DLDC’s Fun Money Rife With Malfeasance
One of the last financial audits to be made public by the Dunkirk Local Development Corp. was during a meeting in November 2019. While the agency reported $296,708 in revenue from its festivals for 2018, the expenses were $296,895 — a loss of $785.
At that time, elected city leaders saw those numbers as a win. “The festivals are actually huge for the city of Dunkirk on an annual basis,” said Andrew Woloszyn, who then served as councilman at-large. “I give Hector (Rosas) all the credit in the world for finding money to raise to run the festivals that we do. … My hats off to Hector and the fund-raising department.”
Music on the Pier has become synonymous with the city’s summer in recent years. What began more than 15 years ago as a way to make Dunkirk a waterfront destination has taken on an even larger role with a full schedule for the season that kicks off Monday with the Memorial Day services and parade and lasts through September.
Despite the celebrations associated with the bands and events that were attended by tens of thousands annually, the DLDC was never on solid financial ground. Between 2009 and 2013, the agency reported a deficit of $115,278 in managing the concerts and festivals.
It was unsustainable. But since everyone was having fun — without having to pay a fee to attend — no one cared as long as the city government could help make up the shortfall through the $30,000 it annually allocates to the agency for fireworks.
By the time Rosas was named festivals coordinator in 2016 — shortly after his brother Wilfred Rosas won election as mayor — sponsorships were not only necessary, they were vital to the survival of Dunkirk’s annual summer slate. Hector Rosas found those partners — whether it be business, corporations or industry — to not only keep but build on an already large itinerary.
In taking on the position, he was brash and ambitious, bringing an air show to the city in 2017 and boat races to the waterfront in 2018 and 2019. His air of arrogance and confidence rubbed many the wrong way.
Pessimists will say those three events, which aimed to bring a bit of national prominence to the city, were a bust. But no one could deny the large crowds who showed up — out of curiosity or just to cheer — at the events.
That legacy escapes Hector Rosas today. Last week, he was charged with two counts of third-degree grand larceny and public corruption after being accused of stealing more than $50,000 with $42,000 of those funds coming from beer sales that were tied to the DLDC as announced by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office and county District Attorney Jason Schmidt.
Rosas is expected back in court next month, but the greater issue remains regarding oversight of the DLDC. Over the 15 years of festivals, the arm of government has become a playground of sorts for city officials long before this reign.
During former Mayor Richard Frey’s oversight, the DLDC purchased the former Bertges lakefront property and neighboring land for $762,000 on Lake Shore Drive when the combined assessed value for the properties were $426,000 — a $336,000 difference that has yet to add anything to the waterfront except a parking lot.
Later — under the same city leadership — the DLDC purchased the former Flickinger building for $50,000 that remains an eyesore on the 200 block of Washington Street. The previous owner paid only $1 for the site.
Just because it happens legally does not make it right.
In the meantime, as noted last week in the article on Rosas’ charges, DLDC accountability was lacking after a comptroller’s audit released in 2012 revealed that city officials severely mismanaged the Community Block Development Grant program and put significant funds at risk. City officials disbursed CDBG funds without the most basic of documentation to support the expenses and have used the funds at times to pay for a variety of miscellaneous expenses that have no connection to the CDBG program. Most disturbing, the report said, is that some of the transactions recorded were in a manner to apparently hide the true nature of the spending.
Additionally, from Jan. 1, 2009, to April 30, 2012, 109 payments totaling more than $27,000 were issued to either the DLDC chairman or DLDC treasurer. The audit found the chairman improperly used $13,000 in CDBG funds to reimburse himself for unauthorized travel expenses and an additional $2,000 to pay for unauthorized conference registration fees. In addition, the chairman also paid himself a total of $2,300 and the treasurer a total of $4,300 as a “bonus” that was never authorized. No charges were filed in the mishandling of those funds tied to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“These types of crimes are not victimless,” Schmidt said regarding the Rosas’ charges last week. “Dunkirk, like many of our local municipalities here in Chautauqua County, is engaged in an everyday battle to service its residents with precious little money. City residents, themselves, and most of us here in Chautauqua County, live paycheck to paycheck. Every dollar stolen is a dollar not spent servicing our community.”
If Hector Rosas is found guilty, he will pay a price. Moving on, and just as important, how do the past wrongs that were dismissed get handled? Or do they just become forgotten?
John D’Agostino is the editor of The Post-Journal, OBSERVER and Times Observer in Warren, Pa. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 716-487-1111, ext. 253.