Photo and story by Susan Mikula Campbell
The Town of Niagara Town Board on Tuesday approved both a new anti-graffiti law and $8 million in bonding to complete the third phase of the town park on Lockport Road.
Graffiti on town buildings and structures is becoming a problem. There have been cases where graffiti has been removed and in less than 24 hours, been replaced, according to Supervisor Steve Richards.
The new law will cost violators a fine of up to $250 or jail time of up to 15 days, or both. Each day the violator does not remove the graffiti is considered a separate offense. When the violator is a juvenile, the parent or guardian is liable for any damage or cleanup cost.
When a violator is not caught, property owners are responsible for removing or covering the graffiti within 90 days or contacting the town for removal.
Town of Niagara resident and Niagara Falls Block Club President Roger Spurback suggested the law to Richards and was on hand for the public hearing on the law prior to Tuesday's meeting. The City of Niagara Falls also is considering a graffiti law, but hasn't passed one yet, he said.
Spurback has been fighting graffiti since 2006, often personally removing it, only to have it almost immediately replaced. Town sites for graffiti where he has worked include the Military Road overpass, the old Military Road School and behind Tops.
Graffiti comes in several forms: gang graffiti, indicating gang territory; tagging, in which actual crews of graffiti artists put up their initials; and the old-fashioned love graffiti, such as "Joe loves Melissa."
Aside from being unsightly, gang graffiti and tagging have another effect. "It sends a message of fear to people who see it," Spurback said, noting that a tourist driving by wouldn't be able to distinguish whether or not it was gang graffiti and might be reluctant to stop at a nearby store or restaurant.
When graffiti is put on a stone or brick building, sometimes it bleaches into the stone and nothing can be done to erase the "ghost" it leaves behind.
Some people might say "kids are kids," he said, but "when this type of damage goes on, it's not artwork, it's criminal behavior."
In other matters:
•The board approved the required environmental reports in accordance with the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act and $8 million in bond issues for the third phase of the town's Veterans Memorial Park.
The 126-acre park is located on Lockport Road across from Town Hall. The first two phases of park construction included a senior/youth activity and concession building; four baseball fields; two multi-use recreational fields; picnic shelters; a playground; a pond; biking, rollerblading and walking trails; and a paved access drive from Lockport Road.
The $8 million in bond anticipation notes will cover a community center building, additional parking and a number of items recently added to the project. These include a small aesthetic update to the entrance way on Lockport Road that includes two architectural curved walls, additional landscaping, and an LED sign; a 1,500-square-foot amphitheater comprising of a concrete stage with a roof, open sidewalls, a 220-square-foot backstage room; minor adjustments to existing trails to accommodate the amphitheater; a seasonal aerating fountain to float on the man-made pond during the warm seasons; street lighting placed along the existing roadway; lighting on the main baseball field in the western part of the site; bleachers for the baseball fields to be constructed on concrete pads; and, lighting to be placed inside an existing shelter in the far western portion of the project area.
Richards emphasized that funding for the park construction does not come from the town's taxpayers, but from funds from the New York Power Authority.
He is hoping to have a ground-breaking ceremony during the town's Fourth of July concert celebration on July 2 at the park. Construction will take about 18 months.
•The board agreed to abolish the elected position of tax collector, moving the duties of that position to the town clerk. The term of the current tax collector is expiring, and she is accepting a job elsewhere, Richards said. He expects eliminating the tax collector position will save the town at least $22,000.
•The board agreed to direct the Niagara County Treasurer's Office to foreclose on the Dave's Auto Wrecking properties owned by David Matiasz for unpaid back taxes in the amount of $106,247.52.
Richards said the junkyard was the source of the last two major fires in the town.
"He's not only putting the lives of town firefighters in jeopardy, he is operating an illegal junkyard," said Richards, noting that the owner refuses to maintain fire lanes in the junkyard. "We want to foreclose, take possession and clean it up."
•Councilman Charles Teixeira was named by Richards to the currently vacant position of commissioner of police for the town, acting as the intermediary between the community and the town's police department.
•Lawson Drive resident Timothy Heary was appointed to the Town of Niagara IDA.
•The board approved moving its March work session to March 24 and its regular meeting for March to March 29.