By Michael DePietro
Interim Tribune Editor
The Wheatfield Town Board held a brief special meeting via Zoom on Monday. Among the announcements, the board declared an end to the town’s state of emergency put in place due to the coronavirus. A request from a local softball league to utilize town playing fields was also denied.
At the meeting’s onset, Town Attorney Matthew E. Brooks read a statement announcing that the town’s state of emergency had ended. The state of emergency was in effect for the town of Wheatfield from March 16 until June 16.
Brooks also highlighted the recent reopening of the Wheatfield Town Hall. A statement regarding the reopening featured on the town’s website reads as follows:
“The Wheatfield Town Hall will be open once again with a starting date of June 15. The following rules and conditions will apply:
“√ The hours of operation until July … will be from 9:00am until 3,00pm. Monday through Friday.
“√ All entering the facility must wear a mask. Please note t-shirts worn over the nose and open scarfs are not acceptable.
“√ All entering the facility must have an appointment with the department they wish to visit.
“√ When entering the facility, you will be greeted by a constable for a brief screening and then directed to the department where your appointment was scheduled.
“The purpose of the screening is a requirement of New York state for health safety and contact tracing in the future.
“It is the responsibility of all departments to notify the constables of any appointment to include name and time, otherwise they will not be allowed to enter,” the statement reads.
For more information on Town Hall procedures, or to schedule appointments, call the Town Hall at 716-694-6440.
Elsewhere at the meeting, the board regretfully denied the request of Wheatfield Nitro Softball to utilize town playing fields for the 2020 season, citing health, financial and liability reasons. The issue allowed the board to clarify the municipality’s decision for summer recreational youth programs to remain canceled, even as the state continues to reopen.
Explaining the board’s decision, Town Supervisor Don MacSwan read the following statement:
“On March 15, of this year, we were hit with the COVID-19 crisis, which has had a drastic effect on all, as we all know. I must first say that the closing of our Parks and Recreation Department and recreation programs was not a knee-jerk reaction as some have said, and it was not a premature action as some have said. This action was done along with other communities of Western New York to protect the life, safety and welfare of the residents of the Town of Wheatfield and Western New York. And if you’re paying attention, 10 states have already recorded a record number of new cases of COVID-19 because they have relaxed too soon.
“Please remember this virus is real. You must realize that the significant amount of time it takes for the Recreation Department to prepare for registration, scheduling, and payment of all activities, by the way, which have all been refunded to our residents. And if we allow the use of the facility by one organization, then we open up to all organizations. With a combination of multiple teams and multiple spectators, it’s almost impossible to regulate and control social distancing and proper sanitation on all of our town’s property. Again, it’s Town of Wheatfield property and we’re considering the residents of the Town of Wheatfield also.”
Recreation Director Mike Ranalli noted that, beyond community health concerns, there were financial and liability concerns to consider.
“Prior to the Town Board making the motion to cancel for the 2020 season, each department had had an individual meeting with the Town Board regarding the shortfall in Niagara County sales tax,” he said. “The number was significant at the time, (approximately) 30%. It could be more, it could be less at this point.
“The decision was made then to not hire park guard staff. We also limited the grounds crew staff in order to maintain the 50 acres at Fairmount Park, Mario Park, Baisch Park ... St. Johnsburg Fire Hall, Adams Fire Hall, the American Legion and an abandoned cemetery.
“Furthermore, we cancelled the insurance policy for the 2020 baseball/softball season, so no players would actually be covered under the town’s umbrella. So, that was when the decision was made to kind of just pull the plug on the entire season.”
The recreation director also noted New York has listed its own restrictions and guidelines regarding organized sports activities.
He said, “Organizations must adhere to these guidelines or else the state can come in and reject and revoke funding to the municipality.”
“I hope everybody realizes that we’re doing what we feel is right and what we thought was right,” MacSwan said. He then added, “Like it or not, and I know some of you are not going to agree with our decision, all I can say is I feel bad about it, but we did that was best for the residents of the Town of Wheatfield. For the lives, safety and welfare of all combined.”
At the meeting’s close, MacSwan also announced he’s set to meet with the Department of Transportation “right after the Fourth of July” regarding the intersections of Ward Road and Niagara Falls Boulevard, and Witmer Road on the boulevard. He said the plan was to discuss beautification but added, “It sounds like they may be updating the changes at the intersections to make them safer.”
MacSwan said he will have more updates about those discussions at the next Town Board meeting.
The area has long been a point of concern for many residents and was recently the site of a major accident in May.
In response to that accident, Niagara County Legislator Jesse Gooch reached out to the New York State Department of Transportation and, in a May 13 interview with Spectrum News, said that a large-scale project to make that area safer was slated to begin in 2022.
Gooch said the DOT was planning on purchasing stretches of land from business owners in order to widen existing lanes and add turning lanes. Gooch also said at the time that the estimated cost of the project was roughly $4.66 million, but that the project was expected to be federally funded.
The next Town of Wheatfield Board meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Monday, July 6.