City of Lockport may cut ambulance service over cash woes

LOCKPORT, N.Y. (WIVB) – The City of Lockport will run out of cash soon, according to the state comptroller’s office, and by the end of the year could have a $4.6 million deficiency.

RELATED | Read more about the audit conducted by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s Office here

Lockport Mayor Anne McCaffrey says the city will take immediate action to cut costs, starting with the elimination of the fire department’s ambulance service, which she says costs a million dollars to run, but only brings in $600,000 in revenue.

Firefighter layoffs could follow.

“We absolutely will not impact on public safety,” she said. “We’ll be manning that department within the range that is safe, according to the fire chief and our fire board.”

Retired Lockport Assistant Fire Chief Mark Devine believes the ambulance service could be a money maker for the city if billing were better handled. He is also concerned that the city would be losing highly trained firefighters who are also paramedics if the two ambulances are eliminated.

Taxpayer Amanda Salter is concerned about public safety.

“If there’s a major catastrophe,” she said, “there’s not going to be enough firefighters to help the citizens.”

The City of Lockport is hoping the state will allow it to borrow more than $5 million to stay solvent. But taxpayers are angry that this fiscal crisis arose without warning, and could impact on taxes and government services.

“That’s all they’ve done is lie to us,” said Paul Szatkowski, outside of City Hall. “I think it’s about time this whole Council goes, mayor included.”

But city leaders said they only recently learned that elected city treasurer Mike White had failed to maintain accurate accounting records.

In an audit just released, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said accounting records were in such poor condition that “city officials were in the dark about the true severity of their fiscal problems.”

White accepted full responsibility for the operations of his office, but added that staff cutbacks were partly to blame.

“They were critical jobs that were eliminated and never brought back,” he said. “We were two years without a principle account clerk, and almost three years without an auditor, and a chief accountant.”

Mayor McCaffrey said the city is looking to restructure the treasurer’s office “so that we can make sure that appropriate accounting mechanisms are in place going forward, and we don’t get into this position again.”

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