By David Yarger
As 2017 comes closer to an end, it's time to turn focus toward 2018: a clean slate.
Over the past year, much has been accomplished between the Town of Wheatfield, City of North Tonawanda and Town of Niagara. The Tribune recently spoke with leaders in charge of each municipality and discussed what 2017 brought to the table and what to possibly expect for 2018. While many believe they did great things for the residents of their respective towns and city, they all agreed there are still things to work on in 2018, all in benefit to residents of their communities.
Town of Wheatfield
For Town Supervisor Bob Cliffe, 2017 was his last in politics, as he opted to retire after eight years as supervisor and many more as town justice. Cliffe believed there was a lot of good and some bad in 2017 and he hopes to see the town continue to succeed.
•Cliffe noted the Niagara Sanitation Landfill fence project was something going on for over a year. Much of the hold-up came waiting to get approval from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York for a $75,000 grant, which was a major portion of the $106,000 anticipated cost. Cliffe said he was pleased to say the fence is completed and on budget.
•Another big topic of discussion this past year was the proposed sidewalks on Kreuger Road. This was something that Cliffe said, "disappointed him" with the end result.
"For months, at virtually every Town Board meeting we were reminded of the need for and the backing for the sidewalk. We had a very large grant to help build the sidewalk there, but there was the caveat that we would have to pick up 20 percent of the cost, plus any increase in costs as the project moved forward.
"Upon receipt of the grant we started to hear of opposition to the sidewalk, opposition which really hadn't been vocal until it looked like we were getting ready to start bid specs. There was also the $189,000 or more cost for the town, money which would make it very hard to remain under the 2 percent tax cap. Over the course of several months, several board members determined that over 70 percent of the folks living in that area did not want the sidewalk, and sure didn't want to pay for it.
"In my view, working on projects involving safety should not be popularity contests. The Town Board has an obligation to take opposition and finances into account, and measure that against the need for safety improvements. I'm disappointed that we were not able to get this project done as, in the end the board voted to give back the grant and not do any improvements at this time," Cliffe said.
•Cliffe said there were a few notice of claims, made mostly from North Tonawanda residents regarding the landfill. Some of the claims became lawsuits on the town and various companies regarding losses due to the landfill. Cliffe said these are in the early stages and will take some time to resolve. He added sites around the landfill were tested and 22 of the 23 sites came back negative. More testing was done in 2017, but Cliffe said the town hasn't seen the results.
•Cliffe also discussed conversations on the Greenway Trail along River Road. The board had discussions with Wendel, the town engineers, for a start up on phase one, but due to skyrocketing costs the town couldn't justify starting it. Cliffe said there has been discussion with the New York State Department of Transportation about the DOT taking over the project with help from a $1,116,000 grant the town received to begin phase one. Cliffe said there is still a lot more work to do for the project that may take a few years.
•Cliffe noted the start-up of several businesses in Wheatfield, such as Wheatfield Commons and Family Dollar. Another business in the works is revitalizing the Summit Park Mall. Cliffe said, "There was also a lot of discussion working with the new owners of the Summit Mall. We have received a grant to help them build a brewery at the mall and approval to proceed with two very large activity centers just behind the mall, in place of the sports bubbles. So far, there has not been any construction, but I'm looking forward to the day when this comes back to life."
•Cliffe ended noting ongoing projects, such as the Farm Protection Plan, securing the future of the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, improvements to subdivision laws, and the continued success of the town picnic every year. Cliffe closed saying, "As I retire from public office, I believe I am leaving the town in good hands with Supervisor Don MacSwan. The next few years will remain challenging as revenues are trending down while costs continue to climb. The loss of sales tax revenue and casino money coupled with increasing costs for insurance will be difficult for the Town Board. I do think that they will continue doing good work on behalf of Wheatfield.
"My thanks to all for allowing me the honor of serving all of the residents of Wheatfield these past 21 years both as town justice and supervisor. Wheatfield remains a great place to call home."
City of North Tonawanda
In Arthur Pappas' third full year as mayor, North Tonawanda continued its push to revitalize the city and make efforts for the better of the NT citizens. Pappas praised the work of city officials, such as department heads and the Common Council.
"City department heads work really well together. They accomplished a lot, they worked together and I'm really happy with the work they did," Pappas said.
•Noted accomplishments, Pappas began listing some grants the city received to help improve the quality of NT. The city received a $2.5 million grant from Gov. Andrew Cuomo to help improve downtown areas, which Pappas called a "major boom" for the area. Pappas listed a $1.3 million grant that was received for improvements towards Gateway Park. Pappas called it a major overhaul, with renovations to bathrooms, dock space, landscaping, lighting and electrical upgrades. The city also received $50,000 in capital funds from Sen. Rob Ortt to improve the city market, an area the Pappas called very successful. Pappas said more projects are waiting in the wings, such as a new clock tower at the triangle on Webster and Main streets, a children's memorial walkway, and upgrades to the water department's plant, which Pappas called pretty old and the upgrades as necessary.
