The Seneca Falls Municipal Building should have cost approximately $3.56 million, according to a report publicized by the State Comptroller’s Office.
Instead, it cost taxpayers $4.55 million.
The audit report, which outlines the process the Town of Seneca Falls went through to construct the municipal building – outlined the following findings:
– At the time, the Town Board established that $2.6 million would be used from its capital reserve for the project. The total cost exceeded $4.5 million.
– The Town failed to prepare an itemized project budget and did not appropriately monitor the project as it was completed.
– The State says 14 change orders, which totaled approximately $265,000 were not appropriately approved.
– The inadequate planning and management of the project resulted in the Town being forced to borrow $885,000 from the Tax Stabilization Reserve to finance the remaining cost.
Construction of the building was spurred by the Town Board, which served between 2012 and 2016. The former Town Hall was destroyed by a fire caused by arson in 2004. The Town Board previously used the St. Patrick’s school on Bayard Street as their home in the 10 year period between the two permanent facilities.
The goal of building a new facility on Ovid Street was to streamline services, and bring the Seneca Falls Police Department into the same building as the Town Offices.
The State’s audit was conducted over the last several months, and examined a period of time between January 1st, 2014 and July 10th, 2018.
In a letter released by auditors in the report, Town Supervisor Greg Lazzaro agreed with the findings. “If the Town undertakes any Capital Projects in the future the Town Supervisor will select a special committee for the purpose of overseeing the project,” the letter states. “The appointed committee will convene at least once per month with the project manager and engineers to oversee the expenditures, review any change orders, as well as review any cost overruns.”
Lazzaro’s letter also states that reports will be submitted to the full Town Board in those situations.
Deputy Supervisor Lou Ferrara added his voice of disappointment to the way the Town managed the project. “Since being elected I’ve said that the Municipal Building was a gross misuse of taxpayer money. From the beginning the Board did not stay involved in the process. There was no input or communication about overages, and now we see that checks kept getting written for a building we didn’t need,” he explained. “The person running the project is an employee of the firm that built the building, and the building is still not up to code even though we’ve occupied it for two years. Not one dime was spent with local suppliers, either. This was a bad process for everyone involved.”
Auditors recommend an approval process for an initial project cost, and itemized capital project budget, which would include anticipated costs and financing methods. It would also include actual revenues and expenditures compared to approved budgets of those projects.
They note that change orders to the project should be passed before completion. That did not happen when the Municipal Building was constructed.
Auditors also noted that when reserve funding is used – compliance with applicable statutes and regulations is required.
Councilor Doug Avery, a Democrat, who is seeking the nomination at this summer’s caucus to be on the ballot for Town Supervisor in November added that this should be a teachable moment. “Clearly, circumstances surrounding the Town Hall project should have been controlled more carefully,” Avery said in a statement Thursday night. “The public has a right to be angry at the waste. I know I am. However, the real purpose of an audit like this is to teach, not just criticize. We must learn from the Comptroller’s reports and make sure we fix things for the next time around. If we can’t do that, we don’t deserve the trust we’ve been given.”
Former Village Mayor Brad Jones, who is running for Town Supervisor, was disappointed by the findings and spoke with FingerLakes1.com Thursday afternoon. “The report released by the Office of the Comptroller (OTC) shows the lack of fiscal checks-and-balances with the current administration,” he explained. “The Town Board had the opportunity to share these significant cost overruns; but elected not to do so. I, along with my fellow town taxpayers, need to remain concerned knowing that additional audit findings will be released by the OTC over the course of the next few months. My pledge to the voters of Seneca Falls — transparency and honesty will be the new norm.”
FingerLakes1.com has reached out to the Town Board for additional comment. Those will be included as they are received.