Niagara Gazette

May 20, 2013

Wheatfield officials call state audit of town finances 'routine'

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

WHEATFIELD —

Town of Wheatfield officials confirmed the presence of state auditors investigating the town's finances Monday.

Supervisor Robert Cliffe said one auditor from the state's Comptroller's Office has been at town hall for about three weeks.

Town Attorney Robert O'Toole said the audit is routine.

"It's a routine audit," O'Toole said. "It's not unannounced, it's not a forensic audit."

"The town was the subject of a pretty bad audit in 2009, so it's our turn again," Cliffe added. "Maybe they're here a little earlier than normal. But the auditor is here and she's been given everything she's asked for."

Recent Internet chatter has pointed out the presence of the auditors, confirmed in an email by Comptroller's Office Spokesman Brian Butry. But the Internet reports, posted on a blog, claimed the audit went unannounced by the comptroller and was investigating reports of healthy financial standing in the town's budget.

Cliffe said the blog drastically misrepresented the town's finances, especially concerning a report of townwide spending increasing a whopping 30 percent.

The figure is actually much smaller, Cliffe said.

"If you look at the facts, it's probably closer to one-third of 1 percent," he said.

In addition to the audit, the town is bracing for the loss of one of its department heads. O'Toole confirmed Building Inspector Joe Caturia is looking to step down from his position, though he has offered to remain part time until a new, full-time replacement can be found.

Cliffe said Caturia expressed interest about six weeks ago in starting his own business as a carpenter.

"He's young, he's getting married and he wanted to take the opportunity to start his own business," Cliffe said. "When you get older and you have a family, those opportunities aren't as safe of a bet as they are when you're younger, so we wish him well in his new venture."

In other town news, Cliffe is joining a contingent of local dignitaries in a trip to Washington, D.C. to lobby on behalf of the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.

Cliffe and representatives from Niagara Falls and Niagara County will make the two-day trip today to meet with both elected national leaders and military chiefs at the Pentagon.

He said the contingent can accomplish a lot in ensuring some sort of mission for the stationed troops, though it won't be at the same level as the base has previously experienced.

A recent report confirmed the level of C-130 aircraft at the base would decrease from 11 to nine this year and remain the same through 2014 as the 914th Airlift Wing faces reduced force.

The 107th Airlift Wing was removed from its mission and had its planes transferred to another base last year as part of budget cuts to military spending. It could receive a new mission soon, possibly involving unmanned remote aerial vehicles, otherwise known as drones.

"We're all going because we believe the continuation of this base ... is critical to the prosperity of our area and our county," Cliffe said. "And secondary to that, if we have a natural disaster in this area, or even an unnatural disaster ... it would be good for us to have these people right here. We wouldn't have to wait for help to arrive, we have trained assistance in our own backyard."