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Grand Island 2010 Year in Review

by jmaloni
Fri, Dec 31st 2010 11:00 am
Kevin Gaughan speaks with Grand Island Town Councilwoman Mary Cooke.
Kevin Gaughan speaks with Grand Island Town Councilwoman Mary Cooke.

Government

An effort to reduce the Grand Island Town Board from five members to three failed during a referendum on Sept. 23.

With 4,000 people voting, the electorate decided 2,155 to 1,805 to reject a downsizing proposition forced by a petition drive from smaller government advocate Kevin Gaughan (pictured debating Grand Island Councilwoman Mary Cooke).

In spite of the loss, Gaughan called the election "a magnificent exercise in democracy. To have played a small role in giving voice to all Grand Islanders is a source of pride, and I respect the decision that the residents made this evening."

It was the first loss for Gaughan in six town government-downsizing elections. Gaughan and Island supporters submitted 1,078 signatures in July, more than three times required, to force the board to put the matter up for a vote. A series of debates then followed between Gaughan and downsizing opponents leading up to the special election, which was held at Grand Island Fire Co. headquarters.

Gaughan said his proposition was a community effort to reduce the number of politicians while still delivering the same services to local taxpayers, stemming an exodus of young people from Western New York, and increasing  "our citizens' voice."

"Unlike other places in Erie County, the Town of Grand Island population has not declined. We have steadily increased," Cooke said. She also referred to a study by the New York State Commission on Governmental Operation, which said a council should be large enough to be truly representative, to provide for the deliberation of public issues, to prevent control by corrupt influences and to guard against corruption, yet small enough to expedite action.

• • •

Despite facing a 4-1 enrollment disadvantage, Mark Grisanti beat incumbent State Sen. Antoine Thompson for the 60th District seat in the November general election.

Grisanti edged the two-term incumbent on election night and then survived a recount.

• • •

Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, NY-28, visited Grand Island in the fall to announce the awarding of a $500,000 grant to the town for upgrades to the town's water treatment plant on Baseline Road.

"That increased capacity is going to save the Town of Grand Island residents a quarter of a million dollars a year, money that's currently being spent to buy water from the Town of Niagara," Town Supervisor Peter McMahon said.

Citizens of the Year

The Grand Island Chamber of Commerce announced the winners of the Citizen of the Year Award. The 44th annual Citizen of the Year Award Banquet was held on April 29.

• Business of the Year: Life Technologies.

•Business Person of the Year: Bonnie P. Sciuk, owner and CEO of Brite Ideas Sales and Marketing Inc.

•Organization of the Year: East Park Garden Club.

• Community Service and Civic Person Awards: Karen Figler and Roman "Rom" Figler III.

•Educator of the Year: Beth Boron of Sidway Elementary School.

•Special Achievement: Alexi Salamone (pictured receiving a town proclamation from Town Supervisor Peter McMahon), who was a member of the gold medal-winning U.S. Paralympics Sled Hockey National Team at the Vancouver Paralympics.

Grand Island Central School District

The school district mourned the passing of Board of Trustee's member George Casey, who died suddenly at the age of 77. He was one year into his second term on the board.

School Board President Richard Little recalled Casey's "commitment to the community, to the children of Grand Island."

The school store in the Viking Mall was later renamed Casey's Corner in his honor.

• • •

Island voters elected two newcomers to the Grand Island Board of Education and approved a $51 million budget for 2010-11.

With 1,873 votes cast, the voters approved the $51,881,233 budget plan 1,285 to 588.

Newcomers Donna Tomkins and Paul Krull won three-year seats on the Board of Education in a four-way race. Tomkins received 1,248 votes and Krull received 1,016. They defeated incumbents Tom Franz (437) and Neil Seaman (434).

The Board of Education approved the appointment of Seaman to fill the seat left vacant after the sudden passing of Casey.

• • •

The Grand Island Central School District and the Grand Island Teachers Association reached agreement on a new teachers contract after a year-and-a-half of negotiations.

• • •

A committee has been formed to help fund a new playground near William Kaegebein Elementary School.

The Kaegebein Community Playground Committee will attempt to raise an estimated $65,000 to replace the current 20-year-old apparatus.

• • •

After an inauspicious start in February, redecking work on the south Grand Island bridge was completed in November.

The New York State Thruway Authority called delays on the early stages of redecking work "unacceptable."

The northbound bridge closed nightly at 8 p.m., with traffic diverted to the south bridge until 6 a.m., when the northbound bridge was supposed to reopen.

Delays on the first day of deck panel replacement in the $48 million bridge project kept the northbound span closed well beyond its scheduled 6 a.m. reopening.  Major traffic jams resulted when the northbound span didn't open until late afternoon.

"A delay in the morning was certainly within the realm of possibility," said Tom Pericak, Buffalo Division director for NYSTA. "But to have that bridge closed until 5 p.m. was unacceptable. It never should have happened."

Subsequent delays were limited for the remainder of the closure schedule.

The contractor, American Bridge, has completed substructure repairs to the bridge and replaced the concrete bridge deck, barrier and sidewalk on the northbound span with pre-cast bridge deck panels and barriers as part of the overall South Grand Island Bridge rehabilitation project. The contractor is expected to complete all contract fieldwork by mid-January of 2011.

Business openings

Grand Island's tax base benefited from the opening of new businesses. Among the new openings in 2010:

•Branches of Niagara Campground & Resort, a $3.5 million venture, opened on 70-acres at 2659 Whitehaven Road.

May 21 marked the opening weekend for the campsite (www.branchesofniagara.com) for owners Larry Stolzenburg, Elaine Pariso, Tom McLaughlin and Don Benoit

The grand opening of the 70-acre complex allowed visitors to see some of the 12 cabins and the eight-acre lake. The campground hosts 62 sites for recreational vehicles and tents.

"It almost doesn't seem real because of spending five years planning and building. Now that it's finally here, it's pretty amazing," Stolzenburg said at the grand opening.

•During a grand opening on July 2, representatives of the KeyBank were taken aback by the some 100 people who jammed the lobby of the new building for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

"This is awesome, frankly," Gary Quenneville, president, Western New York District, KeyBank, said. "We're thrilled. We've opened four new branches in Western New York. This is the fourth of potentially six ... and this crowd is phenomenal, so we're very pleased."

Business was "exceeding our expectations," Quenneville added. He called the branch location, at the corner of Grand Island Boulevard and Whitehaven Road, the most visible on the Island.

•Preliminary plans have begun to build an Island sports complex on Whitehaven Road.

Gene Kozek, president and owner of Meng-Ko Development LLC, said the project's cost is estimated between $4.5 and $6 million for the first phase, which would include development of an ice hockey rink, a studio ice rink (for mini hockey and figure skating), and an indoor soccer facility with a 40-yard by 80-yard turf field.

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