Town, village talk police costs, winter activities
by Joshua Maloni
For once, a new tax may find favor with residents.
On Monday, Town of Lewiston Supervisor Steve Reiter suggested the creation of a new, public safety district tax, which would free the Village of Lewiston from paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in police fees. Speaking at a joint meeting between the town councilmen and village trustees, he said this would enable the village to chop what is currently more than $281,000 out of its roughly $3 million budget, and lower property taxes.
Reiter's comments were in response to Village of Lewiston Mayor Terry Collesano's request for relief.
"We're getting tighter and tighter (fiscally)," Collesano said. "Is there any form of relief we can get on this? ... Or can the police cut back?"
The LPD cost to the village rose 16.9 percent, to $281,710, in the current budget.
After the two boards discussed usage of the police department's 10 vehicles, Reiter said, "I (might) have a solution to this."
He went on to voice a scenario in which he enacts a Lewiston-wide tax while the village cuts property taxes, and also provides in-kind services to the town. Village trustees voiced their approval of that idea.
Reiter said this tax would allow the town to seek money from special district entities such as the New York Power Authority and the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission.
With no town tax, the Town Board has been stymied in collecting money from these entities' multi-million dollar headquarters.
Town Finance Director Mike Johnson said the Bridge Commission, for example, recently paid $65,000 to the Lewiston-Porter School District, and another $65,000 to Niagara County.
"We don't get a fair share, because we don't have a (town) tax," Johnson said.
"This might make it easier for me to go after those entities," Reiter explained.
When the Village of Lewiston voted in April to raise property taxes from $6.24 to $7.12 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, one of the reasons trustees cited was the police cost. Collesano asked that both boards negotiate future contracts, which he said didn't happen last year.
"We're very appreciative of what the police department has been doing recently," Collesano said, noting an increased presence on village streets. "We're very happy; they're doing a great job. (But) the cost is getting out of sight."
For the past decade, the village has covered between 23 and 30 percent of the police budget. The current police expenditures total around $1.2 million.
Changing the police budget structure and creating a district tax would require a public referendum.
Reiter, meanwhile, said his board is in trouble if New York's 2 percent tax cap is enacted. He said if the town raises taxes to 1 cent, then that would represent a 100 percent increase.
"That's a real concern," he said.
"If we don't get state mandate relief, then we're in trouble," Collesano added. "We're all in trouble."
One fiscal solution both boards are eyeing is the creation of a winter indoor recreation center, which would expand the tourism season.
"We have been talking about a recreation center for a long time," Reiter said.
He said it should be centrally located, and suggested building it on the 10 acres behind Town Hall (or possibly relocating the Lewiston Senior Center and placing the recreation center on Lower River Road).
Now, the village is also considering an indoor play center. Trustees and members of the Planning Board discussed this option a month ago, and Collesano said it would be a great addition to the 20 acres of plateau land earmarked for recreational purposes.
Reiter, however, said the town is in a better position to carry out such a project.
"I think you'd want to work with us on this," he said. "It would be very dramatic."
"We can come up with the funding for this," he added. "I think we have a better handle on some resources."
In addition to the recreation center, "We'd like to put in a portable ice rink," Reiter said. "I'd like to propose that we put that at Academy Park (in the village)."
The roughly 30-by-60-foot ice rink would have coolers underneath, allowing it to be used in both cold and mild weather. It would be situated near the band shell in the winter and then removed in the summer.
"You would have people there all day," Town Councilman Mike Marra said. "I think it's a great idea."
Reiter and board members said the ice rink could tie in with holiday Christmas tree sales, the Lewiston Christmas Walk and a New Year's Eve celebration. With regard to the latter, the supervisor said the town could provide some fireworks to accompany the ball drop.
"We'll try to provide funding for fireworks - now you've got something," Reiter said.
He's already met with National Grid about upgrading the electrical units at Academy Park.
"That's a good idea," Collesano said of the ice rink proposal. "I think we can go along with that."
He said the village plans to build an upper deck of parking at the waterfront and place a small skating rink alongside.