By Michael DePietro
With marijuana being recently legalized in New York for recreational use, many towns across the state are preparing for an influx of burgeoning businesses ready to sell the product. However, the Town of Niagara will not be one of those towns – at least not initially.
On Tuesday, the Town Board passed a resolution (4-1) to opt out of the newly enacted New York State Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act. The resolution will prohibit the establishment of any retail dispensary licenses and/or consumption licenses within the boundaries of the Town of Niagara.
Following the meeting, Supervisor Lee Wallace said there were too many unknowns regarding the legislation, and the town would rather wait and see how neighboring communities handle the change.
“Without really knowing everything – the legislation has been very vague – it's better we opt out because you can always opt in later on,” Wallace said. “If we opt in and we stay in, we're stuck. So, I think it's better to be safe at this point in time. We really don't know what our residents want for sure; so, I think that's probably the best way to do it.”
The lone dissenting vote came from Councilman Samuel Gatto. He said that, while he wasn’t too leery about the common complaints and fears surrounding associated with the product, he actually agreed with the majority’s decision to wait, but simply didn’t want to deny the town from potential tax revenue.
“I agree with the board's decision on why we didn't opt in because we always have the opportunity to opt back in. But I don't like to take us off the grid as far as tax revenue, you know, because it would have to be a brick-and-mortar building and I like to see businesses come in and because they're going to come in the area anywhere. So, I would prefer to have them paying taxes in the Town of Niagara than anywhere else. … But I agree with the board's decision to wait, I really do,” Gatto said.
Wallace said the town would reexamine the issue as more information comes out in the next year, at least as soon as after the Association of Towns meeting, which usually takes place in February.
Currently, the state has not given a firm timetable for when marijuana sales will officially begin, but many discussions have that expected near the back half of 2022.
The board also approved a plan for spending $411,021 in recently received American Rescue Plan funds for 2021 as well as another $398,422 in 2022.
"This is half the money we get," Wallace explained. "We get half this year; we get half in 2022. Still a little cloudy as to the parameters for spending, but the money is in our special account. So, we do have it to spend.”
The 2021 spending plan includes $118,000 for a townwide drainage study conducted by GHD Engineering. The study is something Wallace said the town has wanted to do for a long time but has been made more prescient by the recent flooding in July.
“This is a step in the right direction, and we just feel it's a good way to spend some of the money that we're getting; and we could never get that kind of $180,000 on a regular budget to do something like this. So, it's something we probably have wanted to do for a while,” he said.
“This study would not have prevented what happened on July 20. There isn't a drainage system or sewer system developed that could handle that kind of water in such a short period of time. That being said, we as a board feel it is important for us to do everything we can to try and maximize the efforts we're making to try and minimize the damages that occur with something like that. … We will go and do a complete study of every road, every house, every swale, every drainage easement that we have to see if there's something we can do to improve on them. We're going to start installing some additional catch basins, but once the system gets overrun, water has no place to go but upwards, and that's kind of what happened; 4-and-a-half inches of rain in 40 minutes.
Other uses for the 2021 funds include $215,000 in reimbursements for the construction of a cold storage building, which is set to begin construction next month; and $76,000 for two new police department replacement vehicles.
Notable items for 2022 include $100,000 going toward additional road paving, $40,000 in water meter replacements ($200 per unit), $30,000 for a pair of bilge pumps, and $100,000 toward a pair of new dump trucks. The town police department will receive $40,000 worth of computer repairs for systems that were "damaged due to cleaner used during the pandemic," as well as $10,000 in new vehicle modems.
The full spending plan is available by calling Town Hall at 297-5243.
The board also passed a resolution to contract with National Grid on the conversion of all town streetlights to LED in an amount not to exceed $20,000. Wallace explained, "We're a little late with this. We were going to do this last year, but COVID kind of put us behind. What usually happens is we have to take the money out of our fund balance (up) front and then we will get it back in credits through the savings. So, it's a pretty good deal that National Grid has come up with."
Elsewhere, the board approved a resolution to Supplement 3 2021 Section 284 agreement to spend highway fund for permanent road improvements and maintenance as well as a resolution to approve the adjusted base proportions (to be used to apportion the 2022 tax levy between the homestead and non-homestead classes.