Niagara Gazette

July 14, 2013

With debate over tax impact, Lewiston residents to decide fate of civic center

By Timothy Chipp timothy.chipp@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — After months of talking, Lewiston residents will finally have their say on the Lewiston Civic Center project.

A referendum vote is being held from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday at Lewiston Town Hall, 1375 Ridge Road, Lewiston. It’s designed to gauge the taxpaying public’s interest in the construction of a 140 square-foot, $8 to $9 million recreation structure on a 10-acre plot of land in front of Lewiston-Porter High School on Creek Road.

Proponents feel the project is extremely important to the community. Opponents feel the center’s price tag is extremely misleading.

Who wins? Only the vote will tell.

“I see this as a park with a roof on it for the community to use,” Gary Rose, co-chairman of the civic center’s organizing committee, said. “We have summer for about four months of the year. The other eight months, it’s doom and gloom. There’s really no opportunity for our children to do anything, unless they’re in a sport or musical or play on the school campus.”

Rose, who’s been a leading figure in the charge to build the structure, said the center has a lot of potential to serve as a community center as well as a place for athletes to play and train. Originally, the project was to include a senior center, which older seniors balked at in favor of less-costly repairs at the current center on Lower River Road.

It’s the space set aside for this purpose which Rose said could serve as a meeting place for anyone in the community, with an eye toward beneficial programs like tutoring for students or public gatherings.

And the athletic fields, including one section left unfilled in plans, could be rented out by independent contractors, he said, as early as the building’s completion.

“We’ve had numerous people contact us about running training camps at the facility,” he said. “One group has even offered to use their own money to buy Astroturf for one of our fields so they can run youth groups for their athletes. We’ve been contacted by Thurman Thomas for his training program. There’s a lot I see coming.”

A video detailing why residents should vote ‘yes’ on the bond vote was recently added to the committee’s website, which is available at www.lewistonrsc.org.

While Rose and his committee members have support from many within the local athletics community, including the student athletes and the coaches at Lewiston-Porter, there are some making arguments for voters to say no come Monday’s decision.

Arguments against the center have focused on perceived funding calculations. The town was awarded $450,000 each of the next 30 years from the Host Communities Standing Committee to fund the project, which is being used currently to pay for planning and will be called on to purchase the land from the Lew-Port school district, as well as build the structure.

But the money, added up, won’t cover the figure some believe a 120,000 square-foot building would cost without supplies, management and other services factored in. They think it’ll cost almost $15 million, not $8 million. And they’re not willing to pay the tax they believe will be levied on every town taxpayer to cover the bills.

“If you look at the bond resolution (the town board) passed in May, there’s a section in it which says the town will charge a general tax on real property,” said Paulette Glasgow, a former town board member who has been critical of the project since it was announced last year. “I don’t know what you call it, but where I’m from, that’s called a property tax.

“Where’s money going to come from? Immaculate conception? We need to take a step back and do a feasibility study.”

The dispute over construction cost stems from an early-June visit by sports management firm boss Dev Pathik, who told Glasgow and this reporter the construction estimate would need to be reexamined by his firm if it was hired to handle the project. Supervisor Steve Reiter and the town board quickly decided not to hire Pathik’s firm, The Sports Facilities Advisory, citing a lack of time before this vote and a desire to gauge public interest before paying for a management firm.

Glasgow said the project needed Pathik’s voice to ensure the project is well planned and reasonable.

“I think if you asked everyone in the town, they’d say it’s a great idea,” she said. “But what they needed to do was hire (Pathik) and hold up and get the correct information. These numbers have been changed so many times, no one knows what the right numbers are anymore. (Pathik) would do an analysis first to see if the building is even feasible. And if it is, they can scale it down so it’s cost effective and it’ll be much easier to support.”

Lewiston Democratic Party Chairwoman Diane Roberts echoed Glasgow’s sentiments about the project’s cost. But Roberts, who said she is voting by absentee ballot, said there’s an issue she has with the wording of the actual referendum.

She said the voters should received assurances the annual payments of Niagara River Greenway funding, which was secured through the Host Communities Standing Committee, would go to paying back the debt created by this bond.

“There’s nothing in the language which guarantees taxpayers the greenway money will go toward this,” Roberts said.

Consulting town attorney Michael Dowd, however, said Roberts’ concerns aren’t correct. He said the language is designed to be as nondescript as possible to avoid causing trouble for the town in the future.

“Does the resolution need to specify that the debt service will be paid using the greenway funds? No,” Dowd said. “Bond resolutions are typically generic, because when they’re written, you don’t know what the source of the funds is going to be. They need to be generic about where source of funding is coming from.”

GET OUT AND VOTE • WHAT: Lewiston civic center referendum • WHERE: Lewiston Town Hall, 1375 Ridge Road • WHEN: 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday

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