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Orchard Park debate: To shovel or not to shovel

   Most of us are used to winter's civic obligation, to shovel the walk in front  of our property.

   Shirk the obligation and you risk getting a ticket or, perhaps worse, the disapproval of your neighbors.

   Every shovelful is saving some amount of tax money that would otherwise be necessary for the local government to do the work. (In the Village of Orchard Park, the cost comes to $38 per mile of sidewalk, per snowstorm).

   The civic obligation is a new thing in the Town of Orchard Park, where sidewalks have relatively recently been installed along state highways. The Town Board passed an ordinance earlier this month putting sidewalk maintenance on the shoulders of property owners.

   That's the usual arrangement, but some residents say it just makes more sense, with a low-density population, to make sidewalk plowing a municipal chore. Otherwise, the properties with long frontages … or those that are empty while residents flee south for the winter -- will leave their sidewalks buried under mounds of snow, blocking the way and canceling out the work of others.

   So the question is whether to shovel, or not to shovel -- and pay the town to do it.

  -- Fred O. Williams

SUVs still A-OK in local government

   A lot of local officials drive taxpayer-funded sport utility vehicles. My column today raised the question of whether that is a good practice, whether it would be a nice gesture for a mayor or town supervisor to trade in the old gas guzzler for something a little more economical.

   The officials I spoke with said they had good reasons for driving an SUV.

   Is this an issue that matters to you? Do you care what your elected leaders drive?

  --- Bruce Andriatch

To shrink or not to shrink?

   West Seneca Town Board members say they would strongly oppose a resolution by Town Supervisor Walter Piotrowski to let voters decide whether the Town Board should shrink by two seats.

   Piotrowski says a three-member board is what was originally intended for all New York State government and that a smaller board would work more efficiently. Board members say reducing the board's size would be dangerous for the town, putting too much power into too few hands.

   What's your take? If the possibility of a board seat reduction comes up for a vote, how would you cast your ballot?

-- Samantha Maziarz Christmann

Winning the next round

   After months of aggressive lobbying by Benderson Development (developer in favor) and the Fairways Group (neighborhood residents against) regarding the proposed Amherst Town Centre development, the Town Board voted 4-3 Monday to give the project the green light.

   Hundreds of people showed up in Sweet Home High School to voice their support or opposition. Sixty people spoke, but it seemed everyone else found their voice in cheers and boos reminiscent of a boxing match.

   Monday's meeting seemed, at times, like a big, verbal brawl, with project supporters ultimately coming out on top. Opponents warn, however, that the fight's not over. Lawyers will be donning the gloves next.

   Did the Town Board do the right thing in approving the project, or are opponents doing the right thing in continuing to fight it?

-- Sandra Tan


Freedom of speech - some of it anyway

   You wouldn't want to invite someone stand up at a public meeting and incite violence. You wouldn't want to encourage a speaker to use profane or offensive language. There are limitations to free speech. As George Costanza would say, we're living in a society here.

   But should speaking in favor of an idea that some people don't think is any of your business warrant expulsion from the building or the threat of it?

   The latest controversy involving Kevin Gaughan begs that question. In Blasdell, the mayor told him he and the Village Board decided they didn't want to hear him talk about dissolving the village so they forbid him from doing so.

   Are you OK with that?

   --- Bruce Andriatch

The secret's out

   If a meeting involving elected officials isn't held before the public, does that make it a "secret" meeting?

  A number of Amherst Town Board members met privately with Benderson Development officials during a time when key votes for the rezoning of the $44 million Amherst Town Centre project on Maple Road were at stake.

  When The Buffalo News wrote about it, opponents of the project predictably accused the Town Board of cutting back-room deals. Town officials responded that they haven't kept the information shared at those meetings a secret from anyone.

  Supervisor Satish Mohan and others cited reasons of practicality and manageability for skirting the Open Meetings Law with Benderson Development at various times. There were no vote negotiations, they said.

   The public will have to decide whether to take their word for it since they weren’t there.

   --- Sandra Tan

A candidate for consolidation

   Richard Gontarz lost the election for Alden village mayor last week. The fact that he favors consolidating the town and the village might not be the only reason people didn't vote for him, but it's safe to say that position didn't help.

   If government consolidation is ever going to occur, it will have to start with the voters.

   Would you vote for a candidate who said he would work to eliminate one layer of government in your community?

  --- Bruce Andriatch

The steep commitment of making Huntley clean

  A couple of weeks before Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer took office, his predecessor gave conditional approval to NRG Energy for a clean-coal power plant at its Huntley Station in the Town of Tonawanda.

   Cutting-edge technology to capture and store carbon dioxide -- reducing greenhouse emissions -- does not come cheap. And 15 months later, it's not getting any cheaper.

  NRG officials said Thursday they need $430 million to close the gap before the $1.5 billion project can proceed. Federal incentives may help, but what kind of commitment should the state make?

  -- Janice L. Habuda


Monday, Monday

   It's not easy to make Lancaster Supervisor Robert Giza speechless, but he almost was Monday when I asked him if he knew why so many town and village boards meet on that day.

    "It's been that way for at least 27 years here," he said.

  There's nothing wrong with that. But there is something wrong when a village resident has to choose between a town or a village meeting because they are both held the same night. As I noted in my column today, some people in East Aurora want to try and fix the problem by holding the meetings on different nights.

   The law says the meetings have to be open to the public and - with some exceptions - they are. But don't elected officials owe it to the people who put them in office to schedule them at a time when the greatest number of people can sit in? Or is public interest in meetings so limited that it doesn't matter when they are held?

  --- Bruce Andriatch

Amherst spending freeze: new reality or pie in the sky?

    In Amherst's State of the Town address Friday, Supervisor Satish Mohan said he plans to introduce budgets for 2009 and 2010 that would freeze spending at this year's levels. He said he and new Council Member Guy Marlette are committed to keeping spending down.

   Though town spending has consistently gone up for nearly a decide, Mohan said he hopes to gain more Town Board support to freeze spending over the next two years.

   Has the political climate in Amherst changed enough for this to happen, or is this goal likely to be one that will remain unfulfilled?

      -- Sandra Tan

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