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Thursday, January 21, 2016
By +Scott Leffler

Anne McCaffrey
Lockport Mayor Anne McCaffrey has issued her first veto as mayor, striking down a pair of resolutions approved Wednesday night by the Lockport Common Council.

The resolutions -- 012016.6 and 012016.8 -- would have rescinded a shared services agreement with Niagara Falls and created a full-time assessor's position for Lockport.

McCaffrey, in a release to the public, explained her reasoning for the rare veto, calling the resolutions "a step backwards financially and ethically."

Her announcement says the proposed Council changes would cost the city "in excess of $77,000 which includes pension and health care costs."

The bills were put forth by 5th Ward Alderman Rick Abbott and approved by a four-member majority of the Council with Alderwoman Anita Mullane abstaining from the votes. Council President Fourth-Ward Alderman David Wohleben cast the "no" vote.

Reached at home this evening, Abbott said the veto could be overridden. "If everybody stands their ground then the veto will be overturned." He added that Mullane could vote in the affirmative on the resolutions, making way for a 5-1 vote.

Mullane's position is unique in that it is her sister, Lena Villella, who could be appointed as the full-time assessor. Villella is the city appraiser and has filled in as acting assessor when it was needed previously. She has been a city employee nearly 30 years.

Abbott said he thinks that's the real rub. "It's very obvious that she doesn't want to hire the current appraiser as the assessor."

McCaffrey noted the familial relationship in her veto message.

Abbott said he believes the move could save the city money rather than costing money. It would save $30,000 by getting out of the shared services agreement with Niagara Falls. Approximately half of that savings would be put towards promoting Villella to the Assessor's post. While the city would then have to hire another person in the department, he said the city would then be able to share the position with another local municipality, negating the cost of the added personnel.

Whether of not the veto will be overridden -- and whether Mullane votes on the issue -- remains to be seen.

An attempt to reach McCaffrey for further comment was not immediately successful. Her prepared statement follows in its entirety.

To The Residents of the City of Lockport:

Today, I vetoed resolutions 012016.6 and 012016.8 sponsored by Alderman Abbott on January 20, 2016 and adopted by the Common Council. I did so because these actions are clearly a step backwards financially and ethically for the City of Lockport.  As I recently said in my inauguration speech, I will sound the alarm whenever I see a serious lapse in judgement and my responsibility is to you - our residents – to protect your hard earned dollars and to ensure that our city is run with the highest of ethics.

For the past 2 years, I have focused on putting our city back on the path to financial stability.  This required cost benefit analysis and a commitment to consider all options to ensure that our services are provided in the most cost efficient manner.  If there is a less expensive way to provide services, we must pursue that option.

Last year, the City entered into discussions with Niagara Falls for a shared services agreement for assessment services.  The agreement ensured that a qualified assessor will be in the City of Lockport weekly for the entire year, as compared to four months this past year.  The cost of this agreement is $30,000 per year.  I discussed this agreement in detail with our contact person at the New York State Financial Restructuring Board (FRB), who indicated to me that he was pleased to see Lockport pursuing shared assessment services.  He also said there was a very good chance that this type of shared services agreement would be supported and incentivized with an FRB grant to the City of Lockport and possibly Niagara Falls.  He told me that this type of action is what is necessary to increase efficiency and is an excellent step towards decreasing the cost of city government and emerging from fiscal distress.

However, the Common Council voted to abandon this shared services concept and to force Lockport out of this agreement.  With all due respect, the arguments some Common Council members provided are contradictory and simply not informed.

First, some Common Council members claim to like shared services – just not this one – a hypothetical one that doesn’t exist.  Second, they want a Full Time assessor in the City of Lockport – but state that we should share this person with another municipality.  So, if we share this person, then they aren’t full time for the City of Lockport, are they?  So which is it?  Third, in order to ensure that an employee of the department, who just happens to be Alderman Mullane’s sister, is the one protected and promoted, they want to create a third position in the department, which they claim will also save us money.   The math is simple - 3 people cost more than 2 people, especially when adding in the health care, pension and legacy costs. A full time assessor position with two support staff will increase the assessor's department budget line in excess of $77,000 which includes pension and health care costs over the shared services contract figure and this amounts to an almost 1% increase to taxpayers in future years’ budgets. Unfortunately, the city cannot afford reckless tax increases when a solid cost-effective alternative arrangement is available to the City.

In addition, the action to reduce the legal consultant line by more than half shows the Common Council’s intent that they do not want provide the essential resources and expertise to represent the city.  The New York State Comptroller’s Office approved the City’s 2016 budget after a careful review to ensure that each line was properly funded.  By drastically reducing the legal budget line, this action has in effect created an unbalanced budget and may cause the Comptroller’s Office to be concerned. In addition, Standard and Poor’s recently improved our bond rating to “stable” and indicated that this rating could be impacted by the new Common Council’s actions.  The ramifications could be far-reaching.

There are serious problems in this Common Council action.  In my opinion, it is financially irresponsible and a serious lapse in judgement to demand that an Alderman’s sister be promoted and financially benefit.  Isn’t this the type of behavior that gripped City Hall for decades and needs to stop?

If you agree with me that nepotism and fiscal irresponsibility should be a thing of the past, please call your alderman and let them know how you feel.

I respect our City Charter and the separation of powers between the branches of government which are provided for. So, please know that I will not stand by quietly and watch reckless and serious financial mistakes occur, without doing my part in using my executive powers, to sound the alarm to the taxpayers of our City when necessary.

--Anne E. McCaffrey
--Mayor of Lockport

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1 comment:

  1. It seems to me that Mayor McCaffrey's position on this is a sound one. Paying a full-time assessor means full-time salary (at an exorbitant $68K) and full-time benefits. It seems to make no economic or mathematical sense for Lockport to do this. And the added issue of nepotism for the person to be hired is a giant red flag and one the city has been criticized for in the past. Although I applaud Ms. Mullane's abstension from the vote, this still gives a pretty obvious appearance of impropriety. Despite this being a "new" council, a vote like this seems like "business as usual".


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