WHEATFIELD – A bill that passed both houses of the State Legislature in the closing days of the session would require the New York Power Authority to audit the host communities that have benefited richly from the 2007 relicensing of the Niagara Power Project.
The Niagara Power Coalition, comprising the seven front-line governmental entities, didn’t carry out a request last year from State Sen. George D. Maziarz for an audit of how the cash and electricity they receive each year is being used.
So Maziarz, R-Newfane, introduced a bill to have NYPA do the work, or hire someone to do so, by June 1, 2014.
If Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signs the bill, the seven members of the Power Coalition would be required to “cooperate fully with the audit required herein, to provide documents or other exhibits in a timely manner and to make witnesses readily available who are capable of providing information about the use of the authority’s assets.”
“I knew it was coming,” said Niagara County Legislature Chairman William L. Ross, C-Wheatfield. “This audit bill is acceptable to me. I’m glad they’re not funding it on the backs on the Niagara Power Coalition members, who have their own audits.”
Maziarz attended a coalition meeting in April 2012 and asked for an audit of the use of the $5 million in cash payments and 25 megawatts of electricity the members receive each year.
That’s on top of the $3 million a year earmarked for Niagara River Greenway projects.
The host communities have been criticized for using the Greenway money for projects scattered around Niagara County instead of along the Niagara River. A bill that would have canceled the previous agreements allowing wider use of Greenway money, sponsored by Assemblyman Sean Ryan and Sen. Mark Grisanti, both of Buffalo, did not pass the Legislature.
Maziarz said last week the Greenway money isn’t the primary focus of the audit he wants.
“Whether they’re spending it the best way, that’s project-driven, that’s up to them,” Maziarz said. “But where are the power and the cash going? That’s what we’re going to find out.”
Each year, the Power Authority sends $850,000 each to the City of Niagara Falls and the Town of Lewiston; $725,000 to the Lewiston-Porter School District; $675,000 to the Niagara Falls School District; $650,000 each to the county and the Town of Niagara; and $600,000 to the Niagara Wheatfield School District.
“I don’t want to insinuate that any money has been misspent,” Maziarz said.
The audit he wants will list every transaction made with NYPA’s payments and power allocations and will determine whether any jobs were created or what other benefit was “provided to the community as a whole.”
Ross predicted that the audit “will justify what we’ve been doing. It’ll bring out the positive effect on these communities.”
Ross said the Power Coalition declined last year’s audit request of the use of Power Authority payments as unnecessary.
“There were several members who felt each member has its own audit, which is true, and of course there’s an overall audit,” he said.