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Schroeder on Council changes: It's a 'good thing'

Comptrollers 12.30.13

Former City Comptrollers Anthony Nanula, Joel Giambra, Andrew SanFlippo and Comptroller Mark Schroeder this morning in a Hall of Comptrollers ceremony. New portraits of Nanula, Giambra and SanFlippo were unveiled. 

By Jill Terreri

Comptroller Mark Schroeder, who watches city finances from his 12th-floor offices and is a former member of the state Assembly, is thought to have ambitions to one day run for higher office.  

I asked him about the changes on the 13th floor, specifically the impending election of Ellicott Council Member Darius Pridgen to the Council presidency. Pridgen, if elected on Thursday by a majority of his Council peers, would assume the executive suite on the second floor if Mayor Byron W. Brown decides to leave office in the next two years (the term length for Council presidents.) As Council president, Pridgen would be in a very good position to run for mayor if Brown leaves office early , or even if he does not.

Schroeder said the change at the top of the Council was good, and that an opportunity to transition the job every two years is called for in the city charter. 

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State money for projectors at movie theaters

By Jill Terreri

While the Buffalo Common Council on Tuesday found out that it wouldn't be able to set aside city capital funds for downtown's only movie theater, New York state taxpayers will pitch in about $860,000 for similiar upgrades in at least 15 theaters all over the state, including North Tonawanda, Rochester, Binghamton, Jamestown, Little Falls, and even New York City.

The Regional Economic Development awards were announced today in Albany. It's not an accident there were so many awards for digital conversion projects. The state has a whole program to assist theaters in upgrading their equipment. 

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No city funds for new movie projectors

By Jill Terreri

The Common Council will not add $250,000 for new digital movie projectors for the Market Arcade Film & Arts Centre Inc. to the 2014 capital budget when it meets at 2 p.m. today. 

Majority Leader Demone A. Smith said that the city's Law Department informed him that it could not "legally justify" the purchase. 

Smith had inquired as to whether the city could use capital budget funds on the Market Arcade, which is owned by the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp., a city-affiliated organization that keeps its books separate from the city. He wanted to add the expense to the capital budget but was waiting on an opinion from city lawyers as to whether the city could borrow for a property that it does not directly own. 

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Back-and-forth on Brand-On

By Jill Terreri

The disagreement between the city and Brand-On Services over what the company owes under its contract to operate the Erie Basin Marina continues, and a deadline is looming. 

Tomorrow is the deadline for Brand-On to pay its invoice with the city, for $343,245. The company, run by the Wolasz family, has disputed that amount, and said it only owes $27,412. A meeting last week between the parties did not resolve the matter. 

The Common Council has urged that a compromise be reached, but that has not happened yet. Legal action by the city to recover the funds is possible. 

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Today in City Hall

By Jill Terreri

Final preparations are underway for the city's tax foreclosure auction, which starts tomorrow at 9:30 a.m., and lasts for three days, over at the convention center. A new list of 2,829 properties was posted on the city's web site this morning. The list has been cut from nearly 4,400 properties as people settle their tax bills or work out payment plans.  

The Common Council will also hold their pre-meeting caucus at 2 p.m. today, in which they'll discuss hiring DiDonato Associates for work on a second-floor addition to the Hatch Restaurant. They think the work - design, engineering, construction administration and inspection - can be done for $120,000. A request for bids to operate the Hatch is going out this month, and if the expansion is expedited, the city can realize more revenue from a new operator, according to a memo to lawmakers from City Engineer Peter Merlo. 

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Schroeder doesn't want a compromise on marina

By Jill Terreri

The Common Council's more generous attitude toward the operators of Brand-On Services, the company that owes the city nearly $350,000 in rent from the Erie Basin Marina, according to a recent audit, is not sitting well with Comptroller Mark Schroeder. 

“I sincerely hope that no members of the Common Council would even consider letting this unscrupulous contractor off the hook, but I certainly will not," Schroeder said in a statement. "Brand-On ripped off the taxpayers of Buffalo, and I will not rest until they pay the city back.”

