, in response to the town’s “narrowing reserves” and “multiyear operating deficits.”

The new supervisor, along with Finance Director Megan Wnek, are working on improving internal controls, in part to prevent future incidents such as Modern Disposal discovering it had overcharged the town $232,000 for the year.

West Seneca should not be in such a deep budgetary hole. Taxpayers have reason to be frustrated by years of bad budgeting, compounded by a prior supervisor who didn’t mind requesting a substantial raise and then suggesting a cut for her successor. They are right to demand better governance.

As a former FBI special agent with a banking background in probing fraud and money laundering, Dickson should be able to get to the bottom of this mess in an open, transparent way that holds him and his staff accountable to taxpayers.

That’s what he promised when he took the job. So far, he’s making good on it.

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