Niagara Gazette

January 23, 2014

Ross touts county Legislature's accomplishments

BY JOE OLENICK joe.olenick@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — LOCKPORT — Niagara County has made a lot of progress in economic development while reducing the size of government and the property tax levy, Legislature Chairman William L. Ross said Tuesday during his annual State of the County address.

Ross called 2013 a good year, a time in which the Legislature was able to reduce its size and the amount of money it takes from county residents. And in the $333 million 2014 budget, the property tax levy goes down by one-half of a percent or $378,000 while it cuts 13 positions.

It continues a 10-year trend of reducing, Ross said. The county froze taxes for four years in the late 1990s, Ross said, but the difference now is the county has a good fund balance and reserves.

“Certainly it’s a good year when you can reduce the property tax rate,” he said. “The Niagara County Legislature believes in smaller government. We believe in reduced spending.”

Maintaining a responsible budget and dealing with costly state mandates will remain goals for 2014, Ross said. The mandates in particular pose an obstacle, he said.

In addition, the county has made strides in economic development, Ross said. He touted the successes in brownfield development, as well as the creation and retaining of jobs in a number of different projects across Niagara. Some of those jobs were the result of Niagara County Industrial Development Agency tax breaks, Ross said.

He acknowledged the unpopularity of the deals, but said many of the 65 business projects the IDA has aided in the past decade wouldn’t have considered setting up shop in the county without incentives.

“If you didn’t have abatements, if you didn’t have this type of incentives, they’d go someplace else,” Ross said. “As long as things are the way they are, you’re going to need an IDA.”

On this year’s agenda, Ross said the county needs to negotiate a new contract with the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp., the county’s tourism promotion agency. Also, lawmakers need to deal with a new contract with Gary A. Abraham, the environmental attorney who is heading the opposition to CWM Chemical Services’ request for state permission to dig a new hazardous waste landfill in Porter.

In other matters:

• William L. Paton of North Tonawanda was appointed as the new county personnel officer Tuesday. A former general and operations manager with Complete Homecare, Inc. of Tonawanda, Paton replaces Joseph Vacanti, a former legislator whose term had expired.

• County lawmakers approved a $10,800-a-year lease agreement with Robert Soemann of Lockport to run the Niagara County Golf Course restaurant. Soemann owns the West Avenue bar, Attitudes.

• Ross announced that all committee meetings, with the exception of Economic Development, will be held in the legislative chambers of the Niagara County Court House.

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.