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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

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:

George Maziarz will chat live on Friday

Maziarzmug State Sen. George Maziarz has agreed to participate in a live online chat with readers at 12:30 p.m. on Friday.

Maziarz, a Republican lawmaker from Newfane, is the chairman of the Senate Energy Committee and a leading figure in Niagara County politics.

Those who would like to submit questions in advance should e-mail them to News Niagara Reporter Aaron Besecker at

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

NT City Hall notebook

Some odds and ends from Tuesday night's North Tonawanda Common Council meeting:

--During a discussion about the former St. Joseph Catholic Church property on Payne Avenue, Second Ward Alderman Richard L. Andres Jr. raised the possibility of the city rezoning the parcel before a new owner takes control of the property. That way, it would be easier for the city to change the use of the property, said Andres, a former member of the city's master plan committee.

St joseph campus NT

(Photo by Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Here's a story by Tom Prohaska published Sunday about a Wheatfield church looking at the property.

In October, city lawmakers rejected a proposal to turn the campus into housing for homeless youth and veterans.

--The city is working to set a public auction for the former Mirror Room, Mayor Robert G. Ortt said. The process "kind of stalled" on the city's part at the end of last year, Ortt said. The auction will be handled by Auctions International, a Cheektowaga firm, and an auction date has not been set.

--Ortt said efforts by the city and other area municipalities to reach a settlement with the New York Power Authority are "ongoing." Read this story for more background on the issue.

The city is "still in the same position" as it was before, according to Ortt. A meeting of various local elected leaders -- including Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster, Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, Wheatfield Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe, Lockport Mayor Michael W. Tucker -- was held in the Wheatfield Community Center on his first regular day on the job to discuss the issue and was organized by State Sen. George D. Maziarz, Ortt said.

Ortt characterized the mindset of leaders at the meeting as being "more interested in a long-term solution."

This year's city budget includes $250,000 expected from a settlement. "It puts us in a tough negotiating position with NYPA because they know we need the money," Ortt said Tuesday.

--Three lawmakers said they support a proposal to spend about $1,500 to put a plaque on the World War II memorial in front of City Hall on Payne Avenue. The plaque would thank officials who helped get the monument built.

During an informal discussion, Council President Catherine G. Schwandt, Alderwoman-at-large Nancy A. Donovan and First Ward Alderman Dennis M. Pasiak said they favored supporting the project with funding. Third Ward Alderman Eric Zadzilka said he doesn't see why the city can't support it, while Second Ward Alderman Richard L. Andres Jr. said the proposal may have to wait until the next budget cycle, and that the Council should consult with City Accountant David R. Jakubaszek about what funds might be available.

--Aaron Besecker

More of the same expected at CWM

Despite more than $900,000 in fines levied against CWM since 1990, the company's proposal to renew its operating permit is expected to gain approval from state regulators later this year with little to no problems. Here's today's story.

There's a public meeting on the issue Thursday night in Porter Town Hall. It starts at 6 p.m., and will be hosted by CWM representatives.

This issue is separate from the company's proposal to add 30 years of new capacity to the site.

If you'd like to read deeper into the issue, here's the state Department of Environmental Conservation's page on CWM.

Click here to read about the company's existing permit at an agency page with links to the existing permit itself.

Our most recent stories involving CWM include the Town of Lewiston barring industrial waste from its sewer system, a loophole seen in a proposed state plan that could allow the company to expand, as well as public disapproval of the latest draft of a state hazardous waste plan -- on two consecutive nights.

2010.01.10 cwm blog 12982501H3798565 

In this January 2008 photo by News Photographer Derek Gee, CWM Chemical Services environmental monitoring manager Greg Zayatz, left, and environmental monitor Joe Stredny collect a sample of water for testing as it is discharged from the commercial hazardous waste landfill facility in the Town of Porter. As part of its state permit, the facility collects storm water in a pond and tests it for contaminants before and during its release to the Niagara River.

--Aaron Besecker

NT government gets down to business

North Tonawanda lawmakers will hold a reorganizational meeting tonight at 6 p.m. in City Hall. Here's their agenda.

After the Common Council reorganizes, a regular business meeting will follow. Read that agenda here.

There's already been some movement on the political front in NT today. As reported by my colleague Tom Prohaska, Republican county election commissioner Scott P. Kiedrowski is ready to accept appointment as the city's clerk-treasurer. Kiedrowski would fill the vacancy left by Robert G. Ortt, who left the post to become North Tonawanda's new mayor.

--Aaron Besecker

Lewiston's Newlin looks back, ahead

Newlin for webOutgoing Lewiston Supervisor Fred M. Newlin II gave a self-described "valedictory" speech during his last Town Board meeting on Monday night.

Newlin (photo by Charles Lewis/Buffalo News) doled out thanks, reviewed the town's progress under his administration and pointed to two factors which he said will most affect Lewiston in the future.

Since he first took office six years ago, the Democrat said Lewiston made the most progress tackling taxes, energy costs and maintaining and improving quality of life.

Issues related to the environment and development were the two that will be key moving forward, he said.

Listen to Newlin's full comments here:

Fred Newlin (10:37)

Republican Steven Reiter, the town's highway superintendent, defeated Newlin in November's general election and will lead a Town Board with a 4-1 GOP majority.

Monday's meeting was also the last for Democrat Councilman Sean Edwards, who did not run for re-election.

--Aaron Besecker

NT officials bid farewell

Tuesday night's Common Council meeting was the last for three North Tonawanda elected officials.

Former Council President Brett M. Sommer, who has served eight years, and Second Ward Alderman Kevin J. Brick Jr., who has spent four years on the Council, did not run for re-election this year.

Mayor Lawrence V. Soos, who served one term as the city's chief executive and another four years as an alderman, lost his bid for re-election to City Clerk-Treasurer Robert G. Ortt.

Each gave some parting thoughts, which you can hear here:

Kevin J. Brick Jr. (2:36)

Brett M. Sommer (7:38)

Larry Soos (1:11)

--Aaron Besecker
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