By Joyce M. Miles
Niagara Gazette — LOCKPORT — Four Niagara County legislators and party caucus officials were re-elected without opposition Wednesday during the body's annual organization meeting.
Returning Legislature Chairman Bill Ross, C-Wheatfield, cited a series of local legislative "victories" and "disappointments" in 2012, and budgetary challenges in 2013, in his annual State of the County address. He pledged the Legislature will continue advancing local economic development through brownfield reclamation, moves to make "shovel ready" commercial/industrial sites and targeted support for Niagara's main sectors, agriculture and tourism, and will also keep up the "downsizing" of county government by consolidation, privatization and other cost-cutting moves.
Of the biggest disappointment in 2012 — insufficient state mandate relief in the face of the so-called property tax cap — Ross exhorted his fellow lawmakers to keep up pressure on Albany.
"We cannot let that go," he said. As New York counties deplete their fund balances in order to meet the mandates while staying under tax cap limits, "counties could be moving toward the fiscal cliff too."
Clyde Burmaster, R-Ransomville, was re-elected as legislature vice chairman without opposition. Richard Updegrove, R-Lockport, remains the Republican-led majority caucus leader and Dennis Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, remains the minority caucus leader.
Legislative standing committee assignments haven't been announced yet. After a mid-December change in the Rules of Order, the majority and minority leaders are now making the assignments instead of the legislature chairman.
Also, membership of the standing committees — administration, public works, economic development, community services and community safety and security — was reduced to five legislators a piece from seven. Caucus leaders will make the appointments proportionate to their caucus' share of legislative seats, meaning Republicans will have four seats and Democrats one seat on each committee.
In addition, the Rules of Order now bar the legislature chairman, vice chairman and caucus leaders from being committee chairmen. Immediately, the most affected lawmakers are Updegrove, who was chairman of economic development, and Burmaster, who was chairman of public works last year.
With reorganization, lawmakers approved an abbreviated 2013 legislature meeting schedule. In years past the body has convened twice a month. Last year Ross compressed the schedule to 19 meetings, and called two "special" meetings to act on business more quickly than the next scheduled meeting.
This year he proposed 15 meetings, one per month except in January, March, May and December. Special meetings can always be called as needed, he said.