by Susan Mikula Campbell
The Town of Niagara Town Board on Tuesday received a pat on the back from its independent auditor, but faced flack from residents about neighborhood problems ranging from disorderly conduct to flooding.
Eric Foster of Woodland Avenue was first up, noting that problems with renters in the 3100 block have resulted in dozens of calls to police in the past two years.
"Ongoing problems of harassment, menacing, disorderly conduct, drugs, alcohol and persistent fireworks have rendered us unable to sleep at night much less walk our infant son outdoors," he said. "We have been subjected to trespassing, loud fireworks and verbal harassment as late as 2:30 a.m. When police are called, the subjects scatter, only to regroup after police leave."
He added that when police are called, retaliation from the occupants of these properties is almost certain.
"As for the fireworks, I am informed that police must view them to pursue a fireworks charge. As we speak, this county has a 5-inch rain deficit. All it would take is one improperly fired explosive to ignite a significant conflagration in this neighborhood," he warned.
Chapter 195 of Town Code, which fines landlords for actions of unruly tenants, needs to be enforced and streamlined, adding a "three strikes" rule for tenants creating a nuisance three times in one week, he suggested. He also called for a full investigation of activities on Woodland both this summer and last summer and the appointment of a full-time police officer to deal with the matter.
Town Supervisor Steve Richards said the town code, revised about a year ago, allows for fines on landlords. It mirrors the Cheektowaga code.
"It holds absentee landlords accountable for the people they rent to. Its intent is to force landlords to do a better job screening their tenants," Richardson said.
Diane DeFelippo also spoke, pointing out that people are either ignoring or don't see the stop sign at Laur Road and Woodland. She added that illegal vehicles - four-wheelers and even golf carts - are being driven on the road. She asked that the speed limit be reduced below 35 mph, a "children at play" sign be installed, and police coverage be increased - "They can park in my driveway and catch them."
Councilman Marc Carpenter noted that rolling through stop signs and speeding is a problem in other neighborhoods, as well. He added that the town in the past has tried to get state senators and assemblymen to change the law that prevents the town from lowering the speed limit below 35 mph, except in parks.
Highway Superintendent Robert Herman said he would look into the "children at play" sign and ways that more attention can be drawn to the stop sign. Councilman Charles Teixeira, who also serves as police commissioner, was to arrange a meeting between residents and police officials on all the neighborhood's problems.
Kathleen Knotts of Robert Drive grilled the board about the continuing problem of Cayuga Creek flooding, noting she had seen an article about the town seeking grant funding for drainage work in the Belden Center area.
"I would hope that this council will seek that kind of funding for our area, too," she insisted.
Councilman Robert Clark noted that Belden Center, the oldest area of the town, has long had a drainage problem. He suggested a resolution that would OK seeking funding for drainage work in any problem areas in the town. Richards revised that resolution to specifically seek a Small Cities grant to alleviate flooding in the Roberts-Disney-Tuscarora-Juron area. He also suggested that Knotts return to the board when it begins deliberations on the 2013 budget to ensure funding is included for road repair that she said was neglected in her neighborhood.
Knotts was told by Herman and board members that recent repair of crumbled areas of the banks of Cayuga Creek should be making a difference in the area's flooding. She also was told flow monitors have been used to check on the amount of water coming into the creek from the airport/airbase area, as well as to alert town officials when the creek flow reaches the flooding stage.
The good news for the night came from independent auditor Patrick Brown, CPA, of Brown and Company LLP.
"Every single department increased in fund balance and our debt service is decreasing. That's significant," said Councilman Danny Sklarski. He added that town residents "should be extremely proud of this report."
Brown said the town received an unqualified audit opinion for the year ended Dec. 31, 2011, which is the desired and highest opinion form for financial audits.
"Overall the departments, under the administration of Supervisor Richards, are doing a good job of cost control; the town is on solid financial footing, but faces ongoing challenges as revenues are pretty stagnant/fixed and expenses rise," Brown said. "The 2013 budget will be challenging and the board will need to closely analyze expenses for all departments, especially employee benefits/personnel costs, which make up most of the budget, as the town will need to comply with the state property tax."
"For the 2012 budget," he added, "the town was able to remain under the state property tax cap by $52,000 and having a total budget of $270,064 lower than 2011 - no small feat given the economy and costs rising."
Brown also praised the town for "pay as you go" philosophy and its recent postponement of its community center project after its bids came in higher than expected. The town's long-term bonded debt of $1.4 million is one of the lowest in the county, he said.
In other matters:
•The board unanimously approved a resolution submitted by Richards calling for July 1 "from this day forward" be declared Sylvia Virtuoso Day, recognizing her hard work and dedication to the town in its celebration of its bicentennial this year. Virtuoso, the town clerk, is head of the town's Bicentennial Committee.
"I think you did a wonderful job, you and your committee," Richards told her.
•Anita Muzzi was appointed secretary to the Zoning Board. Her late father, Joseph Kempa, was a longtime Zoning Board chairman.