Tonawanda News

June 16, 2013

County GOP lawmakers noncommittal about ending no-bid lease deal with Ulrich

Staff reports
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — A resolution directing the county to shop around for voting equipment storage space is premature, Republican legislative leaders said this week.

However, lawmakers Richard Updegrove, R-Lockport, and Paul Wojtazek, R-North Tonawanda, current majority caucus leader and his first deputy, pledged to consider such a directive come January 2014.

This week, the legislature’s administration committee declined to recommend or reject a proposed resolution by Democratic lawmakers that would direct the county manager to issue a request for proposals for centralized storage of county voting equipment.

It’s the second time the Democrats tried getting the legislature on the record saying it wants quotes for space that’s now provided by Lockport real estate developer David Ulrich.

Ulrich’s Clear Opportunity Properties LLC got a three-year, no-bid contract to store voting machines and related equipment at a building in Newfane, for rent of $7,200 a month, back in mid-2008. Per contract terms the lease has been extended for one-year periods automatically since 2011.

Minority Caucus Leader Dennis Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, says other property owners deserve a crack at the county’s storage business, and county leaders ought to be able to say they acquired storage service as the lowest possible cost  — which they can’t, since they haven’t solicited competitive quotes for it in years.

“We can’t go out for (an RFP) now, but we want to make sure it gets done for next year,” Virtuoso said of the Democrats’ resolution.

The minority leader was annoyed to learn last month, when he filed the resolution, that the county had lost out on the opportunity to shop around for space in 2013-14. The lease with Clear Opportunity Properties covers the period Aug. 1 through July 31 and compels the county to give notice of intent to vacate by April 1, or else the lease is automatically renewed for another year.

Virtuoso first proposed soliciting bids for storage space last October, when the legislature was poised to vote on renewing the Clear Opportunity lease for five years. The majority nixed Virtuoso’s resolution, but after his loud objections on the legislature floor, it consented to having the Clear Opportunity renewal proposal sent to the administration committee, where it’s been tied up ever since.

Faced with the Dems’ new proposed bidding directive this week, committee members didn’t seem warm or cold to it. Having confirmed with County Attorney Claude Joerg that the county is bound by the Clear Opportunity lease through July 2014, and notice to cancel it isn’t due until April 1, they suggested now is simply too early for the county to solicit bids.

“It’s premature,” Updegrove said.

The directive is “prudent ... but not timely,” Wojtaszek said.

“Yeah, but it was a moot point in October when it was brought up, because it had already automatically renewed (for 2012-13),” Virtuoso said. “We don’t want that to happen again.”

The GOP leaders promised to take up the topic again early next year, when bid solicitation is more timely.

“We’l make sure it’s on the agenda January 1st,” Updegrove said.