•Pappas said roads remain a No. 1 priority in the city and crews were able to pave around nine to 11 square miles of road in 2017. The city also has a new machine to help with pot holes, which Pappas called a "mini paving machine."
•The city installed a new recreation center at the Hope Center. Pappas said the center is working with almost 110 kids a day with anything from sports to computers and even offers tutoring, to name a few. Pappas called the center "a great success in a small amount of time."
•Other projects Pappas noted was a new bandshell to be used in 2018 at Veterans Park; the City Market being dedicated to Moge Elmer, who recently passed away and was an avid market goer; a state-of-the-art groundbreaking on a $8 million renovation at DeGraff Memorial Hospital; new apartments along river road seeking to develop the area around the road; the passing of an anti-bullying law; which Pappas said garnered attention from cities all of the U.S. and even countries such as Japan and Canada; and the extension of hometown hero banners.
•Pappas gave praised the work of new and older businesses in NT, such as the Riviera Theater celebrating its 90th anniversary, the Carnegie Art Center, Ivy Lea Construction, Pulp 716, Canal Side Wine and Spirits, Primary Care, and Webster's Kitchen.
•Pappas said the Lumber City Winter Walk was bigger and better than ever with additional sites on Oliver Street. Other events he deemed successful and looking forward to in the future were Painters Plus family nights at Gratwick Park, the Carrousel Parade along Webster Street, Canal and Carrousel Fest; and hazardous waste drop-off day. Pappas was also excited North Tonawanda defeated Tonawanda in the tug-o-war battle and golf tournament this past year.
•Lastly, Pappas was happy there was, once again, no tax increases to residents. He said, "There's more we want to do. ... We wanna keep moving and keep residents happy."
Town of Niagara
In 2017, Town Supervisor Lee Wallace said a lot was accomplished for the benefit of town residents. Along with that, the town also gave back to local citizens, as well as local organizations.
•In 2017 the Town of Niagara Town Board began the process of updating the town's comprehensive plan. The town's last comprehensive plan was completed in the early 1970s and was "extremely outdated," Wallace said. The comprehensive plan, once completed, will be a blue print for operating and give the town direction in all aspects of, not only day-to-day operations, but also long range planning as tied to the strategic plan and master plan. Along with the comprehensive plan, the town established a residency policy in the hiring process.
•The town is also working with county and state officials to gain ownership of the old Army Reserve site on Porter Road. Wallace said, once the town gains ownership, which should happen in 2018, the town will sell majority of the site to a master developer and keep around three acres. With the three acres, Wallace said, a state-of-the-art first response and preparedness center will be built. The center will house Mercy Flight, Mercy EMS, and the Niagara County Sherriff's Office. Wallace said the facility would be built via state grants from New York State Sen. Robert Ortt's office.
•Wallace also noted revitalization of areas within the town. A Tim Hortons and Dollar General were both constructed on the corner of Military Road and Route 31. Wallace said, "These two businesses helped the town turn two corners that were "eye sores" into beautiful thriving businesses." Along with the businesses, Wallace announced the town received funding for the construction of a pathway along Fourth Avenue, giving residents in Royal Park apartments access to the bus terminal on Factory Outlet Boulevard, as well as other businesses in the area. The town also received a $400,000 grant through the Greenway Commission to design and construct a community square at Veterans Memorial Community Park. The project is phase three in the park master plan and Wallace said it will include new restrooms, concessions, fire pits and a clock tower. He said completion of the project is scheduled for mid to late summer 2018.
•The town also rededicated all town pocket parks, as well as two unnamed parks. Sharp Park/Ellerington playground in Veterans Heights, Garcia Park at JoAnne Circle, and John Wojtowicz Park in Belden Center were all rededicated. Meanwhile, Gary Guiliani playground in the Colonial Village and John Neilsen Sr. playground were new parks dedicated. Along with that group, the town also dedicated the entrance to Veterans Memorial Park in honor of Joseph Rotella, who was the first recreation director in the town in the '50s through the '70s.
•The town received a $350,000 grant from the Greenway Commission for the construction of the memorial plaza in Veterans Memorial Park. The memorial was completed early in summer 2017. The town also received a $500,000 grant through the same commission for a splash pad, which was opened in June 2017.
•Notable events Wallace listed and was proud of from the past year were the third annual Neaten-up Niagara, the first annual Trash to Treasures, the fourth annual Music Mania Monday's concert series, the third annual Veterans Appreciation Dinner, and the first annual "Noel at Niagara" holiday lights display. Along with the events, the 13th annual Electric Lights Parade was also held on Military Road.
•Lastly, the Town of Niagara partnered with the Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls, USA for the 20th straight year and donated nearly $50,000 to local not for profit organizations. Wallace said, "Their work and efforts benefit the residents of the Town of Niagara. In the 20-year period since the inception of the program, the town and the mall have donated over $1 million to local groups and organizations."