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Audio: NT Democratic chair questions spending

NORTH TONAWANDA -- City Democratic Committe Chairman Mark C. Houghton on Tuesday night questioned some recent spending by the Republican-dominated city government on a marina study and the hiring of a restructuring consultant.

Houghtonmark During the public comment portion of the Common Council meeting in City Hall, Houghton (pictured at left) also criticized the state of the city's streets, and questioned the need for a full-time mayor.

"I just think that it's kind of tough doing a $100,000 study just to tell us a marina's a marina," Houghton said.

Mayor Robert G. Ortt (at right) and all five Common Council members are Republicans. Orttrobert

Listen to the exchange between Houghton and the elected officials:

"Obviously our friend, the Democratic chairman, coming up I think officially kicks off political season in 2011," Ortt said before the close of the meeting. 

Listen to Ortt's concluding statement:

Four Council seats will be up for election later this year, as well as the post of city clerk-treasurer.

--Aaron Besecker

Audio: North Tonawanda Mayor Robert Ortt's State of the City

NORTH TONAWANDA -- Mayor Robert G. Ortt issued his annual State of the City address this afternoon at The Fairways at Deerwood restaurant on Sweeney Street.

Listen to Ortt's full speech:

Here's a review of some of the high points from the address:

1:33 p.m.: Among the dignitaries attending today's speech: Lockport Mayor Michael Tucker; North Tonawanda Schools Superintendent Gregory J. Woytila; Niagara County Sheriff James Voutour; Kaleida Health Vice President Anthony Zito; Niagara USA Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Deanna Alterio Brennan;  Tonawandas Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joyce Santiago; former Niagara County Republican Chairman Henry Wojtaszek; as well as various city department heads and other city employees.

1:26 p.m.: Ortt just wrapped up an approximately 25-minute address.

Check back soon to listen to full audio of the address.

1:24 p.m.: Under current projections, the city will have to eliminate 20 positions under next year's budget, Ortt said.

1:19 p.m.: The city will face at least a $2 million budget deficit next year, Ortt said.

The mayor said he will ask each department head to reduce their departmental budgets by 5 percent next year.

1:14 p.m.: Ortt says he hopes there will be a groundbreaking this year on the planned Walmart supercenter at Niagara Falls Boulevard and Erie Avenue.

1:11 p.m.: The Tonawandas Gateway Harbor Committee will not hold Friday night concerts this year in Gateway Park, instead putting on four Saturday night concerts, in addition to Wednesday night shows, Ortt said.

City officials should begin seeking a promoter for Saturday night concerts for 2012, he said.

1:05 p.m.: A study on the site of the former Niagara River Yacht Club will be presented to the Common Council on March 8, Ortt tells the crowd.

1:01 p.m.: "The City of North Tonawanda is at a crossroads," Ortt says beginning the main portion of his speech, after his greetings to the crowd of about 55 people on hand.

--Aaron Besecker

Forum for veterans planned in North Tonawanda

NORTH TONAWANDA -- A community forum for veterans will be held at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 10 in Common Council chambers in City Hall, 216 Payne Ave.

The program's agenda includes presentations by Thomas Konopka, director of Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 77; Jill LaMantia, of Veterans Administration Hospital, Buffalo, who will talk about benefits available to women veterans; as well as representatives who can speak about benefits available to veterans, including those who served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Audience members will be able to ask questions and set up appointments with representatives to get more information.

The event is part of a quarterly series sponsored by City Clerk-Treasurer Scott P. Kiedrowski. For more information about the session, call 695-8555.

--Aaron Besecker

Review online chat with State Sen. George Maziarz

Check out an archive of the live chat we had today on with State Sen. George Maziarz:

Audio: North Tonawanda lawmakers wrap up the year

A planned Walmart on the site of the former Melody Fair theater, pictured above in a file photo taken in May, is the subject of an ongoing federal lawsuit. (Mark Mulville / Buffalo News)

NORTH TONAWANDA -- Walmart. Water pipes. Christmas lights.

Those were some of the issues on the minds of city officials on Tuesday night during the Common Council meeting in City Hall.

Here's my wrap-up story.

