An elderly Niagara Falls man might be out as much as $75 for weed whacking a few strands of grass along his sidewalk and some weeds in his garden - a job he never ordered and didn't want, courtesy of Mayor Paul Dyster, whose beautification enforcement efforts have increasingly been directed against nicer properties in nicer neighborhoods even as the city's ever expanding slum sections are allowed to continue their decline into wrack and ruin.
Ron Traina, 81, is the sort of upright taxpaying individual most communities go out of their way to attract. He's owned his home in Deveaux in Niagara Falls for more than 50 years.
When you get older, of course, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep up with many things, including yardwork, but Traina said he is blessed to have a neighbor like Tom Bradley, who lives across the street a couple doors up on McKoon Avenue.
"Tom's what you'd call a good Samaritan," Traina said. "He mows my lawn and those of four or five other older people on the block."
One day last October, Traina was out when the mayor's Clean Team descended on his property and for 15 minutes apparently weed whacked weeds in his garden.
Traina said he returned home from running errands and the lawn was freshly mowed by his neighbor and Traina didn't even notice the extra work that had been done by the city's Clean Team.
"I didn't think anything of it," he told the Niagara Falls Reporter. "I figured Tom had stopped by."
Traina was startled then, a couple of weeks later, when he received a letter billing him for yardwork by the city.
He called City Hall, where he was put in touch with Corporation Counsel Craig Johnson. Johnson sent Traina before and after pictures of the yard at the time the work was performed, an itemized bill, and a brief note.
"These photographs appear to substantiate the violation and its remediation," Johnson's note concluded.
A look at the before and after pictures show someone - apparently from government - trespassed on Traina's private property and removed weeds from his garden.
The itemized bill is a real laugh riot. How many city workers does it take to mow a postage stamp sized lawn? Five, actually. No joke. Four laborers and one "supervisor," along with a pickup truck, four weed whackers and a blower were dispatched to the scene. It took them all of 15 minutes to complete the work Traina had been cited for.
This came to $31.40, a bit steep for a lawn mowing but they were city workers after all. In order to make sure that Dyster, and his city administrator, Donna Owens, didn't go hungry, a 100 percent "administrative fee" was added on to the cost of the actual mowing and a 20 percent charge for "disbursements" – whatever that means – was used to pad the bill further.
When all was said and done, Traina was told he owed $75.36 to the city.
After his retirement, Ron Traina could have abandoned Niagara Falls and headed for sunny Florida or glitzy Las Vegas like many of his former coworkers and contemporaries. He didn't, hanging on instead to the city he's called home for a half century, living on a fixed income, not complaining and trying to make ends meet.
To Traina, his victimization by the Dyster administration has been nothing if not ironic.
"You know, I was driving down Sixth Street the other day between Walnut and Ferry," he said. "Just the trash in the yards was unbelievable. I didn't see any city crews working over there."