Local Officials Respond to Scathing State Report

9:53 PM, Mar 22, 2013   |    comments
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TOWN OF NEWSTEAD - Officials in the Town of Newstead and Village of Akron are combing through a scathing report from the state comptroller's office, concerning a local highway facility.

Thursday night, we told you about a review that says town officials misused taxpayer funds to build the project.

Now our local officials are responding.

The audit was done on a huge highway garage that public works employees use. The person responsible for keeping track of how money was spent for construction was Newstead supervisor David Cummings. He says that government officials in Newstead and Akron are reviewing recommendations from the state on how to be more transparent and honest about future projects.

He sent this statement to Two On Your Side: "The Town of Newstead has received the audit Report from the NYS Comptroller's office. It has several points that we need to review and address. As per the Comptroller's office we have 90 days to reply. We will be replying to the recommendations from the Comptroller's office after reviewing them and potential discussions with our project management company, general contractor and legal counsel. At this time it is too early to comment on further. Our reply will be public record when it is given."

The state says that local officials jacked up the total cost of a Joint Highway Facility. Both the town and the village have been sharing it for about a year. Investigators say that local officials allowed the cost of the garage to rise a half a million dollars over budget. A big part of that according to the state, were add on costs.

"Our auditors found about $450,000 in those change orders were unrelated to the original project and weren't competitively bid, so it became pretty clear that the town lacked the proper oversight of this project," said Brian Butry, a spokesperson for the Comptroller's office.

The additions include a storage building that was made larger than it was supposed to be -- an extra garage bay and siding and roofing that was authorized, all of this without town board approval.

In 2002, the board approved the project and said that it couldn't cost more than $4.25 million. The actual total came to more than $4.7 million, with taxpayers picking up the extra costs.

This all happened, even though a committee was setup to oversee the project.

The review shows that local officials admit to most of the claims. The state gave about $380,000 to the project, but auditors don't think the money should be given back because no laws were broken.

Thursday afternoon we spoke to Cummings by phone and he promised he'd speak to us Friday. But after talking to attorneys he's declined an interview.

In the report, Cummings calls the audit a "refresher" and that "[...] a great deal of time was spent planning this project and providing informational meetings to the public, we will look to improve upon government transparency."

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