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Audit shows West Seneca’s supervisor needs to change a secretive town culture

The recent state comptroller’s report criticizing the West Seneca Town Board for lack of transparency and for not properly planning and managing construction of the library and community center comes as no surprise to frustrated residents who have had to tolerate a government shrouded in secrecy.

It seems to be something in the town’s culture. It needs to change.

Residents don’t pay taxes so that they can feel gouged, bamboozled or ignored. It’s happened too often in West Seneca government. That includes elected officials and even the Police Department, which would not allow reporters – for which, read the public – to see the police blotter. The practice kept residents from knowing about crimes committed on their streets and in their neighborhoods.

The 30,000-square-foot community center could be what some consider a white elephant, and includes a library, town offices, meeting rooms, recreation space and a Spot Coffee Express Café.

It wasn’t cheap, and came with crazily fluctuating estimates that suggested careless planning: rising from $9.93 million to $14.93 million, then dropping to $13.4 million. Dan Warren, an organizer of the successful petition drive opposing the project, pointed to the audit as confirmation of well-founded suspicion.

The petition drive forced a referendum on borrowing an additional $5.1 million. Then the Town Board rescinded the borrowing and bonded for a lesser amount.

Former Supervisor Sheila Meegan tried explaining the unexplainable – starting with her telltale pride in the project. The building’s scope expanded, she said, to include more offices following damage to a recreation building and the Burchfield Nature & Art Center.

Had Meegan seen the audit, she might have been surprised to find criticism of the board in failing to provide details that would have informed taxpayers.

Meegan admitted that town officials could have communicated better but added that, “It wasn’t like we did this in the cover of night.” That may be true, but it’s not much of an answer to taxpayers staring at payment due.

Whatever the figure, the project cost seems high both in the sheer number of dollars as well as the amount of time and energy residents had to spend trying to get information that should have been crystal clear.

The town’s new supervisor, Gary Dickson, campaigned on the need for professional government. He should adopt the state’s recommendations on accounting and accountability. That would be a start on respecting the public.

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