Update provided on Niagara River Greenway trail
By David Yarger
On Monday, the Town of Wheatfield Town Board held its second regular session of January. Valuable information was announced from the recent formation of an emergency services department, an update from Councilman Larry Helwig and Tim Zuber of Wendel Engineers regarding the Niagara River Greenway trail, and a response from Supervisor Don MacSwan to Gov. Andrew Cuomo on the cuts in Aid and Incentives to Municipalities.
The board unanimously authorized MacSwan to issue a letter expressing the town’s “disgust, dismay and frustration with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to gut aid and incentives to municipalities for the 2020 state budget.”
AIM is a state revenue sharing program, which provides state funding to municipalities across the state.
The cut in funding will cause the Town of Wheatfield to lose $55,277 from the state. Wheatfield is amongst 90 percent of the states towns and villages to receive similar cuts.
In MacSwan’s letter, it reads, “Dear, Gov. Cuomo:
“Please be advised that the undersigned as a representative of the Town of Wheatfield, located in the County of Niagara, is wholly opposed to your proposed 2020 New York State Budget which includes unprecedented cuts to the unrestricted Revenue Sharing Program known as the Aid and Incentives to Municipalities (‘AIM’) Program, in the amount of $59 Million, which effectively eliminates the program. As a result of this proposed 2020 New York State Budget, the Town of Wheatfield is slated to lose approximately $55,227.00 in 2020 and each year thereafter.
“It is our understanding that your reasoning for the cuts is due to the growth of reserve funds in Towns and Villages. As you are certainly aware, the increase of reserve funds throughout the State is due to spending cuts and creative thinking in order to allow our budgets to go further.
“However, please be advised that although some municipalities have improved their reserve funds, others are still struggling. In other cases, such as the Town of Wheatfield, new unanticipated expenses are making deep cuts in our newly created reserves. Specifically, in the Town of Wheatfield, we are laboring under a massive lawsuit with regard to a property owned by the Town that is accused of having environmental liability. Even more compelling in this particular area, what the plaintiffs allege to be the most egregious environmental liability on this Town property, was placed there by the State Department of Transportation, for which the State, at this point, is not providing any support to the town. The current State Aid and Incentives to Municipalities is critical to the defense of this action, as well as other unfunded State mandates.
“Additionally, it is our understanding that you are proposing to make the two percent tax cap permanent, and proposing to discontinue the $65 Million in Extreme Winter Recovery Program. Your Budget, as well, proposes no increase to CHIPS funding, which is critical to small Municipalities.
“Accordingly, from the above, the Town of Wheatfield as well as many other municipalities are being hit by the wave of State created and mandated expenses and are now being told to expect reduced State funding and support.
“As a local government official, on behalf of the Town of Wheatfield, I would urge you to reconsider your 2020 New York State Budget proposal and restore the Aid and Incentives to Municipalities Program. These funds are critical to the operation of our municipality and the ever increasing expenses and liabilities that we must operate under.
“We appreciate your time and consideration, and urge you to continue the Aid and Incentives to Municipalities Program and other local funding programs.”
Near the conclusion of the meeting, Town of Wheatfield Highway Superintendent Paul Siegmann added the town could possibly lose additional funding in Pave New York, but nothing has been finalized.
In a separate release from Niagara County Legislator Jesse Gooch, he also claimed his opposition of the AIM cuts.
“Towns and villages across this state and in this community have come to rely on these funds as part of their budget planning,” Gooch said. “The governor could at least have the decency to give people a heads-up that this is coming so they could try to revise their budgets, most of which have already been passed for this year. Unfortunately, there was no such consideration.”
Gooch added he supports evaluating cost-cutting measures and instituting initiatives that save taxpayers money, but that this proposal has not been properly thought through.
“As a small business owner, I understand the importance of proper and efficient budgeting,” Gooch said. “But to do it on the backs of those struggling to make ends meet, literally weeks after those same people showed their faith in him by electing him to a third term, is unconscionable and vindictive.”
The board also authorized and formally created an emergency services department for the town. The motion appointed Michael Zarbo to become the director of the new group.
Of the motion, MacSwan said, “This is something that, since I was in the building inspection, we’ve been working on an emergency preparedness plan for the Town of Wheatfield. The plan has been modified again, thanks to Mike. It’s easy to read and will benefit the residents of Wheatfield if there was an emergency that could be isolated to the Town of Wheatfield. … I think it will work out well for the Town of Wheatfield residents.”
Helwig took a minute during Zuber’s Planning Board report requesting a brief update on the Niagara River Greenway trail, which will extend from the Niagara Falls to North Tonawanda lines via River Road.
“According to your report, Wendel was basically done with the final design approval Dec. 27, 2018?” Helwig asked.
“That is when the DOT (New York State Department of Transportation) signed the final papers – the final design reports,” Zuber replied.
“So, basically this has been turned over? We signed a three-way municipal agreement between the City of Niagara Falls, the Town of Wheatfield and the City of North Tonawanda,” Helwig said, which Zuber replied, “Yes.”
Helwig said some River Road residents have asked him questions, due to the removal of fencing near the Lasalle Expressway and implementation of orange stakes.
Helwig said he hopes to see construction of the trail beginning sometime this summer.
•Councilman Curt Doktor announced all three LED light standard samples had been installed at the Town Hall campus – a 48-watt, 25-watt and 96-watt.
Doktor and MacSwan agreed to create labels to help residents understand the properties of each sample, as the town looks toward a possible switch to LED lighting. Doktor added that a follow-up meeting with the New York Power Authority will occur some time in February to see which municipalities are interested in making the switch.
Doktor also announced an update from the development buildout group, which is volunteers who look at sustainability of the town from a development standpoint. The group has been tasked with working alongside representatives with the Summit Outlets.
After an introductory session with the representatives from the outlets, Doktor said phase one of the redevelopment would be the sports venues, which includes two 96,000-square-foot metal structures. The hope is that the sports venues will create a domino effect and developments like Big Thunder Brewing and more will fall into place.
•Recreation Director Mike Ranalli said the town’s Winterfest will occur from noon to 2 p.m. Feb. 9 at the youth center. There will be indoor and outdoor (weather-pending) activities, along with the Wheatfield Lions Club serving refreshments.
•MacSwan finished the meeting by reminding local Purple Heart veterans that the Niagara County Veterans Association is putting together a book full of the local winners. MacSwan, a Purple Heart winner himself, said, “I think it’s a great idea to be on display. It’ll be on display at the county building.”
Purple Heart winners in Niagara County can contact Jeff Glass of the Niagara County Veterans Association at 438-4090.
•The next Town of Wheatfield Town Board meeting is at 7 p.m. Feb. 11.