by Susan Mikula Campbell
News about continuing work on the 2013 budget took a back seat at Tuesday's Town of Niagara Town Board meeting to some controversy over a change in the code for driveways and a councilman's unpaid water bill.
The board sent $179,246.77 in unpaid water/sewer bills and charges to the county to be included on the 2013 county tax warrant.
Councilman Robert Clark admitted his was one of the unpaid bills, totaling about $148. "I'm not saying it's right. I had a bill I couldn't pay. ... My family comes first," he said, noting he had experienced a shortfall in funds when the bill was due.
Councilman Danny Sklarski figuratively spanked Clark, saying, "An elected official needs to set an example, especially one who has announced his candidacy for town supervisor."
Clark has announced his plans both on Facebook and in a local weekly paper to run for Supervisor Steve Richard's seat. Richards still has three years left in his term.
"How about you begin that 'new direction' by paying your past due water and sewer bills instead of them being added to county tax rolls where we all have to make up your shortfalls. You have a history of not paying," Sklarski accused. "When I look at some of the senior citizens out here (at the meeting) - they pay their bills on time."
Clark said the county would reimburse the town for the unpaid amount and the charge would be added to his mortgage, so he actually will be paying the bill.
Richards noted delinquent payments force the water department to run short operationally through the year until the bill is paid.
•The board also approved, after a public hearing, a change in the town code allowing concrete aprons at the end of driveways in the town's right-of-way with the understanding that the homeowner is responsible for any damage repair if digging is needed there. The change was proposed by Councilman Marc Carpenter, who said he expects this to become more of an issue as concrete becomes more and more affordable compared to blacktop.
The only speaker on the driveway code change was Councilman Charles F. Teixeira, who came down from his board seat to the public microphone to make his statement. He said only a couple of driveways were declined this year, and a more important issue is people paving right-of-ways for extra parking.
In the end, the board approved a six-month moratorium on parking lot paving in right-of-ways to allow more time to study the issue.
•The board is continuing its budget work sessions next week prior to a public hearing on the 2013 budget at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 30. Depending on the results of that hearing, the budget could be approved at the 6:30 p.m. regular meeting that will follow the hearing.
•A Woodland Avenue resident was nearly in tears as she delivered a petition signed by 45 neighbors asking that the town enforce Code 195, which imposes fines on landlords who have unruly tenants. She said police have been called repeatedly on problems with one tenant and she is not the only one who has lost sleep over loud parties and fireworks, but no one wants their names mentioned publicly for fear of retaliation. She and family members have been harassed and obscenities screamed at them. Problems escalate after police leave, she said.
Richards said the owner, Laura Rhoney of Niagara Falls, has been sent several letters announcing fines for violations of the code and has now contacted Town Hall about the problem. The fines now total about $17,000, he said. The next step will be for the board to meet with both sides and to have Teixeira, who is also the police commissioner, meet with the police chief to review complaint calls from the residents.
"Even if we're fining someone, they still have the right to due process," Richards said.
•The board approved several purchases of equipment for the police department that will be funded by grants obtained by Police Chief James Suitor. Purchases include 10 Pocket Jet 6 thermal printers, five Decatur Genesis II Select Dual Ka radar units and 10 L-Tron 2 D scanners. Also approved was permission for three officers to attend child passenger seat training in Atlantic City this month. Lodging and meals will be funded by a grant obtained by Suitor.
The board also approved overtime grant reimbursement rates for Suitor that will allow him to work with the U.S. Border Patrol on possible future grants.
•The board approved a tax assessment settlement reached with Verizon New York by Town Attorney Michael Risman. Verizon had filed a lawsuit challenging the assessed value of its telephone lines not located in the public right-of-way. Assessment for the 2012-13 tax year was $600,000. Verizon provided an analysis indicating it should be $400,000. The settlement would reduce the $600,000 to $533,000 for 2012-13, $467,000 for 2013-14, and $400,000 for 2014-15. According to the board resolution, this would save the town significant litigation and appraisal costs, as well as avoid the payment of potential tax refunds if a challenge by the town should fail.
•The board decided to hold November work sessions on Nov. 1 and 8 at 7 p.m. and moved the regular town board meeting to Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. to avoid holiday conflicts. The Nov. 13 meeting will begin with a public hearing on rezoning 6000 Packard Road (the old Gold Circle property) from B-1 (business) to L-1 (light industrial. Richards said Benderson Development has a tenant who wants to use the building for a warehouse.