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New parking, traffic restrictions coming near Remington loft project

NORTH TONAWANDA -- Officials held a ribbon-cutting ceremony this afternoon to mark the symbolic completion of about a half-million dollar road resurfacing and streetscape project on the Erie Canal.

Following the 1 p.m. ceremony, Sweeney Street between Oliver and Marion streets was reopened to traffic in front of the Remington Lofts on the Canal project.

The Kissling Interests, headed by Anthony Kissling, is turning the former Remington Rand building at 184 Sweeney into 81 work/live loft apartments. The project also includes a restaurant, a hair salon and a yoga studio.

9:14 p.m.: The streetscape work near the lofts project will mean a change in parking and the speed limit in the area, city officials said tonight.

Public Works Superintendent Gary Franklin asked the Common Council to lower the speed limit to 20 mph on Sweeney, between Main and Oliver streets, as well as on Marion Street between Sweeney and Tremont streets.

Franklin also presented a proposed parking plan that will allow vehicles to park on Sweeney and on Marion.

Under the proposal, about 16 on-street spots would be added on Sweeney between Main and Oliver. Between 20 and 25 spots would be added on Marion.

An unpaved parking lot located next to the Dockside Inn is actually property that's owned by Kissling. That parcel is being turned into greenspace and a paved parking lot, though it hasn't been determined whether there will be public parking in the lot, said Robert Welch, aide to Mayor Robert G. Ortt.

Residents and employees of the refurbished building will park in private lots on the property.

Marion Street will remain a one-way street until renovation work on the former Remington Rand is complete, officials said.

The Council must vote to make any changes before they will go into effect.

1:32 p.m.: The first floor of the project, including some apartments as well as the restaurant, salon and studio, is scheduled to open in November, said Gregory Sehr, president of Upstate Consultants of Buffalo, which is working with Kissling on the project.

Site work began on the project on May 1. R&P Oak Hill Development of Buffalo is the construction manager.

--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

'Ghost Cars' story in USA Today includes NT woman

A North Tonawanda woman who was pulled over for speeding by an unmarked police car was quoted in a recent USA Today story.

In a piece about the increased use of "ghost cars" by police departments across the country, Reanna Darone told the newspaper she was pulled over by an officer in an unmarked Ford Fusion.

Read the story here. (An earlier version of the story in which Darone was included is no longer on USA Today's website.)

NT grad's military experiences profiled

Air Force Airman David J. Moir, a 2007 graduate of North Tonawanda High School, was the subject of a feature story published today on the website of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing.

Read the story here.

--Aaron Besecker

Window for input widened on wetlands plan

State environmental regulators have extended the deadline for public comments on their proposal to add 120 acres of wetlands, most of which are in the City of North Tonawanda.

The new deadline is June 15, State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, said in a press release this afternoon.

Maziarz and North Tonawanda Mayor Robert G. Ortt had requested an extension last month from the Department of Environmental Conservation.

3:33 p.m.: Here's a link to the state DEC's freshwater wetlands program website.

3:15 p.m.: Last month, Ortt was criticized for what some viewed as an attempt to get a rubber stamp from the city's environmental committee on a road extension project that may be impacted by the wetlands designation. Here's that story.

We've also got maps of the proposed wetlands: Map 1, Map 2, Map 3, Map 4 and Map 5. Map 1 shows a proposed wetland that lies on the North Tonawanda-Town of Wheatfield border.

Last year, North Tonawanda officials were considering a lawsuit against the state over the wetland issue.

Another proposed wetlands delineation, which is part of the latest plan, also led to a dispute with the state last year.

--Aaron Besecker

Brosius on tap for top North Tonawanda parks job

North Tonawanda Mayor Robert G. Ortt has apparently selected Recreation Supervisor Patricia A. Brosius to become the next head of the city parks department.

City lawmakers will review the appointment when they meet tonight in City Hall.Whitehead jerry headshot

Brosius, a department employee since 1977 and recreation supervisor since 2001, has been running the  department with Maintenance Supervisor Larry W. Kuebler since former director Jerome P. Whitehead (pictured at right) retired in March 2009.

For some background on the issue, here's a report from Dec. 2 when the Council blocked Brosius' appointment. A week later, lawmakers met with Brosius and said they needed more time to study the situation. Two new members have come onto the Council since that time.

There are a few other issues on tonight's agenda, including a resolution sponsored by mayor and Council to oppose a wetlands designation by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. In March, Ortt came under fire for an e-mail to the city's Environmental Committee which some saw as a request for a "rubber stamp" in its review of the wetlands issue. That report includes maps of the five proposed areas and a copy of Ortt's email.

Click here to see the Council's full agenda for tonight's meeting.

--Aaron Besecker

NT mayor's e-mail about wetlands

North Tonawanda Mayor Robert G. Ortt has come under fire for a message he sent to the city's Environmental Committee. Here's his email:

From: Robert Ortt [mailto:robertort@northtonawanda.org]
Sent: Monday, March 08, 2010 11:43 AM
To: brianmurphy@XXXX.XXX.edu
Cc: Robert W. Welch
Subject: Meadow Drive Extension

 

Brian,

 

As you know, the Meadow Drive extension will be happening very soon.  I would like the Environmental Committee to draft a letter stating that there is no negative environmental impacts as far as they are concerned with the project, specifically regarding wetlands.  I think that this letter would serve as a show of support by our Environmental group and help with to alter  the  notion that our Environmental committee is  against progress and development.  If you have any further questions or concerns regarding this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me. 

 

Faithfully yours,

 

Robert G. Ortt

 

Robert G. Ortt

Mayor

City of North Tonawanda

Public business around the county

For the civic minded, consider this a peek into what a few governments and boards plan to tackle this week:

Here's what North Tonawanda lawmakers have on their plates Tuesday night. They meet at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall, 216 Payne Ave.

At the other end of the county on Tuesday night, this is the Niagara County Legislature's agenda. The body meets at 7 p.m. in the County Courthouse in Lockport.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Niagara County Community College board of trustees will take up these items. They meet on the second floor of the administration building on the Sanborn campus.

--Aaron Besecker

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