Dispute simmers at Town of Niagara Town Board meetingby jmaloni
by Susan Mikula Campbell
Bad feelings erupted again at the Town of Niagara Town Board meeting on Tuesday as Councilman Danny Sklarski asked for an official investigation into why the town won't be reimbursed for demolition of a Petroleum Street residence last spring.
Sklarski said that Councilman Robert Clark called the town building inspector asking for an emergency demolition of the house. The demolition bill was not submitted until after the county had sold the newly vacant property at auction to a new owner. Therefore, neither the county nor the new owner is required to reimburse the town for the demolition cost.
"If proper procedures were followed, the town would have been reimbursed the full amount," Sklarski said. "The taxpayers and businesses of this town had to eat that $30,000."
Clark, who lives in the neighborhood, said a neighbor notified him that the abandoned building's foundation was deteriorating on three sides and kids were playing in the area. He said he contacted other board members about the problem, but was unable to reach Supervisor Steve Richards.
"Somebody at some point in time should have contacted the county" about the demolition so the property would not go up for auction, Clark said. "We have demolished buildings for years ... there is obviously something missing here."
The board passed a resolution to conduct an investigation into whether proper procedures were followed in the demolition of the structure at 3045 Petroleum St., and in contracting the demolition with contractor Mark Cerrone. Clark voted no.
"I am very disappointed that an elected official doesn't want to find out what happened," Sklarski commented, noting that, as elected officials, the board members have a responsibility to find out what happened, why it happened and who initiated it.
Councilman Charles Teixeira said he had no problem with getting the derelict building demolished, but pointed out that when someone doesn't pay their water bill, the cost is added by the county to their tax bill, and when someone doesn't pay court tickets, a warrant is issued.
"I'm really annoyed we're out that kind of money," he said of the demolition cost. Whether someone made a mistake or did something deliberately, he said, "I would definitely recommend an investigation to get to the bottom of this."
The board decided Town Attorney Michael Risman would start the investigation.
Risman noted that he is well acquainted with state law, codes and procedures in this type of matter. His first experience came when he was a young assistant city attorney in Buffalo in 1981 and was assigned to demolition cases, he said.
The board did decide to go ahead and pay $28,521.90 to Mark Cerrone for the actual demolition of the Petroleum Street building.
Bad feelings came to the floor again at the end of the meeting when board members each have a chance to bring up issues or make statements.
Clark said he didn't feel the 2013 budget approved at the last meeting received a proper vote. Documents show a change in the tax rate for both homeowners and non-homeowners, which Clark said was not reflected in the original document.
When Richards began to explain that the tax rate was a decrease that came about due to last minute changes in the budget, Clark interrupted saying he had been interrupted. Richards banged his gavel and adjourned the meeting over Clark's objections.
Richards advised Clark to "call the FBI again," referencing a visit to Town Hall and interviews by the FBI with some councilmen and town officials this year. Details on what exactly the FBI was investigating have not been released, but officials have indicated no problems were found with the town government.
In other matters:
•The board approved the sketch plan submitted to the Planning Board by Benderson Development Co. for the former John's Flaming Hearth property on Military Road. This included a negative declaration under the State Environmental Quality Review Act indicating that the project will not have a significant adverse environmental impact.
The property at 1755 and 1785 Military Road includes the former Perkins restaurant site and a Goodyear business, which remains a part of the plan. The Benderson plan incorporates those two buildings and proposes six new buildings totaling 127,393 square feet. The proposed buildings include two new restaurant buildings along Military Road, as well as four new retail buildings.
The main access is proposed at the existing signalized driveway, with one new access point on the north side of the site, along with maintaining the existing southerly access point by Goodyear.
•The board approved establishing a committee to look into policy on use of videotaping and other recording devices at Town Board meetings and work sessions.
At a work session this month, Clark set up a recording device, which resulted in a discussion on whether this should be allowed and the argument that if a recorded record of the meeting should be kept, it should be an official recording by the town clerk.
•The town's 2013 reorganization meeting was set for 4 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 9.
•The January board work session dates were set for 7 p.m. Jan. 10 and 17. The regular Town Board meeting will be at 7 p.m. Jan. 22.
•The board approved increasing the rental fees for use of the Community Center in Veterans Park on Lockport Road. The rental fee for town residents will increase from $100 to $125. Rental fee for non-residents will increase from $125 to $150.
•The board approved the sole source bid of $19,800 for repairs to manholes in Military Park area streets, including Isherwood Drive and John Street.
•The board approved the request of Schlaak Builders to renew for one year the special use permit at 2545 Young St. for storage and parking.