Councilmembers: Overtime cuts snuff fuse on Cheektowaga fireworks

CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. – Three Town of Cheektowaga Councilmembers say cuts in departmental overtime town-wide made during the adoption of the 2017 budget is to blame for the lack of fireworks in Town Park this Fourth of July.

The purchase cost of around $8,000 for the actual fireworks is a drop in the bucket once you examine the additional costs associated with putting on the show.

Councilmembers James Rogowski, Alice Magierski and Jerry Kaminski issued a joint media statement Wednesday saying the fireworks were eliminated as a result of budget cuts.

Councilmember James Rogowski tells Cheektowaga Chronicle that the entire Town Board acted upon the wishes of the Supervisor’s Budget Advisory Committee.  The civilian committee recommended that each department reduces overtime costs, part-time wages, and other non-mandatory appropriations.

Mr. Rogowski says each department head was told to reduce their 2017 budget by 5%.

Impact on the Police Department

The Police Department cut its $1 million overtime budget by $50,000.  Around sixty percent of that number covered Fourth of July alone.  The Cheektowaga Police Department respectfully declined comment on this story, but several law enforcement sources tell Cheektowaga Chronicle that when the town hosts fireworks officers cannot take time off and it’s an all hands on deck situation.

The total police cost for Fourth of July?

“Estimated around $30,000,” said Mr. Rogowski. “Plus you have your parks workers, your traffic safety workers that are there on overtime to do things.  It is quite a bit,” said Councilmember Rogowski.

Councilmembers say point the finger at them

The three Councilmembers are speaking out five days after Cheektowaga Chronicle wrote the article, “The reason for no fireworks in Cheektowaga this July.”  In it, Supervisor Diane Benczkowski said the lack of participation from the Cheektowaga Patriotic Commission this year forced the decision not to have fireworks.

“I want to be very clear here, very clear, this was a board decision.  It was not the Police Department, it was not the Facilities Department, and it definitely was not the Patriotic Committee’s choice to not have fireworks.  We decided as a Town Board – and I voted yes on it – to reduce costs of 5% of overtime to save taxpayers money.  That is the bottom line,” continued Mr. Rogowski.

Supervisor Diane Benczkowski stood by her position when Cheektowaga Chronicle spoke with her following Tuesday night’s Town Board meeting.

“It was not one thing that kind of got us to this spot; it was several things.  One of them was the Patriotic Commission that dissolved and maybe it was because of the Police Department with the overtime,” said Supervisor Benczkowski.

The Supervisor says she consulted with the Chief of Police in the beginning of the year but she didn’t get the feeling overtime costs were an issue.  The lack of volunteers to run the event as a whole was.

“One of the Council people could have taken (Fourth of July) over; I don’t have time as Supervisor.  I need to concentrate in governing this town. Finding grant money like we did today and (managing) all these problems you just saw in the board meeting, plus taking care of the resident’s complaints, getting a responsible budget together and figuring out ways to have people more accountable and cut spending,” continued Ms. Benczkowski.

Budget cuts resulted in savings

As a result of the 2017 budget, taxpayers saw a savings of over $700,000 and a tax levy that remained at 2016 levels.

“That is the money that is used to cover the costs to blow off fireworks so that the public is safe during those displays.  We also have to put officers on the streets so that people’s car or homes don’t get broken into and it’s unfortunate that we have problems like that, but it is money we cut as a board, and I’m going to stand here and tell you the truth.  Everybody voted on to make those cuts to save taxpayer’s money, and unfortunately, we have to eliminate things,” said Mr. Rogowski.

But he says fireworks aren’t off the table in future years.

“If people want those to happen, then please contact the Town Board members and say that for the 2018 budget, they may want to have fireworks, and we could maybe put that back into the budget.  But we have to remember, if we put something back into the budget, there would be money that would have to be allocated to it, which may increase taxes,” added Mr. Rogowski.

He said he would be open to exploring the concept of community fireworks in 2018.  He believes centralized fireworks spread around town at schools and other park venues may prove beneficial to department heads.

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