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Forster Blasts Legislature on No-Bid Lease Deal for GOP Contributor


Nick Forster carries his big stick

Well it happened.

After a series of articles appearing in the Niagara Falls Reporter uncovered the fact that Lockport developer and big time Republican campaign contributor  David Ulrich was getting no-bid, sweetheart leases, the Republican-controlled Niagara County legislature has promised to take up a measure putting county voting machine storage rental out to bid.

This was first proposed by Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso of Niagara Falls.

The vow by Republicans also comes months after an award of second no-bid contract for records storage  to Ulrich which brought heavy criticism of majority lawmakers by this newspaper. 

It also follows in the wake of Virtuoso’s efforts to have a storage contract for the voting machines—also housed at an Ulrich-owned facility in Newfane—put out to bid.  That effort was blunted by an auto-renewal clause in the county’s current contract with Ulrich.

Under the existing deal, the county must provide Ulrich with 120 days’ notice to vacate its voting booth storage lease, or it automatically renews.  Virtuoso had sought to put the contract out to bid, but his motion failed after majority Republicans asserted that doing so would be premature more than a year before the current lease is set to expire.

Virtuoso also suggested that the county should begin charging local school districts rent for storage of voting machines used in school board elections and budget votes.

The whole episode prompted a politically charged press release from Niagara County Democratic Chairman Nick Forster, who said the county government’s lease for storage space for voting machines is a “waste of taxpayers’ money and symbolic of how the Republican dominated legislature conducts business.”

Despite its partisan nature, Forster's press release had more than its share of good points.

The voting machines are currently stored in a building owned by Ulrich. The county pays more than $86,000 a year for space in a 60-year old building Ulrich purchased for a mere $75,000. “It’s a sweetheart deal for a Republican sugar daddy,” Forster said. “We live in the second highest taxed county in the nation and the Republicans are more interested in taking care of their cronies and campaign contributors than saving money for already overburdened taxpayers.”

North Tonawanda lawmaker Paul Wojtaszek deflected Forster’s criticism of his caucus.

“No one in the majority is against putting this out to bid,” Wojtaszek said.  “In fact, we agree with [Virtuoso] that we should in this case.  The issue is timing and alternatives.”

Wojtaszek said County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz is examining less-costly alternatives that would utilize newly-vacated county-owned storage space, and that may be a better deal for county taxpayers.

It would cost them nothing in rent and preempt the need for the Virtuoso-sponsored demand for a competitive search process.

Of course, it is ironic since the newly vacated records storage facility on Davison Road is only becoming vacant because the Republicans awarded another sweetheart lease to Ulrich in the same Newfane facility to move the county records out of Davison Road to the Ulrich-owned facility at more than $130,000 per year.

Meantime, because of the renewal clause in the lease, Ulrich will get another $86,000 on top of the more than $130,000 he will get each year for storage of records on the property he paid $75,000 for.

"I'm that glad that the voting booth storage lease is going out to bid or placed on county property," said Jason Zona, who, along with Virtuoso, spearheaded the charge in the county legislature to make sure campaign contributors do not get no-bid deals. "There is no reason this couldn't have been done sooner."

“There is nothing that can be done this year," argued Wojtaszek. "However, we want the county manager to do his job and explore alternatives. Absent any success on that front, however, we have no objection to passing a resolution in the new year that would require us to submit a Request for Proposals.”

Forster also criticized Republican unwillingness to take up Virtuoso’s resolution sooner.

“This is so typical of how one-party rule works in the legislature and why change is long overdue,” Forster says. “The Democrats come up with a plan to save money and the Republicans won’t even give the proposal a fair hearing. Then when the Democrats call for an RFP, the Republicans suddenly figure out that they don't need Ulrich's building at all. This is not about good governance at all, it is about getting caught with their fingers in the cookie jar. Had it not been reported in the Niagara Falls Reporter, this would have gone on with Ulrich getting hundreds of thousands more in no-bid deals. This November the people of Niagara County can change that way of doing business.”



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

JUN 18, 2013