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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Town Board To Vote on Water 14 Settlement

The agenda for tonight's town board meeting has a resolution sponsored by the Supervisor which will allow a vote on a proposed settlement the town has already agreed to in principle that would pay Casale Excavating another Million dollars to finish Water District 14. The agenda is here for you to read.

The notion that this board would fight for taxpayers who thought we were agreeing to a 7.1 million dollar bond to pay for a 6.4 million dollar contract with a little cushion room included for change orders, will be tossed aside if they vote to approve this sell out of taxpayers.

The deal was "discussed" last week in a public informational meeting without the board letting anyone know it had been agreed to in principle by the attorneys for the two sides and simply required board approval to be sent to the court. The judge can then simply agree to the stipulation leaving voters no say in the matter.

When this Conservative majority took power in January with the backing of the local Conservative Committee chaired by Michael Casale of Casale Excavating, one had to expect that these unseemly situations could arise. When a businessman becomes a party chairman and then uses that perception of power to influence the decisions of elected officials, he has no one to blame but himself for the criticisms that inevitably ensue.

Nonetheless, it appears that there are enough votes to pass the settlement, including his party vice chairman Councilman Lou Desso, which would pay the contractor a total of 8.1 million dollars for the work representing 1.7 million more than his agreed to and stipulated bid of 6.4 million. Of this amount, only one change order was approved for $13,000 leaving the balance of these payments approved by folks administering the contract in the building department, none of whom are being held accountable.

Of course it's got to be hard to hold others accountable when the Supervisor himself authorized a check for $83,000 the day after a December 2006 Board meeting knowing full well that all of the bond money had already been spent while keeping the rest of the town board in the dark about the payment. In January of this year, just prior to the State Comptroller's audit of Water 14, the Supervisor called 3 special meetings in an effort to pay his Conservative Party friends more money that wasn't there by returning retainage fees. He knew once the audit was released, that the entire board would realize there was no money in the fund to pay a dime and that we were already overspending the bond by $268,000, (including his $83,000 check).

While they have not specifically said so, it also appears that the payout would be imposed on all town taxpayers, not just those in Water 14. You may recall that such a plan was concocted last year but was subject to voter approval through a permissive referendum. Voters signed petitions to force a vote on the bailout and Evers refused to schedule the vote as required by law. This year, when his new majority took charge they cancelled the bond proposal and the required vote. This time, with a court involved , the settlement is imposed by the court with the consent of the town board. Incidentally, three board members are taxpayers in Water 14, Kern, Desso and Spain. A vote to make the entire town pay would reduce the impact of the settlement on their tax bills.

Everyone wants to see the work completed and those who need water get it as well as the countless folks who have been waiting for restoration work, also not done, to see their properties restored. The question is simply how to do this while protecting taxpayers from the mismanagement of this contract?

One way to do this is to declare the contractor to be in breech and retain someone else to complete the work while the contract's terms are litigated by the court. Of course this would expose those in town hall who authorized all those overpayments to criticism and potentially expose the Supervisor's role in the process as well.

Tonight the public will get a chance to be heard. Bring your checkbook.

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