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Facing the music: Residents blast Sheridan board after audit findings

OBSERVER Photos by Braden Carmen Town of Sheridan Court Clerk Eva Gadewoltz demanded answers from the Town Board regarding the recent audit report from the State Comptroller.

SHERIDAN — A recent audit report from the State Comptroller’s office has Sheridan residents fired up.

Just two days after the report was released to the public, the Sheridan Town Board held its regular monthly meeting. Comments from the public regarding the report lasted 30 minutes before the Board proceeded with the meeting’s agenda.

“You are supposed to be leading this town and protecting us,” resident Marguerite Kaczor said.

The first to speak was Eva Gadewoltz, the Town of Sheridan Court Clerk. Gadewoltz proudly stated she has been the Town’s Court Clerk since January 2011.

Gadewoltz referenced a conversation she had with former Town Supervisor John Walker II shortly before his death last June, in which she claimed Walker told her, “You think I make all the decisions and the Board has no say?” She claimed she responded to Walker that it appeared that way.

Town Board member Colleen Yerico reassured Sheridan residents that the Board is taking the recent audit report from the State Comptroller seriously.

“He said to me it wasn’t true, but reading that audit, it appears to me that it was true,” Gadewoltz said.

Among various points raised through public comments, Gadewoltz specifically took exception with Highway Superintendent Jeffrey Feinen’s salary. In the audit report, Feinen and another highway employee were cited as being paid $12,858 more than the Board authorized. Feinen has received an annual raise since the audit, as well.

Feinen also serves as Highway Superintendent for the Town of Dunkirk through a shared services agreement. Newly elected Town Supervisor Tom Wik, who has taken over as supervisor after Walker’s death, noted it appeared to him that the Comptroller’s report did not take into account what Feinen was paid from the Town of Dunkirk.

Citing her own compensation as Court Clerk, Gadewoltz stated, “I’ve been told that my raise was adequate for the amount of work I was doing, which was quite insulting. I do have a little bit of a problem with that as an employee of the town and as a taxpayer.”

During the month of December, the Town of Sheridan Court collected a total of $26,291 to be turned over for distribution. Gadewoltz was approved at the recent Town Board meeting for a salary of $41,572 for the year.

The Town Board also later approved the appointment of Scott Thompson as Deputy Highway Superintendent upon Feinen’s recommendation, with an increase of $1 per hour, at $26.15 per hour.

Gadewoltz also questioned the Town Board on a Corrective Action Plan to address the matters cited in the audit. Wik said in response, “We haven’t gone through the whole audit [in our] response.”

Wik later clarified, “We’re preparing a response to the audit, which we’re required to do, and all these answers will be covered in that response.”

Later in the regular meeting, residents were agitated as the Town passed a resolution that the Highway Superintendent is authorized to purchase items without prior approval at an amount not to exceed $3,000. It was explained to the audience the purpose was to allow for the Highway Department to run properly, for purchases such as supplies or repairs when needed, without needing to wait for Board approval. Other common practice resolutions approved at the meeting were a mutual aid agreement, the re-approval of the town’s procurement policy, and a mileage reimbursement policy for travel outside the town’s limits.

“I am hopeful that we can turn this around with new leadership,” resident Sue Bigler said. Bigler ran for an opening on the Board this past November. She also voiced her support for Wik as the new Town Supervisor.

“I have faith that he is going to lead in the right direction. … I think we should give him a chance to fix this,” Bigler said.

Multiple other members of the public voiced concerns surrounding the audit report at the recent meeting. Many of the comments centered around Chadwick Bay Intermunicipal Water Works (CBI), which was also cited as part of the recent audit report on the North Chautauqua County Water District, also released earlier this week.

The majority of the dealings with CBI have been assumed by the Town of Pomfret under Supervisor Dan Pacos. The Town of Sheridan receives $1,000 per month in rent from CBI to utilize office space in the Town.

Town Board member Colleen Yerico later responded to additional concerns, stating, “We are waiting for all the accounting, and then we are going to sit down and go through this over the next 90 days. There’s a lot of answers we don’t have right now that you’re asking for, but we will get the answers.”

Yerico did, however, defend the town’s decision to donate 6.2 acres of a roughly 100-acre land parcel on Miller Road to Chautauqua County. The county installed a water storage tank and water lines on the land, with the potential for a water district to be established. However, without a district established prior to the donation of the land, the Comptroller’s Office deemed no benefit to Town taxpayers.

Yerico took issue with that specific part of the audit because she felt it painted the Board’s position on the matter unfairly. She also cited a multi-million dollar grant was awarded to the Town to establish a water district, which impacted the decision.

“That was a no-brainer, to move Sheridan forward, with a water district,” Yerico said. “… We discussed that. It looked like, in the way the audit was, that we didn’t know because it never made it into the minutes, but we talked about it for months. Six acres out of 100, to us, was worthwhile to move Sheridan forward.”

In the present, however, the residents are still fuming. Throughout the meeting, comments were made from members of the public to consistently voice their displeasure. Marguerite Kaczor accused the Board of receiving “kickbacks” and said if she were on the Board, she would resign. “I’m just so embarrassed for all of you,” she said.

Shortly afterward, Yerico again attempted to reassure the audience of the Board’s intentions.

“We’re going to chisel away at it and work hard on it. We’ll figure it out,” Yerico said. “We’re going to change a lot of policies and make it happen.”

Bigler then responded, “I have faith that you guys will do that.”

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