TOWN OF CHEEKTOWAGA – A state audit released this month blasted the Town of Cheektowaga for mishandling public works contracts and "wasting" hundreds of thousands of dollars, in one case potentially costing taxpayers an extra $600,000 by choosing an inappropriate bid for sidewalk replacement.
The audit, conducted by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's office, also criticized the town for appearing to "structure and award a bid for public works projects inappropriately." According to the audit, which analyzed the period between Jan. 1, 2010 and Aug. 28, 2013, the town "did not properly award" two contracts for both public works and a sidewalk replacement, which resulted in unfavorable contracts that "failed to act in the best interest of the taxpayers."
"When public officials fail to ensure contracts are awarded and managed in a fair and objective manner, they defeat the purpose of the statutory requirements for competitive bidding," the audit reads.
In particular, the audit said the town "wasted thousands of dollars by deciding to use more expensive bulldozers when other equally capable options were available at much lower costs." In another instance, the audit said the town board "paid more than necessary for sidewalk replacement… a significant portion of the additional cost was borne by individual taxpayers." The audit slammed the town for paying $5 or more per square foot to install four-inch sidewalks, instead of 10 cents per square foot for six-inch sidewalks. In all, the audit revealed that taxpayers could have saved about $600,000, had the town installed six-inch sidewalks.
"The Board should ensure that project requirements and costs are properly planned before bid specifications are prepared and contracts are rewarded," the audit reads.
In a written response, the town refuted some of the state's claims, arguing in particular that it did not "waste" any money and "acted in good faith and in the best interests of taxpayers." The town's written response cited logistical reasons for choosing certain bidders and projects for the bulldozer and sidewalk replacement, sharply denying that it gave favorable treatment to particular companies. Regarding the bulldozer selection, town officials said they believe using a smaller bulldozer would have delayed the project and caused the contractor to abandon the project.
But town officials have agreed with the audit's recommendations and have vowed to change the bidding process in the future.
At a town board meeting on Monday, council member Angela Wozniak successfully spearheaded an effort to table two public works resolutions, claiming that the town needs to investigate its bidding process further before entering into new contracts.
Wozniak said that since the audit came out, her colleagues on the board have "absolutely not" made any of the necessary changes as suggested by the state.
"To date, we haven't done anything," Wozniak said. "It's a problem that must be addressed immediately, and cannot continue any longer."
Gerald Kaminski, a council member and the town's deputy supervisor, disagreed with Wozniak, claiming that changes are already underway. He opposed Wozniak's motion to table the two bid proposals.
"We've basically corrected some of the bidding practices," Kaminski said, though he did admit the audit found major flaws. "Everything's a learning process."
After town officials sent a response to the state, they then received a follow-up note from the State Comptroller's office, which stood by some of its original claims. It dismissed the town's excuse about the bulldozer, calling it "disconcerting" that the town would enter into a contract with a bidder that wouldn't be able to agree to terms.
"This further demonstrates why we have significant concerns with the manner in which this contract was structured, awarded and used," the audit reads.
Kaminski said the town is in the process of writing an additional response to the state.
"The state had questions," Kaminski said, "and so do we."