Tonawanda News

January 9, 2014

New council discusses ongoing issues

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Four new City of Tonawanda council members assumed their seats Wednesday night and quickly got down to business — discussing a number of key issues, including the proposed development at the Little League Drive property.

Two of the council members — Republicans John “Jay” Hall and Chuck Gilbert — have voiced their support for the contract as it stands, which specifies a $192,000 sale price for the vacant property. Under the agreement, developer Natale will pay for the infrastructure costs, valued at about $1.8 million.

Democrats Jackie Smilinich and Jenna Koch have spoken out against the deal, which will allow developer Natale to classify the homes under the state’s condominium status, will which result in the new homeowners paying less taxes.

Mayor Rick Davis is also against contract as it stands, but has said he hopes to work with Natale to come up with a viable option. The council held an executive session after Wednesday’s meeting to discuss the contract.

During the council’s work session, Davis noted he hopes to include the council’s opinions while discussing the contract with the developer.

“I can negotiate all I want but I’m going to waste my time if it’s not acceptable to you guys,” Davis said.

The council also discussed the proposal to install red-light cameras at three intersections in the city. The proposed agreement with Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc., will come at no cost to the city.

The cameras would be added to the intersections of Niagara and Seymour streets, Delaware and Broad streets and the Twin City Highway and Young Street. A $50 fine would be attached to the license plate and would not add any points to a driver’s record.

On Wednesday, Smilinich asked for information about how the cameras have worked in similar sized cities, and officials discussed feedback they have gotten from residents on the proposal.

Council President Carleton Zeisz noted drivers’ concerns about receiving tickets while making a late left-hand turn, or going through a yellow light to avoid being rear-ended.

In response, police Chief William Strassburg noted that a lieutenant would review each violation before the ticket was issued.

“Once we’re up and running, each violation will take about 10 seconds to review,” he said. 

Strassburg also said that a RedFlex representative will be at the council’s next meeting Jan. 21 to discuss the proposal.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting:

• Each council member was appointed as a liaison to a department — a change for 2014 that is aimed at increasing members’ knowledge of the city functions. 

Gilbert was appointed to the police department and finance; Hall to fire and engineering/land sales; Koch to public works and finance; Smilinich to parks and recreation and the school district.

“We are just trying to figured out a better way to communicate things through the mayor’s office,” Zeisz said.

• The council approved a 1.5 percent wage increase for part-time, seasonal and temporary employees for 2014. 

• S. Michael Rua was sworn in as Deputy City Attorney.

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000 ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter @JessicaLBagley.