The Town of Cheektowaga overpaid for sidewalk replacement by $600,000, with individual property owners picking up a significant portion of the tab, according to a state audit critical of the way the town handles contracts.
The audit has raised even more serious issues for Council Member Angela M. Wozniak. The recently declared candidate for the Assembly questions whether “pay-to-play” is involved.
Released last Friday, the audit by the State Comptroller’s Office covered the period Jan. 1, 2010, to Aug. 28, 2013, and reviewed five contracts for goods and services that totaled $12.6 million.
Among those reviewed was a public works contract for equipment and operators to be used on various projects. Initially awarded in 2010, it was up for its annual renewal at Monday’s meeting of the Town Board.
Issues raised with that contract included incomplete bid specifications, as well as a lack of planning and oversight by the town.
“Town officials not only appeared to structure and award a bid for public works projects inappropriately, but managed the contract in a manner that appeared to routinely favor the contractor and caused the town to unnecessarily pay significantly more than needed,” according to the audit.
Renewal of that contract and the award of one for sidewalk replacement, to a different company, were tabled Monday night on a motion by Wozniak that was seconded by Council Member Diane M. Benczkowski.
“I reviewed the notice to bidders. The project specifications did not provide enough detail,” Wozniak said. As for the public works contract, she said, “I believe there’s a possibility of ‘pay-to-play’ at hand here.”
When it came to a sidewalk replacement contract, the audit states that town officials didn’t have a valid explanation for paying more than necessary. They had the option of installing 6-inch-thick sidewalks at a bid price of 10 cents per square foot – at a total cost of $12,100, but instead chose to install 4-inch-thick sidewalks at a bid price of $5 or more per square foot, the audit states.
Property owners are required to reimburse the town for sidewalk replacement.
The town’s five-page response, plus two cost analysis exhibits, was submitted in February and individually addresses certain points made in the audit.
In the response, Supervisor Mary F. Holtz – who was absent from Monday’s meeting – explained that it has been the town’s practice to replace 4-inch-thick sidewalks with 4-inch-thick sidewalks. Six-inch-thick sidewalks were intended to be placed only in commercial areas or at driveway crossings where heavy vehicles would be driving over such sidewalks.
“We agree that the bid specifications should have clarified this,” Holtz wrote.
“In summary, the Town of Cheektowaga acted in good faith and in the best interests of the taxpayers with respect to utilizing public works contracts for the road reconstruction projects.
“With the in-house use of town employees in connection with these projects, the town saved taxpayer money.”
The audit can be viewed at www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/. Click on “Audits of Local Governments,” then “Most Recent Audits.”