Niagara Gazette — In the engineering department, consultants are used when the area of expertise required for a particular project falls outside the abilities of the city’s engineering staff. The department contracts out environmental remediation work because paying for those services in a “piece-meal fashion” is cheaper than paying the salary and benefits of a full-time environmental engineer, Dyster said.
A city council amendment eliminated a $20,000 consulting line, meaning the engineering department has no funds available for consultants this year.
“Testing for asbestos, even if we are going to do something in house, we need to know if it’s going to be an issue,” Dyster said. “It makes for a complicated bid project if we don’t know what we’re dealing with.”
The council also eliminated a $30,000 budget line set to pay a grant writing consultant, a position the city has had in previous years.
Dyster said hiring an outside consultant to write and maintain grants enables the city to pursue money at a discount by avoiding having to pay benefits to a dedicated, full-time staff member.
In addition to pursuing new funding opportunities for the city, grant writing consultants have reported back on grants that the city has already received. Failure to meet reporting obligations can result in the city being required to repay grant funds, Dyster said.
“In some cases, there are very severe penalties, including repayment of the grant, if certain conditions are not met,” Dyster said.
The city gets a lot of bang for its buck from consultants and the services that those budget lines provided will now need to be fulfilled by already stressed city departments, Dyster said.
“It seems as though we make very limited use of consultants for very specialized purposes,” he said.
Council Chairman Glenn Choolokian, who has been credited with reshaping the budget to avoid tax hikes while minimizing job cuts by some of his colleagues, said with a strained budget — caused in large part by the ongoing dispute over the 2002 gaming compact between the Seneca Nation of Indians and New York state — the council was forced to eliminate spending wherever possible.