By Autumn Evans
It was a rough winter, but thanks to extra state funding, some of the harder-hit roads in North Tonawanda will see repaving this summer, Mayor Art Pappas announced at a town hall-style meeting last Thursday at Rescue Fire Co. on Strad Avenue.
The meeting, hosted by Niagara County Legislator Randy Bradt, provided a forum for city residents to ask local government leaders about the state of the city. In addition to Bradt and Pappas, the public also heard from Public Works Director Brad Rowles. Aldermen Eric Zadzilka and Bob Pecoraro also attended.
One of the major issues, one affecting municipalities statewide, is the state of roads after this year's winter.
"The roads, of course, this year, we know, are extra bad due to the weather, due to the frost line, due to the shifting of materials and so on," Pappas said. However, he added, extra funds from the state's Emergency Winter Recovery Fund would help alleviate issues.
Rowles said the extra $85,000, in addition to funds from the highway improvement program and city funding, amounted to more than $1 million for his department. With those funds, they were able to purchase new street-paving equipment. Of the 114 miles of road in the city, Rowles said he hopes to pave 14 miles this year.
"When you hear about the anatomy of potholes, you know, the freeze-thaw cycles, that's a typical winter. This winter was not the typical winter," he said. "There's always gonna be the next road to pave, but we're going to have the equipment to do our job this year."
Rowles added that updates to the Meadow Drive intersection traffic signals are expected to begin next month and be completed in July.
A problem not so easily solved, however, was the issue of potholes along portions of Ridge Road.
"Ridge Road is no longer potholes, it's craters," said John Chimino, a bus driver for the NT school district who said he drives down the road, "dodging potholes," every day.
Pappas said the issue was one of ownership.
"The problem you have on Ridge Road is, you have part of it owned by the school district, you have part of it owned by Sportsplex. The sections that have been fixed over the years have either belonged to the school district or they belonged to the city," he said. "The portion owned by Sportsplex, they've refused to fix."
Pappas said there were legal issues involved, but he was discussing the matter with City Attorney Shawn Nickerson.
"I know it's terrible and something has to be done. My problem is finding out just who has to do it," Pappas said. "We can't just go in and fix it. Legally, we just can't do that."
He added, "If we as a city could just go in and do it, we could probably talk everybody and the council into doing it. But the minute you're on someone else's property and they don't want you there. ..."
Pappas said talks with the owners of the facilities were delayed in the past due to Sportsplex's financial problems.
Grants and county funding were also discussed during the meeting. Multiple residents questioned whether their community service-oriented groups were eligible for extra funding.
A Sikora Post representative said the post struggled supporting itself financially.
"We do sponsor community things, but like everything else, our membership is shrinking and, of course, that goes with dues," he said.
He cited a Football Hall of Fame grant and asked if something along those lines was available for his group. Bradt said that money came from Seneca Niagara casino revenue, but other options were available. Bradt encouraged the man to contact him in his office to discuss the matter further.
Bill Lipczynski, Rescue Fire Co. treasurer/chaplain and company member for 36 years, also asked about more funding.
He said the volunteer fire company gets a stipend from the city for use of the truck garage and fitness room, but the rest of building was operated and supported by fundraisers and members.
"The last year, especially, and a half, we've taken a big hit," Lipczynski said. The company had to close bingo a few times because of weather and overall had fewer banquet hall reservations.
He said they do get support from North Tonawanda High School football renting their field, but, "On the other hand, we do also need financial support. We need part of our roof, this coming year, it's gonna have to be replaced. We've got a parking lot that's deteriorating that we've been piece by piece replacing.
"What a lot of people don't realize is, when we do upkeep on this building, it's us, the fire company, that does the repairs and everything like that."
Lipczynski said the issue pertains to all volunteer fire companies in the city and questioned whether he could apply for a grant from the county.
Bradt said he wouldn't call it a grant, but there are limited funds available in the county budget. He advised many people have already applied for those extra funds and help might not be available this year. Again, he encouraged Lipczynski to contact him at his office to discuss the matter further.
"I will entertain anything," Bradt said.
"I'll take anything," Lipcyznski answered.