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Grand Island Town Board: Impasse arises over Golden Age Center staffing

Sat, Aug 12th 2017 07:00 am
By Larry Austin
Island Dispatch Editor
The Grand Island Town Board deadlocked on a staffing arrangement for two town departments Monday.
Town Supervisor Nathan McMurray and Councilwoman Bev Kinney sought to create one new full-time position for both the Golden Age Center and Recreation Department, but a vote on a resolution failed in a tie vote, with councilmen Mike Madigan and Chris Aronica voting no.
McMurray sought to eliminate a part-time position and create a new full-time position divided with 17.5 hours of work in the Golden Age Center and 17.5 hours in the Recreation Department. Both departments, based in the Nike Base Park were on board with the proposal, McMurray said.
"It's a very small amount of money, but it makes a difference to the people who are working there, and will help them retain staff and help them acquire staff. We can't get people to work at this rate," McMurray said during a work session Monday at Town Hall.
The main thrust of the proposal was to meet a revolving door of staff turnover at the GAC, a turnover rate GAC director Barbara Gannon blamed on a non-competition wage scale.
"They don't have the manpower to do what we're asking them to do. It's tight, and eventually it's going to crack," McMurray said in explaining the reasons for the move.
"I think it is cracking," Kinney added.
McMurray said sarcastically that without action, he would eventually ask the Town Board members to go over to the GAC kitchen to cook meals "to give them the help they need."
"It's not a dramatic cost," he added.
Madigan stood on principal in repeating a contention he had made regarding budget matters in the past, that the town shouldn't make major monetary decisions "outside the budget period." He said the board knew of an impending retirement at the GAC and didn't plan well for the eventuality of "adding head count."
McMurray said the move was not something the town wanted to do, but something it needed to do. He said the move was "strongly" supported by management of both the Recreation Department and the GAC.
Kinney said the center was "shuffling people around" to meet its manpower needs. 
During the regular meeting that followed, the board deadlocked 2-2 on the matter, with Councilman Chris Aronica and Madigan voting no and McMurray and Kinney voting yes. Councilman Ray Billica was absent.
It wasn't the only dispute during the work session as Madigan and McMurray tussled over what McMurray called a "pro forma" approval of designating the state as lead agency in the State Environmental Quality Review for the proposed visitors center along the Thruway on Grand Island.
Madigan balked at approving the resolution absent plans for the center.
"You're just being a roadblock," McMurray told him at one point.
Town Attorney Peter Godfrey explained the vote on lead agency status is required "so you have a coordinated review between various agencies involved." The property on NYSTA property makes the agency an appropriate lead.
Madigan's distrust of the supervisor, a sentiment shared by other members of the board, was the underpinning of his reluctance to vote for SEQR declaration. He again reminded McMurray of the West River Connector Trail process, which will close the West River Parkway over the objection of Town Board members and many residents. Madigan said on the trail project, members of the board were "totally in the dark and there was no sharing of information whatsoever. None. Total blackout since Dec. 5th."
"I want us to be involved in it and know exactly what the plan is before it's sprung on us," he said of the visitors center.
Madigan was also surprised to see McMurray had already signed a copy of the SEQR resolution before the work session.
One thing Madigan, Kinney and McMurray did agree upon during the work session was that a decision to clear a town-owned property on Park Place was a mistake and shouldn't have happened. They sent the matter to the town's Parks and Recreation Advisory Board for its review.
Parks and Recreation Advisory Board Chairman Paul Leuchner said the town used funds to grade and seed the town-owned lands between two parcels in the neighborhood. Board members were unaware of the work until after it happened.
"The total cost which included the needless clearing of wildlife habitat and the subsequent planting of grass will come to nearly $10,000," Leuchner said in an email to the Dispatch. "To date, $2,500 has been spent to clear the town-owned land between these two privately owned homes. Now the town is contemplating the expenditure of $6,400 more to establish a lawn between these lots. Past practice or not, this is nothing more than a complete waste of taxpayer funds.
Board to hold Marathon Session Aug. 14
The board will hold a rare seven-hour meeting with department heads Monday, Aug. 14, beginning at 1 p.m. in the Town Hall conference room.
According to Emily Wynne, assistant to the town supervisor, "The structure of this workshop will be a little different than normal; it's more like a mid-year review. Department heads will be present at specific times, and will discuss items listed on the agenda, plus answer any other questions the board may have."

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