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UPDATED: Today in City Hall

By Jill Terreri

Good morning.

UPDATE: This morning, the city Planning Board met, and issued an approval for Uniland's project at the Delaware Court building at 250 Delaware Ave. 

The company is planning a 12-story tower for office space and a hotel, and a five-level parking garage in the back, on the Elmwood Avenue side. 

Uniland already has approval from the Preservation Board to tear down the existing building and build on the site, and will go before the Zoning Board of Appeals for approval, which it expects to get, based on the company's previous appearance before the board.

Pending other approvals, the company expects to begin construction Jan. 1, but Uniland Vice President Michael Montante said that could change. 

The board voted 5-0 to approve the project. 

Continue reading "UPDATED: Today in City Hall" »

Problem properties focus of city hearing

By Jill Terreri

City lawmakers will hear from the public and housing experts about vacant or problem properties at 2 p.m. Thursday in Council Chambers. 

Majority Leader Demone Smith and the Western New York Law Center are hosting a hearing on properties that are owned by the bank and abandoned, or just abandoned, or properties where a landlord is trying to flip them. 

South Council Member Chris Scanlon has drawn attention to the problem of vacant properties where owners think they have been evicted by a bank for nonpayment of their mortgage, but don't realize their name is on the deed and they could have stayed.

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New vendor in the City Hall cafeteria

By Jill Terreri

The audience for this post is likely narrow, but it will be useful to anyone who works around Niagara Square and eats lunch.  

Sue's New York Deli is taking over operations in the City Hall cafeteria, under terms the Common Council is set to approve when it meets at 2 p.m. today. 

It appears, from the restaurant's menu from its other operations, that more healthy options will be offered in the cafeteria. Sue's has locations on Main Street in the theater district and at 130 S. Elmwood Ave., next to City Hall.  

Public Works Commissioner Steve Stepniak didn't know on Monday when the service would switch over, but said that the new vendor has done a walk-through and wants to bring its own equipment in. 

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Schroeder's marina audit

By Jill Terreri

Here's the full audit of the Erie Basin Marina from Comptroller Mark Schroeder, including the city's response and significant plans to change the way business is done there. 

Schroeder's office found the city's vendor, Brand-On Services, owes the city $343,245, which should be paid immediately, he said. 

The story on the audit is here, and a story about the planned improvements to the marina are here

Missing from the audit below is the response from Brand-On Services, whose president is Renee Wolasz. The Wolasz family runs the business, daughter Julie told me today when I reached her at the Hatch. Julie Wolasz declined to comment on the audit because she said no one in the company had read it yet. The audit was filed today with the Common Council. (To clarify, the company was fully aware the audit was taking place - auditors had been there for months - but the comptroller audits city activities, and the appropriate city department has the chance to write a response that is included in the audit, vendors do not. The vendor is able to look at the audit once it is released to the public.)

The city is planning to seek the missing payments, though it disagrees with Schroeder's final amount, and will solicit bids for a new operator in time for the 2014 season.

 

Erie Basin Marina Audit

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About Politics Now

Robert J. McCarthy

Robert J. McCarthy

A native of Schenectady, Robert J. McCarthy came to The Buffalo News in 1982 following a six-year stint at the Olean Times Herald. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and has been covering local, state and national politics since 1992.

rmccarthy@buffnews.com


Tom Precious

Tom Precious

Tom Precious joined The Buffalo News in 1997 as bureau chief at the state Capitol, where he covers everything from statewide politics and state government fiscal affairs to health care, environmental and municipal government matters. Prior to The News, he worked for news outlets in Albany and Washington, DC.

tprecious@buffnews.com


Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri is an Amherst native and has covered politics and government in upstate New York since 2003. She joined The Buffalo News in 2012 and covers City Hall.

@jillterreri | jterreri@buffnews.com


Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News Washington bureau chief, has reported from the nation's capital since 1989 after joining The News as a business reporter in 1984. A graduate of Syracuse University, Zremski is a former Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University. In 2007, he served as president of the National Press Club.

@JerryZremski | jzremski@buffnews.com

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