Editor's note: This is the second of two stories on Dunkirk Mayor Anthony J. Dolce's first six months in office.
By GIB SNYDER
OBSERVER City Editor
Mayor A.J. Dolce faces questions about record-keeping
Officials from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development delivered a harsh assessment about the stewardship of funding it supplied to the city of Dunkirk during a recent trip to City Hall.
Mayor Anthony J. Dolce talked about the issue with the OBSERVER and said HUD had serious concerns about the city's lack of compliance in its record keeping.
"They consider our situation dire; that we have many outstanding issues, and that we should be focusing on correcting the past issues," he explained. "We have also to self-impose money this year, meaning we won't be distributing any of the money we do receive until we get the OK from HUD to proceed."
Dolce was asked if that was to make sure it was there if necessary to cover past needs.
"That's one area and we need to redo our action plan for 2012," he replied. "What was previously submitted was not acceptable and we will be redoing it."
The 2012 plan is the last year of a five-year plan.
"I think they're saying it's not acceptable to their national objectives," the mayor explained. " ... Originally, there was money set aside for the bike path. That is not an acceptable use of funding, so we'll need to address that in our revised plan."
Dolce said work is being done to secure grant money to help offset costs, but the city would still need to find $20,000 in the general fund.
HUD officials weren't the only ones critical of the city. An auditor from the Office of the New York State Comptroller has been examining city records and recently provided the mayor an initial oral report.
"There's definitely a lot of concerns about things that were done in the past," Dolce said. "Especially in CDBG and DLDC accounts."
Dolce was asked about the city's prior record keeping.
"What I could say more of is, if they're there, they're not complete. And yes, there are some places that received money that no paperwork exists for," he explained. "It just all comes back to a lack of record keeping. Loans that were distributed that we weren't aware of. Places that should be making loan repayments that we don't have."
Dolce was on the Common Council for nearly eight years before taking over as mayor on Jan. 1 after defeating 10-year incumbent Richard Frey in November. Dolce was asked if there was a lack of council oversight.
"In talks with our state auditor she'll ask me from time to time, did stuff run through council? No, and she has reiterated that a lot of stuff, yes, it's good that you have the DLDC body, but the Common Council is still your governing body," he replied. "A lot of this stuff, a lot of these activities, should have been approved, or denied, through Common Council. We found that there's even some activities that did not go through the DLDC. They were just done."
The mayor was asked is there were other funds in jeopardy.
"The CDBG funds are. That possibility exists that money could be withheld from us, or we have to reprogram it taking out city tax dollars to backfill stuff that was done that shouldn't have been done," he replied. "Either way, there's a higher chance than we would like for taxpayers being on the hook for some of this stuff. There's also the option of places that received money in grant forms, instead of loan forms, may have to pay back. They may be responsible.
"We're in the early stages. We've met with our internal auditors, our HUD representatives, our state auditor, all within the last two weeks. The news isn't good."
Dolce was asked if there was a lack of oversight on the part of HUD. He replied the question was brought up, but it's hard to say.
"I don't know what HUD's practices are," he explained. "I know what our internal auditors are supposed to do, I don't know what HUD's are supposed to do.
"It's going to be on us to create the policies and procedures in a short time frame. HUD has said 'your focus should be on correcting these past mistakes. Don't concern yourself too much with moving forward.'
"One of the other issues they had was we simply had too many programs, too many pots of money out there. They gave me four categories and said find your five or six focuses. Do those programs well and that's it."
Dolce said he is looking forward.
"My administration's goal is not to dwell on the past, but to institute policies and procedures to get us going in the right direction down the road."