Tonawanda News

April 18, 2012

Deal for NT dispatch move taking shape

By Joyce M. Miles
The Tonawanda News

LOCKPORT —

An agreement between Niagara County and the City of North Tonawanda for the county to take over NT police dispatching duties appears close.

Niagara County Manager Jeff Glatz updated the legislature's community safety & security committee on broad terms of a proposed Intermunicipal Agreement that would have the county take over North Tonawanda's civilian police dispatch work by July 1.

The agreement, which is not yet approved by the NT Common Council or the Legislature, would have the county take over employment of six civilian dispatchers currently working for the city. Over a period of five years, the city would pay decreasing percentages of the dispatchers' pay and benefits, roughly estimated at $400,000 a year. The first two years, the city would  pay 100 percent of the costs, then 75 percent in year three, 50 percent in year four, and 25 percent in year five. The dispatchers would become county employees immediately, would retain their seniority and, per Civil Service "transfer" rules, would be protected from layoff throughout the term of the agreement, Glatz said.

The county and city jointly are pursuing a $400,000 state grant to help defray costs of the dispatch "consolidation." The grant would reduce the city's payments to the county, according to Glatz.

North Tonawanda is contemplating going with county-central dispatch in part because its radio system is obsolete and needs costly upgrading. Mayor Rob Ortt has spoken at length about the desire to cut costs at the city level for a service he sees as duplicated at multiple layers of government.

The plan was first proposed last year and faced stiff opposition from the union representing the dispatchers. After initially being shelved for further discussion, Ortt created a committee that includes union leadership, one of the dispatchers who would move to the county and city police brass.

Niagara County has run NT fire dispatching for several years. It is the only dispatching work done at the sheriff's department for an outside municipality in the county.

That could also change, though.

The county is also planning talks with the City of Lockport about taking over its dispatching work as well, Glatz and Lockport Mayor Michael Tucker both said. Lockport police-fire dispatching is done by police officers, not civilians, so the thorny issue of job protection for dispatchers shouldn't be present in the talks.

"With economies of scale we may be able to take that over without (the City of Lockport) incurring any costs,"  Glatz said.

In other news, Niagara County lawmakers signaled unanimous support for a revised PILOT agreement with the new owners of the Somerset generating station Tuesday, despite the fact the revision will cost the county millions of dollars through 2015.

By a 15-0 vote, legislators approved a resolution signaling its support for proposed amendment of the Payment In Lieu of Taxes agreement that the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency has AES Eastern Energy LP.

AES went bankrupt last year and the plant may be taken over by a group of bondholders — so long as the bondholders can get additional tax-cost relief from NCIDA.

The development agency board of directors is meeting this morning to accept the new plant owners' application for a revised PILOT. Combined payments to Barker School District, Niagara County and the Town of Somerset, in lieu of property tax on the plant's assessed value, are $14.3 million currently.

According to the proposed amendment, the combined payments would fall to $10.8 million in 2012-13, $6.7 million in 2013-14, and $5.1 million in 2014-15. While the percentages of the total going to each taxing jurisdiction would not change — the school district still gets 59.25 percent of the total, the county 31.5 percent and the town 9.25 percent — all are taking a 40 to 60 percent cut in what AES was paying them per its amended PILOT agreement of February 2011.

In 2010, the schedule had AES paying the municipalities a total of $15.8 million per year though 2015.

Legislators appeared to accept the idea that the county/the IDA must strike a new deal with the power plant's new owners in order to keep the facility open, and 115 people employed.

Even so, considering that the county stands to "lose" millions of dollars in revenue every year from PILOT amendment, veteran legislator Dennis Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, threw out the question to his peers and Glatz: "How are we going to make it up?"

The short answer, by Glatz: "I hope you believe in prayer. It's going to be very challenging."