By Terry Duffy
Funding to cover Lewiston Family Ice Rink operations for the coming holiday season now appear uncertain as winter approaches.
That much was learned in discussions Monday with Parks and Recreation Director Mike Dashineau and Lewiston Town Board members. With town grant writer Bernie Rotella absent from the session, Dashineau spoke on his behalf and advised board members that rink operations could be scaled down or eliminated completely this year.
The reason? Niagara River Greenway Commission funding, which covers the brunt of the rink expenses, is a looming uncertainty as the Host Community Standing Committee is poised to reject the town's annual application for assistance this time around.
"I believe there is going to be a holdup at the Standing Committee level on the ice rink funding," Dashineau told board members. He said Rotella told him it was uncertain if the Standing Committee, which is scheduled to meet next month, would approve the town's application to cover its operations and maintenance funding. The town is reportedly seeking $105,000 in assistance - 100 percent of its funding - which would allow the Academy Park rink to open for the holiday season and extend into January as it has in past years. Rotella requested the town take no action on the application as he reviews the matter further.
Dashineau said the funding covers operations and maintenance, which is something the Standing Committee is loathe to approve.
"The clock is ticking on this," Town Board member Bill Geiben said. He suggested the town needs to respond quickly as to how it intends to modify the funding request to enable the rink to open on time.
Dashineau said the town's agreements with the New York Power Authority, which oversees the Greenway funding mechanism as part of its 2007 relicensing agreement, have not changed. What has changed is the opinion of Standing Committee members when it comes to approving funding allocation requests, such as this one, in the face of competing applications received from other host community members.
"Some opinions on that committee have changed as they (committee members) have turned over," Dashineau said. "I was here for the original fights ... to fight for Lewiston's ability to use that money as we see fit. One of the major fights was (over) operations and maintenance, with the idea being ... having to build something and, 10 years later, legacy costs (could) make us take it down."
"This is a fight that I feel other (Greenway) members should have to vote on," he said, reiterating the request from Rotella for the board to table the funding application at this time. He said the town's application, as far as he was concerned, was complete.
Dashineau said, "We're ready to go as far as the submission. They (the Standing Committee) asked to remove it from the agenda so they can look at it further."
"I believe Mr. Rotella needs full direction from the board," Geiben said.
"I believe that, if the Standing Committee is going to reject it, it should be done in public. That would be precedent-setting," Dashineau said. "And other members of the Standing Committee should at least know what the precedent is, instead of just going 'OK.' "
Dashineau and board members cautioned that, unless the Greenway funding is approved, the rink may not open at all this winter.
"Unless we can modify how we run and operate the ice rink, (it faces an uncertain future)," Dashineau said.
He noted the town does have options, including charging fees to users, modifying its operations schedule, and enlisting additional sponsorship.
"We (could) charge for use at this point," Dashineau said of the rink, which currently operates at no charge to users. He suggested the town Recreation Department could opt to charge and "spend what we take in" to operate the rink.
"We could also cut down on the number of days (it's open)," he said. The rink currently is typically open for 60 days in December and January. "If we go to 30 days, we could save a lot. There's a bunch of different things we could look at."
Additional sponsorship could be a way to go, Dashineau said, but time is growing short.
"I think if the community was made aware that this (the ice rink) is going to be put on the shelf," there would be some greater interest with sponsors, he said.
Dashineau told the board he has already included rink funding into his 2017 recreation budget and, depending on the funding outcome, it could either be covered, or the funding line removed completely.
Town Finance Director Martha Blazick indicated she intends to review how the town plans to cover rink funding in the future, as 2017 budget discussions commence.
"Michael has put together some ideas. ... We'll be having an extensive conversation of how we intend to pursue that or not," she said. "There's a whole lot of different scenarios."
Town Board members took no action on the rink funding application Monday, opting to leave the matter open for further discussion with Rotella.
In other news from the session:
•Dashineau updated board members on the town's growing problem with emerald ash borer infestation. He said 100 percent of the trees on town-owned green space in the Lewistown Park subdivision are now affected, and that a number of measures need to be considered to address the problem. Among the issues: how many trees to take down, how to address the issue of easements - involving private properties bordering the green space - and how the town would handle funding for outside tree removal contractors.
Dashineau was advised to compile a list of trees to be taken down, and prioritize them as he prepares the bid process.
•In the community comments period, attorney Damon DeCastro, who represents the interests of developer Jerry Wolfgang in the French Landing subdivision now under construction off lower River Road, inquired of the requirements needed to issue permits for planned model homes.
Town Engineer Robert Lannon said there were some health and safety issues "yet to be resolved," including relocating a hydrant and the completion of sidewalks by the developer followed by town inspections. However, he said he felt the town could issue permits while these matters were finalized.
Lannon said engineering and building department inspections of the French Landing infrastructure are being planned.