October 27, 2008 - 5:00 AM
Registered voters living in the Town of West Seneca and the Village of Lancaster have something special in common this election season: They will all have the chance to choose whether to shrink the size of their respective local governing bodies and save themselves money.
For the Village of Lancaster, a proposition cutting the Village Board - excluding the mayor - from six to four members will be on the ballot Election Day, Nov. 4.
For West Seneca voters, a similar referendum will be conducted Nov. 17, reducing the Town Board from five to three members.
In Lancaster, the referendum has not been a subject of vocal contention. Mayor William G. Cansdale Jr. and village trustees have gone along with the notion that reducing their numbers will ease the tax burden for their constituents.
But in West Seneca, where regionalism advocate Kevin Gaughan has striven to make that town an example to other local municipalities, the move to downsize has been a struggle.
Is downsizing government a no-brainer in these tough economic times? Do you think scheduling the West Seneca referendum on a day other than Election Day will make any difference in the outcome?
--- Irene Liguori
October 22, 2008 - 11:02 AM
Amherst town council members are touchy when it comes to Benderson Development's Amherst Town Centre project, and Benderson executives are learning the hard way just what that means.
Benderson submitted site plans for Planning Board consideration last month that included a 2,000-seat movie theater and four-level parking garage without consulting the Town Board beforehand.
In response, Supervisor Satish Mohan and Deputy Supervisor Shelly Schratz - both of whom had reluctantly voted in favor of the project in June - said they now want to rezone the entire property to a less-commercial designation. They join ranks with three other council members who have been opposed to the project from the start.
Opponents say Benderson's actions broke any sense of common purpose and goodwill that may have existed with board members.
"I never say "I told you so,' and I don't like people who do, but I told you so," said Council Member Mark Manna. "I knew something like this was going to happen. General business is the entirely wrong rezoning for that parcel of land."
Proponents of the project, however, say all this amounts to an emotional overreaction that's unwarranted. Deed restrictions for the property do not preclude a movie theater. Even so, the developer pulled its site plans Monday and said everything is up for discussion.
"Hopefully everybody takes a step back, takes a deep breath, and plans to discuss this like human beings," said Jeffery Palumbo, one of Benderson's lawyers. "We're not trying to push anything down anybody's throat."
It would take at least nine months for the rezoning process to run its course. In the meantime, Benderson has a number of options - including legal ones - to move its project forward.
--- Sandra Tan
October 21, 2008 - 5:00 AM
I saw my son riding his bike without a helmet about a week ago. He offered his usual excuse: "I forgot."
The next day, there was a police brief in the paper about a kid, his age, who was hit by a motorcycle on Grand Island and suffered a "severe head injury." He wasn't wearing a helmet either.
I went through our archives looking for a kid who did wear a helmet and how it made a difference. Today's column, through the memories of Charlene Slawinski, was the result.
She made wearing a helmet second nature to her kids and it probably saved her son's life.
--- Bruce Andriatch
October 16, 2008 - 1:28 PM
The proposal which came to be known as "the gun club" development in Amherst is back in the news.
According to information submitted to the town from Benderson Development Co., the proposal for redeveloping the site of the Buffalo Shooting Club on Maple Road, now includes a movie theater and a four-story parking ramp.
The development is significant because residents who opposed the project feared just this kind of thing, some kind of change that potentially could alter the scope of the project and lead to more problems with traffic and noise.
Town officials say they are concerned about the changes. Benderson officials aren't talking yet.
But you can have your say here.
--- Bruce Andriatch
October 10, 2008 - 5:00 AM
A lot of homeowners in Western New York are making anxious trips to check the mailbox this month, looking for a STAR rebate check from the New York State. Read the story here.
STAR is an acronym for the state's School Tax Relief Program, and any homeowner can apply. STAR rebate checks typically arrive in the summer months, not in the fall.
But not this year.
Though the state Department of Taxation and Finance notified homeowners that it would begin mailing checks Sept. 29, the change has thrown some financially strained residents, who were counting on the checks to help pay their school taxes this month.
Recently, deadlines to apply for a STAR exemption have changed, too, from May 1 to March 1 for those who must apply annually for the program. Some people getting STAR do need to apply, others don't.
Homeowners who get either Basic STAR or Enhanced STAR are confused by all these changes, say local tax assessors. And they say they have been swamped lately with phone calls from their residents needing help.
Have you had any difficulties or been confused by changes in the STAR program?
--- Irene Liguori
October 9, 2008 - 5:00 AM
Amherst Supervisor Satish Mohan has proposed a budget for next year that would keep spending flat and actually cut tax rates by 2 percent.
Some praise the budget for eliminating 25 vacant positions and clamping down on unnecessary spending. But others say the budget overprojects revenues and underfunds some personnel spending lines.
In particular, the town comptroller has said it's overly optimistic to expect sales tax revenue to hold steady and for mortgage tax revenue to fall by only 5 percent in light of the nationwide fiscal crisis and its long-term impact on the economy.
Is Mohan promoting some tough love, as he has stated, by forcing town government to do with less when its residents are also making do with less? Or is he promoting a budget that artificially closes a revenue-spending gap?
-- Sandra Tan
October 7, 2008 - 5:00 AM
You can't win with sidewalks.
New subdivisions are built without them and residents complain that their kids are placed in danger and it's impossible to walk anywhere. Towns install them and then residents complain that they don't want to shovel them, as happened recently in Orchard Park. Highway departments enforce laws to keep them clear and safe, residents comply and then people walk in the street anyway.
If you've ever had to pay to have one fixed, you know that can be pricey. In my column today, I note that depending where you live, it can be some money out of your pocket, all money out of your pocket or no money - besides your taxes - out of your pocket.
What's the best solution?
--- Bruce Andriatch
October 3, 2008 - 5:00 AM
Lake Shore Central School District students and teachers are immersed in all things Chinese this week, because 26 students from a middle school in Jilin Province, China, are visiting.
The best time for them to visit is in the winter, when they have a month off from school. But the idea is for them to leave with a good impression of Buffalo, not a cold, wintry one. So they came this week, observing National Day Tuesday, which marks the founding of the People's Republic of China Oct. 1, 1949.
But the visit wasn't about national holidays or politics, it was about youths from China getting a taste of American culture: playing hoops at a backyard basket, spending a little time in a hot tub and seeing a football game under Friday night lights.
And it was about American teenagers finding out there's not that much difference between themselves and Chinese teenagers, and finally being thankful for school - that they don't have
to attend 12-hours a day like their new friends.
--- Barbara O'Brien
October 1, 2008 - 5:00 AM
When the Town of Lancaster bought the former Walden Avenue furniture plant for $1.85 million in 2003, it was supposed to be the new home of the town's police department and court system.
Five years later, the Colecraft building at 3949 Walden Ave. is basically empty. Lancaster's police are still crammed in an aged building on Pavement Road.
Only the town's detective division and staff work out of the Colecraft building - 12 employees in a 75,000-square-foot building. Some town equipment is also stored there as well.
Costs to renovate the Colecraft facility turned out to be too steep, Supervisor Robert H. Giza has said.
Critics say it's taken too much time for the Town Board to set a timetable for selling the building, returning it to the tax rolls and getting on with the business of finding a new home for the police department.
The Town Board now thinks it's time to sell the Colecraft building, too, but so far there's been no appraisal or minimum bid set.
What do you think?
--- Irene Liguori