by Terry Duffy
A new member, more comments on Quasar, and insight on the state of Lewiston's finances were among the assortment of items at Monday's longer-than-usual Town Board meeting in Town Hall.
On a motion by councilmen Ron Winkley and Al Bax, the board moved to fill the seat vacated recently by the retirement of Councilman Ernie Palmer by choosing William Conrad of Sanborn. The appointment, which drew applause from the overflowing crowd, followed an active recruitment process that saw a number of qualified applicants applying.
Conrad, who most recently served as chair of the Town of Lewiston Zoning Board of Appeals, has been active for years on a number of boards and committees. They include the Niagara-Wheatfield Board of Education, Niagara County Planning Board, Niagara-Orleans BOCES, the town's tower and wind energy committees, Rivershore Inc., the WNY Veterans Housing Coalition, and others. In his remarks, Conrad said that as councilman he intends to work for the good of all Lewiston. His seat will be up for election this fall.
Issues such as Quasar, power costs and budget shortfalls were among the public commentary topics of residents who filled the Town Hall meeting room. Residents Alexa Stopa-Weiss, William Kraft, Amy Witryol and others were all appreciative in remarks to Supervisor Dennis Brochey and the board for their proactive responses thus far to thwart Quasar Energy from proceeding on its plans to utilize Lewiston properties for the injection of processed equate from the Quasar facility in Wheatfield.
"I want to thank you," said Weiss. "I know that you are following through. I know that you filed the petitions, I know that you are familiar with the home rule, I know that you know that the state code cannot supersede local laws, and I feel that we have them on the run."
Kraft told the board it needs to include the interests of the Tuscarora Nation when considering Quasar's plans, due to the number of residents there who utilize well water. "I think it's very important ... to include them as they would have one of the most impacted environments from this."
In response, Brochey said he's already been in contact with Tuscarora attorneys and state environmental attorney Daniel A. Spitzer on the matter. "We're all working on it."
Witryol told the board that despite Quasar permits already having been approved, "There is case law where towns have exercised home rule authority after the fact to close any loopholes they may have in their code ... to put an end to those permits."
She closed by thanking the board, telling them their continued oversight on Quasar, as well as CWM, was welcome and needed.
Winkley told the crowd that the town does indeed have codes to prevent Quasar. "DEC issued permits, but Lewiston still has home rule and (they) cannot force it on the town," said Winkley. "The issue is not over, the town is prepared to fight it."
Bax suggested that, if needed, the town would amend its codes to meet any challenges.
Another topic was the budget, where resident Ron Craft suggested the town pay more attention in the future to its practice of assisting special interests and nonprofits. "I think the board should look at this more," said Craft. "The needs of residents are being left out." He closed by suggesting the town consider greater utilization of shared services with neighboring communities.
Brochey responded that he's working hard to prevent any town tax and is considering all options.
Continuing on this discussion, Town Finance Director Paul Kloosterman said he's been reviewing the town's books with auditors Brown and Co. "2013 was a decent year," said Kloosterman, noting that the town used $300,000 in its fund balance. He added though he was very concerned with $1.7 million in bond anticipation notes. "These need to be reviewed and interest rates adjusted."
Town Highway Superintendent Doug Janese said that the Lewiston highway budget for paving has been funded at only 20 percent of its total needs compared to other towns, and requested Brochey and the board at least provide him with adequate maintenance money. Suggesting a $40,000 figure, he said, "It could provide us time, benefits for extending our highways."
Janese said he's been receiving calls from residents about roads in serious disrepair, notably Upper Mountain Road and sections of Lower River Road. "These are not town roads, but state roads. We are not responsible for these," he said.
On a related note, Kloosterman reported the town has approximately $250,000 budgeted this year for paving needs in the entire town.
Another topic raised that night was assessments and rezoning. It was pointed out that in addition to the town seeing no taxable monies coming from the New York Power Authority's more than 3,000 acres of nontaxable lands, the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission headquarters property at Military and Upper Mountain roads contributes a mere $17,644 yearly to town coffers, thanks to the town's earlier rezoning of lands near Mount St. Mary's Hospital and Health Center as light commercial and the fact that Lewiston has no town tax. As a result, out of $200,000 paid out in taxes by the NFBC for its property, the bulk of it goes to Niagara County and the Lewiston-Porter School District, with the aforementioned $17,644 coming to Lewiston. "The Bridge Commission bought that property and (essentially) took it off the tax rolls," said Town Building Inspector Tim Masters. "It's now a tax-free property. The town has an enormous amount of property that is tax exempt."
"The problem is that Lewiston has no town tax," agreed Mike Johnson. He added that the NFBC does indeed pay a hefty tax for its operations in Canada - to the tune of a half-million dollars annually.
The matter closed with Winkley, Brochey and board members all suggesting that special district fees be renegotiated with NFBC to a higher rate in lieu of payment.
The Town Board announced the scheduling of two public hearings for Monday, April 28. One at 6 p.m. would address changes to the town's fire code. The second at 6:15 p.m. would review a new local law on hawking, peddling and soliciting, introduced by Town Board member Mike Marra. It would require a license of anyone conducting such activities in the town.
The Town Board's regular meeting would follow at 6:30 p.m.