Tonawanda News

January 31, 2013

Lumber City's future

By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Mayor Rob Ortt said he will continue to hold a hard line in union negotiations and push for what he termed "the new North Tonawanda" during his annual state of the city address Tuesday. 

In front of approximately 80 people, many of them politicians and city department heads, Ortt looked back at a rash of development projects throughout the Lumber City during the course of the last year, some of which began before he took office in 2010, while also laying out what he envisions as the proper path forward. 

The Republican mayor, who will run for re-election in November after winning a landslide victory with 65 percent of the vote in 2009 in a city with more registered Democrats, reflected largely on development projects during his reign, many of which were launched in 2012, and some that will be finished in the coming year. 

The remediation of Witmer Road flooding issues, the advent of the $20 million Remington Lofts project and the future Lumberjack's Patio Grill in the long-vacated Niagara River Yacht Club building on River Road were just some of the topics he touched upon. 

"This is my fourth state of the city address and each one I attempted to give not just an update on where we are but where we are going," he said. "However to know where you are going it is important to know where we have been." 

Ortt said since he took office he's turned around a budget shortfall of $400,000 and closed a $1 million deficit due to rising health care and pension costs for city employees, whose ranks have been thinned by 45 in the last two years, a 17 percent decrease. He said $2.3 million has been saved as a result. 

He also emphasized the city's bolstered business corridor, particularly the occupancy of the Buffalo Bolt Business Park along Oliver Street by three companies already long-established in North Tonawanda as well as Webster Street additions. He also noted progress made toward the reduction of government spending and the resuscitation of 20 lane miles of roadway with a revamped Department of Public Works, addressing a perennial complaint: potholes.

In the coming year, the mayor said he will look to address the city's ailing housing stock, which has slumped over the last several decades, as an aging and shrinking populace has led to the advent of multi-unit homes. However, Ortt said he will present a one-time tax incentive in the coming weeks that would benefit those who convert the homes back to single family, which he views as better for neighborhoods. 

"I believe that in certain neighborhoods the increase in multiple dwelling, especially low-rent apartments, have created a decrease in housing stock," he said. 

An expansion of the city's recycling program will also ensue, with a pilot program using larger totes replacing bins saving the city $84,000 this year alone. 

He also said binding arbitration and pension reforms will be sought in holding employee benefits to a 2 percent increase. 

"When it comes to one of the biggest drivers of municipal deficits and property taxes, fixing contribution rates would allow North Tonawanda to budget more effectively," he said.  

Tonawanda City Mayor Ron Pilozzi, who was also on hand and will present his state of the city to the common council next week, said many of the obstacles his Niagara County neighbor his facing are also incurred in his city, though he declined to elaborate further. 

First Ward Alderman Russ Rizzo, a Republican-leaning independent on the otherwise Republican city council who has been a part of city and county government since 2000, said after the mayor's address he believes North Tonawanda will continue to be on the upswing with development and future potential. 

"There's more action and less talk than there used to be," he said. 

Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.