BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Erie County Comptroller’s Office says tax dollars are being misused within some local cultural organizations.
Cultural funding grants are funded by Erie County taxpayers and are intended to be used on operating expenses such as salaries and programs. But, the Comptroller’s Office says it found some organizations are using your money to keep the party going.
“I think we have found some, some problems with some of the organizations in the way they spend their money,” Erie County Comptroller Kevin Hardwick said.
The Comptroller’s Office conducted reviews on a batch of cultural organizations to see how they were spending county taxpayer dollars and found that some organizations in recent years spent big on alcohol at hosted events.
“We find that some organizations, not all, but some of them spend a disproportionate amount of money on alcohol and food and beverages for their board for instance. There’s nothing necessarily illegal about any of this, it’s just that you might want to question what do you want to spend your county taxpayer dollars on?” Hardwick said.
Auditors say, for example, the General Pulaski Association, which hosts the Pulaski Parade and Festival, used at times 20 to 25 percent or maybe more of the money they were given by the county just on alcohol. Auditors also allege that, in recent years, alcohol has been purchased in violation of State Liquor Authority regulations, which requires alcohol be purchased from a licensed brewer, wholesaler or winery, not from a liquor store.
County auditors also say they found expenses for purchases at retail, department stores, Highmark Stadium, restaurants and gas stations, but couldn’t explain what those purchases were for.
The Comptroller’s Office says as a best practice, “alcohol should not be purchased” with cultural grant funds.
“I think the standard with taxpayer money going to cultural organizations should be the standard we have for county employees which is, county employees do not get reimbursed for alcohol,” Hardwick said.
The General Pulaski Association says they haven’t done anything wrong and they’re just serving the community. They also question how the Comptroller’s Office came up with their figures.
Here’s their full statement:
“The General Pulaski Association is one of the most active non profit organizations in all of New York State. We have 25 people on our board that are all unpaid volunteers that work hard throughout the year to provide culturally related events and programming for our community. In 2022, our organization had an operating budget of approximately $90,000. Our festival alone had approximately $62,000 in expenses. Any cultural funding we received went to pay for the following expenses: tents almost $12,000, Food and supplies about $9,000. Entertainment over $7,000. Electric $6,500. Advertising over $6,000. Security almost $4,000, Barricades and stage almost $3,000. Permits $2,300, Portable toilets over $2,000. Any cultural funding we received went to cover those expenses. We pride ourselves in doing good for the community and doing things the right way.”
Regarding another organization called Buffalo Inner City Ballet, county auditors found that “the executive director pays himself in the form of draws from the organization’s bank account at irregular intervals” — apparently to save the organization money on payroll taxes — and that checks were made out to the executive director himself as cash for reimbursements, but there were no invoices to verify the expenses. A call from Buffalo Inner City Ballet was not returned.
It would be up to the Legislature or the County Executive’s Office to determine whether to tighten the rules following the comptroller’s review of cultural organizations.
The Comptroller’s Office has already done initial reviews on five organizations, and county auditors are in the process of reviewing spending with 75 other organizations.
Jeff Preval is an award-winning anchor and reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2021. See more of his work here.