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Town of Niagara Board wrestles with budget

Fri, Nov 1st 2019 02:40 pm

By Benjamin Joe

Tribune Editor

The Town of Niagara Town Board convened at Town Hall to meet with justices Anthony Restaino and James Faso, as well as Highway Superintendent Bob Herman and Police Chief James Suitor in order to gain insight on the three department’s budget needs as the deadline to change or approve Supervisor Lee Wallace’s preliminary budget looms ever closer.

Wallace’s tentative budget would place the tax levy of a little less than $2.5 million on the Town of Niagara residents. Of that $845,606 would come from the Highway Department; $254,131 would come from water; $635,800 would come from sewer; $615,000 from fire protection; and $95,000 from lighting.

The 2020 salaries of elected officials would come to $42,136 for supervisor; $14,104 for each councilperson; $52,020 for the town clerk; $59,960 for the highway superintendent; and $28,878.50 for each town justice.

The biggest issue, in all departments that met at a recent budget meeting, is personnel, their availability, as well as their pay grade.

“Just so you have an accurate picture of what’s going on with staffing,” Restaino said. “It’s two people at 288 hours at $16 an hour. That’s still down from 2017’s number.”

Restaino said he’d like to give these two clerks a raise from $16 to $18 an hour. He noted there used to be three clerks on the same job, and now there are only two.

“I think our clerks deserve, at least, a $2 raise,” he said. “Because I cannot tell you how much work they do in that office, and after the first of the year, it’s going to be big. There’s going to be a lot more office work that goes on there.”

Restaino was referring to new laws coming into play at the beginning of 2020 that would require, as Faso explained, police officers to “dot their I’s and cross their T’s, because if they don’t, they’re going to get thrown out of court.”

“They (the clerks) have got all new forms to fill out. It’s going to be pretty rough, to tell the truth, and we don’t know, at this point, if we’re going to have more hours, or have to ask for more hours to get things done,” Faso concluded.

9 guys for Highway Department

“I have four zones; I need eight men to run those trucks. I have to plow the Town Hall and get that all done to start the town,” Herman said. “We have been utilizing, over time, other departments, but what happens is they have to flow back to their department. We had issues where things were kind of dangerous in the Town Hall when we had storms. We didn’t have enough men to put in the truck.

“So, nine men would give us the ability to plow our four zones and clean the Town Hall and do that.”

Herman explained storms can last the whole day and, after the workers go back to their departments, he goes down from having four trucks to two trucks. Last year was a hard winter, he said, and positions had been whittled down through attrition, so he needs those men.

The councilmen concluded the personnel from other departments could continue to be used with the roads being a priority and will address the matter in their next budget meeting.

Police Chief Briefs Board

Suitor said that he’d like the Town Board to hire a full-time police officer, but left the option of doing this to the board. In the meantime, councilmen noted he could use those funds for part-timers.

“A part-timer would have to fill that spot,” Councilman Marc Carpenter said. “If you hired a person full-time, then you’d be using part-timers 40 hours.”

“Right, you’re going to be cutting from the part-time,” Deputy Supervisor Charles Teixeira agreed. “He’s asking us to fill it, but he’s not asking us to change the amount on the budget line for that.”

Other items that the police chief asked for were Tasers, body cameras, and a vehicle for the special police to patrol around the Fashion Outlets.

Suitor also advised the board to get ready for what the 2020 laws would bring.

“Now (officers) dock their cameras and walk away,” Suitor said. “It takes about 45 minutes to an hour. With the new changes, they have to download the video and assign a case number to each clip of video so we can find it. So, that means we either have to bring them off the road quicker, so they can download their video, and then we have the potential of them going on a call without any camera.”

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