Listen to raw audio from the full, 30-minute meeting here:

--Aaron Besecker

Audio: Niagara Falls' latest economic development obstacle

New Falls econ dev director NIAGARA KAY4 LEWIS
Peter F. Kay's salary for next year as the director of economic development for the City of Niagara Falls was cut from $100,000 to $1, effectively pushing him out the door. (Charles Lewis / Buffalo News file photo)

When Niagara Falls lawmakers slashed the salary of the city's economic-development director last week, the man in the job saw it as part of a political spat.

In a story in today's Niagara Weekend, we get more from all sides on the move to oust Peter F. Kay, what it means and what should happen.

Listen to a portion of my interview with Councilwoman Kristen M. Grandinetti conducted after the Council vote:

City Council Chairman Samuel F. Fruscione said he expects there will be a negotiation between lawmakers and Mayor Paul A. Dyster on where the city goes from here.

Fruscione said the Council will have the final say on how much the new person in the job gets paid. He said he favored a salary in the $50,000 to $60,000 range.

Listen to some of what Fruscione told me:

Here's what Dyster said when asked about Fruscione's preference for a salary:

"From what I know of the market, having been through the search for Mr. Kay," Dyster said, "I don't think you're going to get somebody for that dollar amount that's going to have the qualifications necessary to do the job.

--Aaron Besecker

Witryol touts need for campaign finance reform

Amy H. Witryol, Lewiston resident and Democratic candidate for the 62nd state Senate district, speaks to a crowd of about 20 people outside North Tonawanda City Hall this afternoon.

NORTH TONAWANDA --The Democratic challenger running against Republican State Sen. George D. Maziarz continued her call for campaign finance reform during a campaign stop this afternoon.

Standing in front of North Tonawanda City Hall, Amy H. Witryol of Lewiston said she believes the state's campaign finance laws have so many loopholes and allow so much money into the system, the influence from ordinary voters is diminished.

"This, in my view, is one of the major causes of the problems in the state of New York," Witryol said in front of a crowd of about 20 people. "We have a system that’s an obstacle to challengers to incumbents and to people who have different experiences and expertise to bring to the Legislature. And that’s why I'm running -- to change that."

Witryol also took aim at money she said has been raised by Maziarz, a 15-year incumbent and Newfane resident who is a former North Tonawanda city clerk and a city native.

If elected, the former banking industry executive said the first piece of legislation she would introduce would be a bill that would return unspent campaign funds at the end of each election cycle to the district covered by that office.

The name of the bill: "You Can't Take It With You."

"Legislators can take all of the money they raised while in office and use it to make money when they leave office by lobbying with it," she said. "That’s got to change."

Campaign finance reform has been the most pronounced message from Witryol's campaign in the race for the 62nd Senate District, which covers all of Niagara County, except for the City of Niagara Falls, as well as Orleans County and a section of western Monroe County.

According to the most recent filings with the state Board of Elections, Maziarz's campaign account has $698,971 on hand, while Witryol's campaign account has $8,919.

Speaking of campaign finance, here's a story from August by my colleague Thomas Prohaska about Maziarz's campaign coffers.

Here's a story from July when Witryol joined the race.

--Aaron Besecker

North Tonawanda residents get wrong water bills

North Tonawanda residents have received incorrect water bills due to a printing error, city officials announced this afternoon.

The quarterly bills that were mailed were duplicates of residents' June bills. Residents will have additional time to pay the bills, the city said.

4:18 p.m.: The city's vendor, who has agreed to cover all the costs of the second printing and mailing, is American Business Solutions.

3:59 p.m.: The city issued the following statement about the situation this afternoon:

"The water bills that were recently mailed to all residents are incorrect as the result of a printing error on the part of the City’s vendor. The bills are a duplicate of the June bill.

The City contracts with a vendor to print and mail the City Water bills. The vendor has acknowledged that the error was on their end and was through no fault of the City. The vendor has also assured the City that taxpayers will not incur any additional cost as the result having to reprint and re-mail the third quarter water bills. Residents can expect a replacement bill by the end of the week. The due date will be extended to September 20, 2010. The City apologizes for this inconvenience to our residents.

Residents with questions can contact the Water department at 695-8531."

