Weekly Feature

2010-04-08 / Editorial

Officials must be aggressive about retrieving debts

If you loan a friend five bucks and he doesn’t pay you back right away, are you apt to hound the person until every cent is returned? Likely not. Most of us, even during a recession, can afford the loss. Especially if it’s someone we like.

But what would you do if you loaned a mere acquaintance more than $2 million and only a few thousand had been paid back, with just a promise of the rest soon being returned?

Not many of us can afford to take that chance on a personal level, so we must wonder why the Town Board was willing to take that risk by shelling out roughly $2.5 million to Western New York AmeriCorps?

Certainly, the board members did not have a crystal ball that could have predicted the organization would not pay its debts, but the actions of town officials to regain what is rightfully theirs — actually, the residents’ — seems a bit too lackadaisical.

That money would certainly come in handy at this time for more town-appropriate or possible revenue-generating projects — a new police station or ice rink come to mind — that would greatly benefit town residents.

At Monday night’s meeting, a frequent attendee and critic of the Town Board asked officials if AmeriCorps made its payment of $75,000 (due in back rent from 2009 to the town), which was expected to be paid in full by the end of March. The answer was no.

So, what are the consequences and penalties for the organization for not reimbursing the town in a timely fashion, despite the timeline agreements drafted and agreed upon by the town attorney and the attorney for Ameri- Corps? None — town officials said they just simply must continue to ask for the funds.

As many in attendance that night fantasized about what they could do with that $2.5 million, one resident took to the podium and posed a very simple but pivotal question.

“Are we asleep in West Seneca?” she asked, inquiring why the money was lent without interest or without consequences in place for late payments or failure to pay at all. “I just can’t believe we’re so casual about $2.5 million.”

Also, questions still linger about discrepancies related to what rightfully belongs to the town, West Seneca Youth Bureau, AmeriCorps and the former tenant of the Burchfield Nature and Art Center, a group that went by the same name. The supervisor said missing items have been returned and all parties are happy, but many remain unconvinced.

The Town Board may have inherited various problems from prior officials, but we ask why the existing members aren’t more proactive in ensuring that additional problems aren’t created in the future?

You might have to spend money to make money, as a board member said Monday, but you can’t spend money you don’t have. Let’s learn from the AmeriCorps situation and retrieve what belongs to the town.

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