Niagara Gazette

May 15, 2013

Lewiston to hold referendum on planned civic center

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Citing a desire to hear as many voices as possible, the Lewiston Town Board will hold a public referendum July 15 concerning the bonding related to its $8 million civic center.

Supervisor Steve Reiter and councilmen Al Bax and Michael Marra approved the scheduling of the referendum Monday, allowing voters to decide whether the town is authorized to borrow the money needed to purchase the land from the Lewiston-Porter School District and build the facility on the 10 acres.

“I see nothing wrong with a referendum,” Marra said. “With the project costing $8 million, it just makes perfect sense.”

Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. July 15, a Monday, for the special election.

Filling the town’s board meeting room at special meetings since March, the public has largely supported the project as vocal residents of Lewiston, Porter and Niagara Falls – and some areas even farther away – regularly promised support and several local trade unions and contractors have promised in kind or at cost services in constructing the building.

Marra said he’s never seen any project receive the public support this civic center has experienced.

“I’ve been a representative in Lewiston for nine years, and I’ve never seen a project get this level of support ever,” Marra said.

Sure, there’s support from the athletic types in the area, from those looking for a new outlet in the Niagara region to practice football, soccer, baseball, softball, basketball and lacrosse indoors and near the Lew-Port campus. But many who packed the meeting halls hailed from parts outside Lewiston.

When it comes down to it, their support is only ceremonial, though. Lewiston residents will be the only ones allowed to cast a vote when the time comes and will determine whether the town will be able to borrow the money it needs.

That’s why it’s even more important, Reiter said, to have a grasp on how the Lewiston masses feel about the project.

“This is a big step,” Reiter said. “Yes, we had a lot of support. Was it orchestrated? Somewhat, it was. We just want to make sure we’re on firm ground with our residents.”

Despite Reiter’s stated goal of figuring out the public’s interest, however, residents who have previously been critical of the supervisor’s plans said Monday the referendum is actually required by law.

With the town looking to bond the cost of the project, paying for it could come from a number of sources. The most talked about funding has been the Niagara River Greenway Commission, which is expected to consider the town’s project at its next meeting at 3 p.m. Tuesday at Beaver Island State Park, Grand Island.

If the project receives the commission’s approval, part or all of the estimated $8 million price tag could be funded over the course of the next several decades.

The referendum residents will vote on in July, though, includes language expressing the possibility of a tax levy to be created as part of the vote. Town Attorney Mike Dowd said the language is misleading.

“There is no levy associated with this,” he said. “It needed to be there legally, but there won’t be any taxes.”

Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.