Town Board working in cooperative fashion
By Terry Duffy
With spring moving into summer, the Lewiston Town Board appears to be working more proactively on town affairs.
Unlike previous boards, some of which elected to skip the holding of work sessions altogether once the nicer weather hit, Supervisor Steve Broderick and the current board are striving to address the issues facing residents - and work in a cooperative and nonpartisan fashion to solve them.
Monday, Broderick followed through on his previously announced intent of filling the highway superintendent's seat, which had been left open following the death of Republican Douglas Janese last winter.
Broderick filled the position with Democrat Dave Trane, who lost the race for highway superintendent by a narrow margin last fall.
"In regards to our highway superintendent, as you know we haven't had a highway superintendent since the passing of Doug Janese. The department has been run very efficiently under Deputy Superintendent Jeff Cosgrove. We need a permanent leader for highway superintendent," Broderick said as he referred the matter to Democrat Councilman Rob Morreale.
"I would like to make a motion to appoint David Trane interim highway superintendent, starting June 1," Morreale said.
Following some lighthearted jabs among members, the motion went on to be approved unanimously by the board. Applause followed.
Morreale continued, "I'd like to thank this board, take my hat off to this board, for putting party affiliations aside - for picking the most qualified person."
That board action, a marked change from partisan politics that existed on the board in past regimes, was not the only positive change for the better seen at the session. The Town Board also tackled - and moved ahead constructively - on other matters of interest to Lewiston residents:
•Town engineer Robert Lannon of GHD (formerly Conestoga-Rovers and Associates) reported he is working on the projected $4.8 million water line replacement project facing town residents both above and below the hill - with an eye on reducing cost. Lannon said he and town grant writer Bernie Rotella have been researching the availability of grant money to cover a portion of the work.
"We have developed construction cost estimates for the nine locations," Lannon said. He advised the board he'd aim to have the project numbers complete by the May 23 regular meeting.
Lannon advised there is a possibility of obtaining New York state grant funding of up to 60 percent of the cost under state's facilities corporation program. "The state has thrown more money into the kitty," Lannon said, adding the funds can be used for sewer and water line replacements. "The maximum grant (for water) has been increased from $2 million to $3 million for eligible project costs."
Broderick said he was also looking into the funding with Finance Officer Martha Blazick and learned it had seen a budgeted increase grow up to $175 million for eligible projects statewide, both this year and next year.
"That's a big, red flag project we need to do. It should have been done yesterday; it's something we have to do," Broderick said, suggesting the town needs to get moving on pursuing the funding.
Lannon said the town was facing a June 15 application deadline to participate in the annual awards process this year.
Broderick advised the town to "get its ducks in order" on the project to see if it could get in for the 2016 application deadline and to pursue the state funding aggressively for next year.
Board members concurred, and the matter was tabled for this session.
•The board discussed the particulars of creating a new records availability policy in response to residents' inquiries. Town Attorney Brian Seaman said he and Town Clerk/Tax Collector Donna Garfinkel had been reviewing what would be considered appropriate items to post for public review on the town's website.
"The section of law that we're dealing with ... says that there's certain types of items that should be made available to members of the public prior to public meetings at which they're going to be discussed, to the extent that the town finds it's going to be 'practicable,' " Seaman said.
One example of interest he cited was the Riverwalk subdivision, on the agenda that night, which has been undergoing an ownership change, with new housing and other improvements considered.
"I went through with her assistance and came up with ... items, which I thought the public would be interested in, and items which could be easily put on the website," Seaman said. He suggested some documents relating to the agenda topics, such as project plans, could be availed.
Seaman presented the policy for board review on Monday. It was met with favor, with the board going so far as to suggest that the policy itself, which will become a permanent feature on the town's information portal, could go online immediately for public comment at the May 23 meeting.
Board members tabled discussion Monday on the new records policy, but also agreed to post it for public review on its website, along with the agenda for the May 23 meeting. Look for it online at www.townoflewiston.us.
•Moving on to Riverwalk, Lannon updated the board on the state environmental quality review status of the preliminary plat for phase 4A and phase 4B at the subdivision.
"Back in 2005, the Town Board, at the time, had approved all of the phases for Riverwalk," Lannon said. He told the board nine were approved back then. "The preliminary plats were approved and there was a negative declaration.
"Many years have passed; we now have a new phase 4A in front of the Town Board for consideration. Included in that is the elimination of phase 4B, (which) took out several homes and slightly revised for the remainder of 4A."
"Those two actions have a reduction of 10 homes in the area," Lannon said.
"There's less impact, less homes," he added, and explained that, with an elimination of a cul-de-sac plus 10 fewer homes, a new negative dec by the town would be a reaffirmation of the change.
Soon after, on a motion by Morreale, the Town Board approved a Planning Board recommendation for acceptance of the latest change to correspond with the town's earlier 2005 endorsements for the subdivision.
•Wrapping up, Councilman Bill Geiben, in the spirit of maintaining the board's open information flow attitude for residents, suggested the board pursue specific topics to be examined in detail along with agenda items at work sessions.
"I think this particular venue is excellent; it gives us an opportunity for exchanges," Geiben said. "What I suggest is specific topics be identified." He cited the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission as an example, where town officials, from the assessor to the building inspector, could further bring the board and the public up to date. "Specific topics, we bring the expertise and discuss the topic back and forth so we all understand, noting that there are three new members on the board (Geiben, Broderick and Morreale).
"It's a public work session. There's no comment from the public, but it gives us the opportunity to really get our teeth in a topic."
"We could do that," Broderick said, adding the town could schedule additional work sessions over the course of a month if it needed to.
Town Board members expressed agreement as discussions closed on Monday.
It marked a new, fresh look on how the town now handles its business.