WHEATFIELD – The town is spending less money than it did five years ago and is rebuilding its depleted fund balances, Wheatfield’s outside auditor told the Town Board last week.
“I would classify it as being in a very stable position, and very fiscally responsible,” Thomas P. Malecki of the firm of Drescher & Malecki told the board.
In the general fund, Malecki said, the town ran an operating deficit during 2008 and 2009, the final two years of the administration of former Supervisor Timothy E. Demler.
After Robert B. Cliffe supplanted Demler, the general fund broke into the black, with a fund balance approaching $400,000 in 2010. As of the end of 2012, that figure stood at more than $1.7 million, with nearly $1.3 million of the fund balance sitting in the bank.
However, the town’s general fund spending last year was below $3.5 million, about a quarter of a million dollars less than in 2008. Thus, said Malecki, the unappropriated fund balance is nearing 30 percent of the spending total.
“We started to recover with the sales tax,” Malecki said, referring to an increase in the town’s share of the Niagara County sales tax, which resulted from Wheatfield’s population increase in the 2010 census.
The gravest difficulty in the budget in the last Demler years was the highway fund budget, where revenues plunged by nearly 50 percent from 2008 to 2009. What had been a small surplus in 2008 was instantly converted into a deficit of more than $400,000.
“My blood pressure keeps going up when I hear about this highway deficit,” Highway Superintendent Arthur F. Kroening stormed. “There never should have been a highway deficit. I always spend less than my budget.”
Malecki said the deficit resulted from the budgeting of revenues in 2009 that never materialized.
“So somebody was playing games with the revenues,” Kroening concluded.
At any rate, the town imposed a property tax for the highway fund, levying $648,000 in taxes in 2010. The highway fund returned to the black in 2011, and the fund balance topped $600,000 last year.
The highway tax levy was reduced to $260,000 in 2012 and was cut a bit more for 2013, Malecki said.
Problems remain, such as a persistent deficit in the fire protection budget. But Malecki said the town has taken difficult steps to reduce it, and the fire deficit, which stood at $67,000 at the end of 2012, should disappear this year.
“You’re almost there,” Malecki told the board.
But the total of the balances in all funds is 16.4 percent of the amount being spent, he reported.
Asked about how President Obama’s health care law might affect the town’s health insurance costs, Malecki said it’s “premature to think there’s going to be a greater than average increase in health insurance” costs in 2014.
Cliffe said all the audit reports for the last six years are on his desk and are available to the public. “They make for exciting reading,” he said.