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Lewiston: Financial items dominate separate meetings on Monday

by jmaloni
Fri, Sep 28th 2012 08:15 pm

by Terry Duffy

Amid tight economic times besetting Lewiston, two separate meetings of interest to area residents - both focusing greatly on financial issues - took place Monday.

Leading off, the Joseph Davis State Park Local Development Corporation met where the proposed JDP boat launch, the potential for a recreation/senior center complex (site yet to be determined), and discussions on expanding the mission and role of the LDC were all covered.

Later on, the Lewiston Town Board met where discussions focused primarily on questionable spending, shortfalls and impending budget issues.

First to the LDC.

Lou Giardino of CEA International, who serves as LDC consultant reported that CRA Infrastructure and Engineering Inc. had completed its conceptual site plan for the boat launch eyed for the Niagara River shore area of JDP, estimated to cost $500,000 in Greenway funding. Now on the LDC website, www.jdspldc.org, the plan includes construction of a new loop road from Lower River Road, an expanded parking area adjacent to the boat launch ramp, a concrete ramp to the river and a two-lane launch area. Also planned is an expanded covered fishing pier that would jut out 100 feet into the river. Giardino said that CRA would be meeting on Monday, Oct. 22 with the Lewiston Town Board to discuss the plan.

He said the CRA plan, representing the first tier of the State Environmental Quality Review process for the boat launch, has no major impact on federal wetlands and that government agencies are indicating their support for the plan. "Construction could entail a retaining wall and the possible removal of 10 trees," said Giardino.

There's "minimal disturbance to wetlands," he continued. "The Army Corps has delineated a permit process and DEC has indicated no major objections." Giardino forecasted a November scoping session on the proposal "could be possible."

Town Supervisor Steve Reiter, who briefly discussed the boat launch at Monday's Lewiston Town Board session, called the plan "A non-invasive project. It's a very small footprint. There's very small disturbance (on wetlands)," he said.

Actually correspondence from the Army Corps and state Department of Environmental Conservation to LDC, also found on its website, did indicate some reservations to the plan, particularly with respect to impact on wetlands. Both agencies indicated that various permits would need to be granted for the project to move ahead. "A lot of this will be determined by the permits," admitted Neil Nolf, LDC chair. "The driving force in this will be the Corps of Engineers."

More to come at the Lewiston Town Board's Oct. 22 session.

Other matters of economic interest included LDC reviewing plans for a potential recreation/senior complex (discussed in recent Sentinel articles). Three possible sites have been identified - a 10-acre parcel to the southeast of Lewiston-Porter High School, and unnamed locations on Creek Road and on Upper Mountain Road.

Plans call for a 150,000 square-foot complex, of which 6,500 square feet would be incorporated as a new senior center. Also considered would be three sports fields within the facility. No cost figure was announced.

Giardino was upbeat as he discussed Lew-Port as a possible site. "It's a pretty convenient location from a recreational standpoint."

He said the matter remains very much "in the stage of negotiations" and the town has suggested the LDC become further engaged in any planning and negotiations. "If this ever becomes a reality, it'll become much more feasible to sell economic development," said Giardino. "It could become an economic stimulus to developers," adding the facility (itself) could generate revenue.

That announcement was paired with other news Monday that now appears to plot a new course for the LDC. Giardino revealed that the town wants to expand the mission and role of the group. "They're pleased with the progress of the LDC so far," Giardino said. He said the town wants LDC to focus on such economic development drivers as the rec center, student housing and senior housing in Lewiston. Giardino said the LDC's role "will be to assist developers in any plans, and in strategic areas to study."

"Currently Lewiston has no economic development and needs a strategic plan," he said.

In a letter shared with the LDC outlining the objective, Giardino detailed:

" ... With economic development being the ultimate goal, Supervisor Reiter and the Lewiston Town Board would like a special emphasis on certain targeted areas. They are:

•"Recreation: Increase opportunities to upgrade facilities and programs that are available to the community. One special priority is to provide a new recreation center that would include indoor fields for as many recreational facilities as possible.

•"Student housing: Increase opportunities to provide new, quality student housing to a growing segment of the community.

•"Senior housing: Increase opportunities to provide new, quality senior housing to a growing segment of the community."

"I look forward to working with all of you in the pursuit of the mission," Giardino said. LDC board members offered little comment to the town's new plans for the group.

Moving over to the Lewiston Town Board session, as mentioned, economics were also part of the active discussion.

It led off in community comments, where resident Paulette Glasgow, very often a nitpicker to Reiter on spending issues, presented her "latest inquiries" that have taken place during what's she says are tight times financially at Town Hall. Included are the recent hiring of a Recreation Department staffer, first at a rate of $18.59 per hour, then changed to $15.59 and the questions over Civil Service hiring protocol; the aforementioned recreation/senior Center idea and questions on where would the money come from; the town still not receiving $456,000 in Greenway funding due to an application filing error and payments made anyway to LDC's Giardino; and the town's year's-old non-collecting of a mining fee totaling $70,000 from Mawhiney Mine for an operation in the town.

Later on money struggles besetting the town again surfaced, when a request for $27,057.90 to Hi-Tech Concrete to cover sidewalk repairs in the River Walk subdivision was approved by the board. "Where's the money coming from?" piped up Town Finance Director Michael Johnson.

"The escrow account," responded Reiter.

"There's nothing in escrow," Johnson responded, telling the supervisor the account didn't have a sufficient amount to cover that expense. The request was tabled.

Yet another financial red flag surfaced when discussions for a hearing to consider overriding the state-imposed 2 percent tax cap on municipalities came up. Johnson, urging the town to seek the override, told the board "It's a provision that needs to be in place."

Noting the latest workmen's compensation increase to the town of $350,000, Johnson commented, "It's scary."

The town will be holding a public hearing on Monday, Oct. 22, at 5:15 p.m. for purposes of enacting a local law to enable the tax cap override. It was also reported that scheduled Town Board work sessions in October and November would not take place; budget sessions would be held instead (dates yet to be announced). Lewiston, like other municipalities, faces a Nov. 20 deadline to adopt a budget.

In other news:

•The board took no action on a request by the Village of Lewiston for $13,000 in New York Power Authority funding provided to the town to address surface drainage problems that are contributing to village inflow problems and flooding village homes. Reiter requested that no action be taken until the village provides more details, namely a clarification on its needs. "They're talking about using town people. I'm not sure if the highway superintendent has seen this." The matter closed with Reiter instructing a letter be sent to the village, seeking more information.

•The board set Halloween trick or treat hours for Wednesday, Oct. 31, from 4 to 7 p.m.

•The board OK'd a Reiter request to advertise for openings on the town's zoning and planning boards. Reiter requested the posting to address what he called the insufficient attendance of members at the meetings.

Click here to DOWNLOAD a copy of the boat launch plan (PDF)

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