--Aaron Besecker

Rejection of proposed job merger draws union criticism from NT mayor

   A city union has rejected a proposal to combine superintendent jobs for two utilities in North Tonawanda and Lockport into one position, a move North Tonawanda Mayor Robert G. Ortt says could have saved the city about $60,000.

   The proposal would have combined the utilities director job in Lockport with the water and wastewater superintendent post in North Tonawanda.

   City officials have been negotiating an intermunicipal agreement with the City of Lockport, and needed a sign-off from the local unit of the Office and Professional Employees International Union, which represents the city's department heads.

   The new combined job would not be included in the North Tonawanda department head union initially, but would become one in 18 months under a verbal agreement with the union, said Ortt, who announced the results of the union vote during his 2011 budget presentation in Common Council Chambers on Tuesday evening.

   Ortt called the union's move "a turf battle" and "a power play."

   "So this is a union, a public employees union, protecting their own at the cost to the rest of the taxpayers," Ortt said. "It's outrageous."

Listen to a portion of Ortt's reaction here:

   The proposal called for the cities to share a director for its water and sewer departments, both of which already are combined under one superintendent in each city.

   While at first the new combined post would not be a position in the North Tonawanda union, an agreement had been reached for the job to become a union post in North Tonawanda 18 months after the job was combined.

   The union needed to sign off on the deal for contractual reasons.

   The result of Tuesday's union vote was 5-4. One department head was absent from the meeting and, therefore, did not cast a vote.

   Acting Wastewater Superintendent and Public Works Superintendent Gary J. Franklin said the majority of the union members believes combining the two jobs, while maintaining current staffing levels, creates a position with more responsibility than one person can handle. Such a deal is not in North Tonawanda's "best interests," he said.

   "It is not a turf situation. It is not we want control of the situation," Franklin said today. "It's not that at all. The fact of the matter is we're being asked to endorse something that we don't think is going to work the way it's put together right now."

   Franklin, the president of the local department head unit, and City Engineer Dale W. Marshall, who is the acting water superintendent for the city, have taken on those additional roles since former Superintendent Paul J. Drof left to take the top job with the Niagara Falls Water Board in April. Neither has received an increase in compensation for the extra duties.

   Earlier this year, the union endorsed a proposal to combine the utilities superintendent jobs in Niagara Falls and North Tonawanda, though that was rejected by North Tonawanda city officials.

   Ortt said he believes the union's taken two different positions on a proposed job merger, supporting one where they retain a union member.

   Franklin countered, saying the proposed merger with the Falls would put a person familiar with the North Tonawanda system -- Drof -- in charge. The proposed agreement with Lockport would result in having Paula Sattelberg, that city's current utilities director, in the post, and she is unfamiliar with the North Tonawanda system, said Franklin, who called Sattelberg "well qualified" for the combined job.

   Under the proposed job merger, the new director would split time between the two cities, Franklin said.

   City officials spent a significant amount of time working with union leaders on the deal, and the city had spent "weeks and weeks waiting" for the union's decision, Ortt said.

Here's more of Ortt's reaction:

   The mayor also vowed to hold city department heads accountable for the result of their votes.

   Ortt was visibly frustrated at the news of the union's decision, which he said he learned from Franklin before Tuesday's Council workshop.

   "This is exactly what's wrong with this city, with the county, with the state, with the country I would even say," Ortt said. "I'm furious."

   The cities of Lockport, North Tonawanda and Niagara Falls have undertaken a study on whether they can merge water and sewer systems. One of the alternatives proposed as a result of the study, Ortt said, would include Lockport having its drinking water treated and distributed from North Tonawanda facilities, along with the elimination of the Lockport plant and work force.

Here's the full audio of the discussion among city leaders (7 min 35 sec):

--Aaron Besecker

NT mayor proposes 7.8 percent tax increase

North Tonawanda Mayor Robert G. Ortt has proposed a 7.8 percent property tax increase under his budget plan for next year.

10:44 a.m. Aug. 11: Click here to read my story from last night's meeting.

5:17 p.m. Aug. 10: Ortt, members of the Common Council, City Accountant David R. Jakubaszek and other city officials are scheduled to discuss the spending plan during a workshop in City Hall tonight. The budget discussion is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. in the city clerk-treasurer's office.

The meeting is open to the public.

Here's a pdf file of Ortt's official budget message.

--Aaron Besecker

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