By Jill Terreri
The Common Council's more generous attitude toward the operators of Brand-On Services, the company that owes the city nearly $350,000 in rent from the Erie Basin Marina, according to a recent audit, is not sitting well with Comptroller Mark Schroeder.
“I sincerely hope that no members of the Common Council would even consider letting this unscrupulous contractor off the hook, but I certainly will not," Schroeder said in a statement. "Brand-On ripped off the taxpayers of Buffalo, and I will not rest until they pay the city back.”
Schroeder indicated that his office and the city's Law Department will continue to pursue full payment of the invoice issued to Brand-On as a result of the audit, which is $343,245. “We are elected to represent the citizens of Buffalo, and they got a raw deal at the marina."
Brand-On's lawyer, Mark Carney, characterizes the audit's findings as a landlord-tenant dispute and said much of the work the company performed, the cost of which it deducted from its rent, was ordered by City Hall officials. Repairs at the waterfront facility need to be performed immediately, in many cases, and seeking Council approval for changes in the contract would take too long, Carney said.
Schroeder was not convinced by this argument that the company should be compensated for other maintenance tasks, saying the company agreed to maintain the marina for $87,000 per year. "It was not part of the agreement, and the taxpayers shouldn’t have foot the bill for work that was the responsibility of the operator,” he said.
In an interview after Tuesday's Finance Committee meeting, Julie Wolasz, who helps run the marina, said the company employs a horticulturist and other staff to make the marina an attractive place, and that it couldn't be maintained on $87,000 per year.
During that meeting, Council members urged the company and the city to come to an agreement of what is owed, and appeared at times to be sympathetic to the company's claims that it could not operate a fuel-sale operation if it had to pay the city 10 percent of the sale of every gallon, as is stipulated in its contract with the city. Since 2006, Brand-On has paid the city 10 cents per gallon instead of 10 percent.
Council President Richard Fontana was insistent that the contract between the city and the company was never changed, but said he would like to see the city and the company reach a figure that makes sense for taxpayers.
Schroeder, whose staff completed the audit of marina operations from 2008 to 2012, said every one of the company's claims were refuted by his office during Tuesday's meeting.
The company laid out reasons why it believes the audit's findings were false, and issued a lengthy response to the audit to lawmakers. Lawyers for the city and the company will present their case before an arbitrator, though the matter could land in court if a mutually acceptable agreement is not reached.
The city is planning to seek bids for a new operator to run the marina in 2014. Brand-On will seek a contract extension, Carney said.
taggedCity of Buffalo | city spending | Common Council | Mark Schroeder