2 On Your Side Investigations Lead To Changes At Water Authority

8:51 AM, Aug 24, 2012   |    comments
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Buffalo, N.Y. - Over the past few years, 2 On Your Side has investigated the free spending ways at the Erie County Water Authority.

We've found plenty of patronage jobs, six figure salaries and the high cost the Authority had been paying for rent at its downtown headquarters.

Now in the wake of our reports, and new leadership, the Water Authority is changing the way it does business.

Last year, we reported that the Authority was spending $263,000 a year in rent for its headquarters at the Ellicott Square Building.

Although we found the Authority was paying a competitive rate for downtown, we also reported that rents were significantly cheaper in the suburbs.

This year the Authority has entered into a new, less expensive lease at the Ellicott Square, with the negotiations led by one of the Authority's two new commissioners, Jack O'Donnell.

Jack O'Donnell: "Part of this I've got to give some credit to you and your investigation in pushing this so much. We sat down with our landlord and spent a lot of time negotiating here and what we've been able to do is reduce our footprint by almost 20 percent."

By getting rid of space it hadn't been using, the Authority has been able to reduce its rent to $218,000 a year in a new five year deal.

That's a saving of just under $45,000 a year, and a total savings of more than $220,000 over the next five years.

In addition to saving money on the lease, the Authority is also in the process of taking down an old, unused water tank at a property it owns in Cheektowaga. That will give it the option of building a new headquarters on the site when the current lease expires.

Scott Brown: "How about salaries? We've done a number of stories where people here make six figure salaries, are you guys going to look at that?"

Jack O'Donnell: "We've absolutely been looking at that, we've already made some sort of high level changes, there were two people who were making six figures salaries who were here six months ago who aren't here now."

In addition to O'Donnell, a Democrat, Earl Vann, a Republican, is new to the three member board.

Those two appointments made by the county legislature, have helped to cut political patronage and costs at the Authority.

Fran Warthling is the other commissioner, and he is now the Authority's chairman. He's now in his seventh year on the board and has the most ties to the Authority's old ways of doing business.

Scott Brown: "You're the Democratic chairman in Lackawanna, people are going to say that because of that 'things aren't going to change, things are still going to be political.'

Fran Warthling: "Well I think what we have been doing you're going to notice the changes, look at the new lease, there's a number of things going on with the old water tanks, and we're doing a lot just with the moves on some of the jobs and stuff."

The new lease also includes free parking for Water Authority customers who have business at the Ellicott Square, something we pointed out last year was not in the previous lease.

Despite the Authority's free spending ways, it has raised rates only once over the last five years.


























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